Yachiho Highlands – Part #1 (Podcast 141)

Yachiho Highlands – Part #1 (Podcast 141)

As I mentioned last week, with the pressures of living in Tokyo and the need to breathe some fresh air got a hold of me and my other half, we took off to the Yachiho Highlands from May 31 for a few days. Today we start to share some of the images I brought back with me in a multipart series. I wasn’t going to spend the whole time photographing, as we took a steady drive over there on the Saturday, because I’d been up until 3AM finishing some work on the Friday night. We also started back at around lunch time on the third day, so the only time for photography was the last few hours of light on the 31st, granted, pretty much the whole day on the 1st of June, and then the morning of the 2nd. It was nice to have a relatively relaxed time though, although as usually I couldn’t resist getting up at the crack of dawn to see how things looked in that first hour or so of light. The main subjects we’ll look at are some wild Rhododendron trees surrounded by White Birch trees, which I love to photograph, and some waterfall shots from the afternoon of the 1st. I also was trying to get a lot of depth-of-field in many of the shots over this trip, which is exactly the opposite to most of my recent work, so I’ll talk about considerations when maximizing depth-of-field too.

As is so often the case, with my busy day job, and then fitting in my photography, which is definitely like having a second full time job for me, I didn’t actually book the hotel for the Saturday and Sunday nights until Friday night. I didn’t even book the days off from my day job until the Friday evening before I left the office at around 7PM, then I had to get two invoices off to a client for my Photography work, so I was really leaving all of this until the last minute. Having booked the hotel the invoices couldn’t wait either, so as I just mentioned in the intro, I was up until around 3:30AM on the Friday finishing up everything that had to be done. The idea was to have a relaxing weekend, though get lots of photography in too, so I didn’t push it by trying to get up in just a few hours to drive for three to four hours to the Nagano Prefecture, which is where we were heading. I was still pretty tired, having gone to be so late, but after having almost six hours of sleep, I got up at 9:30, got breakfast and got my gear together. We jumped into the car at just after noon and had a steady ride out of Tokyo and over to Nagano. Having stopped for a bight to eat on the way, we arrived in the area at around 5PM and started to scout out some photo opportunities.

I actually came here in mid-May, 2007, having seen a photograph of a wild Rhododendron tree in the White Birch trees that this area, Yachihokougen, is pretty famous for. The weather forecast had been rain for the Saturday, and then clear for the Sunday, which was perfect, as I wanted to photograph the Rhododendron trees in the mist if possible. When I came last year though, I couldn’t find any of the trees flowering, and when I asked a local, it seemed that the late snows had held the flowers back last year. This time, I was heading out here two weeks later than last year, because again, I’d heard there’d been some late snow, so I was hoping to found some of the trees flowering. The other problem was that I didn’t actually know which parts of the White Birch woods the Rhododendron trees were in, so it took a little bit of driving around, and even then, I couldn’t see anything obvious. The roads were empty though, so I figured leaving my car parked and having a walk into the woods wouldn’t hurt, and the White Birch has to be one of my favorite trees anyway, and because it was pretty misty with the low cloud, I figured that if nothing else, I’d be able to shoot some nice misty birch trees.

The funny thing was though, within literally 30 seconds of walking up the hill into the woods, I started to see the odd Rhododendron tree flowering in the mist, so I was starting to feel pretty happy about my choice of place to stop. Let’s take a look at the first image for today, which is number 1801. Here we can see the tree, with beautiful deep orange, almost red flowers, amongst almost all white birch trees. The mist was not that thick, so isn’t really registering very well here, but hopefully you’ll get a sense of the moment. It was raining pretty heavily too. At this point, my significant other was still enjoying the fresh mountain air, and happily holding a large umbrella over us both and my camera gear, set up on a tripod. We’ll look at maybe up to 20 images from this and the next episode, but I wanted to note that all but one of them were taken using a tripod. I’m a big believer in using a tripod to make the whole process of photography very well thought out and deliberate. Some of the images we’ll look at would have been possible without a tripod, but I am a proponent of using them whenever time allows, not just when the shutter speed or circumstances demand it. When I shot this particular photograph, I’d already been further up the slight incline, and shot the tree from a very low perspective, which is image number 1800. I won’t include that image today, for the sake of time, but I’ll put a link to all the images from this long weekend in the show-notes.

