Home / photography info / technical details

Technical details about my photography and this site

Warning: last updated in 2012, this article does not necessarily reflect my current choices.

I currently shoot Canon DSLRs and a bit of 5x7 inch large format film. Images on this site date back as far as 1987, so a variety of equipment was used.


Large format and film photography

Although in the past I occasionally carried large format on overseas travel, it was mostly used in the US for the National Parks project. My film format, 5x7, has an aspect ratio that I find ideally suitable for landscapes, while the area size is almost twice as large as the 4x5 used my most large format photographers - and about 24 times as large as 35mm film. My wooden camera was hand-assembled by Keith Canham of Mesa, AZ. Lenses range from 90mm to 720mm, and include optics from each of the 4 major manufacturers. For more details, see inside QT Luong's general-purpose large format camera bag.

Scanned 5x7 film produces a digital file of comparable resolution to the top medium format backs. My current choice of film is Fuji Astia, a multipurpose film, with good latitude (for slide film) and natural color rendition. In the past, I have also relied on the following films: Fuji Velvia (great color saturation and sharpness for scenics in good light), Fuji Provia F (fine grain good for scanning), Kodak Ektrachrome EVS (saturated and 100 ASA before Velvia F), Fuji 400F (for low light work in 35mm).


Nowadays, the vast majority of my images are done with Canon DSLRs. In the past, I have used systems from Minolta and Nikon. In 1999, I switched to the Canon EF system for its IS and TS lenses. Many of the images on the site were shot with EOS 5 and EOS 3 film cameras. In 2004, the 16MP full-frame EOS 1Ds mark II, which was the first digital camera I felt significantly bettered film, caused me to start working in digital. Currently my main camera is the Canon 5D mark3, but I still have a pair of 5D mark2 which get some use.

Below are the lenses for Canon I have owned and used at some point (some of them were sold). Many are compared in this sharpness test. A lens kit is like a wardrobe: I'll rare carry more than 7 lenses at a time. A standard assortment is the mid-range zoom (24-105), a super-wide zoom (16-35, 17-40, or Nikon 14-24), a tele zoom (70-300, 100-400, rarely 70-200), the 24TSE, and one to three specialty prime lenses (Tilt Shift, fast lenses, macro) depending on the situation.

Wide-angle zooms

Mid-range zooms

Tele zooms

Prime lenses

Tripods and ball heads

I have several carbon fiber tripods. Carbon fiber is lighter and more rigid than metal, and not as cold. The only drawback is that a CF tripod costs three times more than a similar aluminum tripod, and this is compounded by the fact that they can have a limited useful lifetime when working in environments with saltwater. I pick the tripod(s) to use depending on the trip, and match with a ballhead amongst those: Arca-Swiss B1 (unique elliptical ball offers progressive tension, but prone to lock-up) Really Right Stuff BH-55, Really Right Stuff BH-40 (both have very nice lever-operated clamp), Induro BHD1, Slik Standard (less expensive heads good for secondary uses). Each of these ball heads is equiped with an Arca-style Quick Release platform. Each of my camera bodies has a fitted Really Right Stuff L-plate which make shooting verticals much more efficient. Collared lenses also get a plate.

Filters and flash

I currently use only two types of lens filters: polarizers and neutral density filters, since they produce effects that cannot be duplicated using digital post-processing techniques. I prefer to digitally correct color casts such as the blue that comes from shooting in the shade. On the other hand, I still use a set of colored gels for matching speedlites and ambient light, since the discrepancy between multiple light sources is hard to correct.

