Comments On Thunderhead Over Yosemite Falls




Thunderhead Over Yosemite Falls


I recently shared this image on Facebook, in several page forums, with a great deal of attention in one or two of them. I can’t say it didn’t feel pretty good to be appreciated.

So thanks to all those who liked this image on Facebook. And thanks to those who’ve made the great FB photographic venues possible, and all the others who share great images. I’m constantly watching you in that latter group, half the time with jaw open.


A number of individuals asked questions about the shot, more than I could possibly answer in FB page comments. So here's some background, and a few technical hints about the final image.
 

While I can’t claim to be one of the truly great photographers, I’m confident I’m not among the worst. I’ll keep working on that greatness angle it until the lights go out.

I posted the image with this caption: “Thunderhead over Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park. Constantly photographed, so very difficult to find something different. Digital simulation of 25R and Polarizing filters on B&W Panchromatic film, RGB channel managed in several RAW conversions, then hand blended using luminosity masking and blend-if methods”.

This Thunderhead Over Yosemite Falls is a lucky shot to be sure, from a single camera setup. I was actually busy shooting mediocre clouds from a setup in the other direction when I turned around and there it was. I mean it wasn't there just ten minutes before, and it was moving that fast. I had been busy shooting multiple exposure shots of Yosemite Falls reflections in the Spring water overflows (like everyone else), and had figured I had finished with it as a subject, so I wasn't even paying attention to the falls. I was just fooling around with thunderheads in the opposite direction over the meadow, until ready to head home. So it's one of those right places at the right time, which over the years, I've mostly NOT been. I knew it might be a reasonably cool shot. But it wasn’t until I reviewed the work in Bridge that it hit me that I might have a great potential for a black and white conversion, especially if I really dug into it.

And it looks like an easy B&W. But NOT so.

Years ago the great B&W photographers like Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, and Bill Brandt, some of the great Western Movie Cinematographers (think the Monument Valley Classics, or maybe Stagecoach, or better yet, Red River), and many more, worked in film of course. After the advent of panchromatic film, some of them landscaped with B&W pan stock, deep red filters, polarizers, and even with infrared stock, producing the stunning super contrast images many of us know as iconic.


I’m old school and remember Conrad Hall reminding us that, “Contrast is what makes photography interesting”. So to me, it’s all subjective, something like fashion trends. No one wants to get caught wearing something out of style. But worrying about what others are thinking of us can also get in the way of personal creativity.

What I wanted from this image was a sky as done as in B&W infrared, and the landscape as done with regular panchromatic film, both covered by Red and Polarizing filters. Tough to have done in film, but we can do that today in digital. So from the single setup I processed three separate exposures in a number of variations, for a number of purposes.

But in digital, we don’t have the gentle dynamic range roll off of film, or the smooth gradients. We’re almost all working very limited at the end, even in color. And in B&W we don’t have a billion aRGB colors, not even millions of sRGB colors. Just 256. That’s it. So banded gradients, posterization, noise, and extreme contrast hotspots, bright lines, and clipping are really a problem. In the past I figure out a few ways to deal with solid gradients like sky, within limits, but in this shot there are gradients everywhere, and most of them had problems. There are also very dark areas and very bright areas because we have sunlight and deep shadow. So we’re likely to get a ton of noise in the shadow areas when we try to reveal detail, which in limited bit depth can look like greasy oil spots just everywhere.

And while I’m not sure, I think there could be as many as 16 stops or more of dynamic range of subject detail somewhere between the 0's and 255's. If true, that’s more than any camera can handle, even the Hasselblad X1D-50c or the new Nikon D850
. Well maybe not ANY camera. If you've got $79,500 to shell out just for a body, the Red WEAPON BRAIN Monstro 8k pulls off 17 STOPS of dynamic range. But still.

So the Thunderhead required some HDR. But HDR has an inherent tendency toward low contrast, and what I wanted here was extremely high contrast without losing detail and without problems that might make it unusable.

I’m always looking up to the work of others, always, both out of admiration and a hunger to learn. And maybe even out of compulsion to see just how crazy and brilliant the next great image might be. And I’ve seen some other great photographers create similar B&W images, so I figured it could be done. 


