Realism in Fiction

Tanto Blade - 50mm, 1/60, f/8

Tanto Blade – 50mm, 1/60, f/8

I went to a local writers’ group meeting. The idea was, you bring copies of a section of your writing, read for the group, and they give feedback either verbally or in the form of notes written on their copy, which they handed back to you.  I think this is helpful because other writers can spot problems you might have missed.

My novel is based on history, so one would expect it to be true to the time and fairly realistic. It’s not fantasy or science fiction.  In the section I read, a ten-year-old boy makes an incredible shot with an arrow, trying to save his mother’s life.  A couple of men in the group thought this was far fetched, and that a boy that young could not possibly pull the bow with that much force and accuracy.  In a group like this, if you defend every criticism, people will stop giving you feedback.  So the best thing is to listen and nod, or ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand their meaning.  So that’s what I did.

But here’s the problem:  I studied this period in Japanese history for three years while writing the book. It was a time when people like Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyoshi led cavalry charges into battle at fourteen years of age. I have also trained for years in Japanese, as well as other, martial arts.  I have seen many students make incredible transformations from being clumsy and slow, to confident and precise with their technique.  But these are people who come to class twice a week for an hour or two.

In 1600’s Japan, little boys didn’t have Xboxes or Playstations.  They had wooden swords.  So if we lazy Americans can improve as much as I’ve seen people build skill in a few months of 3 or 4 hours a week, what if you had no modern media distractions and put in 20 hours of hard, focused practice per week… for years?  Japanese people had a capacity to focus on one thing until they perfected it that our short attention spans simply can’t comprehend.

However, my average reader will probably not be aware of all this.  Does that mean I change the story to be more “plausible”?  My goal in writing the story is to entertain and educate, but it is fiction, so I don’t know how important it is that readers think what they are reading is possible in the real world.  I have read some pretty ridiculous things in novels, but I still enjoyed the story. Hey, maybe there’s something I don’t understand myself, right?  My inclination is to focus on things like the note someone wrote “watch your adverbs” (because there was a section with too many of them ending in “ly”), and not worry about the fact that most readers will not have the same understanding I do from my studies.


Little Mashel Falls – Sept. 11

I guess I like this place. It’s about an hour drive from the house and this is the third time I’ve been there this summer.  This time I managed to find a way to get to the upper falls from above, which I could not reach from below last time.

Little Mashel River - above upper falls

Little Mashel River – above upper falls

Little Mashel Falls, Upper

Little Mashel Falls, Upper

Using a polarizer and shooting early under the trees, I had to use a tripod at 100 ISO.  Just as well, because an exposure between 1 to 6 seconds gives a nice blur affect to waterfalls.


Little Mashel Falls, Middle

Little Mashel Falls, Middle

This is the middle falls. I edited the photo in Lightroom and gave it an extra boost in NIK Color Efex Pro.


Little Mashel Falls, upper

Little Mashel Falls, upper


I got out of the gorge around 10:45 when the sun got high enough to create hot spots. Made it home before noon. Then I drove my wife and mother-in-law up to Crystal Mountain resort. I’ve posted other photos I’ve taken from Crystal Peak in the past. Here’s what I got this time:

Mt. Rainier from Crystal Peak

Mt. Rainier from Crystal Peak

In the left of the photo, you can barely make out Mt. Adams. It looks much further away because I was using a wide angle lens. When you get out of the gondola at the peak and look over to see Mt. Rainier, it’s kind of overwhelming.  The landscape and depth of space is so expansive… Makes you feel very small.

EOS 6D In-Camera HDR test

The Canon EOS 6D that I’ve had for just over a month has a feature that my EOS 7D (which it replaced) did not have.  First of all, I switched to the 6D because my favorite types of photography benefit more from a full-frame sensor than high speed, toughness, and a focal length multiplier, all of which are advantages the 7D has over the 6D.

The 6D is slower, has less magnesium and more plastic in it’s body, and my 200mm lens is no longer a 35mm equivalent of 320mm for angle of view.  But the 6D is absolutely incredible in low light settings, and my 17mm lens is now actually 17mm instead of 27mm, which makes for spectacular wide shots, like the one below. Though you probably can’t tell from looking at pictures in my posts, the increase in image quality when editing the files is significantly higher with the 6D.

WA State Capitol - 6D In-camera HDR

WA State Capitol – 6D In-camera HDR

So in a situation like this, where the sun is going down and there are deep shadows, HDR should be more useful, right?  I do like how this shot turned out.  Amazingly, this photo is from 3 separate exposures, combined by the 6D to create a JPEG image.  And just like a any multi-exposure HDR, the camera needs to be held still.  Some of the softness in this image may be due to me hand-holding the 3-shot sequence. The 6D’s big brother, the EOS 5D MkIII can create a RAW file from multiple exposures, but I have to shoot 3 separate RAW photos and combine in software if I want to go that route.