Before switching to digital, my polarizers were all warm-tone Kaeseman filters from Heliopan (I have found all the regular polarizers to be actually on the "cold" side). I still use them on my large format film camera, but for the digital camera, I use nowadays Hoya Pro1 series polarizers, which are thinner and better multicoating. I have a set of Hi-tech graduated neutral density (soft & hard, 2 & 3 f-stops) filters in 4x5 size that I use in a Lee mount. They are totally neutral with no color cast. Thanks to their large size, they are useful for farge format, as well as for preventing vignetting on a wide angle lens. Exposure blending using multiple frames can often produce better results, but graduated filters are still useful for some situations. My two non-graduated neutral density filters are a 4 f-stop resin filter Hi-tech, and the super dark 10 f-stop ("Big Stopper") glass filter from Lee. The latter can create a multi-second exposure even in bright light.

My - seldom used - lighting equipment consists of three Canon speedlights: 550EX, 430EX, 270EX. I put the flashes off-camera (essential to create depth through directional shadows) either by using the Canon ST-E2 wireless transmitter, the Canon OC-E3 off camera shoe cord, or a much longer cord sold by Syl Arena. I mount them on Manfrotto 5001B stands and soften their output with various bouncers or a 24 inch foldable softbox.

Camera bags

When travelling only with digital, in general I use the Think Tank Airport Acceleration. It packs a lot of gear in a minimal amount of space and fit airlines regulations for carry-on except on the smallest planes. Although not as comfortable as a hiking backpack, I have found it adequate on day-long hikes. With a reduced camera system (5Dmk3, 16-35, 24-105, 70-300, 24 TSE, 270 flash) I am able to travel for one week using the lower compartments of the bag to carry travel necessities.

When using a smaller system, I prefer a shoulder bag for the faster operation. I prefer those with a relatively low profile and as little padding as possible. In the past, only Domke bags met those criteria, but recently I have been using mostly a Lowepro Stealth Reporter that has a more useful volume. For a very light kit with three lenses or less, I have a Lowepro Off Trail 2 which I often carry in a larger backpack.

For day trips, I carry the large format system in a Lowepro Super-Trekker backpack. The largest photo bag that one can buy offers quick and tidy access, good protection against shocks (I check it routinely when travelling by air) and elements. However it is quite heavy (10 lbs+), has limited room, and doesn't carry very well, limiting its use to short hikes.

For backpacking, my choice is between the Gregory Swiftcurrent (front-loading backpack), and the McHale Inex Alpineer, a custom-sized backpack for monster loads (60-70lbs). The later doesn't have some of the Gregory's refinments, but I have found that for carrying very heavy loads no other internal frame backpack has a suspension system which is as good.

Specialty equipment

Many climbing pictures were made with a pocket 35mm camera.

For underwater pictures, I dived with a 15mm Sea and Sea lens mounted on a Nikonos V, lighted with an older huge Ikelite strobe, but I currently use a Ikelite housing for the 5D2 and a Ikelite DS 160 strobe.

I own a bunch of accessories. For instance I can release a camera shutter with a number of devices, from the Canon TC-80N3 controler (allows long exposure, long self-timer and intervalometer) Youngnuo RF-602 radio transmitter (one camera can trigger another) and Hahnel Giga T Pro wireless remote (two cameras can be triggered at exactly the same time), to rare devices such as the Lighteing Trigger (triggered by ... lightening) and the Little Bramper (vary continuously exposures for timelapse transitions). Probably my most exotic accessory is the spinning rain deflector which let me keep photographing in very wet conditions.

Film photography: editing, storage, scanning

Once slides and transparencies are processed I edit them on a Just Normlicht mini 5000 light table with a Rodenstock 6x aspheric loupe. The Just is expensive, but I have found it to provide a brighter and more even illumination than other light tables, which is important when comparing slides. The model that I use has a bracket that makes it easier to use in vertical position, which is much less tiring for the neck and shoulders in an extended editiing session. The Rodenstock is an extremely well corrected loupe that show more than the full image area of a 35mm slide. 6x is currently the largest magnification that will allow that (a significant improvement over the long-standing 4x standard).