I knew HOW the old high contrast panchromatic processes worked, because I learned to do them in film, more years ago than I’d like to let on. So converting this image from color to extreme B&W was easy. If I had just converted it to B&W, saved it as an 8bit JPEG, and posted it, it would have been cake. But with the extremes I was after, 100% editing for printing revealed it to be very, VERY problematic. So it was a challenge. I had to dig pretty deep into my little bag of tricks.

But then I read David Fokos spends up to 100 hours on a B&W image. So the half day I put into this one wasn’t all that much.

Still, I figured out some solutions that may help if I ever get a lucky shot like this again.


Meanwhile, I keep thinking of the quote by the great photographer, Bill Brandt: "I am not interested in rules or conventions. Photography is not a sport."

Photographic Equipment





Some of my friends ask me what equipment I use. Since most doing the asking are not greatly advanced digital photographers, I tell them that in my view, learning to manage the basic resources of any camera, especially modern SLR’s, is more important than the camera itself. Quality lenses are also essential. And just as important is software and the skills to use it wisely. But the simple skills of learning to manually control your camera for the results you want are far more important than the camera itself.

For anyone who want's to know, then here's a list of my current photography equipment. But some notes first.

I basically traded my last old Nikon F2 (I had three) and several lenses, for a Nikon D70 kit in about 2005. I was always a Nikon user, so it just followed. Once I started selling micro stock, it paid for itself in the first two months. A year later I added a D200 and several lenses. I had a hit stock shot that paid for that in a month, with money left over for a whole new camera system, the first of two MacBook Pros, and my first post processing external monitor. At that time the Canon 5D Mark II came out and it was essentially the best digital full frame camera body on the market. Nikon had nothing like it. The money was rolling in so I bought one and four lenses. But then I was buried in Canon gear. To be fair, I think the higher end Nikons were much more usable cameras, much more photographer friendly. But they didn’t have the resolution or the dynamic range. Today that’s different. Sony and Nikon have full lines of the best “35mm” digital SLR’s out there.


But in the end, the ability to compose, expose, manage simplicities like depth of field, shutter speed, and ISO settings, and handle the manual controls of any camera is the key. Better cameras and lenses help to take it all to a higher level, but a poor camera in skilled hands is better than a $50,000 100 megapixel digital in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use it. Professionals have proven the point over the years by shooting with cheap little cameras with spectacular results, just to show quality is as much in the hands of the the operator as in the machine.


For me, I mostly shoot in Aperture Priority set at f8 or f11. The shutter speeds are slow and so are my lenses. But then I use a tripod as often as possible, and f8-f11 is the resolution sweet spot for most lenses. The only time I violate this is to get the shutter speed up for hand held shots, or to get more depth of field in the other direction. If you know what I’m talking about, I also exposure bracket as often as I find the need, and blend exposures with Photoshop Luminosity Masking.


My camera bodies are getting a bit old and it’s way past due to upgrade. The Canon 5D Mark II has been such an excellent shooter I just haven’t felt the need. The Mark III was just not that much of an improvement over the Mark II, especially for the money. The cost of moving back to Nikon would require yet more Nikon mount full frame lenses, making the price point a bit intimidating. So the Canon 5D Mark II has been my best camera, and the little 16mp Nikon D5100 is the one I throw in the saddle bags to get knocked around with my spurs. The other two Nikons have become legacies.


Among my considerations is the new Canon 5D Mark IV. It’s definitely looking good, and I have a reasonable array of solid Canon L lenses. Another option is the Nikon D850. It’s looking over the top, but I’d have to add several more expensive lenses to make it a solid kit. And what would I do with the Canon lenses? So I’m up in the air for the moment.



(Addendum: no longer up in the air. Bought the Canon 5D Mark IV, largely because I can view and control images through my cell phone using the Canon phone app!)

