To Zoom….or not

It’s a little hard to believe, but after all these years, the debate, or at least the discussion, over prime vs. zoom lenses has again garnered some attention.

Around the time that the dinosaurs roamed the Earth, zoom lenses for 35mm SLRs made their headline debut. It was groundbreaking. Until then, there were only lenses of individual fixed focal lengths. When the very first zooms (probably 80~200 or similar) hit the market, they revolutionized 35mm photography. No longer would one have to walk back and forth repeatedly in an effort to reach just the right composition and framing. Now, just sliding or rotating a ring on your lens would do all of that without taking a single step.

Sounds like a perfect solution, right? Not so fast!
Life is rarely that simple.

The rub was that the optical quality, most notably sharpness and hence, picture quality were not up to that provided by the comparable fixed focal length lenses of the day.

Over the many years since then, things have changed. Led largely by computer aided optical design, the quality of zoom lenses have certainly become equal to that of comparable prime lenses.
Digital photography brought with it a new challenge. The sensors in our cameras have by and large become capable of producing more sharpness than did the best films of yesteryear. Ah, but sensor technology often outpaces optical design. That means that many lenses of all types are just not capable of resolving all of the detail captured by the best sensors.
This brings about yet another round of innovation as engineers constantly try to produce lenses that can keep up with sensors.
If they can’t, some portion of the sensors’ abilities will simply be wasted.

All of this prelude brings us to today and the choices between and among zoom and prime lenses. Well, laboratory specs, optical benches and resolving charts aside, my experience tells me that as a rule, the images produced by today’s zoom lenses are every bit as good as those made with comparable fixed focal length optics.

That is not to say that we can make such comparisons between low end zooms and high end primes, but keep choices within the same product line and class (pro vs. pro and consumer vs. consumer).

To sum up, let your lenses do the walking.

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The Web of Life

We humans take ourselves far too seriously. Out of habit, we allow the minutiae of our daily lives to block our ability to see the big picture. That picture is one in which our species is but one of a multitude of creatures eking out a living on the crust of this still molten rock hurtling through space.
Like it or not; choose to admit it or not, we are all interrelated to some degree.

Among the myriad of subjects that have long held my interest, the two that top the list are the constant changing of our planet with its plate tectonics, continental drift and persistent volcanism as well as the on-going evolution and adaptations of the species.

With apologies to Charles Darwin, just look at the striking similarities among all mammals. We all seem to have at least the same basic organ structure and facial characteristics: one heart, two lungs, a nose, two eyes, a mouth with teeth and a tongue and ears, all placed in pretty much the same locations regardless of species.
Yes, we do walk upright on two legs while the other guys are on all fours.                                  A fine point, to be sure.

The carnivores and omnivores are busy eating each other and the herbivores are dinner for the rest of us. Anyone who has ever visited LA’s La Brea tar pits knows the story. Within that naturally balanced food chain, every creature has its place. Yank a single link out of the chain and we throw the whole equation out of whack. This delicate equilibrium has us all inter-connected and interdependent. Whether we realize it or not; whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, we are all in this together.

What has all of this got to do with photography, you may well ask.
An excellent question!

It has been well demonstrated over many years that the more people who see photographs of our fellow creatures, the more those viewers are able to identify with them and understand the importance of protecting them. That goes for not only mammals, but for amphibians, pinnipeds, birds and reptiles as well.

In order to be able to create these evocative images, we must study, learn about these animals, understand and even predict their behavior. For example, while traipsing around a small wooded area in Wind Cave National .Park in South Dakota one fine spring day, a big, lone bull bison decided that he, too, wanted to be in the woods with me. Slowly, he strolled from the sunlit meadow into the shade of the forest. As I leaned against a stout tree, enjoying the company of my surprise companion, it occurred to me that, after having spent a fair bit of time observing the habits of bison, I stood a pretty good chance of anticipating the movements of this big guy.

Sure enough; I knew just when he would start to roll around in a dust bath and was able to capture some great images.
Knowing that we are all connected to varying degrees enabled me to not only walk away with the right photographs, but far more importantly, enjoy a great experience with a distant relative.