I then store them in Printfile archival slide pages that I group in hanging folders by locations. I use the Pendaflex IronHide folders (I buy them on the web, as they can be difficult to find in office supply stores) that are made of plastic, rather than non-archival green carboard, like the folders most commonly found. The most commonly used folders go into metal (wood cabinets, while esthetically more pleasing, are not as archival because of the chemicals in the wood and glue) hanging files cabinets, while the others go into opaque plastic storage crates. Tranparencies are placed into archival carboard boxes bought at Light Impressions, which are stored in a metal cabinet.

35mm slides are scanned by default with the Nikon LS 4000. This scanner has two essential features for high productivity: a slide loader (SF 200) that let you load 50 slides and let the scanner run them automatically, ICE technology that uses an infra-red channel to clean up dusk and scratches in the scan. The scanning software is VueScan (hamrick.com), I scan at the maximal quality settings that it allows (4000dpi, 16x multisampling, 16bit, Tiff), resulting in 110MB files, so I know I won't have to rescan. I found VueScan be a more efficient batch scanning program than the Nikon software thanks to its (slighly) more accurate default color, automated cropping function, and more reliable focussing. If I need to make a large print (24x32 up), I have the slide drum scanned by a lab, usually to 100MB for 35mm.

For 5x7 transparencies, I have an Epson 4870 that I operate with Silverfast AI. I made my custom holders for 5x7 out of mattboard. I simply tape the film at the edges with tension, which help keep it flat. This Epson produces decent scans. Its real resolution is about 2000dpi (despite the advertised 4800dpi), which is enough to produce a very good file from 5x7. However, when used with multisampling it is extremely slow, taking several hours to produce a scan. The main problem is dealing with dust. The ICE feature does not work with files above a certain size (contrarily to advertised). I have scanned only a small number of transparencies with this scanner.

In the past, when possible, I would just use a scan of a nearly-identical 35mm to show the image to potential customers. Once a large print is ordered, or an image is licensed for mural reproduction, I would then order a drum scan from the lab, usually to 200MB or 300MB. As this workflow had several drawbacks, at the beginning of 2007, I had more than 1,300 5x7 transparencies professionally scaned to 300MB on Heidelberg drum scanners. If done in the US, such a job would have costed more than $100,000, but I was able to find a very competent lab overseas that charged me only a fraction of that amount.

Digital equipment and workflow

Digital capture

I shoot exclusively in RAW. RAW provides the maximum quality (the loss due to jpeg compression is not visible in small reproductions, but it does show at large print sizes), as well as the possibility to recover blown-out highlights (a RAW capture on a modern DSLR is a 14 bit file, while jpeg is 8 bit), correct the color balance without image degradation, and defer other choices. With the increase in storage and processing power, and software such as Lightroom RAW isn't the burden it used to be. Even Mac OS can nowadays read RAW natively for most cameras.

For downloading images, on most trips I carry two Hyperdrive Color Space backup drives. I prefer those devices to a notebook computer because of the weight and bulk savings, the ease of use, and the redundancy provided that the fact that each of them has its own card reading ability. If downloading through a computer, I copy the images to two external USB3 drives.

Computers and storage

I use mostly Apple (Macpro 8 core 2.8Ghz 14GB RAM) and occasionally Windows platforms. Both are nowadays adequate for imaging work, and both have their own strenghts and weaknesses. I probably wouldn't be using the Mac if it wasn't an UNIX OS, but as it is, it provides a plaform where I can do both imaging work, and server development work.

CPUs are more or less fast and convenient, but the monitor is where all color judgements are made, so it might be the most important piece of equipment in the digital darkroom. I currently use the NEC 3090WQxi, a 30-inch wide-screen, wide-gammut (98% of Adobe RGB) LCD monitor with great color consistency and uniformity. I calibrate it with NEC's SpectraView software (necessary to use the monitor's internal 12 bit LUTs).

