Monthly Archives: October 2010

Overcoming shallow depth of field

A pair of Great Egrets in the lilly padsA pair of Great Egrets in the Lilly Pads

I was at Viera Wetlands yesterday and came up on this scene.  The pair of birds was about 30 feet away and  I was using a long telephoto lens (Sigma 150 – 500 OS, @ 500mm) and shooting hand held.  To keep my shutter speed high (1/1000 sec), I had my aperture set to f/8.

Under these conditions, the depth of field (DOF) was so shallow (about 6 inches) that I couldn’t get both birds in focus at the same time.  I could have stopped down to f/16, which would increase the DOF to about 12 inches, but that still might not have been enough – and the risk of motion blur would increase when the shutter speed slowed down.

So how can you overcome such shallow depth of field? Here’s how I did it:

  1. Make two exposures, one focused on the front bird and one focused on the rear one.
  2. In Lightroom, do your preliminary adjustments  so the images’ appearance matches as closely as possible.  You want to keep the background around the birds as similar as possible in the two images.
  3. Open both in Photoshop, and move them into a single file as layers.  Put the base image (the one with the front bird in focus) in the background layer.  The top layer then has the rear bird in focus.
  4. Select both layers and use the Edit/Auto-Align Layers to line things up.
  5. Insert a Layer Mask (hide all) on the top layer.
  6. Now you’re all set to paint the in focus rear bird into the image with the front one in focus.  Select the layer mask and use a white brush color to paint the rear bird in.  If you make a mistake or need to back something out you can change your brush color to black to erase the top layer.  You can also play with the brush hardness and opacity to feather things in.
  7. Once you’re happy with the result, flatten the image and make your final adjustments.

“But Ed,” you say “isn’t this cheating?”  It depends.  If you’re a photojournalist reporting on Great Egrets in Viera Wetlands and how close they often come to each other, then yes it might be.  Journalists must meet ethical standards.  On the artistic side, you’re trying to represent what your eyes (which have a greater DOF) or mind sees.  So in this situation it isn’t cheating.  You’re using the tools available to make the image you want.

“But Ed,” you say “this is too much work!”  It depends.  Some images are worth the effort and many are not.  There’s software you can buy to automate this sort of thing for you.  Photoshop can do it too. But the automated software requires very careful set up and in most cases a tripod, and many exposures with small changes in focus for each one.  In this situation, I only needed two photos, one for each bird.  Alignment between the images isn’t critical since I’m only using a small portion of the second one.  So it’s fairly easy to show the pair of Egrets and not be distracted by having one out of focus.

You can see more of my Viera Wetlands photos in this set on Flickr.

For comparison, here’s the original photo straight out of the camera:

Original image, Straight out of the Camera
Original image, Straight out of the Camera

Quite a dramatic change, and for me worth the effort.  What do you think?

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

High ISO performance of the Nikon D7000 vs. the D90 and the D700

You’ll have to pardon me, but I’m going to take a short photo op break and geek out a little bit on camera gear.

Today, Adobe came out with a release candidate of Adobe Camera Raw that will process  D7000 RAW files.  I ran a quick test to see how this new camera  compares with the D90 and the D700.

I’ve put together a composite image below, which shows roughly the same scene photographed with each camera.  I kept everything as constant as possible (e.g camera position, light, lens).  The D90 is on the top at ISO 3200.  The D7000 is in the middle at ISO 6400.  And the D700 is on the bottom, also at ISO 6400.

I processed all three images with a zero preset in ACR and then adjusted only the exposure / fill light and tone to make them look roughly similar.  I left all sharpening and noise controls set to zero (off).

Judging by this pseudo-rigorous test, the ISO performance of the D7000 appears to be in between the D90 and the D700.  It looks about the same at ISO 6400 as the D90 does at ISO 3200 (e.g. ~1 stop better).  Noise is not as low as the D700, but resolution looks better.

