Category Archives: workflow

Further Development Using Corel Painter

So I’ve been on a high key kick of late with Lightroom and Photoshop. I mean, EVERYONE does black backgrounds or vignettes and it’s old.. very old. I stumbled over something of a Hybrid High Key look while working on a junk image several weeks ago. I even posted an entry here on it and how I made it from junk to art. That just got my interest up as a new business angle. So for the past weeks, I have gone from fooling around with it to writing a Lightroom preset called “White out” to working in Photoshop to “paint” the final image.

Now I’ve extended it further with the use of Corel Painter 11 or you could use Corel Painter Essentials 4 which is considerably cheaper to get started with. I love digital painting. I love taking a sharp and detailed photograph and turning it into a painting or close to a painting that lacks the sharp details but has a wonderful texture and feel to it that a photograph is lacking. I will also add that a Wacom or other graphics tablet is pretty much required to do this well. A mouse is painful to use when you want to paint and you will get frustrated with it. In my case, I did try painting without the tablet and then I bought a used tablet for a cheap price to see if I really wanted to stay with it. I just bought a new medium Intuos 4 Wacom so I have committed myself to this style of post processing.

Photoshop CS5 has some basic painting elements now built in but I find them more of a play toy than anything ready for serious painting. But, they will get you by on the cheap if you already have CS5 and would not rather not sprint for Corel’s software OR you would rather not learn a new software package. I also feel that these basic brushes in CS5 are just the opening move for CS5 to move into Corel’s space. I think if Corel were smart, they would offer plugs for CS5 that extend CS5 more into the Corel way of painting. At least the 800lb gorilla is not quite as ready to step on you if you are a partner of theirs.  Just my opinion and I dont know diddly about what goes on in the backroom of Adobe or Corel.

White out conversion

White out conversion

So here is a picture that shows my original image plus the basic reworked image that has the background replaced with white and the levels reworked using my Whiteout action plus some manual tuning. I also used Portraiture to smooth out the skin.

I took this image, added about two inches around it in white and saved it as an eight bit TIFF file and brought it into Painter. I cloned the image and added a layer to the clone. Then I used the basic blender brush called “grainy watercolor” and painted out the edges. Then I used the same brush in various sizes to brush out fine details and to blend tones. I did add some color to places like the nose and lips which had blown out to white in the processing. I used black to add some lines to other blown areas, just a touch of a line, a hint as it were. I might add some color background but that defeats the point of a high key look in white.. but I might do it anyways. I also did some heavy retouching on the reflections in the glasses. Since I wanted the black dots on the hat and the black glasses to provide a counter point to all the white, I needed the glasses to be almost solid black with just a bit of reflection to provide the texture. Smooth black in my mind would be too much.

white out then painted

Whiteout when painted

You can see that while the painting looks good, there is still some room for improvements here and there. That is the trouble with this style of post reworking, you can get so caught up in refining things, you never finish it. I love to paint and I have several ideas for my business revolving around using painting as a tool. But like the basic art of photography, this will require a fair amount of practice on my part or yours if you want to try it also. I would warn you not to get too discouraged at first. Painter is not intuitive or at least I dont find it that way. Some of my Photoshop commands transfer but by in large, it’s a completely new set of skills and commands to learn. This is the attraction of trying to see how far I can push the new bristle brushes in Photoshop CS5 where I already feel comfortable.

Tools used in this article:

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Down the rabbit hole

Sometimes you need to be reminded what the priority should be and not what your think it is. I decided a few weeks back I wanted a new website where the site and the blog were one and the same. I dislike most “Photography” blogs since you end up with miles of images to scroll down through. I like blogs that are informational like what I’m doing right now. I dont like pages of stuff just to look at. The website has images and key info but it’s pretty static, too static in my opinion for today’s customer. So I start to look around. This blog is based on WordPress and I can use a “Theme” to divide up the content and give a “look and feel” to it that fits with my branding or my personality.

So I started “theme shopping” and there are ALOT of themes to choose from. But I did not find one I really liked till a few days ago. I liked the demo and so I bought it for a very cheap price. There was a reason why it was cheap. Just to get the basics to work right, I had to hack my way through a few pages of code and work out what they had done or not done. No biggie so I think, I can do this. After all, I am a geek and a pretty damn good one if I say so. The problem was that I have now spent almost four days on this stupid template and I was very much caught up in it and into it. I do like coding when I have a project like this and I can and have wasted hours on projects like this.

