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Close And Personal

Close-Up Sharpness • Water, Sky And Time • Blue Sky Blues • Fine-Art Prints

This Article Features Photo Zoom

close up
Lepp used an EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L attached to a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III and added a Canon 500D close-up lens to the front of the 70-200mm lens (set to 200mm) for this image. Exposure was adjusted to 1⁄750 sec. at ƒ/16 with ISO 400.

Close-Up Sharpness
Q Is there a fundamental problem with using close-up filters on zoom lenses? I’m getting good results with a set of Quantaray close-up filters on my 28-75mm lens at all focal lengths, but my 80-200mm lens only provides a crisp image at 80mm. It doesn’t seem to make a difference if I attach the close-up filter directly to the lens or on top of the skylight filter. Stacking the filters to get closer just made the image problems worse.
Dan O’Link
Via the Internet

A Close-up lenses, when attached to the front of your prime lens, essentially convert the lens to a macro-capable optic, improving close-focusing ability. Their advantage is that they’re smaller in size and less expensive than a prime macro lens. Single-element close-up lenses (diopters) such as you described are designed for use on lenses in midrange focal lengths (35-80mm). They give reasonable results in the center of the image, but generally lose their sharpness at the edges due to their simple optic design. They won’t give good results on your zoom telephoto, as you’ve discovered. Mid-range telephotos require a highly corrected two-element close-up lens such as the Nikon 6T (62mm) or the Canon 500D (77mm), which can be adapted to lenses with smaller filter diameters. Canon also makes a 58mm two-element close-up diopter (the 250D) for use on 38-135mm lenses.

An interesting capability of a close-up diopter/zoom lens combination is that you can maintain the same working distance while changing the magnification of the subject simply by zooming the lens. But be careful about stacking lenses and filters, as each layer has the potential to degrade your image. I would remove the “skylight” or protective filter before attaching a close-up lens.

Water, Sky And Time
Q I attempted to photograph a waterfall and give it a flowing effect. I set the camera to shutter priority mode and captured the image at ƒ/22 for one second at ISO 100. The result was silky water and overexposed sky and highlight areas. Reducing the exposure to ½ sec. solved the overexposure, but didn’t give me the look I wanted on the water. How can I have both?
J. Jacob
Doha, Qatar

A There are no graduated neutral-density filters that will solve the problem of contrast in a scene with highly variegated light and dark areas. The solution lies in the technique of High Dynamic Range (HDR), which is available in Photoshop CS2 through CS4 and with stand-alone programs such as Photomatix ( These programs solve contrast issues by compositing several captures of the same scene (tripod!) taken in one- to two-stop increments. The resulting processed image magically (to use a technical term) combines all the properly exposed information from the brightest sky to the darkest shadow. You generate an image with a tonal range that isn’t possible to achieve with a single—or even dual—capture. When photographed this way, the water looks even more active than it would in a single exposure because the composite includes captures of the water taken in a variety of positions over time. It’s great for the water to move, but you probably won’t like your results if wind is moving other features in the image, such as clouds, branches and grasses.

Blue Sky Blues
Q I recently purchased a Canon EOS D40 digital SLR camera with a 28-135mm IS lens. On a September trip to Yellowstone and Jackson Hole, I took approximately 525 photos, both handheld and tripod-mounted, with the image stabilization turned on. When I downloaded the images to my computer, all of the photos that had a solid blue or shaded blue sky showed a curved banding effect (kind of a rainbow shape). What happened?
R. Harding
Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania

A A solid blue sky really isn’t. There are subtle tonal differences in almost any solid color, but especially the sky. This can be caused by the increasing angle of the sun or atmospheric conditions (pollution or moisture). Most lenses have light fall-off at the outer edges that darken the farthest reaches of your image, and this is more evident in wide-angles. All of these factors result in subtle color transitions in a seemingly broad blue expanse. The color transitions look seamless to the human eye, but the camera needs to have a lot of information to render all these minute color differences smoothly. If you can see transitional bands in your image on the monitor or print, it means the camera wasn’t able to gather enough data. The larger the display, the more pronounced the banding will be.

Your new camera is capable of excellent capture, and there’s no mechanical reason why you would experience this banding phenomenon. My best guess is that your camera was capturing at a small file size. To prevent banding, set your camera’s capture mode to its finest and largest JPEG, or better yet, shoot in RAW, which captures the most data. Check to make sure that you maintain the native resolution of the image files as you convert them and bring them into your image-processing software. You also want to be very careful when you optimize your image because excessive modification of the pixels, especially in saturation, can compress the colors and exaggerate banding.

Fine-Art Prints

Q I’m trying to decide between selling my photographic prints as limited-edition fine art, open-edition fine-art, or a combination of the two. Looking at some of the best photographers out there, I see that some sell only limited edition and some sell both. What are the pros and cons for each method?
E. Virkler
Via the Internet

A Frankly, very few photographers achieve the kind of reputation that merits printing their work in limited, controlled editions. But many photographers do number their prints (as in 3/300) as some kind of symbol of investment value that may or may not be realized.

Beyond appearances, there are some definite drawbacks to issuing limited editions of your work. First, if you say you’re going to limit them, you really must, or you’re committing fraud. You’ll need to issue a certificate of authenticity for each print and keep track of what has been sold. That means you have to spend some time managing your prints so that you can honor the commitments you’ve made to previous purchasers and not mislead current ones.

Assuming that a photographer is creating work that’s in demand, the advantage to printing open editions is that they typically can be priced lower and more people can buy and enjoy them. This is one basis of photography as art: it’s an easily reproduced medium. Open-edition prints aren’t as exclusive, and thus not as collectible, as limited editions, but the fact of the photographer’s signature can make them nearly as valuable as limited-edition prints if the photographer is well known.

I’ll sign only those prints that I’ve made myself, and this limits the availability of my work. If you see an unsigned George Lepp image, I didn’t print it. With the exception of some portfolios I sold earlier in my career, I don’t anticipate limiting availability by attaching a number to any of my current or future images. For an image that’s in great demand, price and signature can be a sufficient guarantee of exclusivity!

Photographers who market some images as limited-edition prints and others as open-edition prints are typically making a decision about each discrete image. It might depend on where the photographer is in his or her career. Early on, you want to get your work out there as much as possible in order to create a reputation; later, you might want to limit production to accelerate demand. Or it may be a smart marketing decision to limit availability of a truly unique capture that may become one of the photographer’s signature images. It’s up to you to assess the quality of your work and the demand for it and your aspirations for prominence in the field when marketing and pricing your prints.

For information about upcoming seminars and digital-imaging workshops, visit If you have any tips or questions, address them to: OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER, Dept. TT, George Lepp, 12121 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1200, Los Angeles, CA 90025-1176 or online at

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.