The (Fujifilm) X-Files

SOOC

Gray barn with red door, overlooking mount Chocorua, New Hampshire winter scenery

Velvia

Sorry folks, no Mulder and Sculley here, the X-Files I’m going to be talking about have nothing to do with aliens or government conspiracies. These X-Files are the gorgeous straight out of camera jpeg files I get from my Fujifilm X-Series camera, the 24mp X-T2. 

Anybody who’s considered purchasing one of Fujifilm’s outstanding X-Series cameras has no doubt heard about the quality of the in camera jpegs. As an avowed (former?)RAW shooter, to say I was skeptical would be an understatement. I just couldn’t believe that a straight out of camera(sooc) jpeg could possibly match a processed RAW file. 

How wrong I was!

Dark shadowy stairway in an old brick mill building.

Acros

The straight out of camera jpegs, especially when utilizing Fuji’s film simulations, are fantastic and have greatly reduced my post processing time because I’m getting finished images when I press the shutter, no further post processing required. 

My personal favorite film simulations are Acros, for outstanding black and whites, Velvia, for rich landscapes, and Classic Chrome, which gives me a cool retro look to the image. 

Am I really done with RAW?

 
Not quite yet, at least not when it comes to commercial work. But I’m close. For critical work I’ll still shoot in RAW+jpeg so I have the RAW file as backup just in case extensive editing is needed for highlight recovery or white balance adjustments. Still, since making the switch from Canon to Fuji 80-90% of the images I’ve shared on my fan page have been the jpegs and not processed RAW files. 

Smiley face graffiti in wooden frame on a brick wall

Classic Chrome

WYSIWYG. 

Two additional features of the X-T2 that help make the jpegs so good right out of the camera is the live histogram displayed both in the electronic viewfinder (EVF), and on the LCD on the back of the camera. This takes the guesswork out of setting exposure since you can easily see how adjustments to shutter speed, aperture, and ISO are affecting exposure. 

The next feature is the ability to set the camera to display the effect your chosen film simulation has on the final image before you press the shutter. Looking through the viewfinder is truly a, What You See Is What You Get moment. 

So that’s it, a few of the many reasons I’m loving my new Fujifilm camera and the X-Files it produces. 

Sleeklens, Lightroom Workflow Made Easy(er).

Finish your photos faster.

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About a month ago the good people at Sleeklens asked me if I would be interested in trying out some of their workflow products for Lightroom and Photoshop. I figured anything that could speed up my workflow was worth trying, so I agreed to take a look at their Through the Woods collection of presets and adjustment brushes.

Due to the hectic Holiday Season being upon us this is just a brief overview and my initial impressions. Stay tuned for a more in-depth review.

First a few words of disclosure. I am not in any way affiliated with, nor do I receive any monetary gain from using/reviewing/promoting their products, however I was provided the Through The Woods workflow bundle free of charge.  

Tools to help speed up your landscape workflow.

The Through the Woods bundle consists of 50 landscape presets and 30 adjustment brushes that can greatly speed your image enhancement workflow.

The presets are divided into 7 separate categories, All-In-One, Base, Exposure, Color Correct, Tone/Tint, Polish, and Vignette. The majority of the presets are stackable, allowing you to globally add effects to your photos.

The 30 adjustment brushes ranging from Add Golden Sun to Darken Shadows can be used to further enhance your images in a more selective fashion by controlling the size and opacity.

The results speak for themselves.

Below are a few before and after images, none of which took more than a few minutes to go from the straight out of camera before to the finished after.

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Before

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After

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Before

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After

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After

Even though I haven’t had a chance to really dig into these presets and brushes, so far I’m impressed with the results I was able to get with just a few clicks and a few brush strokes.

For more information on the workflow products offered by Sleeklens you can visit them at the following links.

Through the Woods Workflow  This is the one I used for the above images.

Lightroom Presets Here you’ll find a complete collection of the workflow products offered by Sleeklens.

Image Editing Service If you’re too busy to enhance your own photos, or maybe you’ve got a photo you’re having a problem with, let the experts at Sleeklens handle the task for you with their image editing service.

The last word, for now.

As with any other Lightroom presets the presets offered by Sleeklens don’t all work perfectly on every image. Once applied you may need to go to the adjustment panel and play around with the sliders a bit in order the fine tune the preset to each individual image.

Are they worth it? To that I answer your question with a question, what is less time behind the computer worth to you? The Through the Woods collection sells for $39, and based on the time I can see the presets saving me is quite a deal.

Water Wet

H2O

For this week the Weekly Photo Challenge theme is good old H2O. As a landscape photographer water is the prevailing theme in many of my photographs. When looking through my photos trying to decide which photos to include in this post it appears that roughly three quarters of my photos contain water in one form or another.

