Newsletter January 14, 2018

Dept. of Random Thoughts: The Golden Hour

Vence, France

Many experienced photographers celebrate the golden hour as the end-all and be-all of quality light. For those of you who’ve been wandering in the Outback, the golden hour is that all-too-brief time of day just after sunrise and just before sunset. Sunset is usually warmer than sunrise due to heat rising from everyone’s daily doings. The sun’s rays must travel through a lot of atmosphere to reach you which has the net effect of absorbing blue spectrum rays and passing along the reds. In addition, the acute angle of the light adds long shadows that create definition to your subjects. Of course, this is all relative to your location; Lapland has extended golden hours whereas Hawaii’s are quite short.

Thanks to Lord Kelvin and his investigations into radiance, we have a numerical scale that quantifies color temperature. In simplest terms, early and late light is about 3000° whereas noon is about 6000°.

Originally, films were made to respond to a specific color temperature. There were two types of emulsions: T for tungsten light rated at 3200° and D for Daylight at 5500°. You can easily see that shooting with daylight film during the golden hour results in subjects bathed in warm tones.

Here’s a chart that explains the various conditions and their color temperatures:

In today’s digital age, color temperature manifests itself by what is known as white balance. White balance is a term born from the needs of videographers to achieve neutral balance of the primary colors, red, blue and green. They adjusted the response of their cameras to any lighting condition by shooting a short sequence of master video off a white card. Hence the term white balance. What they were doing was calibrating their camera to the color of the available light whether mercury vapor, florescent, incandescent or sunlight.

These days, your sensor does an admirable job without the need to use a white card. Using the AutoWB setting, your camera’s software does the heavy lifting for you. I recommend all of you use AutoWB for 99% of your photos; that remaining 1% is for florescent light since those tubes can fool the best software. There’s a manual setting for this in your menu system.

One note: You’ve probably noticed that the golden hour often occurs during mealtime. Many a compatible relationship has been tested by the intrepid photographer foregoing dinner to wander out and about with his cameras. I can only say from personal experience that this possibility should be at the top of the list of compromises agreed to very early on. The spouse might even find that carrying the tripod on occasion might produce massive short and long-term benefits.

Tech Corner: Sony FE 100mm f/2.8 STF GM OSS Lens

Every now and then, a lens manufacturer will come along and try to reinvent the wheel. Some are great discoveries like the apochromatic Leica Summicrons and some are duds. This entry from Sony seems somewhere in the middle.

With this lens, Sony tries to improve a specific characteristic of all lenses but most often seen in telephotos. It is what is known as bokeh (bo-kay) or that portion of your photo that is NOT in focus. In other words, all that blurry stuff in front of and behind your subject. Generally, I’m not a big fan of the sort of isolated focus that telephotos render. I prefer sharp focus from near to far.

But here’s a lens that takes bokeh further. This intriguing new STF (Smooth Trans Focus) lens from Sony is manufactured with a form of apodization, which is intended to "smooth out" any bokeh elements that may contain hard edges.

Here’s a sample (thanks to Imaging Resource) demonstrating the difference:

Since I’m so used to the effect on the right, I’m not sure I even like the STF effect on the left. I think this is one of those tech advances that appeals more to the guys in R&D than it does to the consumer.

But in my valiant efforts to keep you apprised of all things new and different in the world of photography, I’m your humble if skeptical servant. It’s $1500 on Amazon.

Tech Corner: WD-My Passport Wireless Pro

SSD drives have been available for some time though their price is out of sight compared to even the best SATA drives. The charm of SSD drives is that they have no moving parts that can wear out.

Recently, Western Digital (WD) and its subsidiary, SanDisk, have released a nifty external SSD drive. It’s aimed at the travelling photographer who would like to backup their memory cards without the need for a laptop. Eschewing laptops, some of my students will absolutely love this.

It’s wireless too, so any wifi-enabled camera will send its card’s images directly to the HD. There’s also a SD slot for a direct connection.

The drive comes in several capacities from 250 gig to four terabytes. For more about this little wizard, here’s a link.

Tech Corner: Nikon 180-400mm with 1.4x Built-in Extender

Back in the day, I trod across many a PGA Tour fairway with 400mm and 500mm lenses attached to Nikon cameras with motor drives. Two lenses and two motor drive Nikons totaled 20lbs in addition to my camera bag. Little wonder my lower lumbars are shot.

But those lenses provided the kind of close up images that made photography fun…and lucrative.

Nikon’s 180-400mm tele is their latest entry in the big telephoto sweepstakes and I expect it’s going to be a huge success with sports and wildlife photographers. Mount it on their new D850 and you’ll have the best that digital photography can currently offer. You’ll also be the biggest rooster in town.

One unique feature of this lens is the built-in 1.4x tele-extender that’s activated by a very handy switch. Nominally, the focal lengths range from 180 to 400mm. The extender adds to this by a factor of 1.4 creating a 252mm to 560mm. Mind you that’s on a full frame camera. What I like best, though, is the wide aperture of f/4 that only loses a stop, f/5.6, when employing the extender.

Such quality comes with a hefty price, $12,400.00 and it weighs a hefty 7.7 lbs., too. I only wonder if the bokeh is as sexy as the Sony 100mm. For more on this latest lens from Nikon, here’s a link.

Book of the Week: Art Wolfe: Photographs from the Edge: A Master Photographer's Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World

Art Wolfe is a brilliant photographer who’s had a celebrated career photographing the natural bounty of Planet Earth. Many of his images are arrestingly beautiful and unique.

He has also been teaching for several years mainly in workshops organized by National Geographic as well from his own headquarters in Seattle. His expertise as a teacher is every bit as good as his photographic talent.

This book is edited with commentary by his friend, Rob Sheppard. It presents some of his most iconic images and how they were taken. It also offers tips on nearly every page.

Highly recommended and available on Amazon.

So, as you can see, I finally found a way to migrate my Newsletter to my website. Feel free to depart this page and wander among the galleries. There are images for any interest from the inimical White Sands to the majesty of the Grand Canyon. My experiments with the iPhone camera are included and there are many images from my 40-year career shooting golf courses and PGA Tournaments. Enjoy and see all of you next week.