Monthly Archives: November 2015

Olympus and focus bracketing

I’ve written before about computational photography and focus bracketing / stacking.    And if you’re curious, you can find much more info on the web.

Today’s post is inspired by a gift the Olympus Camera Company has just given to owners of their OM-D E-M5 Mark II and E-M1 cameras.  They’ve issued free firmware updates that add new capabilities, one of which is focus bracketing.  Here’s an example image I made while learning about the new features.  I wanted all the orchids to be sharp and the background to stay blurry.

OrchidsOrchid – a focus stacked image processed in Photoshop from 14 frames made with the new focus bracketing feature in the E-M5 Mark II.  Individual frames are at ISO 200, f/4, 1/25 second, 60mm (120mm eq.).

You can read about the firmware updates at this link on the Olympus website.

There are several camera companies providing new features in firmware updates to existing cameras.  The Olympus engineering team is exceedingly clever and seem to really enjoy exploiting their hardware to come up with novel features, many of which are computational in nature.    Focus bracketing is the latest example.  Here are my first thoughts about this mode:

  • Of course, you can focus bracket manually, but having the camera do it for you is a big help.
  • When you frame your composition, leave room to crop.  The stacking process can introduce anomalies at the edges.
  • Your starting focus point should be on the closest area.  The bracketing function will step the focus away from the camera.
  • You control the number of exposures and relative step size.  The step size you use depends on the situation and you’ll have to use trial and error to set it until you gain some experience.  If your step size is too great, it’ll leave blurred areas in the processed image.
  • Set the number of exposures greater than you think you’ll need.  Once you look at them on the computer you can discard any unnecessary ones.  You can get very good control of depth of field and background blur by selecting which frames to use when post processing.
  • Focus bracketing uses the camera’s electronic shutter, so there are some limitations from that (e.g. flickering / banding due to fluorescent lights;  An 8 sec. longest shutter speed limit; others?)
  • As with many kinds of multi-frame computational images, subject or camera motion will introduce artifacts.  Focus bracketing works best for stationary subjects with your camera on a tripod

Here’s another example.  And yes, including this may give you some idea of how old I am – I’m old enough not to care about that.

My engineering school calculator
My engineering school calculator – a focus stacked image processed in Photoshop from 21 frames.  Individual frames are at ISO 200, f/4, 1/40 second, 60mm (120mm eq.).

For comparison purposes, here is a single frame from the series.  You can see the tremendous difference in depth of field.

Testing the new focus bracketing feature in the OMD EM5 MII. It works well - big thumbs up to Olympus for putting out this free firmware update. This is a single frame. It works well - big thumbs up to Olympus for putting out this free firmware update.
My engineering school calculator – single image

I have more focus stacked images in this album on Flickr.

I’m very pleased with how well this works.  Olympus deserves a big thumbs up for putting out this update for free.  Doing things like this can earn a lot of customer loyalty.

Now if we could only combine it in camera with other computational photography tricks:  focus stacking, plus high res mode, plus HDR, plus … maybe next time.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now – go compute some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

In the United States, we observe the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow.  Traditionally, it’s a time to celebrate, give thanks for the harvest, and to eat too much.

Winter Springs Wild TurkeyWinter Springs Wild Turkey – At Central Winds Park, not far from our home

For me personally, it’s not about the harvest, but instead about all the good things I have in my life to be grateful for.  No day goes by without me being thankful for my blessings.

I wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving and continued good harvests and blessings in your lives.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now – go count your blessings!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Viera Wetlands – 11/20/15

I slept in a bit Friday.  Instead of getting up for sunrise, I met Kevin M. at 7am to go to Viera Wetlands.  I know, I know – missing dawn is for photo wimps.  Well, don’t do as I do – do as I say!  Get up for sunrise!

On the way, we stopped by the boat ramp at SR 520 and the St. Johns River for a few minutes.  Water Lily photos are a bit cliché, but I like how the tear in the leaf only shows in the reflection.

Reflection ImperfectionReflection Imperfection

This is a popular place to launch boats.  I caught this one coming back into the ramp and liked the way the wake patterns look.