Wild Azalea in White Birch

Wild Azalea in White Birch

What I wanted to mention though is something that I’ve mentioned a number of times before, which is to always be aware of what is behind you. I spent maybe thirty minutes shooting this tree and the surrounding birch trees in various ways, and had started back down the hill to where the car was. Whenever I’m walking away from a scene though, to the great disappointment of my other half, I continue to look back, to make sure that I’m not missing something that would make a nice shot. I feel that when you are approaching a scene, you can be more interested in getting in and working the location, and are all excited about seeing what there is to offer, but there is no intimacy between you and the subject matter yet. You’re still exploring. Once that exploration is done though, and you decide what angles to shoot it from, what lenses and apertures and shutter speeds to use, you start to become more comfortable with the subject. Then when you feel you’ve exhausted all the possibilities, you pull the cord and start to walk away. The fact is though you usually haven’t really exhausted all the possibilities. You’ve probably really only scratched the surface, so I always keep an eye on a scene as I move away from it, in the hope that a face that I was not open to earlier presents itself to me now that I am more familiar with the subject or location.

Although I’d been shooting nice and wide with my 16-35mm F2.8 lens earlier, I used the 70-200mm F2.8 lens for this shot. I had moved away from the scene, but I was also moving down the hill, so we can see that my eye-level is almost ground level here, as we look across the forest floor. The focal length was 100mm so the telephoto has compacted the perspective a little, allowing the trees to almost be on top of each other, but still have a little bit of distance. I have placed the tree just off center towards the bottom right third, and ensured that the threes to the right and left are cut off in a non-distracting way. I used an aperture of F11 to ensure the whole scene was in focus, and that gave me a shutter speed of 6 seconds at ISO 100, so you can probably appreciate how dark it actually was at the end of this rainy afternoon in the mountains.

Shortly after shooting in this patch of trees, as the light was fading pretty fast now, we decided to head to the hotel for our first evening. As we rounded a corner on the mountain road heading down into the valley, both me and my other half gasped as we saw that the valley was totally enshrouded in cloud. We thought for a split second that we might have even been gazing at a huge lake, but there shouldn’t be a lake of this size in this area, unless my map reading skills had been totally off. There was a lake down there, but it should not have been that big. A few moments after starting to view the scene it became obvious that this was cloud, but still, it was sitting so perfectly in the valley, surrounded by the mountain on which we were standing and the mountains on the other side. I guess that’s what makes it a valley, right? Right there though, there was a lay by, so we pulled up and jumped out of the car. The light was fading fast, but it was a beautiful moment that I did not want to miss. We’ll look at two shots from here, and the first one is number 1802.

Yachiho Evening Sky #1

Yachiho Evening Sky #1

It isn’t as easy to see the clouds in the valley here, because I’ve shot this at 16mm, with my 16-35mm F2.8 lens. This first exposure lasted for 20 seconds at F11, still at ISO 100, so again, you will be able to appreciate how fast the light was dropping now. The long exposure has made the clouds close to me blur, a little like a lensbaby image, but this was not only expected, but an effect that I wanted. Of course, the clouds further away aren’t moving as much in relation to my position, so they aren’t blurred. They are obviously moving at the same speed, but they are coming towards me, as opposed to moving over me. I converted to black and white in Lightroom, and dragged the blacks down a little to emphasize the heavy sky and also bring out the black of the mountains on the other side of the valley. They were a little greyer in the original. Again, I decreased the saturation of the all the colors to zero, then adjusted the balance between each color channel with the Luminosity. I think I heard Derrick Story talk about this tip that he’d picked up from someone else on his Podcast “The Digital Story”. If you don’t listen to that Podcast actually you should. Some of it can be a little basic, but there’re often a few gems to pick up for just about any level of photographer and Derrick has a very entertaining way of putting his message across. Anyway, converting to black and white in this way prevents the shadows from going all grainy and muddy, so try it yourself next time you convert something to black and white.

