A quest for the ultimate, beautiful, meaningful picture


Pixels wanted? A billion!

Did I say, in my previous post, that I wanted maximum sharpness? Well, NASA has the ultimate: a one-billion pixel composition of hundreds of photos taken by Mars rover Curiosity. You can find it here. May take some time to load… 😉


Weekend wallpapers: Lighter side of winter

In the part of the world where I live, winter is mostly dreary: cloudy days, with temperatures just above freezing, rain, chilly wind. A few weeks of snow cover (a few centimetres deep) are promised to us by the climate statistics, but in subjective experience it’s much rarer than that. And especially rare are days like this weekend, when a few flakes of snow fall on a windless day. A good occasion to rediscover the beauty of one’s own backyard dressed in a very picturesque cover.

Wallpaper Wednesday: Warm views from the desert

Some days off–time to post some wallpapers. Made a year ago, on a day tour into the desert around Abu Dhabi. Feel free to download and enjoy while waiting for inspiration at your computer screen.

Wallpaper Wednesday: Koyasan again

Oops, almost forgot again that it was Wallpaper Wednesday. Here are some more of my favourite wallpapers from Koyasan, the little town in Japan full of Buddhist temples and with the immense graveyard Okunoin.

Weekend wallpapers: Autumn colours in Japan

Irresistible autumn-coloured leaves in Japanese parks and forests make me so enthusiastic, that I happily share an extra dose of wallpaper-ready pictures.

Wednesday Wallpapers: Kyoto and Himeji

Himeji castle wall-paper

Wallpaper #1 this week is a view from a temple roof of a temple garden in Kyoto. Wallpaper #2 shows a wall (Wallpaper!) and a window (Windows?) with a rough stone staircase at Himeji Castle.

Click on the pictures for the large version, of course!

Winter keeps going strong

Originally uploaded by DFW-Photo

This year’s winter seems to last eternally. At least it’s more of a winter than we have had for a decade, and of course just when you get winterguest birds in your garden, you don’t have your camera ready (4 fieldfares, in Dutch ‘kramsvogels’). So you’ll have to make do with an ‘Image du soleil levant’, the painting that sparkled off impressionism in the end of the 19th century, but then in a 21st century fashion. Keep warm!

How a Classic was Made: Moon over Hernandez

‘Moon over Hernandez’ is one of Ansel Adams’s iconic landscape photos, and in this videoblog by Marc Silber of the Digital Photography School, Ansel’s son Michael tells a little about how the picture was made. It was a shot ‘at the spur of the moment’, a single negative at intuitive exposure settings (he couldn’t find the exposure meter!) because before Ansel could make a second one, the light in the foreground had faded. In our digital age, we could have made a dozen photos, bracketed for exposure…

But the real point was how different a straight print from the negative was from the final black-and-white print: all kinds of darkroom magic was used, for instance to make the sky darker (Adams’s later prints were even more dramatic than his first published ones) and mask some clouds at the top. The video showed a whole ‘storyboard’ that Ansel used for a graphic depiction of all that he wanted to do when enlarging the picture–much like the different steps you would have in Lightroom, or like the different layers you would use in Photoshop.

The main lesson for us, black-and-white landscape photographers: interpret your pictures afterwards when processing it at the computer, to get the result you want. There is not a single-best conversion from the red, blue and green pixels that make up your sensor data into the black-and-white you are going to print, and ‘highlighting’ certain areas of your picture through software adaptations is allowed–maybe we can make our own classic!

Dundalk, earlier this year

Originally uploaded by DFW-Photo

When selecting photos for the camera club’s next meeting, I stumbled upon this one. I had forgotten about it, and won’t show it there, but still I think that the play of hard but curved lines is kind of neat, especially in black-and-white and, even more especially, because the curves and diagonals of the empty street are contrasted–maybe you should even say they are ‘broken’ by a few verticals coming from the bottom of the picture. First there is the lantern, which still belongs in the man-made hard landscaping. But then there are the three young trees. Still leafless (it was early spring), and vulnerably small. The black-and-white makes the picture a bit ominous, to my mind: will these little trees survive? Yet the natural forms against the hard lines seem to say that nature will not be subdued! And if you then look closely, there is more of nature in the picture: more planting at the bottom, and some wild grass (you cannot call it a lawn) in the top-right corner. There is hope.

Between f/2.8 and f/64 (1)

At Earthboundlight a blog entry appeared this week to answer a reader’s question: ‘Why would you want to have an f/2.8 lens?’ Bob Johnson, the author of Earthboundlight, looked at this question from the landscape photographer’s point of view. In Ansel Adams’s days, with the big plate cameras, you needed f/64 to get the ‘grand vistas’ sharp from front to end—that’s why Ansel Adams was member of the Group f/64. Current lenses ‘only’ go to f/22 (sometimes f/32), so landscape photographers tend to use those small apertures—and a tripod, because you get long exposure time at small lens openings. Luckily landscapes tend to stay in place long enough 😉

What Johnson did not say was that at smaller formats, you get the same depth-of-field at lower aperture numbers. That is why it is so easy (relatively!) to make macro photos with compact cameras: with their tiny sensors, they get that flower detail all sharp at full opening, where a DSLR (especially a full-frame one) must stop down to f/22 to get the same. So for a landscape to be sharp from foreground to horizon, you can make do with f/22 rather than f/64 on a DSLR—if you want it all sharp.

It gives a classical look to—especially—landscape photos to have them sharp all over. Give it a sepia toning and you’d almost believe it was a 19th century picture! But most of the time, you don’t need sharpness all over to get the effect you want: selective sharpness is much more creative. You don’t need that grass and branch in the foreground to be sharp for them to have the effect of suggesting more depth to the photo with the manor house in the background.

Selective sharpness also works in close-up photos: this minuscule blueberry flower was all you need to see sharply—it conveys the spring feeling much better with the strong bokeh (‘unsharpness’) than a picture bewilderingly full of sharp details would have done.

Both these photos were taken at f/2.8—I only have one lens that opens so widely. The wide aperture has the advantage that you get more light into the viewfinder, so you see more clearly and you (or the camera) can focus more precisely. Moreover, f/2.8 often signals professional lenses, which also have other advantages, like minimum distortion of straight lines, minimum flare, minimum chromatic aberration and other flaws. Their only disadvantages are weight (that kept me from choosing one as my standard lens)—and price…