A boat on the St. Johns RiverA boat on the St. Johns River

There were a few herons along the boardwalk and a great many Swallows – which I have trouble photographing.  They seem to almost always be in the air and change directions before I can track them.  My Tamron 150-600mm lens was also acting up.  For some reason,  it has an intermittent focusing issue.  After I use it a while, the focus seems to slow and then stop.  Usually I can turn the camera off and back on and it will work again, but yesterday that didn’t help.  I did some research on-line when I got home and many folks are complaining about this.  Two of my friends have this lens and theirs sometimes do it too.  I cleaned the contacts on the lens and camera  – maybe that will fix it.  If not, Tamron has a 6 year USA warranty.

When we got to Viera Wetlands, the road was closed (lots of rain lately), so we got to walk the circuit around the nearest ponds. There are very few ducks so far.  But there were lots of Wrens, Terns, herons,and egrets.  We also had a Black Crowned Night Heron, an Osprey fishing, an American Eagle fly over, a Caracarra, a Harrier, and a Belted Kingfisher – all in the distance.  I missed getting a photo of the eagle because I was fooling around with my phone.  Again, don’t do as I do – do as I say!  Quit messing with your phone!

Forster's Tern in flightForster’s Tern in flight – and example of when my Tamron would focus

Kevin spots things all the time that I don’t notice.  He discovered an American Bittern back in the reeds.  They have very effective camouflage.  It took me several minutes to find it – even with him telling me where it was.

Flower and flyFlower and fly – Another flight shot

The Click ponds have been closed for a while.  They’re open now but almost empty of birds.  Maybe next time.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now – go make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Death Valley Addendum

Good morning, wonderful readers!  I hope you don’t mind a short post today with a few more photos from Death Valley.  The place made a big impression on me.  I hope to return  sometime in the future.

Desert rain waterDesert rain water – A different view of the post storm water in Death Valley. Some locations had 5 inches of rain on October 18th. The water here collected in small puddles.

Overbury Building ruinsOverbury Building ruins in the Rhyolite Ghost Town near Beatty, Nevada.  Black and White Infrared panorama.

Death Valley SundownDeath Valley Sundown – I like the sun rays and reflections from the wet mud below.

Mosaic Canyon MonochromeMosaic Canyon Monochrome – Rushing water carved these canyon walls, resulting in a variety of textures to explore.

Monochromatic testuresMonochromatic textures – Zabriskie Point in Death Valley is a wonderful place to photograph. The hills vary in color and with the changing light and clouds, it seems there are always new textures, shadows, and compositions to focus on (pun intended). I wanted to emphasize the textures, so I used Lightroom to convert this one to monochrome. For some reason, this was one of the first photos I made there and one of the last that I finished processing.

We’ve added even more photos from our Death Valley expedition in the albums at these links:

Thanks once again for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now – go make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Life gives you photos … and photos give you life

After getting back from an exotic, far away spot (Death Valley), I returned to a nearby, familiar Florida locale yesterday.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, but there are 57 posts where I write about it here on the blog.  Make that 58 now.

Another Merritt Island MorningAnother Merritt Island Morning – I combined multiple frames to get everything in focus and well exposed. Blended manually in Photoshop.

Why do I like going there so much?  Even after so many visits, it’s impossible to see everything it has to offer.  I appreciate getting to know a place and watching it change over time.  I enjoy seeing the same locations in different light or weather, with different birds around.

Not Birds of a FeatherNot Birds of a Feather – An interesting group of at least four species

I do know that every time I visit, I see something beautiful – either something new, or something commonplace, but in a new light.

“We do these things not to escape life, but rather so life does not escape us.”  From a favorite t-shirt

And yes, sometimes I get back and the photos I made aren’t very good.  But I still have a wonderful day.  Much better than the owner of this boat had.

Sunken SailboatSunken Sailboat – On this one, I also combined multiple frames to ensure everything was sharp and to emphasize the smooth water.

Henri Cartier Bresson said that “You just have to live and life will give you pictures.”  And I think my t-shirt is right too.  Going after photos will give you life.

You can view many more Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge photos in this album on Flickr.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now – go live life – and make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Death Valley National Park, California

As you may have gathered from last week’s post, I got home on October 24th from a trip to Death Valley National Park.  Four of us from the Photography Interest Group (me, Tom M., Kevin M., and Kevin K.) were out there together, exploring this waterless wonderland on our longest, farthest group photo expedition yet.

When you think of the desert in the western US, you might imagine extreme heat and monochromatic scenes of empty barren land.  If so you probably haven’t been to Death Valley.  There is some empty barren land:

Badlands sunriseBadlands sunrise – This was my first visit to Death Valley and what I thought it would look like. 