So today I’m listening to a podcast called “This week in Photography” (TWIP) and they are interviewing the owner of Livebooks.com. One of the things that was mentioned just jumped out at me. If you are working on your site, you are not shooting pictures.  Sounds like a no-brainer but when you are down the rabbit hole, you dont always see the light till someone shines it in your face.

In my case, I was way down the rabbit hole and I needed the light really bright to remind me that while coding is fun, it’s not helping shoot, get business, develop new skills like photo painting and more. I need a site and I need to do it with the minimal time and effort on my part. So my template efforts are being put on hold for now and I’ll stick with this simple blog for the time being. It’s not very fancy but it is serviceable and I dont think it is ugly, just kinda of plain.

I did look at Livebooks since they also made some very good points about trying to keep up with the various media players to support like the iPhone, iPad, Android etc..etc. Again, another time sink that I should avoid. I do have a plug in for iPhone support and it was free and fast to install. That worked well but spending time to develop or to hack something into working for me is not what I should be doing. I need to making images.. I need to be bettering my skills with photoshop, Lightroom and other revenue generating skills. After all, people who pay me want pictures and choose me for my skill at making pictures, not for my coding skills or website design.

So if anyone knows a really cool but easy to set up template for a blog/website, let me know.

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Color to High Key Black and White

One of the most classic looks in photography is Black and White. It is very interesting to me how even with our fancy digital cameras and ultra clean image files, we strive for a retro, grainy old school look without color. We will use all kinds of tricks to make our clean image look like the old Tri X or illford or TMAX. We add grain (noise), we unsharpen the image, we do all kinds of things to “ruin” the digital perfection that we as photographers pay dearly for.

And why? Why do we do this thing that we do? Because we have a collective embedded memory that black and white is artistic, it’s clean and pure and it really can make you focus on the image, not the colors. I’m sure there are a lot of other reasons but those are what come to my mind as I’m writing this missive.

I remember learning photography years ago in a community college and being very disgruntled to learn that my first semester would be just black and white. I thought it was going to be a terrible semester, why did we need to learn this old crap when we had Kodachrome and E6 slide film and more. Who even WANTED black and white?

That sure changed by the end of the semester to the point that when I signed up for my second semester, I took a second semester of black and white film studies. I lived in black and white film, I lived in the dark room with it’s chemicals and red light. I pored over catalogs looking at exotic papers to print my B/W images onto. I learned how to make my own developer to tweak the film into a direction I wanted it to go. Only then did I start to explore color.

But technology marches on and B/W became a niche player with color owning the world. Then came digital and really changed things around. Color was everything, saturated was better, grain or noise was the great evil and we strived to get as clean of an image as possible and some of us thought we might have lost a piece of our soul in the process and chase.

So now I see B/W more but I see really bad conversions where the folks end up with a monochromatic middle grey image and call it “Black and White” because that is what the preset says it is. With this thought, I’m going to write up a few entries on my ideas of B/W and how I got to certain pictures that I really like. My first one is a high key look where it’s dark blacks, stark whites and very little grey. It’s also a study in how to salvage an image that otherwise was not much to look at.

So lets start with the original image, no retouching or other processing. It’s got a bit of lens flare since I was shooting a 1.4 50mm wide open against the bright white background.

Jo Original No Retouch

Original Image - No retouch

As you can see, aside from the killer body, technically speaking, the image is not very special or very strong. But lets see what we can do with it. I always start in Lightroom since that is my workflow. The very first thing I do is apply a camera profile preset which brings in the various settings to match my camera, in this case, a Nikon D300. Then I will apply a B/W conversion preset and do some basic adjustments.

BAM – FREE Camera Dojo free Lightroom preset.
WOW BnW_02 – FREE Jack Davis B/W conversion preset from his How to WOW series

Highlights +40
Darks +75
Shadows -19
sharpness -80

The sharpness has been dialed down to let me run the noise clean up, then I reapply the sharpness as needed

luminance +54
color noise +27
sharpness +40

After Lightroom Conversion

After Lightroom Conversion

Now I bring the image into Photoshop to fine tune it and to clean it up.

I first apply a curves layer with a sweeping curve that starts from the lower left corner and bows to the left and up the right hand corner. This brings out the whiteness of the skin

Now I make a duplicated layer and start to sample the image and paint it using the samples. In this case I evened out a shadow under the chine, I made the eyelashes darker, whites of the eyes brighter and so on.