I’ve put this and other D7000 images in this set on Flickr.  All of them are in high resolution so that you can better judge the image / camera quality.  You can also click on the image below to go directly to it on Flickr.  For any of these, select “Actions / View All Sizes” to see much larger versions of the photos and judge for yourself.

Comparing the High ISO performance of the Nikon D7000 with the D90 and the D700 (view all sizes for a high resolution version)Comparing the High ISO performance of the Nikon D7000 with the D90 and the D700

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Additional Nikon D7000 Samples at Viera Wetlands

Lynn and I went out to Viera Wetlands this morning to survey the wildlife that’s around and also so I could get a little more field testing in on the Nikon D7000.  Once again, this great birding spot didn’t disappoint us and although the activity and number of birds were down quite a bit from their peak during the nesting season, we found plenty to observe and photograph.

I’m shooting the D7000 in RAW & fine jpg mode, but using only using the jpg files until later when RAW is supported by ACR and Nikon CaptureNX2.  So far, it’s definitely living up to my expectations.  The combination of more pixels and improved sensitivity is a great for bird photography.  Here’s one shot I did early in the morning, before the almost full moon set:

Great Egret, Ibis, and MoonGreat Egret, Ibis, and Moon, Nikon D7000, ISO 100

On this photo, I cheated a little bit. The depth of field on the Sigma 150 – 500 @ 500mm and f/7.1 is too shallow to hold the moon in focus along with the tree and birds.  So I made a second exposure focused on the moon and masked it in using Photoshop.

I set up the camera in auto-ISO mode and let it respond to the varying lighting conditions so that I could see how it performed over a range of ISO sensitivities.  At ISOs up to 1000, there is very little noise.  I need to do some comparisons with RAW files, but so far, it looks to me like the ISO performance of the D7000 is at least a 1/2 stop better than the D90.  Here is one example from today at ISO 900:

A pair of Limpkins share a snail snackA pair of Limpkins share a snail snack, Nikon D7000, ISO 900 (Try repeating that caption 3 times fast!)

Here is another, un-cropped photo of a Great Blue Heron:

Great Blue Heron keeps watchGreat Blue Heron keeps watch, ISO 280

One of the comments on these photos today on Flickr was “You’re lucky to be in an area with amazing wildlife.”  I couldn’t agree more.  And that’s just one of the many ways that I am so very lucky.

You can click on each of the photos above to view them on Flickr.  I’ve also uploaded several more in this D7000 set on Flickr. Many of them are in high-resolution so that you can better judge the image / camera quality.  You can also view additional photos I’ve made at Viera Wetlands here in this set.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Nikon D7000 Sample Images

So far, I’m very pleased with the Nikon D7000. I’ve posted a few sample photos on Flickr in this set.  They were all uploaded at full resolution and all but this one of a very cooperative Red-Shouldered Hawk are un-cropped.

Red-shouldered Hawk, D7000 at ISO 220, full resolution, cropped

Red-shouldered Hawk, D7000 at ISO 220

I haven’t had a chance to do any direct comparisons, but the D7000 results seem very good all the way up to ISOs above 1000.  With the D90 I’ve been reluctant to use anything above ISO 800.

The photos I’ve posted so far were all made in JPG.  I took them in RAW+JPG mode, but so far Adobe Camera Raw and Nikon  CaptureNX2 can not process the RAW files.  To do a real comparison of the performance at different ISOs, I’d like to use the RAW files without any adjustments.  A project for another day.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Just Wandering

Morning Gulls on Lake MonroeMorning Gulls on Lake Monroe

Do you ever just go wandering around, exploring new areas?  Not to make photos, but hoping in the back of your mind that a good photo might show up in front of your lens?  Sometimes I do.  And sometimes it happens.

One day back in July of 2007, I drove over to Sanford, Florida and  stopped by the boat ramp.  As I watched the sun rise,  I kept my eye on some seagulls flying around over the water.  When the sun went into those clouds and the very pretty rays showed up – I framed my shot and started walking over toward the gulls, shooting in continuous mode.  I was hoping for something exactly like this, and when I got home I was happy with how it turned out.

