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A Very Troublesome Image

Horseshoe Bend Detail
A spiny bush grows on the edge of a cliff overlooking Horseshoe Bend in northern Arizona

This image drives me crazy. I want to love it and I want to hate it in equal measure. I love the S-Curve shape of the river and how that shape is continued at the bottom of the image by the small ridge in the dirt. I hate that the light is so flat (it was a very cloudy morning creating a kind of light with absolutely no character about it except an odd color cast.) I love the bush in the foreground as a symbol of perseverance, but I hate the fact that the tones of the bush are trying very hard to simply blend in with everything around it.

I’ve tried to work around the tonality issues in post-processing, but even now I will flip-flop between hating it and at least liking it. I’m really torn about it. What do you think?

This image is also my first attempt at a technique known as focus stacking: three images were taken with the focus being set near the foreground in the dirt in the first image, at the top of the bush and along the edge of the cliff in the second, and on the cliffs in the background in the third. Because my camera was very close to the bush itself while taking the image, the depth of field provided by the lens (even at f/32) would not carry all the way through the image. Using the digital depth-of-field preview scale that the Fuji GFX camera can display on the LCD, I was able to determine the three focus areas needed to ensure that everything was in focus in at least one of the images. After preparing the images in Lightroom, it was a simple matter to bring the images in to Photoshop and merge them as a focus stack using the tools Photoshop provides.

The digital depth-of-field scale provided by the Fuji GFX 50S camera is one of the reasons I bought it. Most lenses these days don’t bother to provide depth-of-field scales at all, or, when they do, they may only provide a scale at minimum aperture (say, f/16 or f/22.) While there are apps for smart phones that can provide depth-of-field measurements, some lenses have such poor focus scales (if they have any at all) that it can be very difficult to set the focus of the lens where the app tells you to maximize depth-of-field. The Fuji makes this very simple, offering a color bar showing the depth-of-field available based on where the lens is focused and the aperture set for the exposure. The bar will get longer as the lens is focused further out, and shorter as the focus moves in toward the foreground. For landscape images, this is fantastic. For macro images, it’s not very useful at all as the focus changes one might make are too small to show any real change in the represented depth-of-field scale. I wonder if Fuji could change that in a future hardware update: change the displayed focus scale when focusing at macro distances so changes in focus are visible on the scale.

Technical details: 3-image focus stack with the Fuji GFX 50S camera and Fuji 63mm f/2.8 lens. Exposures were 1.5 seconds @ f/32, ISO 100.

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