Alaska Time Lapse

While I was looking over some images for yesterday's blog I found this sequence.  Thought it would make a nice simple time lapse.

Gorgeous Alaska day and a slow humpback whale dive.  Shot the sequence on my photo tour with a Canon 1D Mk IV and an EF 70-300 4.5/5.6L.

Put the time lapse together with Lightroom. Recommend the 720 quality option.

Landscape at f/4? Know your DOF

I am a huge believer in understanding and practicing the basics and the fundamentals of photography.  Moreover, it seems most difficult tasks in life, including photography, come down to how well can you execute the basics. To that end, I would like to discuss one of the most common practices I see in the field when shooting landscape, stopping down for no reason. 

The conventional wisdom is to stop down when shooting landscape to increase depth of field (DOF).  Although stopping down does increase DOF it is not always necessary to do so and may, in fact, hinder your ability to make the best shot. 

DOF can be an incredibly complicated and confusing topic but it is worth spending a small amount of time talking about the primary contributors to DOF.  Most photographers are taught that DOF is controlled by aperture; the wider the aperture the shallower the DOF and vice versa.  What is not commonly taught are the two other primary variables that influence DOF, focal length (of the lens in mm), and focal distance (physical distance from shooter to focal point.) 

Just as every photographer quickly memorizes the aperture/DOF relationship they should do the same with focal length/DOF and focal distance/DOF.  So a little homework, memorize the following.

  • The wider the aperture the shallower the DOF
  • The longer the focal length the shallower the DOF
  • The shorter the focal distance the shallower the DOF

and the opposites

  • The narrower the aperture the deeper the DOF
  • The shorter the focal length the deeper the DOF
  • The longer the focal distance the deeper the DOF

One of the best ways to see these rules in action  is to use a DOF calculator and play around.  If you want to go "old school" there are "whiz" wheels out there to show the relationships.  But since this is mid 2012, I recommend finding a DOF app for your smart phone or device.  There are a huge number of these apps available just search for "DOF calculator" and download. 

After playing with a DOF calculator app for just a small amount of time, you will be amazed how quickly you learn the rules and begin to visualize constructing DOF for every shot you take.  When you know the rules and relationships of DOF you will approach your shots from a position of knowledge and you will, most likely, modify some of your accepted habits and practices.  You might even decide to take your DOF calculator app with you on location and run some numbers before you shoot.  I do not think you will do this all the time but if you need some intel, back up, or encouragement break out the app and "run the numbs." 

Recently, I shot some landscape in Alaska and used my understanding of DOF to shoot handheld landscape at f/4 with everything in the shot acceptably in focus.  This goes against the conventional wisdom but it worked perfectly.  The shot I ended up with is shown below.


For this shot I used the focal point shown @1000' from me, 43 mm focal length, and an aperture of f/4.  I shot a bracketed series for HDR and did it handheld as my tripod was not available.

If I had followed the conventional wisdom I would have stopped down to f/16 and would have had the situation shown below.


f/16 would have given me plenty of DOF but a shutter speeds of 1/60, 1/250, and 1/15.  These are, of course, too slow for my handheld situation.  I could have increased my ISO to yield faster shutter speeds but I did not want the additional noise, especially when shooting for HDR.

Instead of changing ISO, I changed aperture and opened up to f/4 which gave me the situation shown below.


f/4 also gave me plenty of DOF and shutter speeds that I could work with hand held.  Because my focal length was 43mm with a focal distance of 1000', changing aperture did not have an appreciable effect on this shot's practical DOF.  As a result, the entire shot is acceptably in focus, even the foreground as it is greater than 52' from me.  Sure f/16 gave me 38' more DOF but it was irrelevant.

Now there will be times and places this does not work but if you understand the basics you will recognize them quickly.  When you do you will find the solution and make the shot work.

More on this topic next time.

Go For It: Pixels are Free

One of my favorite expressions with digital photography is "pixels are free."  With no cost, photographers should enjoy complete freedom to experiment and play.  If you have an idea for a shot, go for it.  If it works, great.  Take what you did and make it a part of your photography. 

If it does not work out, no big deal.  But use the results as a completely free learning experience. Go to school and figure out what was the issue/s.  Can you make a small adjustment or do you need to go back to the drawing board and plan again. 

I recently found myself in a situation where I honestly did not know how the results would turn out.  I wanted to shoot a series of images for a landscape panorama in rapidly falling light levels.  I had the Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L on my 5K Mk II; a combination not often used for panoramas.  To make matters worse I was on the back of a moving boat.  Not only was it moving forward and slowly rocking side to side but we were in a regular ocean swell so we were slowly heaving (up and down.)

Not the best situation but pixels are free so I went for it.  The results from the 42 shots are shown below. 


This is the panorama after the stitching process.  If you follow the bottom (or top) you will notice a nice sine wave pattern.  That is the boat going up and down with the ocean swell.  My camera support was rock solid (RRS TVC-33 and PG-02) but the boat was out of my control. 

At this point I had a nicely stitched panorama even though it is somewhat ugly in terms of how everything lined up.  But it worked and did not cost a thing. 


After a little cleanup, I had a usable, huge panorama to optimize.  For a free experiment, I will take it.

Fiat Lux!

Tim Grey Vs. Survival Suit - Photo Adventure Alaska

A little video we shot of Tim Grey donning a cold water survival suit.  The standard is to get into the suit and be ready to get into the water in under a minute.  Take a look and see how Tim does.

Just came home from two back to back cruises in Alaska.  It just keeps getting better every time I go up there.  Hope to have you join me on one of the cruises soon.

Tim will be back with us here for Lightroom (Tim's Lightroom) in August and in October for the California Photo Festival You can find more info about Tim at

Fiat Lux!

Ice Cave

Alaska Ice Cave from Hal Schmitt on Vimeo

Video shot as I was getting ready to make some HDR source images.  Always be extremely careful when dealing with ice caves.  Many are not safe at all so perform a good survey of the scene and judge integrity, traction, and overall security.  It is also a great idea to not do this alone.  With at least one other person assistance/rescue gets much easier.

The textures, color, and tonal range inside the cave were amazing.  Shooting here was a challenge.  The biggest issue was the melt water.  Keeping the camera and lens relatively dry required full protection.  I do not use any fancy type of rain gear.  I prefer fish fillet bags and rubber bands or gaffer's tape.  They make a simple, effective, and economical solution.  Light levels overall were low so I used a tripod.  Tripod setup was a little challenging with very slippery, uneven terrain (ice) as the cave floor.  The ability to rapidly adjust my tripod leg length and angle was very helpful. 

I shot a single image to assess the tones and decided I needed to shoot multiples to cover the entire range.  For the HDRs on this blog, I shot only three source files at -2, 0, and +2 E.V with a Canon 5D Mk II.  This gave me about 9ish stops of usable data which worked perfectly.  Had I needed more shots I had my Promote Control with me. 

 HDR processed with HDR Efex Pro from Nik

HDR processed with HDR Efex Pro from Nik

I used Nik's HDR Efex Pro for this scene.  As many of you know I am not all that faithful to one HDR software.  I primarily find myself using Photomatix Pro but I will almost always try other options and pick the best result.  Sometimes my final result is a blend of output from different programs.  For this shot I wanted the result to show texture more than anything else.  Click on the attached images for a larger version since only when big will the real texture come out. 

 On this version I pulled some saturation and pushed texture a bit more.

On this version I pulled some saturation and pushed texture a bit more.

Now I need to go back in July with my Fisheye.  Of course, this cave will be gone but I should be able to find another.  Come out and join me.

Fiat Lux!