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Depth and Perception

We humans have a visual system that works in three dimensions (3D); width, height and depth. Artists such as sculptors and mobile makers work in 3D so when seen by humans, their visually compatible works are easy for viewers to process and enjoy.                   Conversely, we who work in 2D such as painters and photographers, deal solely with a single flat plane. Photographs have height and width, but no actual depth. Because our brain wants to see our creation in 3D, our images will be more successful if we help our eyes to make this conversion as easy as possible.

How to best provide these important visual depth cues?                                                     Perhaps the device most widely employed to create the feeling of depth is the prominent foreground. Use of a compositional element in the foreground typically has the ability to give our eye the visual cue that the background, or primary subject, is indeed behind the foreground.                                                         To take it to the next level, we can compose with another element in between foreground and background; the mid-ground.

There are exceptions. Some works, notably panoramics, will usually work better if we compose with a flatter field, often with the entire scene at infinity. Panos are often more successfully when the composition is based on an end to end continuum, rather than a string foreground leading to a background. Perhaps the best example of this technique is the panoramic image right at the top of this very page. This was made at St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park in northern Montana with a Linfof 617 panoramic camera and a 72mm Schneider Super-Angulon flat field lens with a matched center filter used to ensure uniform exposure corner-to-corner and avoid darkening at the edges.

Jerry Ginsberg is a freelance photographer whose landscape and travel images have graced the pages and covers of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s National Parks with medium format cameras. He has been a National Park Artist in Residence. Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America.                                                  More of Jerry’s images are on display at                                                   Or e mail him at




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First time or not?

We have long been used to the idea that our images improve as we gain greater familiarity with the locations that we photograph.
Well, maybe.

I am so familiar with places such as Delicate Arch, Badwater and Old Faithful that walking up to each of them almost seems like coming home. It’s familiar; it’s comfortable.
Having learned from earlier mistakes and had more time and more visits to study these special places, my most recent – actually my next – images of these and other places should be my best. Sometimes they are, but often they are not. When going back over some of my earlier photographs, I am often surprised to see that in so many cases, the best ones are those made on my very first visit to a location. Not the ones that I made after having become more familiar with a scene and having had a chance to study it over and over during several shooting sessions, but those made at first blush.

Why does this happen? I don’t really know for sure, but I can take an educated guess. It often seems that when I arrive at a location for the first time, I feel so imbued with the spirit of discovery and newness that I get a rush of adrenalin and creativity.
After I have photographed a spot once (or perhaps twice), even though I then have the experience of what to include and what to avoid, I feel so accustomed to the scene that it has become almost the same-old, same-old and has already lost most of its novelty as a subject.
Crazy, huh?

Somehow, nothing can quite compare with the very first sight of a special place of which I have been thinking for a long time.

Jerry Ginsberg is a freelance photographer whose landscape and travel images have graced the pages and covers of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s National Parks with medium format cameras. He has been a National Park Artist in Residence. Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America.
More of Jerry’s images are on display at
Or e mail him at


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Black & White

Someone once quipped, “I like Black & White. The only problem is that it’s just so monochromatic.” There must be a deeper meaning in there somewhere.

Seriously, I remember when all we knew was Black & White. When I was a child, my father would take my occasional roll of 127 Kodak Verichrome Pan to Goldy’s candy and cigar store and in just four or five days, an envelope with 12 small deckle-edged glossy prints would appear. Naturally, they were black & white. More accurately, several shades of flat, low contrast gray.

As a teenager I discovered the wonders of Kodacolor film. It seemed miraculous. An actual blue sky, red roses and green vegetables! Wow! Terrific! Right? Not so fast.

Yes, color is great. As a matter of fact, I am best known for my use of brilliant color. I love the warm tones of Nature. The use of such warmth contrasting against cool tones makes for great visual drama. Color describes a lot and provides a great deal of information.
Here’s the rub. Too often, most of what we see is just the color. This can obscure form, texture and even the all-important light!

Removing the color and showing an image in pure Black & White allows our eyes to see the true essence of an image. It is then boiled down to its essence.
Here, we can begin to use the fundamentals of form, texture and best of all, light and shadow to convey the scene and the message contained in our art.