I said that I would also talk about getting lots of Depth-of-Field in this Episode too, which I’ll get into more shortly. For now, I wanted to say that if I was not too worried about calculating the hyper-focal distance for my shots over these few days, because I wasn’t really looking at getting a sweeping landscape in with the whole scene in focus from front to back, in the usual sense. If you want to learn what hyper-focal distance is and how to use it to achieve what we call pan-focus, then you might want to listen to episode 65 that I did, called Understanding Hyper-focal Distance. You might be wondering why I didn’t want to use it for this shot, but just look at how far away from me that line of trees is and think about the focal length I’m shooting at. At 16mm, basically the lens goes hyper-focal at 3.6m or 12.5ft, even when wide open at F2.8, so if I focused at 3.6m, everything from 2m to infinity will be in focus. Those trees were a good 50 meters in front of me, and I knew that everything this side of the trees was going to be black anyway, so I could have shot wide open and focused on the trees and I would have been fine. Remember though that I wanted a slow shutter speed to emphasis that heavy sky, so I closed the aperture down to F11, which gave me a nice long 20 second shutter speed. At F11 by the way, the hyper-focal distance is 1m, but we already know that that is irrelevant for this particular shot.

Let’s take a look at another image which is literally the next exposure I made, which is image number 1803. Here what I’ve done is zoomed in from 16mm to 35mm literally going from one extreme of the lenses focal range to the other. I changed the exposure time from 20 to 30 seconds as the light died, and wanted really here to give us a feel for the clouds, that I could see rolling over the edge of the smaller mountains in the distance to the left. You also get a better feel for the sea of clouds in the valley here, as well as the distant mountains and that wonderful dramatic sky. For the black and white conversion, I simply synced the settings from the previous conversion. No need to reinvent the wheel, as I’d just spent some time figuring out the best place for the Luminance sliders for the previous image. Here we also see more detail in the foreground trees, which I’ve focused on, but again, the entire scene is sharp, because the hyper-focal distance even at 35mm is 4.6m, or 15ft. I’d have still been OK at F2.8 but that would start to worry me a little. I wasn’t using my DOF utility on my cell phone by the way, and I’m using Barnack to lookup the exact numbers for the sake of the Podcast. But the more you use hyper-focal distance the more you get a feel for where you need to be with your lenses, so it isn’t always necessary. Especially here, I just knew that I’d be way OK if I focused on those trees and let the physics of the lens do the rest.

Yachiho Evening Sky #2

Yachiho Evening Sky #2

This particular time was actually incredibly special. Once I’d gotten the camera set up, and was making a few exposures, and just standing there listening to the sounds of the forest. The birds were just about all asleep now, though there was still a little bit of chirping going on as they settled in to roost, but every so often we could hear the cries of what sounded like the dominant male in a pack of macaque monkeys, not far from where we were. As you look at this image, the area to the right, is actually a very deeply wooded area of deciduous trees, and seems to be home to a fair number of macaques. We’d also startled a pair of deer moments earlier with my headlights, and was feeling pretty close to nature, even though we were little a few paces from the car at this point. Without getting all Mills and Boon on you, I had put my arm out and pulled my significant other over, and with my arm around her shoulder just stared out across this magnificent vista while listening to the cries of the macaque and birds settling down for the night. These literally final moments of the day were truly magical, almost spiritual. The hair on the back of my head stood up as I waited for my exposure to end. It was this, the fresh air, the beauty of the land and nature, and the sounds of the wilderness that had brought us some three hours northwest of Tokyo on this murky yet beautiful Saturday afternoon.


Show Notes

Check out TinEye here: http://tineye.com/

Here’s a link to Mikkel Stegmann’s Barnack utility that I reference so much for depth-of-field and hyperfocal distances, and mentioned in the Podcast: http://www.stegmann.dk/mikkel/barnack/

The music in this episode is from the PodShow Podsafe Music Network at http://music.podshow.com/


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.