Here are a few wet examples, followed by a few tips for making your own watery photos.

 

Tips for photographing the wet stuff.

1 ~ First and foremost, use a good quality circular polarizing filter, or CPL. If you only ever buy one filter make sure the CPL is it. It’s the one filter that cannot be duplicated digitally. They’re great for reducing or eliminating unwanted glare and reflections from wet rocks, leaves, and the surface of the water, thus allowing you to see through the surface of the water to what’s on the bottom.

2 ~ Don’t be afraid of a little rain. Most camera, whether they are listed as “weather sealed” or not are quite capable of withstanding a sprinkle or two. I always carry a small pack towel in my camera bag on the days I venture out when theres wain in the forecast.

Speaking of towels, dab don’t wipe the water off of your camera. Wiping could force the water into places that won’t make the camera happy.

3 ~ If it’s raining out use a lens hood to help keep raindrops from landing on the front element of your lens. Even when using a lens hood you should check the front element often and carry a clean microfiber lens cloth to wipe away any raindrops.

4 ~ When photographing water in its frozen form be sure to acclimate your camera slowly when you bring it inside after being out in the cold. The condensation that can form on, even worse in your camera again won’t make your camera very happy. I use two methods to deal with this. One is to put your camera in a large ziplock bag. Force as much air as possible out of the bag before sealing it. This way condensation will form on the outside of the bag, not your camera. The second is to simply put your camera in your camera bag and close it up, this is the method I use most. The padding on the camera bags act as insulation allowing the camera to slowly acclimate. Of course take your memory card out before hand so you do’t have to wait to upload your masterpieces.

Note: Tip #4 also applies to taking your camera from an air conditioned space out into hot humid weather.

Waterfall Wednesday

Time With Garwin Falls

It Depends. 

One of the questions I’m most often asked when it comes to photographing waterfalls is what camera settings I use, particularly what shutter speed.

And my answer is always the same, “It depends.”

It depends ~ On the look I’m going for. If I’m trying to capture the shapes and swirls created by bubble caught in an eddy, I know I’ll need a longer exposure time. The image above required 8 seconds to achieve the look I was after.

It depends ~ On how fast the water is flowing. The stronger the flow the shorter the shutter speed required to capture the silky smooth look on the water.

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A few weeks ago Mossy Glen was flowing very quickly due to recent spring rains, therefor I only needed a half second exposure time when making the above photo.

It depends ~  On the amount of ambient light you’re working with. This next photo, of Middle Ammonoosuc Falls in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest, was made well after the sun had gone down. It was getting quite dark in the deep gorge the falls flows through so I knew I was going to need a very long exposure. The exposure time on this photo is 180 seconds.

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So as you can see there is no one set rule I follow when deciding on what shutter speed. Generally speaking I do try for at least half a second, but if the light is right or I really want to capture bubbles or leaves swirling on the currents I’ll experiment until I’ve captured the look I want.

Want Great Sunrise Photos? Get Up Early!

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The glow on the horizon starts to take over the blue hour.

Rookie mistake #1 when photographing sunrises – show up just before the sun rises.

When you should have been there at least 30 minutes earlier.

While out photographing a sunrise I almost always have the place to myself. That is right up until just a few minutes prior to the sun peeking over the horizon. That’s when other photographers start showing up.

Sadly for them quite often they’ve already missed the best part of sunrise.

Fire Over The Ridge. Sunrise In Crawford Notch, NH

The sky is on fire, 23 minutes before sunrise.

With the technology we have available as photographers today there are easily dozens, if not hundreds of sources to find out what time sunrise is. From smartphone apps to a quick Google search an aspiring sunrise photographer can easily find out what time that big fiery ball in the sky will be making its daily appearance.

What none of these apps will tell you is that by showing up right at sunrise, or even just a few minutes before, may very well cost you the best light of the morning.

Which is why I always recommend showing up 30-45 minutes prior to sunrise,  the best light is often long before actual sunrise(each of the above photos was taken at least 20 minutes before).

No more running around while the light is fading.

Reason number two for showing up early is choosing compositions. By showing up early you then have plenty of time to chose your composition, or possibly multiple compositions. Light changes fast, if you know ahead of time exactly which compositions you would like to capture you can capture each one quickly because you’ve done a little scouting having arrived with plenty of time before the sun comes up. If on the other hand you show up right as the light is at its best, or the sun is just peeking over the horizon you then end up rushing around and having to settle on a composition that may not be the best one on that particular day.