There are several absolutely great resources for those looking to buy a camera, whether it’s your first point and shoot or the latest pro-level SLR you’re adding to your kit. Personally, I can’t stress enough that learning to use the following three resources is the most important thing you can do for yourself. I absolutely love them all, especially the third one. You can look up a lens and launch a popup that allows you to see a 3D graph of the sharpness in the center and at all four corners. Sliders change the focal length and the aperture. You can see the center and corner qualities of the given lens at all settings. You can also popup the same for chromatic aberration. Being able to tell a soft cornered lens from a flat one by just going online is basically gold. DXOMark lab tests camera sensors and lenses, and pairs any selected lens with any body it will fit for total resolution achievable, chromatic aberration, and light transmission. MUCH better than having to ship a lens or camera body back, because you basically can't handle or buy either at local stores any longer. Digital Photography Review tests cameras and they do a great job of it. Do yourself a favor. Check these out.

Digital Photography Review

DXOMark

Digital Camera Reviews

They're all indispensable. But as an example, here's what I mean about the usefulness of  the Digital Camera Reviews website. Below is a link to the easy-to-comprehend 3D resolution lab results for one of my Canon lenses. This chart was set for a full frame camera, and not the APS/DX format. The corners for any lens on a full frame body are typically softer. As you can see, it sucks wide open, especially at the wider focal lengths. But stop it down to f8 and it's a reasonably sharp lens. Not perfect, but acceptably sharp. This tells me that unless I need to shoot hand held at very low light levels, or maybe the Milky Way as is popular these days, I don't need to spend three times as much for the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM. The latter lens doesn't test out any sharper. It's just faster.


Digital Camera Reviews lab results for the sharpness of the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM.


What you're looking for here are low numbers on the right color chart, down in the blue or magenta range, at least at the aperture range and focal range you're targeting. Anything under #2 at the corners and near #1 in the center is a fairly good lens. What you don't want are colors up in the green or red. Lenses that keep the numbers down to #1, especially at wide open apertures and at all four corners, are scarce. They're out there, but they will cost you. A LOT.


It's also useful to run the test for chromatic aberration for a given lens at the same site. CA is correctable, whereas softness is not so much, but it's still tough to deal with if it's bad enough that software alone can't fix it. 

So if you're interested in maybe two or three similar lenses in a similar price range produced by different manufacturers, it might make sense to select the one with the best qualities.

There will be photographers that might argue that too much attention on equipment and not enough on composure and technique are not the best approach to great images. And they're right. I stated that at the outset. But paying an arm and a leg for what you think might be a fine lens, traveling to a good location, sleeping in the cold, getting up before the sun, shooting that perfect shot where the sky is never going to be the same, and coming back to find that the corners are so soft the best shots are all but useless, is not all that great either. I've been there, which is why I really love those three  resources. So should you, IMHO.


My Photo Tools

EVERYTHING listed here was purchased with stock shot earnings between 2007 - 2017.

Cameras and Lenses

    Full Frame


•            Canon 5D Mark IV 30.4mp
•            Canon Battery Grip BG-E20 for 5D Mark IV
•            Canon 5D Mark II 21.1mp
•            Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM  (1st gen)
•            Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM
•            Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM  (1st gen)
•            Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM
•            Canon Extension Tube EF 25 II  (auto connect)

    APS-C/DX Frame

•            Nikon D70 6.2mp
•            Nikon D200 10.2mp
•            Nikon D5100 16.2mp
•            Nikon AF-S 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G IF-ED DX
•            Nikon AF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR IF-ED VR (DX 1st gen)
•            Nikon AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR IF-ED (FX 1st gen)
•            Nikon AF 70-300/4-5.6 D ED (FX aperture ring, screw driven auto focus)
•            Nikon 60mm Macro (FX aperture ring, screw driven auto focus)

Support tools


•        Kirk Quick Release Plate for Canon BG-E20 5D IV Battery Grip (Arca)
•        Sunwayphoto 5DIV Quick Release Plate for Canon 5D IV Body (Arca)  
•        Markins Quick Release Plates, Fitted to 5D II and Nikon 5100 Bodies (Arca)
•        Manfrotto 3001 Aluminum Tripod and Ball Head
•        Manfrotto 190CXPRO4 Carbon Fiber Tripod
•        Markins Q-3 Emille Traveler Ball Head
•        OBO T360C 14” 5 Section Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod (light, light, light)
•        OBO B-36 Ball Head (annoyingly sticky, but very light)