So how well does this in-camera HDR mode work? It does help maintain shadow detail. The images appear to be lower contrast. Since they are JPEG files, there has been some in-camera sharpening and contrast, in addition to the HDR process.  This means the file needs less work in post processing, and that’s a good thing, because I was not able to push this photo very far at all to recover color in the sky without a pixelated texture breaking out in the sky.  That’s the disadvantage of JPEG files: whatever the camera did to it, you can adjust it some, but not nearly as much as you can with a RAW file.  Take a look at the two photos below.

Capitol Lake - EOS 6D In-camera HDR (JPEG)

Capitol Lake – EOS 6D In-camera HDR (JPEG)

Capitol Lake - EOS 6D single RAW (processed & exported to JPEG)

Capitol Lake – EOS 6D single RAW (processed & exported to JPEG)

The first thing to note is the depth of color and detail in the lower image, which the upper image simply can’t compete with, even though it’s technically an HDR.  Also, notice the odd streaks or striations running through the sky of the upper photo – and I did not push the JPEG nearly as far as the RAW, yet the RAW retains very smooth gradations from blue to orange.  I also think that despite being HDR, the JPEG has lost some shadow detail that the lower RAW file still retains.

I may play around with this in-camera HDR mode a bit more before a final judgement, but my initial conclusion is that a properly exposed RAW file can yield better results than the in-camera HDR mode, which spits out a JPEG that’s more limited in editing possibilities.

Cape Disappointment – Part 3, Beach/Beards Hollow

Beards Hollow - Cape Disappointment

Beards Hollow – Cape Disappointment

I think this is my favorite photo from this trip.  One thing I’ve learned in the last few months is that landscape photos need “foreground interest”.  I’d always thought that landscapes were all about looking at something distant, so that’s where I focused. But to show depth and make wide shots more interesting, you really need something closer in the bottom of the photo.

Just for comparison, here is the original shot with no editing applied:

Beards Hollow Beach - no editing

Beards Hollow Beach – no editing

Wow! Cameras cannot see the way our eyes do, but post processing works miracles! I got as far as I could in Lightroom, then handed the file over to NIK Color Efex Pro 4 and used the Pro Contrast and Graduated Neutral Density Filter.  This gave the photo a little extra boost that I can’t seem to get in Lightroom without making things look unnatural.

Cape Disappointment Beach

Cape Disappointment Beach

Beards Hollow - Cape Disappointment

Beards Hollow – Cape Disappointment

I climbed high up on the rocks for this shot. Having a sling camera  bag (Kata 3N1-20 DL) on my back and my tripod slung across my back as well allowed me to use both hands for climbing up and down.  I liked my LowePro waist pack, but outgrew it.  Just around the point at the back of the photo is the North Head Lighthouse in my “Part 1” post.

Way to Beards Hollow

Way to Beards Hollow

Here’s something interesting: all of these were shot in the same basic direction, but from different vantage points. If you look closely at the middle of this photo, you’ll see the orange crab shells from the first photo. Just walking (or climbing) around the same area can yield different perspectives on a scene.

This outing also reinforced the lesson for me: Even on grey, cloudy days, you can get great photos.  It doesn’t have to be perfect sunny weather.

Cape Disappointment – Part 2, Dead Man’s Cove

This is another unique feature of the Cape Disappointment peninsula:  A small cove just below the lighthouse.  It looks like something right out of Pirates of the Caribbean!  If it weren’t such ugly, overcast weather.

Dead Man's Cove

Dead Man’s Cove

Dead Man's Cove - Old photo treatment

Dead Man’s Cove – Old photo treatment

I was having trouble getting the look I wanted, so I went a completely different direction in NIK Color Efex Pro 4, using the “Old Photo” filter.  It seems appropriate, as this was the end of Lewis and Clark’s expedition to reach the Pacific Coast.


Dead Man's Cove - beach

Dead Man’s Cove – beach

This is a scaled back shot showing more of the beach.  The signs up on the steep hill above say “No beach access”, but there are trails leading down.  I might have been breaking the rules by being down here, but I wasn’t alone.  Even on a Wednesday at 10:30AM, I had to wait for the right moment for people to be out of the shot.

Dead Man's Cove - overlook

Dead Man’s Cove – overlook

This is the view from the cement trail leading to the lighthouse.  It was quite an exercise getting up from the beach!  But I’m out of shape and I don’t know how to take it slow.  So I was puffing like an old steam engine and glad to stop to take another shot.

I was disappointed that it was cloudy weather, but as I mentioned in the previous post, overcast skies evened out the tones.  I just started with dull, flat, low-contrast images.