After Curves

After Curves Adjustment

I then apply a blur to a duplicate of the painted image. But I apply a layer mask which hides the new blur. Then I use my Wacom to paint in the blur at something like a 20% opacity.

Jo - Final Image

Final Image after retouching

Now we have a pretty sweet and dramatic black and white image. It really shows off her eyes and the overall beauty of her face without the distraction of lens flare, color and other attributes. Print this on black and white paper or aluminum and you have killer wall art.

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Distoration and the Canon G11

When I read the reviews on the Canon G11, nobody and I mean NOBODY mentioned the horrible lens distortion that the 6mm setting puts into the image. Worse, nobody mentioned that even in mid setting, there is a pin cushion effect, subtle but there regardless. Why did I see all this and not anyone else? Do I have the all seeing eye? Not so much but I AM shooting exclusively RAW which was one of the prime reasons I bought the camera. It turns out that in JPEG mode or in Automatic, the camera applies filters and corrections to fix all this but in RAW, you are pretty much on your own.

What I found out recently is that Lightroom under Camera Profiles Lens Corrections, you can fix alot of this type of problem for many cameras. If I were Adobe, I would be shooting this from the mountain tops and not keep it hidden. In the case of the G11, I can pick Canon G10 (pretty much the same camera) and LR will fix virtually all the distortion cleanly and fast.

See the image below for a side by side of before and after.

lightroom camera profile before and after

Lightroom Camera Profile before and after

This is image is not retouched in any way other than the camera profile and whatever sharpening was applied in the conversion to JPEG from RAW in Lightroom.

lightroom camera profile lens corrections panel

lightroom camera profile lens corrections panel

But that is not all folks, you can have access to transforms from within Lightroom!! No more having to leave LR to go into Photoshop to use transforms. Check out this second panel in the Camera Profile panel.

lightroom camera profile lens corrections panel 2

lightroom camera profile lens corrections panel 2

And there is one more feature. Take a look at the next picture and you will see a grey background where I have transformed the image onto an angle which leaves a blank area. Instead of having to manually crop this, you have the option of clicking on the tick box to constrain the image as you go. This keeps the image cropped while you work. You can always go back and adjust to taste just like any other crop setting.

Camera Profile Lens Correction Auto Constrain Crop

Camera Profile Lens Correction Auto Constrain Crop

I hope this tip helps you as much as it did me. Even my good glass from Nikon benefited at times from the automatic corrections. Not nearly to the degree of the Canon but then the glass cost fours times as much as the Canon cost 🙂 You expect better from something that costly.

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Over Processing, Just because you can doesn’t mean you should

Fads come and go and photography is not immune to the fad of the day any less than other creative endeavors. From selective coloring to the current trend of blown highlights and vintage yellowish looks, photographs are being over processed and passed off as art.
Yes, I’m ashamed to admit this was one of my own earlier misadventures into selective coloring. And no, I did not do it again.
Colorized

In particular, with wedding shooters, the advent of easily acquired Lightroom presets and Photoshop actions have unleashed a deluge of hyper sharpened, over saturated, distressed and generally mangled images. A good wedding image is not about the action used to create the colors, it’s about the moment in time being captured. And a good picture stands on it’s own, without needing to have it heavily manipulated. I just finished a wedding album where only one image was heavily processed for a very specific reason. I did flip a few to B/W but most of them were just cleaned up, sharpened a bit and cropped here and there. The bride, when she saw the KISS album for the first time, commented on how classy her pictures looked.

Bride and Dad in Black/White

In this case, this was the last set of formal pictures the bride has of her dad who passed away several weeks after the wedding. I’m proud my images are a timeless version and not a worn out trendy version. You never know how your images will be view in the future, I prefer mine to be viewed as keepsakes and not kitsch.

I an not a Photoshop luddite, I use Photoshop alot and would not give it up. There are actions and presets I use often in my own workflow. Most times I use them because in my work flow I need to repeat something over and over again. My most commonly used preset is a freebie from Cameradojo called “Bam”. There are three versions and all come very close to a D300 preset I made (was making) and since it was close and I liked it, I use it. When you shoot RAW, you have to process the image and at the very least apply a camera profile to it so the image on the screen matches what you saw on the LCD which is a processed JPEG. The Bam preset fits very well into my Nikon work flow and saved me the trouble of creating my own from scratch.