It is for these reasons that the timelessness of Black & White has recently seen a resurgence of popularity as many people, realizing that despite employing all the colors of the rainbow, color images still seem to be missing something. Perhaps it is the simple truth expressed best by deep blacks and clean whites. That simplicity carries with it the ability to share not only the essence of the scene contained within the image, but also the fleeting emotion present only at the moment of exposure.

In today’s digital world, almost all captures are made in color. To create the best possible Black & White photographs, we need to learn to be able to see our compositions as they would eventually appear in Black & White. That means primarily understanding the tonal range and how to see it in order to differentiate it from just color.

Once back home in the digital darkroom, we have available many methods of converting these color images into Black & White. Some involve desaturation, simple conversion to Grayscale and/or moving a few of Adobe’s easy to use sliders.
While tempting, I recommend avoiding these methods.

To produce the best results with your color images, use a dedicated program designed specifically for that purpose. I have tried a few and my favorite is Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, now owned by Google.
More good news…It’s FREE! Download from
Several presets are included in the program and more are available online. Some good tutorials can be easily found on YouTube.
To start, just choose one of the presets and experiment from there. The many controls are very logical and their names tell you exactly what they do. It’s a whole lot easier to experiment with these sliders than it was to make a seemingly endless series of test prints in the wet darkroom.

Whatever you choose, make sure to always keep your files in the RGB color space: 16 bit is best.

Jerry Ginsberg’s landscapes and travel images have graced the pages and covers of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s National Parks with medium format cameras and has been a National Park Artist-in-Residence. Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America.
More of Jerry’s images are on display at
Or e mail him at





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Shooting with Filters 

 Part 2

Previously in Part 1 we discussed using polarizing and continuous density neutral density filters. Today we dive into the advantages, nuances and cautions of shooting with split, or graduated neutral density filters.

Graduated (Split) Neutral Density Filters

We have all encountered situations in which the top of our composition (the sky) is much brighter than the bottom (the foreground).
Graduated neutral density filters have a degree of density on one end and are clear on the other. The idea is to hold back the light on the brighter top of the scene with the density of the split filter while admitting all of the light on the darker bottom of the composition through the clear portion of the filter. It can work wonderfully if we understand the principle and work accordingly.

The three primary considerations are:                                                                                                  

* Hard or soft transition?
Make this decision based on the look of the horizon line in your composition. If the sky is against the sea, a hard transition may be the best choice. If your composition has an uneven line such as with high grass or uneven rocks, then a soft transition would be your best choice.

* Where to place the line?
The goal here is to hide the line. We don’t want the transition line to be obvious. Whether hard or soft, it is important to be able to hide the transition within the scene. If the line is visible or the transition too abrupt, it will spoil the image.

* How much density to use?

Perhaps the most important choice to make. It is a common mistake to use too much density. In Nature, the top will be lighter than the bottom, especially when photographing a reflection. Therefore, it is not a good idea to try to balance the halves equally.
For example, as in the case of a reflection, the final image will look more natural if the top is allowed to be about one stop lighter than the bottom.
An effective technique is quite straightforward. Using a spot meter, take a reading of a medium toned area in the top portion of the scene. Then read the light reflecting off the very same area of the scene as it appears in the reflection. Subtract one reading from the other to determine the difference in number of stops. Use a split neutral filter having a density of about one stop LESS than the difference in the exposure readings.
Example: Imagine a composition of a mountain reflecting in lake.
A neutral gray area of the mountain reads at f/11. The reflection of the same spot of the mountain reads at f/4.0, a difference of 3 stops.
Using a 2 stop split neutral density filter will result in the mountain remaining 1 stop brighter than its reflection.
That will yield a natural looking balance in the final image. Going for an exposure that matches the brightness of the reflection with that of the mountain may seem like a good idea, but eventually, most viewers will detect that something here is not natural.

Unlike using a solid neutral density filter where your camera’s meter will automatically compensate for the difference in exposure, placing a split filter over your lens will most likely drive your in camera meter a little crazy and result in an incorrect exposure.

