Photos for the NCAR show, Aug 1-Sept 30, 2016

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I haven’t put photos on for a long time. This blog is the beginning of a change. The occasion is my upcoming show at NCAR (the National Center for Atmospheric Research) in Boulder, August 1 through September 30, 2016.

The opening will be Saturday, August 13 from 5 to 8PM. You are invited!

The show is up! Here are some images.

Here is the NCAR/UCAR announcement.


Click on the images in any of the pages below to see large (1200 pixels wide or 1024 pixels high) versions of the images.

Large lichen images I

These images, taken starting in 2015 and framed 29×40 inches, contain astonishing detail. They are among the highlights of the slow.

Large lichen images II

A second set of  images, taken starting in 2015 and framed 40×29 inches, also with astonishing detail.

According to this article from The Atlantic, science is still learning about lichens, and has a long way to go.

Lichen, rock, and Flower images

These images are framed 22×29 inches. They were taken over a period of years with a variety of cameras.

 Landscape images

These images are framed 22×29 inches. They were taken over a period of years with a variety of cameras.


These sets of three  images are framed 46 inches wide. They were taken with a variety of cameras.

Older and miscellaneous

A few images that illustrate a bit of my history.


Technical notes

SB25Most of the digital images were converted from raw files using RawTherapee ( a great free raw converter) and edited with Picture Window Pro (my old favorite).

The prints are framed with the matte black metal SB25 Shadow Box frame, which has a built-in spacer to separate the artwork from the acrylic cover. This eliminates the need for an overmat, which can add a lot of expense to large framed images, and which (in my opinion at least) doesn’t really improve the appearance.

A variety of cameras was used, including the Canon EOS20D, EOS40D, EOS6D, the Panasonic Lumix G3 and LX100, and the Sony A7Rii (a recent addition– its image quality is truly amazing).

The Sony A7Rii deserves special mention. I got it in late 2015. In some ways it represents the “holy grail” of cameras for me. I can make large prints with detail I always dreamed of— much finer than the great master images I saw at the Eastman House when I was young. It’s so good I have a hard time imaging what Sony will do for a follow-up product. It seems that companies have to keep introducing new products; product life is much shorter than when I was young (the superb Leica M3 was around for many years). There isn’t much room for improvement for a number of reasons.

  • The backside-illuminated image sensor has very high quantum efficiency. It’s not far from the theoretical limit. It has outstanding dynamic range and low light performance.
  • The pixels in the 42-megapixel sensor are small enough so that no anti-aliasing filter is needed. This is a bigger deal than most people realize because Digital SLRs with up to about 20 megapixels need these filters, which slightly blur the image, to eliminate unpleasant image artifacts that can appear when lenses are too sharp for the sensor (technically, when there is too much energy above the maximum spatial frequency that can be digitally sampled— the Nyquist frequency). For this reason there is a bigger than expected improvement in sharpness for 36+ megapixel cameras.
  • It’s a mirrorless camera. The absence of mirror slap is especially helpful with long telephoto lenses. Older mirrorless cameras had rather ugly viewing screens, but they’ve gotten really good in the last few years. Competitive Nikon and Canon models have mirrors, albeit with very good damping.
  • The image sensor has built-in image stabilization, which is especially nice with some of my excellent older lenses, like the Canon 70-200 f/4L (available in a newer IS version; but the old lens is awesome). Competitive Canon and Nikon models lack this feature.
  • It can be adapted (with a Metabones adapter) to work with a wide variety of lenses, including my old Canon lenses, some of which are outstanding. Autofocus works extremely well with the Metabones. Because the A7Rii doesn’t have a mirror box it can be used with a huge variety of lenses. There is even an autofocus adapter for old Leica lenses (I have a few; I haven’t tried the adapter).
  • Speaking of lenses, some of Canon’s older lenses are superb. They couldn’t reach their full potential with lesser cameras. I test them with Imatest— a fantastic program for testing camera and lens quality. It lets me quickly map sharpness over the entire images for all apertures so I can determine where a lens performs best. Imatest is the absolute best way to test cameras and lenses. I can assert this with absolute objectivity because I wrote it.   😀
  • The recent Canon 24-70mm f/4L has amazing performance at f/8-f/11. In practice (in the field) it’s far better than any 4×5 view camera. (I’ll save the technical detail for elsewhere.) The National Park Service is looking for a replacement for Ansel Adams to document the National Parks with a large format film camera. In an NPR interview they get the technological comparison totally wrong.
  • With good lenses, the A7Rii is capable of making absolutely stunning razor-sharp 24×36 inch (60x90cm) images and excellent 40×60 inch (1×1.5 meter) images. A 100 megapixel medium format camera may have an edge with 40×60 inch images, but seriously, who has room for many 40×60 images? And medium format cameras and lenses are bulky, heavy, and really expensive. The 23×34 inch images (framed 29×40 inches) I’m making for the show seem gigantic to me. They’re about as large as I’m comfortable framing.