Q&A #3 – Understanding Hyperfocal Distance (Podcast 65)

Q&A #3 – Understanding Hyperfocal Distance (Podcast 65)

Today I’m going talk about what Hyperfocal Distance is, and how to apply it practically in our photograph, in response to a question that long term listener and moderator on the Martin Bailey Photography Forum, Marisa Firpi was kind enough to record for us using the MobaTalk Comment System that you can find on the top page at martinbaileyphotography.com.

Thanks very much for the question Marisa. It’s great to hear your voice after knowing you for so long from the forum, and this is a really great question. I’ve actually been thinking of talking about this for a while, so right now seems to be perfect timing. Firstly, here’s a quick explanation of what Hyper-focal Distance is, and then I’ll move on to a more detailed explanation of how it is calculated and how to apply it practically into our photography.

Hyper-focal Distance
The hyper-focal distance is the distance at which a particular focal length and aperture combination can be focussed at, to render everything from half of that distance to infinity in focus. This is especially useful to know about when we’re shooting landscapes for example, when we want sharp focus throughout the image, from the nearest to the further object. Here’s a couple of quick example of a focal length and aperture combinations and the resulting hyper-focal distance, before we get into the details. First, if we shoot with a 50mm lens at F16 aperture, the hyper-focal distance is 4.74m or 15.54 feet. That means if we focus on a point 15 and a half feet from our camera, everything from almost half of that distance, or just under 8 feet to infinity will be in focus. In metric that would be a hyper-focal distance of 4.74m to focus on, rendering everything from 2.37m to infinity in focus.

The wider the lens, the closer the hyper-focal distance becomes, so here’s another example. Let’s use 28mm. If we again use F16 at 28mm focal length, the hyper-focal distance is 1.5m or almost 5 feet. If we focus at this point, everything from 2.46 feet or 0.75m to infinity will be in focus. So you can see that the wider the lens, or put another way, the shorter the focal length you are shooting at, the closer the hyper-focal distance and near focus distance gets.

We should also note that telephoto lenses are not really suited to shooting using the hyper-focal distance to get subjects from the foreground to infinity in focus, as the physics make it impractical and even impossible to do this after certain focal lengths. For example, even if we go back to F16 for the aperture, but set the focal length to 200mm the hyper-focal distance becomes 75m or 247 feet. This gives us a near focus distance of 125 feet or 38m which is really not good if we want the foreground subjects in focus.

Circle of Confusion
One thing that we cannot ignore when calculating the hyper-focal distance is the Circle of Confusion. Now, a detailed explanation of the Circle of Confusion would make this week’s episode way too long, but here’s a quick explanation.

The size of the Circle of Confusion for any camera or film size or sensor size is the size of the smallest spot that will show up as just a dot with no recognisable height or width when printed on 8×10” paper and viewed from 2 to 3 feet away. So by a spot, I mean just a tiny little dot that you will not be able to make out as having any shape. If it was to get any bigger, it would start to look like a tiny circle, and that’s too big. Now of course, if you print the same image out at larger than 8×10, or view it from closer or further away, then the results will change, and this is why there is so much debate over how to accurately calculate the Circle of Confusion. Of course the spot is only attainable when sharply focussed. As soon as the focus moves to something other than the spot it becomes slightly blurred. This is what gives us the bokeh, or the out of focus areas of an image. The circle of confusion becomes larger as it moves closer to or further away from the film plane. Only parts of the image at exactly the point where the light converges being focussed on the film plane are totally sharp.