There is a technique available to avoid this and come home with a great and properly exposed image. After we have performed the steps described above to select a split filter with the optimum density and hide the line between the light and dark portions of the filter, we still need to establish the best exposure at which to actually shoot.
First, set your camera to Manual – M – (Yes, Manual; embrace it!). Next, with the filter in one hand and your handheld spot meter OR your camera in the other, place the bottom, clear area of your filter over your meter and with it positioned there, take a reading of the light reflecting from a medium area of the reflection portion of your composition.

If you have selected a split filter with the appropriate density, that should be the correct exposure. Since you have already accounted for the disparity in reflectance with the use of the top portion of the graduated filter which holds back the majority of the excess brightness, that one reading should do it. Just to be sure, bracket the exposures of a few frames. Hey, it’s not as though you’re paying for film processing!

Jerry Ginsberg’s landscapes and travel images have graced the pages and covers of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s National Parks with medium format cameras. Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America.
More of Jerry’s images are on display at
Or e mail him at











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Shooting with Filters

Part 1
Those of us who shot film will remember schlepping (a technical term) bunches of filters in our camera bags. Some of us still do!
These are designed to perform several functions from saturating colors and cutting through glare to blocking light to altering the color of light.

Once digital photography came to dominate the market, the use of these little helpers declined sharply. With the many tools built into Photoshop and other processing software as well as the abundance of plug-ins and add-ons dedicated to providing filtering functions, many photographers these days carry few, if any filters.

It was a veritable rainbow of colored filters: blue, yellow, amber, pink, orange, red, magenta, green – you name it. For the most part, warming and cooling filters and others tinted with varying degrees of color density performed functions that today are easily replaced by the White Balance controls of Color and Tint. Dozens of pieces of glass and resin have largely been reduced to a couple of sliders and layers.

We also used such things as polarizing and gray neutral density filters, both split and solid. It is those relics that have survived the extinction of the rest of the dinosaurs and are still around today. Even with the magic of digital photography, these devices have proven themselves to be invaluable.
While a few pieces of software do offer the functions otherwise performed by these little beauties, digital technology has yet to come up with post-processing tools that can equal the performance of the real thing.


The various simulated polarizing functions available in today’s digital darkroom provide rotation and intensity settings, but unlike the real thing, cannot penetrate a reflection off the surfaces of water or glass. Whatever objects that may have been revealed on site are simply not in the image if no filter was used. This was the genius of Dr. Edwin Land, inventor or polarization.
The trick in using an actual polarizing filter is a simple one: don’t overdo the effect.

If a little is good, a lot is not always better. It is easy to be wowed when seeing the maximum degree of polarization through your viewfinder, but that will usually result in overkill when seen in the final image. I usually dial my rotating polarizer to that maximum and then back it off by about 50% for the best compromise.

That is a judgment call and is primarily affected by the angle of the lens to the light source. The maximum effect is achieved when the front surface of your lens is at a ninety degree right angle to the sun or other light source, while shooting with the light either directly in front or in back of you will produce virtually no polarizing effect.

Intermediate angles between these two extremes will produce commensurate effects.
If not actually viewing through the lens, hold the filter up to your eye, rotate the mount, select your degree of polarization visually, note the position of the filter ring relative to the top or bottom of the mount, attach the polarizer to your lens and then set the position that you have chosen on the filter mount. It sounds more complicated than it is. After doing it once or twice, it will become second nature.

If metering through the lens, make sure to use a rotating, rather than a linear polarizing filter. Otherwise, your exposure will likely be inaccurate.

Neutral Density Filters

Let’s talk about neutral density filters. Before we get into their operation, we need to make sure that they are really neutral. Some have a slight color cast, often a weak green, that can really mess things up later. Make sure to buy only top rated filters, both for color neutrality and optical quality.
These come in four basic varieties: solid gray with a fixed degree of density, solid with a mechanism that allows you to vary the density, graduated with a soft transition or graduated with a hard line splitting the gray and clear areas of the filter.