•        Op/Tech USA Pro Loop Neoprene Camera Strap

Carry and Field Tools


•        Lowe Pro Photo Sport 200 AW Ultralight Backpack (go to bag)
•        Camelback Hydration System for Sport 200
•        Lowe Pro Primus LP35092PEU AW Arctic Blue Backpack (HUGE)
•        Tamrac 5769 Velocity 9x Pro Photo Sling Pack Bag
•        Tarmac 5732 Adventure 2 Backpack
•        Tarmac 5547 Adventure 7 Backpack
•        Thule and CineBags Laptop Cases
•        Lowe Pro Shoulder Bag (field storage for filter kits, batteries, data cards, etc)
•        Eagle Creek Pocket Bags (quick grab kits of tools, data cards, batteries, etc.)

•       Hoodman Eyepiece for Canon 5D Mark II
•       Hoodman Eyepiece for Canon 5D Mark Iv
•        A $h*t load of chargers, batteries, lens cases, cables, et. al.
•        A 12v DC to 120v AC Converter for ALL (instead of a slew of car chargers)
•        Hoya/Kenko/Cokin UV, Color Correction, Color Compensation, and Pola Filters

•        About 200 Gigabytes of CF and SD Camera Storage Cards
 
Post Processing and Storage Tools

    Hardware


•            MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Late 2013)
•                Quadcore 2.6 GHz i7 Processor
•                16 Gigs DDR3L Memory
•                1 Terrabyte SSD
•            NEC PA272W-BK-SV LED Backlit Wide Gamut External Monitor with Hood
•            NEC SpectraViewII Calibration Sensor (for the NEC)   
•            ColorMunki Calibration Sensor (for everything else)
•            Redundant Firewire, USB3, and Thunderbolt Full System Backup Drives
•            Cannon 500lb Fireproof Floor Safe (equipment and backup drive storage)
•            Two Large Fireproof/Waterproof Document Safes For Redundant Backups

 
    Software


•            MacOS 10.12.6 Sierra
•            Adobe Photoshop Version: CS5 12.0.4 (old but it’s paid for)
•            Adobe Bridge CS5 (old but it’s also paid for)
•            Adobe Camera Raw 6.7 (old but it’s also paid for)

•            Canon Digital Photo Professional 4 (converts 5DIV RAW to Adobe Cam. RAW)
•            Canon Camera Connect Android Wi-Fi App (connects phone to 5DIV)
•            NEC SpectraViewII Calibration Software
•            ColorMunki Calibration Software
•            Tony Kuyper’s TK Actions (Luminosity Masking Tools for Photoshop CS5)
•            Macphun Noisless CK 2016 (advanced noise reduction tool)


Admirations


 
Photography has been one of my interests for a very long time. I bought my first Nikon F so long ago I’m too embarrassed to give a date. But since 2007 I’ve been selling my work in the “micro stock” arena, with reasonable success. But that market has great limitations for anyone aspiring to capture images for the Fine Art venue. This motivated me to finally take my own work into the latter arena, which is what I’m doing. But in that effort, I feel obliged to honor a few individuals and lifestyle categories that have been at least part of my personal inspiration.

I’ve been around some pretty high level personalities. Hollywood film producers, billionaire media moguls, and screen stars at the very highest level. I knew individuals on a first name basis that earned more than a million dollars a week. It’s a fact. But only a very few of the hundreds I met or worked around in that stratospheric league ever made much of a subjective personal impression on me. Among the few I liked were Ben Johnson, Carol Burnett, Demi Moore, Elvis Presley, Jim Coburn, James Spader, Jim Belushi, Jimmy Stewart, Kurt Russell, Leonard Nimoy, Walt Disney, and especially Richard Gere. From my perspective, Richard Gere was the real deal. I truly hope the increasing revelations about Hollywood elites don't force me to change my mind about these few.

But beyond the apex of Hollywood, there are some people in this world that did affect me. I admire and look up to a number of great adventurers, artists, and independent men and women of my time.