And there are sand dunes and wind-blown textures:

Photographing Mesquite Flat DunesPhotographing Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes – A distant photographer lines up his shot.

But there are so many more things to experience there.

It’s the largest national park in the contiguous US at over 3.4 million acres.  The habitats are varied and the elevation ranges from 282 feet below sea level in Badwater Basin (the lowest point in North America) to more than 11,000 feet at the top of Telescope Peak.

Badwater panorama from Dantes ViewPanorama of Badwater from Dantes View, looking west toward Telescope Peak

Wait – did I say “waterless wonderland”?  When we arrived on October 18th, there was an epic rain storm in progress that caused flash flooding, road closures, downed power lines and other damage inside the park.  If you’re interested, I’ve posted a short video on YouTube that we made on our drive into Death Valley, showing the rain storms and some of the flooding we ran into.  And you can read this article on the National Parks Traveler webpage about the floods and damage.

Many of the places we wanted to see weren’t accessible while we were there.  The good news is that there were more than enough locations we could still get to, and the water created some rare views of the area.

Death Valley FloodsDeath Valley Reflections – Some locations had 5 inches of rain.  The following morning, we saw large pools of water west of route 190 and north of Furnace Creek.  It was a long walk (~1.5 miles from the road) to get close, and at times I wondered whether it was a mirage.  I’m guessing it’s rare to see the mountains and clouds reflected in standing water at this spot.

And are there any waterfalls in the desert?  You wouldn’t think so, right?  We decided to find out one day and after a long drive, hike, and rock scramble through a gorgeous canyon, we arrived at Darwin Falls, which seems like a miracle in the middle of such arid country.

Darwin FallsDarwin Falls – This desert waterfall in Death Valley had about a 40 foot drop. It’s spring fed and  flows year round, although the rains may have added some water while we were there.

There’s a lot of history in Death Valley too.  The Native American Timbisha tribe have lived in the valley for at least 1000 years.  Gold and silver mining started in the 1850s and Borax was discovered in the 1880s.  There are also several ghost towns to explore in the park and the surrounding areas.

20 Mule Team Wagon Train20 Mule Team Wagon Train – Used in 1885 to haul Borax From Death Valley to Mojave.
Borax Museum, Furnace Creek, California

Landscapes and scenery aren’t the only things to see.  There’s very little light pollution in the area.  The milky way is easily seen and we viewed an active Orionid Meteor shower on the morning of 21 October.

There’s also a surprising amount of wildlife.  While hiking back from the Mesquite Flat Dunes we spotted some motion ahead that turned out to be my first sighting ever of a fox in the wild.

Fox at Mesquite DunesKit Fox at Mesquite Dunes – We saw it from a distance. At first I thought it was a coyote, but Eric Vanbergen on Flickr suggested it might be a Kit Fox. Judging by the info on Wikipedia, he’s right.  I made the photo handheld (with my tripod still attached!) using a 24-120mm lens that I was using for landscapes. This is a small crop from the frame. It was nice of the Fox to stop, stand in the light, and look at the camera for me – but it should have come closer!

We also saw several of these, curiously along or as they crossed the road.  They’re large enough (~3 inches across) to spot as you drive by.

Classic Death ValleyClassic Death Valley (Photo by Kevin McKinney – used with permission) – We saw several Tarantulas while we were there.

And birds:  The National Park Service official bird list has hundreds of species that frequent Death Valley.  On this page they have some info on where to look and migration patterns.  Kevin M. also had a good time birding in places around and on the way to the park.

Here’s one last photo.  We’d been searching for a Road Runner all week but hadn’t seen any.  On the last afternoon we finally sighted this one as we drove by the visitor’s center. Of course, none of us had our camera gear – thank goodness for iPhones!

Greater Roadrunner, running“Beep Beep” – A Roadrunner outside the Visitor Center at Furnace Creek. I think this is the one the rangers have nick-named “Robbie”. It’s very tolerant of humans and went about catching and eating bugs while we watched.  

You can view many more photos from our trip at these links:

This is really more of trip report than a review or guide.  With so little time on site, I’m not qualified to give you much specific advice on photographing Death Valley.  But here is some info I found very useful:

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. We are really blessed in the US with all our national parks.  Now – visit one and make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.