There is a set of commercial actions I like for eyes and teeth called The Eye Doctor and Dentist Actions from MCP. I love them because they put each adjustment on a layer so when I need to brighten the eye whites or work on the pupil, no big deal. I go to that layer, turn it on and dial it in. Done. I’m not getting weird with the colors or saturation, I’m working on the basics.. color balance, initial sharpness, eye clarity, teeth coloring.. all the small things that can really make or break a picture. It’s called “Basics” for a reason, one should always pay attention to the basics. Another source of knowledge and inspiration is David Cuerdon who has the Beauty and Portrait Retouching Kit on Kelby Training. He shows how to really get into the eye to make them beautiful and not alien.

When I have my basics in place, I do use a palette of actions by Focht Creative (partner of Fundy) called “Retouch Palette: or Touchflo. This is a very nice set of Photoshop actions that provide a lot of tools for touching up images fast. And there are some processing “tricks’ in the bag of actions for popping the color or going with a soft B/W conversion and so on. There are times that something like this is of great use. One action I seem to go back over and over again is called “Creamsicle” which is by Kevin Kubota but I got mine in OneSoftware Protools.

And lets talk about another basic skill, sharpening an image or what happens often, under or over sharpening an image. With the advent of digital photography, the photographer can now sharpen to his or her heart’s content. And many try to use sharpening to salvage an out of focused image. Sharpening will NOT save an out of focus image, it just makes it look jaggy. Sharpening is to bring up the contrast between light and dark areas which tends to be a bit smudged by the way a digital image is processed in the camera. When it’s done properly, it will add some “pop” to the image. My preference is to lightly sharpen an image in Lightroom and then use a high pass filter in Photoshop to really bring up the edges on a layer where I can really dial in how much or how little I need. In CS5, the claim is the sharpening tool really works like it should. I will be testing that shortly myself to see if I can optimize my workflow a bit more. Lightroom 3 will also help in the that regard. But even then, the tools will not fix an out of focus image. The photographer still has to get it right inside the camera first. Someday we will have software that can recalculate the path of the light through a given lens but not yet.

And the eyes!!  Man, I know the eyes are the window to the soul but having devil eyes popping off a subdued image is not a good thing. I’ve seen way too many pictures of late where the eyes are so over-processed compared to the rest of the image that it’s scary looking. You want to clean up the eyes, brighten them a bit, enhanced them not have them looking like polished glass marbles. And let us bring in skin smoothing while we are at it. Humans do not  have ultrasmooth skin without a single wrinkle or even texture. We have pores!!! we have wrinkles!! Again, the idea like the eyes, is to ENHANCE and not plastify the skin so much it should belong on a store bought barbie doll. Do I smooth skin? you bet I do.. I also remove major wrinkles but in both cases, I leave enough behind so it looks like the real person but a bit more polished. A good job in skin smoothing evens out the tones and still leaves some visual texture but loses the huge open pores, the blotchy skin and munge like pimples. I also remove large wrinkles in a few key places but I leave much because those wrinkles are what gives character to the person. It shows they have had a life and it has marked them to some degree. The exception are babies and children which tend to have lovely skin without the wear and tear us “older” people have. Even on children I will even out the tones and watch for blotches.

This little cowgirl had just a touch of tonal smoothing. You can still see faint freckles and shadows. Her eyes were cleaned up just a touch. They do not pop out of the image but they do draw you into it.

Today’s digital cameras can be too good at picking up details, even more so with a super sharp prime lens. I dont have any numbers but in looking at portraits I took with my film Canon AE1 with a 50mm lens and my digital D300 with roughly the same lens, the digital images are so much sharper across the board. I did shoot a batch of images using my old Tamaron 28-80 film lens on my D300. Definitely sharper even though I used the same lens nearly 20 years apart. And this sharpness does need a bit of smoothing to really make people look their best.

There is a time and a place for all looks and styles. High fashion loves the smooth, no fault look. I dare you to find a wrinkle on a Playboy bunny 🙂 But those images are not selling reality or a memorable moment in time, they are selling a fantasy that is unattainable by mere humans. When we as photographers shoot a wedding or a portrait, we are creating a visual representation of a moment in time and we need to be accurate and mindful of what that moment means now and can mean later. It’s not time to show off how much of a Photoshop junkie you are or what cool action you just bought. It IS the time show off how good you can make your clients look today and tomorrow.