My storage is on large internal drives, with external drives used for backup and rarely-accessed files. 3TB is becoming my standard, although I still have many 2TB and 1TB legacy drives that are used for backup. Hard drives are vastly more time-efficient to use than DVDs, especially if you plan on refreshing your media periodically, a long-term necessity in the digital world.

I run my external hard drives in independent enclosures, for maximum security and flexibility, as well as minimal cost. The AMS Venus enclosures are well-made, make it easy to swap drives, and have good heat dissipation with a large and silent fan. I get them with the dual USB/eSATA interface for maximum compatibility or maximum speed transfer.

The current data drives are mirrored periodically (using Carbon Copy Copier) each on two or three different drives that I rotate. The rotated drives are stored at one or two different off-site locations. So at any time, there are at least three copies, two on my system (so that I can do frequent updates to the mirror) and one at the other location. This provides protection not only against drive failure (an inevitable occurence), but also catastrophic loss of the entire system (for instance due to theft or fire), and operator error.

I also run Apple's Time Machine. However, note that while Time machine is good for getting "snapshots" of data files, it can not be trusted to restore entire volumes (in particular boot volumes), and therefore is not a substitute for mirroring drives. Once a tech support specialist at Apple told me to reinstall the system to fix a problem, and insured me that Time Machine would restore all my data and settings. It left many applications in a broken state.

Digital processing

I select images using Lightroom. Lightroom provides 95% of the capabilities needed for the digital photographer. Next, I run in batch DxO Optics Pro on all select images to correct automatically lens defects such as distortion, vignetting, chromatic abberation, and some sharpness fall-off. I do not use the automated additional image algorithms such as DxO lighting. I output into the DNG format rather than TIFF, which allows me to re-import the corrected files as linear RAW files into Lightroom.

I then use Lighroom for color correction and conversion to TIFF, 16bits, in Prophoto color space (Adobe 1998 clips some of the colors that are captured by today's high-end digital cameras, and that the Epson K3 printers can actually output). Additional spotting, sharpening (Photokit sharpener), noise reduction (Noise Ninja) finer color correction, and compositing (for extended dynamic range, extended depth of field, and panoramas) is done with Adobe Photoshop. Although not as efficient as Lightroom because it is a pixel editor rather than a database program, Photoshop is the standard in image editing. There are a lot of powerful features, instructional material, and plug-ins (such as the two mentioned previously) that are just not available for other image editing programs.


After having all my printing done for years by a lab on the Lightjet, in 2006, I moved my production back to the studio, after acquiring an Epson 9800 wide format printer with the Ultrachrome K3 inkset.

Technically, the Epson produces prints that are slightly sharper than the Lightjet. This is because the inks lie on the surface of the paper rather in the paper, where they are subject to some diffusion. The color gammut is also wider, making it possible to reproduce more accurately saturated colors such as the orange of California Poppies that always came a bit muted on Lightjet prints.

The archival life of Epson papers with Epson inks are estimated to 100 years before visible fading occurs. This is even better than the 70 years estimated for the Fuji Crystal Archive paper normally used in the Lightjet.

On the downsides, the Epson prints are more time-consuming to produce, as they require curating to prevent potential outgasing, as well as extremely careful handling. For some images, I also miss the depth and glow due to having the colors lie inside the paper.

However, the main advantage of using the Epson is that I am able to bring the printing process back to the studio, where it belongs, rather than outsourcing it to a lab. It is often said that a true artist should handle as many stages of the production of his work as possible. Before the advent of digital printing, I used to make color prints by hand in a darkroom using the Cibachrome process. Digital printing on the Lighjet produced results that were so superior, but the the Lightjet is a $250,000, 2000 pound digital enlarger which is running at only around 500 sites in the world. For me, controlling the printing process myself again with the Epson allows me to make prints that best match my vision, since it is easy to experiment, refine and redo a print immediatly until I am entirely satisfied with the results.