Let’s go through these in order.
The first is simply a solid gray filter that blocks light uniformly. That is its only function. This allows for a greater exposure to light, be it with a bigger aperture for shallower depth of field, a higher ISO (generally pointless) or by far the most widely used, a slower shutter speed. Using a slower speed will enable you to blur water or other motion. This is a great technique for waterfalls, wave action, flowers and other subjects blowing in the wind as well as panning with a moving subject when the light is otherwise too bright to allow for capturing the desired degree of motion. Since this type of filter comes in a variety of densities, you will need to select one or more to carry. My most often used is a 3 stop or 0.9. Many photographers opt for those that are significantly darker.

Option two is the same type of filter and function, but features a rotating mechanism that allows the user to choose the desired degree of density, sometimes up to as much as 10 full stops of light and therefore, the degree of motion captured. Great for multiple choices of motion.

Exposure Compensation

Using any of the filters mentioned so far will require adding a compensation factor to your exposure in order to compensate for the light lost through the density of the filter. This varies with the particular filter, but will always be accounted for automatically with through the lens metering.
If metering with a separate light meter, try reading the scene straight on and then through the actual filter, subtract and adjust your exposure accordingly. Those discussed above all involve a uniform degree of compensation because they have a uniform density, variable neutral density notwithstanding, but still solid throughout the frame.
Exposure compensation with the neutral split filters is a bit more involved. We’ll discuss that in Part 2 later.

Jerry Ginsberg’s landscapes and travel images have graced the pages and covers of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s National Parks with medium format cameras. Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America.
More of Jerry’s images are on display at
Or e mail him at










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Backing Up

To apply some advice that I received several years ago, one hard drive will annoy ya….two are a paranoia.

The hard truth is that only three things are certain: death, taxes and hard drive failures. They all have finite life spans. No matter how sophisticated your drives may be, given enough use over enough time, they will fail. Not if, but when.

In the days of film photography, we had the negatives and original chromes upon which to fall back. However, when those pixels evaporate, they’re gone!
What to do to safeguard our precious images? We worked hard to get many of these shots and cannot afford to have them simply disappear. The answer is – back-up, back-up, back-up and then back-up some more.

For those of us who have experienced Murphy’s Law, there is no substitute for safety. Storage devices have become so inexpensive that there is no excuse not to take every precaution to protect our irreplaceable data.

What do I do?  I’ll tell you.
Whenever I complete a shoot, whether a full day or just a couple of hours,                        I I immediately make one or more folders on the desktop of my laptop and download       all cards into those folders, then I copy those folders onto at least one USB drive      AND one (or two!) external hard drives.
Since I am not re-formatting my cards, I will be returning home with at least four or five sets of image files. I make sure to keep the cards in my briefcase and the USB drives in my pocket. That way, no matter what diabolical plan an airline might have in store for my luggage, I can be confident that my images will make it home safely.

Once back in the office, the real fun begins. First, I download all of the actual cards into my big workstation computer on which I run Photoshop, plug-ins and related software. After putting the image files into folders labeled by location, arranging into logical order, renaming, numbering, ranking, metadata and a lot of keywording, I make a duplicate set of these RAW files converted to Adobe’s open .dng format.

My next step is to start creating multiple sets of copies of the RAW files in both native and .dng formats. For each set, I burn archival gold DVDs with a 100 year guarantee.

If those disks should fail in that time, the manufacturer is going to get a very sharply worded letter! Once that task is completed, I begin copying the same folders to two separate NAS (Network Attached Storage) boxes.
Wait! There’s more.
Those NAS boxes contain multiple hard drives and are set to operate at RAID 1 (Redundant Array of Independent Disks). That means that everything saved to one disk is automatically mirrored to a second disk.

So, two hard drives in each of two enclosures plus a set of DVDs makes five copies. Then there are the .dng files. Doubling those five makes a total of TEN sets of the same files. Lots and lots of redundancy.

Overkill? Maybe, but those pixels are perishable. I want to make very sure that whatever happens, those files are retrievable in the long term.

After all of these steps are completed, I finally process the best selected images, save the resulting layered .psd’s to yet more DVDs and hard drives, flatten the layers, save as Tiffs and upload to the cloud. This final step gives me the last leg of the stool; all-important location diversity. So if, Heaven forbid, my office where the disks and hard drives live burns down to the ground, I still have the selected images.