The photo below illustrates this point. Nubble Light is one of themes photographed lighthouses in the U.S., therefor I like to try for something a little different each time I photograph it. By arriving at the parking lot 45 minutes before the sun came up I was able to wander around the rocks until I found just the composition and point of view I wanted. Had I shown up just as the sun rose above the horizon I would have had considerably less time to chose my composition and then set up my camera and tripod.

Sunrise and Rough Seas at Nubble Light

The composition I wanted, not the one I had to settle for. 

While the early bird is out catching their worms, the early photographers are capturing the best light.

And One Filter To Rule Them All

The One Filter You Can’t Live Without.

The Weekly Photo Challenge topic is Landscape, so rather than simply share a few landscape photos I’m going to talk about the one filter that should be in every nature and landscape photographers camera bag.

The one filter that cannot be duplicated in the computer, and the one filter I never leave home without.

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Straight out of camera, without polarizer.

 

That filter is the Circular Polarizer.

You can duplicate graduated neutral density filters all day long in Lightroom.

You can even simulate the effect of a straight neutral density filter simply by photographing in lower light, using smaller apertures, or lower ISO settings, thus allowing you to get longer exposure times.

However when it comes to removing the glare on shiny reflective surfaces like wet rocks and leaves, or the reflections on the surface of a flowing stream to reveal the stream bed below, there is only one way to do it. And that is with a good quality Circular Polarizer filter, or CPL for short.

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Same scene and camera settings, this time using a polarizer.

What does a Circular Polarizer do?

A circular polarizer is a filter that attaches to the front of your lens, usually by screwing onto the front filter threads. (Now you know why those threads are there 😉 )

What does a CPL do?

Notice how in the first image the colors are much less saturated and the details below the waters surface are much less visible. The is cause by glare. Notice how in the second image, shot using the same exposure settings,* the colors are richer, more saturated, and there is more visible detail under the water.

While a CPL can also help increase contrast and saturation in a photo,  both of these can be duplicated in the computer, glare and reflection removal can’t.

*Note: The second image is darker due to the ability of the Circular Polarizer to reduce the amount of light by as much as 2-stops. This is an added benefit when trying to use longer exposure times to capture flowing water with that silky smooth look.

The Benefits Continue Into The Final Image.

The better the image you get straight out of the camera the better the final image will be after post processing. The following are the above two images, processed as identically as I could. While this is totally subjective on my part the second image, the one where the circular polarizer was used, is the better final image.

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Final enhanced image using the RAW file captured without the use of a CPL

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Final enhanced image using the RAW file captured using a CPL

Tips On Buying And Using A Circular Polarizer.

1 – Buy the best you can afford. 

Cheap CPL filters can cause image softness as well as impart a color cast on your photo. I’ve used CPLs from B+W, Lee, and Singh Ray with excellent results. Be forewarned, good filters are not inexpensive, though in my opinion you get what you pay for. For more budget friendly CPL filters, check out Tiffen, or Hoya. I have no experience with the latter two, but I have read good things about their line of filters.

2 – Avoid using a CPL when photographing wide scenes.

One thing polarizers do very well is darken blue sky. Too well if you over adjust the filter. BUT, and it’s a big but, the effect of a CPL is greatest at 90° to the light source, for a landscape photographer this is likely the sun. The effect is reduced more and more as the angle to the sun changes. This is a big problem when photographing wide scenic landscapes with a lot of sky. The result will be part of the sky will be noticeably darker when gradually fading across the frame. This is a royal pain in the backside – by that I mean darn near impossible –  to correct in the computer.

3 – Don’t for get to readjust when you recompose.

You can adjust the amount of polarization on the image by rotating the filter. As mentioned above the greatest effect is at 90° to the sun. So once you adjust the amount of polarization you want in an image and then move the camera for another composition, don’t forget to readjust the filter. I find it to be much easier to see the effect in live view rather than looking thru the viewfinder, but that could just be my aging eyes.

4 – You only need one.  

Some of you may be thinking, “I have more than one lens that I use for landscape/waterfalls. Do I need a filter for each lens?” The answer is no.

Buy a filter that will fit the lens you own with the largest diameter filter threads. The buy inexpensive step-down rings to fit the filter to all of your other lenses.

 

My Favorite Plugins Are Now Free!!

 

Nik logo

I had to share this exciting news as soon as I could.

The Nik Collection by Google is now FREE!! 

That’s right, the plugins that I use on virtually every image are not $299, the price before Google bought Nik.

They’re not $149, the price after Google bought Nik.

They are FREE!!

Run, don’t walk, and get your copy today!!

Notice: these plugins require that you have either Lightroom or Photoshop as host programs, this is not stand-alone software.