I like to think of this as the spot of a magnifying glass. If you’ve ever taken a magnifying glass outside on a sunny day and dropped a piece of paper on the ground, then concentrated the light of the magnifying glass to burn the paper, you’ll know what I mean. When you place the magnifying glass over the paper initially, the spot of light will be large and faint, but as you move it closer to the paper, the spot will become smaller and brighter, more concentrated. There’ll be a point when the spot becomes the smallest it’s going to be, and this is the point where the paper usually goes black and bursts into flames to the amazement of you and all your friends, but if you move the magnifying glass even closer, to the paper, the circle starts to get larger and fainter again. At the point at which the spot is the smallest it can be, that could be thought of as the smallest circle of confusion for that magnifying glass. Everything outside of that is just varying degrees of bokeh.

So how big is this spot on a 35mm camera? Although it varies by equipment, common sizes I’ve heard of are between 0.025 to 0.030mm, most schools of thought and many calculators use 0.030mm as the default setting for a 35mm film or full-size sensor DSLR. For digital cameras with a focal length multiplier of 1.6, 0.019mm is recommended, and for 1.5X cameras 0.020mm is recommended. There’s actually a pretty extensive table that I got these sizes from at dofmaster.com.

Calculating Hyper-focal Distance Mathematically
Remember that the size of the circle of confusion is based on an image being printed out at 8×10 and viewed from 2 to 3 feet. So it follows that if you intend to print out much larger, you would actually need to calculate your hyper-focal distances differently, but if you start going down that root you’ll probably spend more time calculating your distances than actually shooting. I’d recommend just sticking with the sizes I just mentioned or the one for your camera in the chart on DOFMaster.com for your calculations. I’ll talk in a moment about some useful tools to use as quick lookup guides in the field, but first let’s talk briefly about the actual calculation. Once you know the size of the Circle of Confusion you want to work with, to calculate the hyper focal distance, you have to divide the focal length to the power of two by the aperture multiplied by the diameter of the circle of confusion. Firstly, let’s say we’re going to be shooting at 35mm, 35 to the power of two is 1,225. If we are working with a circle of confusion of 0.030mm, and an aperture of F16, we need to multiply 16 by 0.030, which gives us 0.48. Now if divide 1,225 by 0.48 we get 2,552 and some tiny fraction below the decimal point. As this is currently millimetres, if we divide by 1000 we get 2.55 meters, or 8.37 feet, which is the hyper-focal distance.

Tools to Calculate Hyper-focal Distance
Although this is not a difficult calculation if you have a calculator with you, in the field when we’re trying to get the shot, if you are going to shoot using the hyper-focal distance, then you really want something a little easier. I have actually recently bought a new cell phone (This is outdated. I have since gotten an iPhone, and have new tools, which I mention in my Podcast and will blog about later), which is a Windows Pocket PC based PDA, so I’ve installed a piece of software from a person called Jonathan Sachs, who has kindly made a number of incredibly useful application for the Pocket PC, three of which I use a lot and would like to quickly mention are Ephemeris, which is a utility to tell you the phases of the moon, and the sun and moon rise times based on the city you select from a pull-down. This is incredibly useful, not to mention fun to play with. Another is Expose 1.0, which lists exposure guides for various light sources, and the option of applying a polarizer or ND filter to the calculation as well as changing the ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed etc. With the meters in cameras being so good these days, I don’t think I’d use this in the field, but again, it’s fun to play with. Finally, the program that is really relevant for today’s topic is DOF 1.0. As the name suggests this is a Depth of Field calculator, but it also displays the hyper-focal distance and near and far focus distances for any focal length and aperture combination. This also allows you to change the resolution, which I find is pretty much the same thing as the Circle of Confusion in this utility. The hyper-focal distance is a constant once you’ve selected your focal length, F stop but there’s also a pull-down to set the distance at which you intend to focus, and the near and far focus distances are calculated from this. Once you set the focus distance to anything equal to or further than the hyper-focal distance though, the far focus indicator changes to say “infinity”. I’ll put a link to Jonathon’s download page for these applications in the show notes too. There are other utilities that you can download from the page too, which are really very useful