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Shooting with the Canon G11

The more I use the Canon G11, the more I see that the newest and higher end compact cameras are under rated. I have spent over a week now shooting the G11 in all conditions and I have to say that while the ergonomics are poor, the picture quality is very good. And the camera has a very “well built” feel to it, like the difference between a Honda and a Mercedes.

The G11 itself is built very well and feels sturdy in your hands. Even the swivel screen does not feel flimsy as you swing it in and out. The problems I have with the camera revolve around where the right hand has to grip the camera body. There is a small bump to wrap your fingers around it on the right but it’s too damn small to be of any use. The body really needs to be extended here and in fact, on the older G series, one of the most popular accessories is a grip extender. Without it, my thumb ends up resting on the buttons since there is not any space to put it anywhere else. The “menu” button ends up jammed into my palm and the thumb goes right over the function button. So often, I find my settings have changed. Holding the camera in the vertical mode is worse, to keep your finger on the shutter button keeps my fingers hitting the buttons all the time. Most common I find my F stop has changed without my knowing it. A button lock switch would have been a killer addition. Something like small slide switch on my iPhone where I can silence the phone in an instant.

But since I dont have it, I make do. Ergonomics aside, the picture quality is very important, I mean, no matter how good the buttons are, if the picture quality sucks, then why bother? This camera had the sensor size “degraded” from 12 to 10 megapixels in order to clean up some of the noise from putting too many pixels on a very small sensor.

Now the noise is not alot compared to other small cameras, it is still considerably more than my D90 or D300. Even at a relatively low ISO of 400 is still noisy. This means in post, there is an extra step of having to run Noiseware (or whatever your choice for noise reduction is). In Noiseware, the “Film Grain” setting seems to work very well at cleaning up the images without ruining the edge details. In this picture, I shot at ISO 800 with a shutter of 1/125 F3.5 and 15mm. The noise is clearly visable but not too objectionable and would easily clean up. At 3200, you would be to pretty desperate to use the image even after clean up. ISO 1600 is pretty much the limit of the G11 to make a decent image that will still clean up well.
The Chancel Vault

Here is a crop of ISO 800 without any retouching or noise clean up.
Crop showing ISO 1600 G11

Given the price tag of the G11, I am surprised at the stunning amount of distortion in the wide angle settings. At a retail price of 500 USD, I would expect much better optics than this. In this shot of my MBP screen at it’s widest, you can see the barrel distortion all around the image.
First Contact

To fix it, you need to remember to move the lens in just a touch and the level of distortion drops right off. This is overshadowed by how well the camera works in close up work and macro work. It can take stunning ly good close up shots in very difficult situation even holding it without any tripod. The IS that Canon added to it works incredibly well. In these shots, I was shooting through a case case in both shots.I was right up on the glass but not touching it and just using spread finger tips as a “tripod”. In both shots, the G11 was set to macro mode and in full manual. In the gears shot, I did use manual focus to get the focus exactly where I wanted it.
Gears Astrolab

I will say that I bought a spare battery for this and I find that I really dont need to use the spare even after shooting off over 300 images during the course of a day. Now, I did not use the flash very much and I tend to turn off the camera when I’m not shooting since it comes on very fast. But still, it’s a very good achievement in battery life

And lets talk about RAW vs JPEG. On my older Canon SD500, 550 and 800 cameras, the camera generated JPGs are pretty good. On the G11, they suck. Is that plain enough? The color balance and sharpness is not there. I find that shooting RAW is the ONLY way to really use this camera and then clean it all up in post. So in a major way, that defeats the whole reason for using a point and shoot which is connivence. Now, I dont mind since my workflow is already geared up for RAW but for someone like my wife, this camera is completely wasted on her and she is a pretty good snapshot artist. So if it were me, I would NOT recommend this camera to anyone other than a serious amateur or a working pro who really can use the manual settins and the close up/macro capability of this camera. Anyone else will be very frustrated by it. As it is, it frustrates me but I’ll live with it till someone designs a better semi-pro point and shoot.

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Traveling Light

Don’t you just love being invited to see someone’s travel pictures? Does the groan escape your lips before you can stop yourself or do you just bite the bullet and suffer quietly? But here is the kicker question, how do YOUR travel pics look to everyone else? hmmmmm? Thought so.. so here are some tips on creating memorable travel shots that wont put your audience to sleep OR cost you and arm and a leg in glass.