At the end of the day, I can feel reasonably confident that I have taken every prudent step to protect my images.

Jerry Ginsberg’s landscapes and travel images have graced the pages and covers of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s National Parks with medium format cameras. Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America.
More of Jerry’s images are on display at
Or e mail him at



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Perhaps no technique since the advent of digital photography has drawn more interest and excitement than High Dynamic Range – HDR.

The sensor in your digital camera has the ability to capture a finite contrast ratio. Each camera brand and model may be different, causing the particular ratio to vary, but whatever that resolving power might be, it’s still finite. Within that ratio the brightest and darkest tones will retain some level of detail, albeit possibly a minute amount. However, extreme black, white light and dark tones beyond that ratio will be clipped, exhibiting a complete absence of detail.

While it would be nice to photograph only scenes that fall within a “normal” contrast ratio, or Dynamic Range, that is sometimes just not possible. When we encounter such higher contrast scenes, employing a method by which we can resolve that High Dynamic Range becomes the way to include those extreme tones and escape clipping in the whites, blacks or both.

To accomplish this, we need to capture several frames with very widely bracketed exposures: far enough to the right and left to record detail in the brightest and darkest areas of the scene. These images can then be stacked as layers in a single Tiff or .PSD where we can brush in the toned down whites from the otherwise underexposed image layers and opened up shadows from the overexposed image layers. In doing this, we can, to a degree, eliminate the clipping on both ends.

It’s a time tested technique and it can work on some images, but is no longer the best choice. All of the brushing is very laborious and it is hardly possible to brush each pixel individually in order to obtain the correct tonality.

Of course, there is a better answer: an HDR software solution. There are several options on the market from which to choose. Analyzing and comparing these is beyond the scope of this post, however. Suffice it to say that they fundamentally share the same operation and functionality.
At the heart of the process is Tone Mapping.
Once a series of files encompassing an adequate tonal range is gathered together and brought into the HDR program, they can be combined into a single very high (32) bit file.

The next step is adjusting and fine tuning the various controls of the program to obtain the look that you want to see in the final product. And right there is where I part company from perhaps the majority of HDR users.

Encouraged by software publishers who quite naturally compete to offer more and more controls and features, many photographers have embraced the mantra of Mae West. For those of you too young to remember that legendary movie and showbiz siren, that was,
“Too much of a good thing is wonderful.”  It isn’t.
A very big part of what gives HDR and by extension, digital, a bad name is the over-doing of the effects made possible by the very sliders and other controls that are designed to create a good image.
Some of the presets are even labeled Grunge! And that they are.

After initially trying hard to create the desired image by using only the controls offered by some HDR programs, I began to evolve a different strategy. After some experimentation and a bit of trial and error, my current method involves selecting the preset from among those offered that creates the most bland looking, low contrast, low saturation 16 bit Tiff on the menu. The important point to remember is that this Tiff, although admittedly flat, includes all of the tones captured on both widely separated ends of the histograms with no clipping in either the highlights or the shadows.

Once that file has been processed by the HDR software, I then open it in Photoshop and adjust it as I would any other image, adding contrast and optimizing the color. The result is a final image that looks the way I think it should, but without the harsh and sometimes garish look of too much HDR processing.

Some photographers will say that such a workflow is destructive when compared with processing the image solely or mostly in the HDR software. That is somewhat correct, at least theoretically.
However, by using only 16 bit files and making all adjustments with a strictly Layers based workflow, any destructiveness is held to an absolute minimum and really does not diminish the quality of the final product.

Two other notes:
* Photoshop can now handle 32 bit images. I feel that other programs do a better job of rendering the combined image.
* Combining several files together in any HDR exercise can result in an increased cumulative amount of noise, especially in the shadow and sky areas. Using noise reduction with your choice of ACR, Lightroom or Nik Dfine is a good way of dealing with that noise. The noise reduction in Photoshop Is not as good as that in Lightroom and ACR. DxO has excellent noise reduction , but no ability to make local adjustments. Remember, since any noise reduction involves some degree of softening, brushing that reduction locally into the affected areas, rather than globally is usually a good idea.

Happy processing!


