Barnett Ranch Preserve (4 photos)

Barnett Ranch is an Open Space Preserve near Ramona, north and west of today’s Barona Indian Reservation. On older maps, the area is part of Cañada San Vicente y Mesa del Padre Barona, south of Ramona (Ramona itself used to be Santa Maria Valley, for the Santa Maria Creek – it’s a pity and shame that old place-names get lost so easily today because of “modern” digital maps that simply do not have them anymore, at all).

San Diego County purchased the land in 2002 and today, some four miles of trails are available, mostly in the open grassland portions of the preserve. Ramona is not too far from where we live and even though the amount of trails is limited, Barnett Ranch is one of the prettier back country preserves that I can reach without too much driving, even for a short evening walk with Toni.

In October, the grasslands are all dry and gold-beige colored of course, after the long and dry summer. The evergreen oaks and plants in the chaparral add their dark green summer color to the mix. I really like what a quiet and serene place this is on a weekday in the evening. I hope the photos show that.

Some technical remarks on exposure metering below the gallery.

I made the photos above in very even light, when the sun was disappearing behind the hills to west. I really like this kind of light, but previously, the D800 was always giving me a bit of a hard time with its metering. Thom Hogan says in his review that “the D800 has the same tendency [as the D80] to overemphasize correcting what’s under your chosen autofocus sensor.

That only happens when using Matrix metering though. And while Matrix metering is good for portrait/people/event photography, where you have a “subject” that should be properly exposed while the rest of the scene can more or less go where it wants to go. The AF on the face/eye then tells the camera “this is the area that should be correctly exposed.” (personally though, I still think that blown out highlights suck, and I rather control where they blow out in post, than having areas of no useful image/detail data captured by the camera. I guess every landscape photographer using digital cameras can relate.)

After a month of struggling, I came to the conclusion that the D800’s Matrix metering just isn’t for me. It’s just too different from the D700! In landscape photography, I’m usually looking at an entire scene and want to get the best overall exposure. What’s under the autofocus sensor is really only important in terms of focus – not exposure! Especially when using longer lenses with their (relatively) narrower depth of field, I made it a habit to not rely on focusing simply by distance (especially since newer lenses have only very crude distance scales, and without aperture markers), but place the AF on the element that I really want to be in focus, so that areas of lesser importance may fall out of critical sharpness if it can’t be avoided.

With this approach, placing the AF on a relatively dark subject in the frame (like a tree with dark green leaves) would be a surefire way to have brighter areas in a frame (like granitic boulders) overexposed – a total showstopper when using the D800’s Matrix metering for landscapes.

So I switched the camera to Center Weighted Average metering (in the D800, that’s custom setting b5: Center-Weighted Area) – and that solved my problems with the erratic metering entirely. The great thing about the “Average” mode is that, according to the manual, “[…] the average of the entire frame will be used for both CPU and non-CPU lenses.” (page 289 of the English D800 manual).

I have the feeling that the D700’s more “tame” Matrix metering behaved a lot like that anyway, and grew quite accustomed to it. I simply knew that for (metering wise) very bright scenes like foggy mornings, or a day at the beach I could dial in a +1 exposure compensation and be safe, and to preserve critical highlights, a -1 exposure compensation would most often do it. And Center Weighted Average metering is a lot like that – except that you can probably begin with a +1 exposure compensation for scenes with a rather controlled contrast range (if you believe in “expose to the right” – and you should).

Another nice feature of the D800 is live histograms* in live view (LV). Now this is really nice for expose-to-the-right** aficionados, especially if you’re using UniWB. The only drawback is that we only get a luminance (sum) live histogram in LV, so it’s advisable to not push the histogram all the way to the right (because most likely, the green channel will clip a little bit then, and you don’t see that in the histogram). Oh well, can’t have it all. :)

This of course begs for the use of a tripod, but the D800 and this new approach to exposure made me a LV and tripod convert in almost no time. It’s quite different from how I’ve been using the D700.

*) activate it by switching from “auto gain” to “exposure preview” with the OK button when LV is active, then press the Info button until you see it.

**) Luminous Landscape once more: a really nice short summary on “Tonality Suckout” because “Camera manufacturers continue to use 19th century exposure determination methods that were designed for film.

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All images and content © by Alexander S. Kunz, unless otherwise noted. No re-use without express written permission. Most images are available as prints and for commercial licensing. Please contact me if you’re interested.

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