Fuji & Flowers

Fuji & Flowers

One of the reasons I bought a Pocket PC based cell phone was because I wanted to use this DOF tool in the field. I used it for the first time recently when shooting Mount Fuji with some flowers in the foreground that I wanted to also get in focus. If fact, let’s take a look at the shot so that I can explain what I did. It is image number 1156. Basically, I wanted the pampas grass at the edge of the lake and as many of the flowers in the foreground in focus as possible. I don’t like to stop down less than F16 as the image starts to soften up after that, so I dialled in 50mm into the focal length field, and 16 into the F stop field. I could then see that the hyper-focal distance was just over 4 meters. This means that if I focussed on the pampas grass, which was about 5 meters from where I was standing, of course the pampas was going to be in focus, but also everything from 2.25 meters to infinity was also going to be in focus.

Another option which was raised a while back in the martinbaileyphotography.com forum, especially if you don’t have a PDA, is a card that can be printed by a piece of software available from dofmaster.com. I’ll put a link in the show notes as a reminder, but basically there are a few applications to make it easy to print out both Depth of Field charts and Hyper-focal distance charts. These can be printed on card or paper that you may want to laminate to stop it getting all messed up in your camera bag, and although I’ve not tried this myself, I’m sure they make a very easy lookup option while in the field. You can also change the various parameters like the size of the circle of confusion and the widest and smallest aperture, and the shortest and longest focal length, among others.

Of course, you’re not always going to have a subject that you want to focus on, so although I actually moved back from the scene we just looked at to get my 5 or so meters distance, and focussed on the pampas, what you can do is just use the distance legend on your lens. Most lenses have them, so you can use that to set the lens to the hyper-focal distance and forget about it for that scene. In fact, even if you can roughly guess your focusing distances, I’d suggest that you check the scale on your lens to make sure it’s accurate. And remember to switch your lens or camera to manual focus mode or when you press the shutter button it will re-focus on the scene, likely moving the focus away from the hyper-focal distance point at which you manually focussed.

I also want to briefly reiterate, because I don’t think I stressed this much earlier, that the Hyper-focal Distance is not the nearest point of the image that will be in focus. The calculation is actually a little more complicated, but basically roughly half of the Hyper-focal Distance is the near focus distance. For example if you focus on a Hyper-focal Distance of 10 meters or about 30 feet, the near focus will be half that, which is 5 meters or 15 feet. Everything from that point, out past the Hyper-focal Distance to infinity will be in focus.

Start Wrap-up: So that’s about it for today. Again, this has been quite a technical Podcast with lots of numbers and calculations to follow. Remember that I’m currently considering making Adobe Acrobat PDF transcripts of the episodes available for a nominal fee of $3.99, and there’d be discounts for 5 and 10 download credits. You would be totally in control of which episodes you bought, but I’m thinking that the transcripts for more technical episodes like this one, the Understanding MTF Charts, or exposure technique episodes for example would be more useful. I’m not going to invest time and money in creating these though if you, the listener’s don’t really want them, so I started a poll in the forum a few weeks back to gather your feedback. If you have an opinion on this, please do go to the thread and cast your vote, and also leave some feedback if you have any. Thanks very much for all the valuable feedback and votes I’ve received so far, but I’d like more opinions before I make up my mind on whether or not to invest in this venture. I’ll put a link directly to the Poll in the show notes. If you really don’t want to register in the forum and yet you want to provide feedback to me on this, or any other topic, please do drop me a line.

So, that really is it for this week. I hope you have a great week, whether you’re out shooting, or whatever you do. Bye bye.


Show Notes
Music from Music Alley: www.musicalley.com/

The software for easy printing of the DOFMaster Hyperfocal Chart can be downloaded from here: http://www.dofmaster.com/

There’s also a table at DOFMaster.com with the Circle of Confusion sizes for most digital cameras. This is necessary to calculate the Hyperfocal Distance with most tools if you don’t just go with the default for 35mm cameras, which is 0.030mm. See here: http://www.dofmaster.com/digital_coc.html

Here is where you can find Jonathan Sach’s DOF 1.0, Ephemeris 1.0 and Expose 1.0: http://home.comcast.net/~jonsachs/


Audio

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