One of my favorite photos

I’m not claiming any great skill at photography, though once in my early life I had dreams of being a photographer, but sometimes I think I, mostly stumble, onto good shots. To bad I didn’t have an HDR camera, with lots more resolution (not just pixels, but color depth per pixel) when I took this shot.

This was a fantastic scene, much nicer in real life than what my camera captured, but it’s extremely difficult shot to make. This is along the far northern California coast line. There was some fogs and a lot of mist from the ocean that made an otherwise fairly ordinary scene much more interesting.

The trouble is that the scene has too much contrast and so the shadows are a bit too dark and the highlights are completely blown out. This was about 12 years ago and my Canon PowerShot just didn’t have the dynamic range to handle the scene as best as one would like. Nonetheless I still think it’s a nice image despite some of its defects.

In today’s world, despite warnings to the contrary, most people want a simple answer to camera “quality” and so just focus on a single metric, the number of pixels. Sure more pixels are better, but think about it a bit. RGB pixels has 8 bits per color which means only 256 levels from light to dark (it’s also not just the CCD in the camera that is an issue but also the lack of dynamic range of your monitor). The trouble is that our eyes have a considerably larger dynamic range (even without the variable aperture of our eyes) so we can see a range of about 2000 in luminance.  And nature doesn’t limit itself at all so this scene is probably around 10000. So compressing all that down to 8bits is hopeless. Even with shadow and highlight enhancement filters any post-processing software can’t “create” data that wasn’t originally captured.

I’m glad to see two obvious improvements that were anticipated (but not feasible) 30-40 years ago: a) more than 8bits per pixel color, b) more than three colors (which themselves, in most CCDs are also very “impure”) so that the entire color gamut our eyes can see can be captured, and, c) the HDR trick of taking multiple exposures (quickly, good enough for this scene with little motion) and then better balancing the exposure, by area, with post-capture software. The only good thing I can say about phone cameras (which are lousy, no matter how many pixels they claim, due to the awful tiny lenses they have) is that the software is now getting very sophisticated and, at least partially, compensating for the lack of inherent quality in the captured pixels.

Maybe if I live long I can go back and find this scene again and get a much better image of it since even though I like this one it doesn’t come close to what I experienced actually seeing this scene.


About dmill96

old fat (but now getting trim and fit) guy, who used to create software in Silicon Valley (almost before it was called that), who used to go backpacking and bicycling and cross-country skiing and now geodashes, drives AWD in Wyoming, takes pictures, and writes long blog posts and does xizquvjyk.
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