Artist’s statement

I also made a third person version for NCAR.

I live in two worlds—the world of art and the world of technology. It started with my childhood in Rochester, NY, where I grew up a mile from the George Eastman House— the great photographic museum that displayed prints of the masters as well as a variety of historical and contemporary cameras. I got hooked on photography early, but the cameras I could afford made blurry images that couldn’t compare to the beautiful prints at the Eastman House. This started me on a lifelong obsession with photographic beauty and image sharpness.

I became seriously interested in fine art photography when I was an undergraduate, but I got my degrees in physics and worked for 34 years in magnetic recording technology, during which I spent much of my spare time with photography. I started by studying Ansel Adam’s basic photo series—where he taught his techniques for making fine prints. By 1973 my technique had reached the point where I taught a class called “View Camera technique with 35mm” at a free evening art school in Philadelphia (the Fleisher Art Memorial).

In the 1970s and 80s I lived in California, where I traveled extensively, focusing on landscape photography, and continuing to make prints in my “wet” darkroom. When I moved to Colorado in 1998 I discovered digital photography, then in its infancy. At the time “digital” meant scanning slides or negatives, editing them, then printing them on rather crude printers. Since I had to figure out answers for many technical questions, I put them up along with my photography on a website my children helped create:

When I lost my magnetic recording job in 2001 I decided I’d become a fine art photographer, but I soon got pulled back to the tech side. In 2003 I wrote a program to answer questions about lens sharpness and camera quality that photographers had been arguing about forever. This led to my launching a software company that keeps me busy to this day.

I photograph when I can, focusing on intricate, often overlooked details of nature, many of which can be found close to home. My favorite subject is the complex abstract designs formed by lichens on rocks, which evoke realms beyond their subject matter—mysterious planets, magical eggs, and sacred mountains to mention a few. Modern digital camera technology has reached the point where astonishing details can be captured and reproduced in large prints that look beautiful at any viewing distance—prints with quality that was unimaginable in the “good old days” of film. I find it gratifying that that I can use the technology I help to advance in my “day job” to enhance my artistic creations.

Most of the images were captured digitally, but a few are from film. The earliest digital images were made with the 8-megapixel Canon EOS-20D around 2005; the most recent (including all the larger prints) were made with the amazing Sony A7Rii. I’ve used lots of cameras in-between (Canon EOS-40D and EOS-6D, Panasonic Lumix LX100 and G3). Processing consists mostly of traditional dodging and burning (darkening and lightening selected areas), done digitally with far more precision than I could achieve in the old wet darkroom. Prints are made on archival pigment-based printers: the Hewlett-Packard Z3100 and the Epson P9000.

A bit of fun— a blast from the past

I sent out a bunch of invitations (with apologies to friends I missed), and my old friend Will Brown sent me a picture he took in a camera store in Philadelphia around 1972 or 73. This is a crop. Click for the full image. Norman_at_photo_shop_early_70s-crop
“Farmer Norm”

Saratoga, California, April 1974

Here’s what I was up to in 1975, when I was living in Silicon Valley. I still have the hand-printed notes for the class. Click for full-size image.

I still have the sweater. It no longer fits, either because it’s shrunk or I’ve expanded.


I still have the Leica M2 in the picture— a great camera, but I no longer use it. (I used it for the Navajo woman photo in 1972.) Here it is next to the Panasonic Lumix LX100 (which has a Leica lens and excellent manual and automatic controls). The LX100’s clean retro styling is derived from the old Leicas (particularly the Leica CL, which was made by Minolta, now incorporated into Sony). I carry the LX100 when I travel and don’t plan to get into really serious photography. It makes wonderful images (Aspens near Silverthorne looks beautiful printed 15×23 inches), though it’s not in the same class as the larger and heavier A7Rii.


Recent images and blog posts by Norman Koren