Web publishing


I develop on my home computer (under Mac OS X), but home networks are not stable and fast enough for a mission-critical site. I rent a dedicated Linux server with the usual open source web software such as Apache, PHP, Mysql, and Perl. Currently the box is a quad-core Xeon (Sandy Bridge) 3.40GZ with two 750GB drives at softlayer.com. I register my domains with active-domain.com which is inexpensive and provide a good range of DNS services at no extra charge. I purchased a Geotrust digital certificate from a discount reseller (spacesurfer.com) who has been responsive so far. I offer the option to use paypal, or pay with a credit card direct on the site (my merchant account is with Wells Fargo/authorize.net). The latter looks more professional, and most customers prefer it.

Image preparation for the web

Final preparation for the web is done using Imagemagick, a free (www.imagemagick.org) and powerful command-line program that is easy to script in Unix. This includes: resizing at various sizes (thumbnail, medium-sized image, five different wallpaper sizes), making a border, printing and embedding the copyright information, sharpening. For better display of colors on most browsers, as well as client delivery of images to be used electronically, it is necessary to convert the images from a larger colorspace adequate for image editing to the narrower sRGB. I use the free (littlecms.com) littlecms to do so.

Web pages

I designed this website in order to give the viewer a pleasant experience as well as to maximize the exposure to Google and other search engines. The primary goals were to have a simple layout that would not interfere with the pictures nor waste screen space, as well as easy navigation.

The website uses a rather sophisticated custom CMS (Content Management System). To make sure it does exactly what I wanted, I developed all the code by myself. Besides the front-end visible to users (that includes search, personal selections, and e-commerce orders), there are a number of reporting tools and business tools to perform functions such as measuring impact of images via several metrics, managing and delivering orders, tracking invoices, usage rights, print edition numbers, generating sales and income tax reports, and even preparing a CD and paperwork for quarterly registration of images with the US Copyright Office.

The information about each photo gallery is held in flat text files that I just write with a text editor (emacs, possibly the best program ever written). HTML pages are generated from those files using a script written in TCL which now consists of about 4000 lines of code. TCL is a relatively little known high-level scripting language, but it comes standard with most unix distributions. I also have a number of scripts written in Perl (a similar langage that is much more popular) for performing tasks such as database updating that are more easily done than in TCL. For tasks that involve a lot of filesystem access and system calls, I use straight C-shell scripts.

It is impossible to maintain by hand (editing each HTML file) a large site. On the other hand, while maintaining a dynamically generated site (typically based on PHP/MySQL) is a snap, such sites can have performance problems under heavy traffic, as well as difficulties to get all their pages properly indexed by search engines. I chose to have a mixed approach, with all pages static, and dynamic functions (such as search, ratings, ordering, etc..) provided by PHP/MySQL, informed by a database that replicates the contents of the static pages.

As far as search engine optimization (how to make your pages highly ranked by search engines so that they come on top of search results), I just follow the recommendations that can be found on Google's own site. I have a lot of meaningful static content (more than 30,000 different images), each of my images is captioned in a descriptive and unique way, the site structure is clearly hierarchised and each page is well labelled and has comprehensive navigation links. It also helps that the site has been for a while on the web and is updated regularly, at least twice a month. For more details, read SEO thoughts from a top-ranked photographer.

I am sometimes asked if I can recommend a designer who can produce a comparable site. I don't know such a person. There is a package availabe from 20/20 software that provides more bells and whistles than I use (but is probably lacking in other areas) that I hear costs more than $10,000. A better alternative is to use shared photo hosting such as photoshelter.com or photodeck.com which offers even more functionalities than I have on this website at a relatively reasonnable cost.

Where to buy ?

I have been buying almost all my equipment from the following two sources for several years, and can recommend them without reservation.

The two following links are affiliate links. When you click on either of those two vendors links, you are taken to their site with an ID that identifies the terragalleria.com site as refering you. If you purchase something during that session on either site, we get a small commission at no cost to you.

Home / photography info / technical details