So, I’m just wondering.  Would you ever drive to a boat ramp at sunrise for a photo-op?  Maybe, maybe not.  When you’re just out wandering around with your camera, your expectations are different.  The photo pressure’s off.  It’s OK to go home without a 4 or 5 star image.  But the opportunities for photos may be a lot more varied than if you set off with a specific photo goal in mind.  And if you do come home with a nice photo or two it’s a bonus.

So, just go wandering.  And keep your eyes and mind open to the beautiful nature show happening all around you.  And take a camera.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

P.S.  We drove by the Lake Jesup wildflower fields this morning and they’re just about all gone.  If you didn’t make a photo there this year, you’ll have to wait until late next September for your chance.

Lukas Nursery Butterfly Encounter

Intro / Description

Lukas Nursery is a family owned business in Oviedo, Florida.  You can find all sorts of plants and garden supplies in their well stocked nursery and they also have a small Butterfly Encounter where three of us from the Photography Interest Group  went exploring last Saturday.

We were there when they opened at 9am so we could try to avoid the mid-day heat.  Inside the Butterfly Encounter, they have a nice gift shop where you pay your $5 entrance fee.  When you enter the butterfly area itself, there are a great many beautiful flowers and at least three types of small, colorful birds – but unfortunately there weren’t very many butterflies visible on the day we were there.  I’ve been once or twice in the past when they were more plentiful.  I wonder if this is a seasonal thing or we just caught them in between re-supplies?  We did have fun stalking the butterflies we found and angling for good photos.


Info for Photographers

Photo hints:  This is a good place to practice using your flash.  I tried both the pop-up flash on my camera and an off camera flash triggered by the pop-up.  With flash, you should be able to use a small aperture to increase your depth of field.  If you want to experiment further, you can shoot in manual mode using a shutter speed within your camera’s flash sync range.  Then vary the flash output and your shutter speed / aperture to control the ratio of foreground and background lighting to isolate your subjects.

Tripod/Monopod:  Not prohibited, but there isn’t much room inside for a tripod so you should be polite and bring a monopod at the very most.  In the confined spaces and with my subjects moving around, I left both my tripod and monopod home and hand held all my photos.

Lenses: A longer macro lens will be helpful.  I had some success with my 105mm macro on a crop sensor body.  You may also want to bring one of your longer zoom lenses to get close to butterflies that perch up high in the vines.

Best time to visit:  Avoid the summer – it gets very hot inside.  Think about calling ahead to check on the the butterfly population.

Other:  Don’t forget to look for flower and bird photos too!

Purple flower

Cartoon colors bird

Butterfly Encounter Summary

My Gallery / Flickr photo set:
Butterfly Encounter Website:
Address / Phone: 1909 Slavia Rd
Oviedo, Florida 32765
Central Florida Photo Ops Rating: Flower and birds plentiful, butterflies hiding.

P.S. I re-visited the Lake Jesup Wilderness area this morning and added a few more photos to my Flickr set.  Click here if you’re interested.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

A full bloom riot of flowers

Last year during wildflower season, I hesitated to venture out into the Lake Jesup Wilderness Area in the dark.  I’ve seen several types of animals and birds out there and never any snakes, but it sure does seem like prime snake country to me.  And I don’t relish stepping on something dangerous in the tall growth and dim light.   This year, I was a little braver (and very careful) and got out into the wildflower fields just as the sun came up.

Watching the sun riseWatching the sun rise

I really wish last weekend’s spectacular sunrises had repeated this weekend. But even though there were no clouds and very  little sky color, the fields of wildflowers made up for it with a full bloom riot of Helianthus angustifolius var. canadense.

Lake Jessup WildflowersLake Jesup Wildflowers – Narrow leaf Sunflowers, also called “Swamp Sunflowers

It’s not too late for you to go out and see this wonderful explosion of nature, but it will be too late soon.  This morning, the blooms seemed to be just about at their peak, and they fade quickly.

You can see other photos I’ve made out there in this Flickr set.  For more information, here are two other posts about  this area:

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.