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Friday Slide Show: Lake Ilsanjo Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

18 November 2016

About an hour and half north of San Francisco, Lake Ilsanjo beckons from Sonoma County. It's a hike into Annadel State Park unless you're on horseback. But if you sweat the trails in, you can refresh yourself with a dip in its cool waters.

Lake Ilsanjo. The derivation of the name will make you smile.

We used to hike there when we would spend the weekend in Annadel's shadow. These images are, we confess, from June 2000. That was the dawn of the digital age in photography and the Nikon 900's JPEGs left a good deal to be desired.

But in those days the amazing thing was that there were JPEGs to begin with. A digital image. With pretty good color, too.

It's only looking back now that we are able to be disappointed with the image quality. The 1280x960-pixel resolution represents only a small target in today's much higher resolution images. Even our phones can capture 3264x2448-pixel images now. We could practically show these Nikon 900 images (thumbnails really) at full resolution in the slide show.

Like a couple of our previous Nikon 900 slide shows (here's the first and here's the second), these profited enormously from being processed in Lightroom CC.

Sure, it's a little disappointing to work with images of this low resolution but if you've got a stash of them on some SyQuest, dig them out and polish them up with modern software. You'll be surprised at what an improvement it can make.

Here's the a rollover of one image for comparison:

Lake Ilsanjo is a fond memory even at low resolution so we didn't mind revisiting it in these images.

We ran across them while we were on an errand of mercy. Our sister-in-law confided recently that she had lost all the photos of her first-born's first three years when the computer they were on died.

We had a few of them in our archive, of course, including some she'd shared with us. So we promised to burn our collection of those early images to a DVD for her.

And in the process of looking for them, we rediscovered Lake Ilsanjo.

The first time we hiked to it we wondered if it was an Indian name or maybe even Spanish. So we had to laugh when we found out the truth. Joe Coney owned the land and when a dam built in the 1950s formed the lake he named it after his wife Ilsa and himself. Ilsa-and-joe.

Our little hike that day occasioned a piece we wrote for the newsletter we were editing at the time. It was for the beginner's column and we called it Shooting a Dandelion Without Blowing It. We've reprised it below for your amusement and it's one of the pieces in our Beginner's Flash.

For a beginner's piece, it's a little technical. We wouldn't dare mention EV compensation in a beginner's piece for smartphone shooters today. Or metering bias. And we wouldn't have to mention portrait orientation at all, would we?

On the other hand, much of the thinking we encouraged can be postponed to post processing if you shoot Raw, something that was not available on the Nikon 900. In fact, even with these JPEGs, we found using the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom helped to extend the dynamic range of the image.

But those days, every little tip helped. You needed the help, too, considering how primitive the technology was compared to the computational photography built into today's smartphones.

So how did that dandelion shot turn out? You'll see it in the slide show, promise.

Beginners Flash: Shooting a Dandelion Without Blowing It

You climbed up the side of the mountain forest on a trail littered with obsidian chips the Indians used to make arrow heads. The sunlight barely reached the forest floor. Just in spots here and there. And now you've stumbled over the rocky trail as it breaks out of the fir trees and bay laurels into a meadow flooded with blue-eyed grass, lupine, goldfields -- and sunlight.

You pause to catch your breath, stop down your eyes, and turning to cool your forehead in the breeze what do you see but a dazzling dandelion standing against the dark backdrop of the forest, lit by the sun from behind.

You want that shot. But can you get it?

This isn't a job for auto exposure. If you just frame the dandelion and press the button, you'll get a white blur against some flatly colored grass and trees. Not dazzling at all.

No, you have to do a little work. But considering the long trek you're on, this little break could easily be considered as a survival skill. Think of it as a way to prolong your break.

The problem of the dandelion is, first, the brightness range of the subject. You have some very dark subjects in the background forest and a very bright one in the dandelion head. Even if your CCD could handle the wide a range of values found in the real sunlit world (it can't; neither can film), your printer can't. In fact, your printer handles even less. A lot less.

So you have to pick. Not the flower, but the brightness you want to capture.

In our case, it's pretty obvious we want a bright dandelion head and we're not too worried about seeing the forest for the trees. In fact, we'd be happy to lose the detail in the trees. The dark background would only help set off our dandelion.

The trick is to expose the dandelion so we capture it with some detail but also the relative brightness that first caught our attention. We want detail in the highlights, in short.

So how do you do that?

First, we have to properly meter the subject. You can do that by switching your metering mode to spot metering, so you're just reading the very center of your frame.

If we take the shot based on our spot reading, leaving the dandelion in the center of our frame, we'll get a drab gray dandelion framed as if we wanted to use it for target practice. Not the dazzling dandelion we want.

We have to tell the camera that the subject we're metering is not gray, but white. To do that, set your exposure compensation to overexpose one stop. That's an EV setting of +1.0.

When spot metering, it's best to think of metering and framing as two different steps. You use your lens to pinpoint the subject to be metered but you won't always want to frame the subject you've metered to be in the middle of the image.

So, after you've metered the subject, hold your shutter release button half-way down to hold the exposure information and then do your framing.

In our case, turn the camera for a portrait orientation and let the dandelion head sit near the top. A portrait of a dandelion.

When the breeze stops to catch its breath, snap the shot.

Did you get it? Well, just take a look in your LCD monitor to see what you think. Need more or less exposure compensation? You can tell right away.

And if you haven't quite caught your own breath yet, just tell your companions you have to bracket your exposure. After all, you want to bring home this trophy as if you'd gotten it with one of those obsidian arrow heads.

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