Jerry Ginsberg’s landscapes and travel images have graced the pages and covers of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s National Parks with medium format cameras. Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America.
More of Jerry’s images are on display at
Or e mail him at

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Traveling with Camera Gear

When I started traveling around America on my quest to photograph our national parks, the logistics were far easier to manage than they are today. When traveling solely by road, not much has changed. However, when we must rely on air travel to get us where we really want to shoot, many things are out of our control. Based on my own experiences, here are some thoughts, reflections and lessons learned along the way.

In the beginning I had just one 35mm system. That meant that I could cram two or three SLR bodies and about a dozen lenses into a single pro shoulder bag; the perfect carry-on.                                                                                                                                      Those of you who can cram all required photo gear into a backpack that fits standard carry-on dimensions will still find it pretty simple.

Back in the day, I was also able to sling a tripod case on my shoulder and conceal it by putting my photo vest on over it. While this is certainly no longer possible, I recommend placing your tripod head in the case with your cameras and lenses and packing the well wrapped legs with your clothing.

Second, in the pre-9/11 environment, the rules of air travel were pretty relaxed and most airlines showed a lot of flexibility, particularly to frequent flyers. Indeed, even the big airlines could be very customer friendly. The former Continental even allowed me to ride the external caterer’s elevator up to my plane when changing flights in the old Denver Stapleton Airport. That couldn’t happen today.
Since then, things have become far more strict and very impersonal, making the logistics replete with a lot of newly created hassles.

When the airlines began cutting back their allowances on checked baggage, the 210 lbs. of luggage then included with my ticket was instantly reduced to just 100 lbs.
Considering that the weight of my Pelican and Storm cases when empty is about 25 pounds each, that reduced the limit of my gear in those cases from 135 lbs. down to only about 50 lbs. total! And then the airlines, with just one exception, began charging for all checked luggage. Several years ago on my very first trip to Alaska, I packed exactly that 210 lbs. in 3 rolling cases of 70 lbs. each. The airline was happy to transport it at no charge. The very next year, I repeated the same flights with the same luggage. This time, I was obliged to pay baggage charges of about $250. – each way!
Things like this certainly contribute mightily to increasing the costs of photographing in exotic locations.

While still keeping an eye on costs, let’s focus on moving delicate camera gear from state to state and country to country safely and securely. Early on, I bought some very robust shipping cases with permanently installed foam that had been custom cut to fit my particular pieces of equipment with two inches of closed cell foam between objects. This configuration certainly kept my gear safe, but caused another problem. What to do with the empty camera packs that I would need to carry my cameras and lenses once on site? There was no place to put them. Hardly a workable solution.

Eventually, I decided on placing my camera gear in the actual packs that I would use at my ultimate destination and in turn pack those well padded bags inside empty hard, rolling trunks such as Pelican cases and their recent imitators. With a few small pieces of foam and even rigid knee pads (Great for flowers and other really low macro work!) in the well rounded corners, my equipment is pretty well protected.
I confess to having worried about the safety of the equipment when I first began packing it in this fashion, but so far, it has worked really well. Fingers crossed.

Once I arrive at my destination airport, those big, clunky rolling cases just take up valuable space in my rented vehicle. If that vehicle is a standard SUV, I pile up the now empty cases until I can leave them in a motel room and spread out my various backpacks and accessories. Once finding a busy supermarket, I can usually scavenge a sturdy plastic milk crate to hold my various jackets and hats. That stays in a corner of the SUV out of the way as much as possible.

When renting a real RV, the story is a bit different. Those empty trunks would be a real nuisance in such cramped quarters. That’s why I always arrange with the folks from whom I rent such a vehicle to allow me to store my empty cases with them. That makes a big difference!

All in all, with the travel and airline rules and regulations in place today, traipsing around the country and the world with a ton of camera gear carries a few challenges, some expensive and inconvenient, but still doable. In order to cope with them successfully, we need to learn the rules well in advance and be prepared.

Jerry Ginsberg is a freelance photographer whose landscape and travel images have graced the pages and covers of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs.         He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s National Parks with medium format cameras. Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America.
More of Jerry’s images are on display at
Or e mail him at




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