At the top, I put my late father, who hopped a freight train from his home in Illinois during the Depression years when he was only 13 years old and never went back. He made it to California, having been only pulled off once about half way. Taken into court in the Midwest, a judge looked him over, gave him some personal advice about life, handed him a silver half dollar, and sent him on his way. That judge also falls into my admiration queue, and is a great indicator of all that’s being lost as we move toward wherever it is we’re all heading. By 17 years old my father was a top billed Vaudeville singer signed with the theatrical agency, Western Vaudeville. They were the pop stars of their day. For the next fifteen years that’s what he did, until Vaudeville faded away. Later in life he taught himself advanced slide rule math and radio engineering, and became a
federally licensed radio broadcast engineer, designing antennas and communication equipment packages for movie companies in Hollywood. He ended up working until he retired as as an episodic television sound recording engineer. My father never finished the eight grade.


My wife, Kristy, is right up there too, worthy of the recognition she deserves. She's a tough, bright, hard working woman, and the one who suggested I send some of my images to stock photo agencies. I did and ended up with small contracts that actually took off for me. It paid the bills for several years, and paid for all further equipment.


Then there were some of the adventuring souls I encountered along my own way. It's clear that there's a lot of amazing adventurers and photographers out there, and I don't mean to argue that these are the greatest. They're just a few that influenced me. Because I knew them, I put the climber and writer, John Long, at or near the top of the pure adventure category, and the late Galen Rowell at the top in modern landscape photography. It was the venerable Bob Kamps that taught me to climb, but it was John that made me feel like I was part of that world, both when we worked together in the entertainment industry and in the climbing scene. I think you can’t go wrong reading anything that John wrote. And Galen, in forming Mountain Light, virtually paved the way for most modern adventure landscape photographers. Sadly, it was reported in late 2017 that Mountain Light was closing its doors. Many will miss it.

Galen exposed me, a
long with the late climber, Pete Steeres, to Hot Creek way back before it was developed.  In Tuolumne during the Summer of '73, Pete and a woman named Linda Thomson caught Galen off guard and actually smashed him in the face with a whip cream pie. Galen took it with a laugh, but retaliated that evening by taking the turns heading down Lee Vining Canyon in full sliding, screaming four wheel drifts. If you know that road, you know it might have been a moment. Bouncing around in the back, the climber beside me actually cried out, “We’re all gonna’ die!” He was joking, but still he actually had fear in his eyes, this guy who was a competent traditional first ascent lead climber used to living on the edge. Galen laughed at us all on we went. A few days later Galen gave me a ride down off the hill and dropped me off at the Oakland airport where I caught a plane back to Hollywood. In Hollywood I would drive to work in the dark, peek my head out of some major lot sound stage at lunch only to realize the air was so bad I couldn't see three telephone poles down the line, and I'd drive home in the dark. In the DARK. In the SUMMER. Yeah, those were long hours.
So skinny dipping with a crowd of young men and women in the night under the stars of the Eastern Sierra was MUCH more interesting to me than being stuck for long, long hours cooped up in Hollywood sound stages. I had been interested in photography years before I met Galen. But after I saw Galen’s work, I was stuck in abject admiration. He shot “Rainbow over the Potala Palace” in Lhasa Tibet, and it just blew me away. Along with everybody else. This was an in-camera capture, long before digital manipulation. Today, I'm still following, well behind thousands of other greats, but still plodding along in the distant footsteps of men like Galen.
 
If you’ve ever stood in line with a bunch of honest top of the line, cutting edge climbing hot shots working on an unfinished boulder problem, and when your turn comes, you flash it, you know what I mean.
Leading Valhalla in '73, the
test piece that put you into
the club. Mike Graham belaying.

After that, there’s no turning back. There were others from that life. I always remember and liked the legendary Tahquitz climbing guide, Clark Jacobs. And I liked Mike Graham, Tobin Sorensen, Phil Warender, Mark Powell, crazy Mike “Red” Kayser, and Greg Bender even though I knew them either briefly or just for a year or two. From Stoney Point, Mike Kayser and Greg Bender followed me to to Tahoe where we all ended up not only climbing at Lover's Leap and Eagle Lake, but found our way onto a framing construction crew together. But that is a long way back. Today the climbing scene is so advanced that it’s impossible to even consider.  9c was conquered in late 2017 — something like 5.15d — and Alex Honold actually free soloed an El Cap route. There’s a pretty fine line going on there now, and it seems only a matter of time.

And then there are rodeo cowboys and pickup riders. It doesn’t matter who they are or when they lived, successful rodeo cowboys are among the greatest adventurers of all time. Pickup riders are probably the most underrated and over skilled workers ever. The skills they manage relative to the pay they receive is at the adventure extreme. When I worked those long decades in the Hollywood film industry, if I was on a western, I’d be attracted NOT to the company and snobbish air of the producers and starring cast so much, but to the wranglers and the stunt cowboys. Among the rodeo cowboys I knew and admired the most was an obscure world champion rodeo roper named Kenny Call. He was close friends with the late and great actor, Ben Johnson. They treated me right. Ben was the ONLY person to ever win both an Academy Award and a World Champion rodeo title as a team roping header. 
Kenny was a small time actor and stunt man. But he took the time to teach me to rope and ride, two things that I had wanted to go back to and master ever since I rode with my friends as a kid and saw my first childhood westerns on the silver screen. It was a tough teaching, as Kenny was pretty much an old school, hard knocks, heavy handed cowboy from Oklahoma. He fixed his breakaway training ropes with bailing wire, which didn't break away so well, so you had to learn to take your dallies on the fly and with some thought or risk loosing a thumb. Another cowboy that left a mark on me, although he almost certainly doesn’t know it, was a national finalist bare back rider turned movie stunt coordinator named Raleigh Wilson. I met him in Yuma working on the picture,  Stargate, about the time the rodeo and Western Lifestyle bug really hit me. Raleigh never made me feel small for wanting to hang with him, and I wanted to hang with him because, like Chris LeDoux, “he rode the wild horses”, and he rode 'em tall.

There are maybe a score of people like these that I look back on with admiration. I may not have known it would be like that then, and most of them probably don't know it now. But I remember them today as at least somewhat iconic. It doesn't matter all that much how or why, but I remember them. One was a certain KLM who helped my buy my first Nikon F. Another was a rancher named Carl Grieb in Arroyo Grande who in a way changed at least a part of my life by teaching me how to gather, sort, and brand cattle on horseback and in the roughest of country. Then there was a fellow named Jared Jantzen, who maybe in a way saved my life by ministering to me at his own expense. And finally there was a man who called himself Jimmy H. Woo who added a sort of sacred confidence in my life. Very few would know who he was, but for those that do, you have my salute and respect.

Back to the world of photography, there are many, MANY other modern landscape and fine art photographers that I admire as well. I like Patrick DiFruscia. It's difficult to imagine a more interesting or successful landscape and nature photographer, or a more passionate person. I also think there's NO better place to learn about the business of modern photography than at Dan Heller's site. NONE. I also really like Aaron Reed. A LOT. Mark
Metternich is one of the most knowledgeable persons I know about when it comes to post editing. His YouTube videos are well worth the time.  Among others are Vern Clevenger, Mark Adamus, and Peter Lik. Vern was a climber and I used to see him at the Summer Bishop craft festival with his fine work. He was one of the first that made me see the possibilities of actually doing something with the photography I’d been fooling with as a hobby for decades. I was amazed when he explained he was scanning his transparencies and editing them on his computer with some new software called "Photoshop". That was probably 25 years ago. Mark Adamus was the first one I saw online that blew me away, making me realize the possibilities of really managing the work in post. And finally, Peter Lik because he’s currently considered the greatest in the world. A SINGLE print of one of his black and white photos of the extremely over photographed Antelope Canyon, sold for $6.5 MILLION dollars. To me, THAT’S a success story if there EVER was one.

That’s about the best introduction to my photographic work and how I got here I know how to make. And it's about the best effort to note a few of those that influenced my life that I can manage. Until next time then.

Comments On Thunderhead Over Yosemite Falls

Thunderhead Over Yosemite Falls I recently shared this image on Facebook, in several page forums, with a great deal of attention in ...