Bones of a BE2c

My first tip is a bit odd and not so much a tip as something to think about. Travel is all about seeing the sights and experiencing new things, people and places. Unless you are getting PAID for the trip, it’s NOT about dragging two bodies, half dozen lenses and assorted equipment along. So my first piece of advice is to consider, strongly consider getting a really good point and shoot camera.

In my case, I got a Canon G11 because I truly believe that Nikon’s point and shoots are best left home. None of them equal the G11 in features or flexibility. I also feel that Nikon is making serious mistake with that line of marketing. But anyways, there is the G11, there is the slightly cheaper but in some ways, better S90, the Panasonic LX3 and there are the newer four thirds which are a a marginal point and shoot with swappable lenses. I tend not to include the four thirds in this talk because of their size. The Canon G11 is almost too big but still qualifies as a “point and shoot” due to it’s fixed lens and smallish size.

I suggest a good point and shoot because when traveling with one like the G11, you have virtually all the control that you have with the DLSR. You do NOT have swappable lenses but then the zooms on the P/S camera are pretty amazing at the ranging they can work. I just spent a week in the UK and never pulled my D300 out of my ThinkTank bag. I shot everything with the G11. This leads to another tip.

Leave 90% of the “must have” accessories at home. I did a week in the UK and never used my remotes, my SB800 flash, graphics tablet, D300, 17-55 F2.8 lens, 50mm 1.4 lens, spare batteries etc. I DID use my Epson P5000 to archive my images from the Sd card, I DID use my Macbook Pro for email and fast edits for posting to Flickr so friends and family could see a few shots as I went and I DID use my USB hard drive for my Time Machine backups while in the room. So when thinking about the trip and really think about what you plan to do, be ruthless! Most museums will NOT let you use the fancy flash and/or camera without hassling you about it. Nobody gave a damn about my G11. I lived in my Luma Loop strap and it was great at the checkpoints where I could just unsnap the camera, hand it to security and then snap it back on. No mess and no fuss trying to lift straps over my head and jacket. I like it much better on my G11 than I do on my D300. For my D300, I prefer the Rapid Strap but since we are talking about lightweight point and shoots, really take a look at the Luma.

I consolidated quite a few of my chargers down to three and one I didnt need. The AA charger was not needed since I never used the SB800 flash I brought. The old Razor charger works on my Crackberry and is lighter and smaller than the OEM for the Blackberry. I had the Canon charger and a USB cable for the iPhone since it can charge while connected to the laptop. I had two more USB cables, both the same type so I could plug in both my flash card reader and the external HD at the same time. I did bring a spare power pack for the iPhone for while I was on the airplane since it was 11 hours of flying time and time at the airport. I also have a small two piece plastic stand that holds the iPhone horizontal and at a 50 degree angle for watching movies or podcasts. I brought spare earbuds since I have them fail before.

So what can you do with a point and shoot you ask? Am I going to “give up” anything? Yeah, weight and size. A good point and shoot can perform almost as well as the DLSR. Note I said Almost.. not As well. There is some give and take but we are talking TRAVEL pictures people, not the cover of Vanity Fair or Country Life. You want nice shots that wont bore people to death when you show them. And that my friend is more of YOU than the camera. So learn how to use the point and shoot CORRECTLY. It’s not the same as your DSLR and it will require a different technique to some degree. And it will require more post processing to get the most out of the image. There is distortion in the wide angles, noise even at relatively low ISOs like 400 and on my G11, a distinctly narrower tonal range between shadow details and totalling blown highlights. The G11 also fringes blue like mad on blown or close to blown highlights. So experiment before you leave and make sure you understand the limits and how best work around them.

When I use my G11, 90% of the time I am shooting full manual mode. I tend to shoot ambient light and the G11’s smarts do not do so well with backlit scenes. There is a feature on the G11 that I absolutely love. I can be in full manual, focus on the subject and dial up or down F stop and/or shutter in real time and see the changes on the screen. No guessing, I just focus and dial in what I want it to look like or as close as I can get. This is such a cool thing is nasty lighting like a dim church or museum. I dont have to take the camera away from my eye and look at the screen to see the shot. I just hold it up, focus and watch the screen in real time. The G11 also has a rotating screen which I LOVE!! My old Nikon 950 has one and that is the one feature I miss the most on my D300/D90.

Another tip is to shoot RAW if you can. The JPEGs on the Canon just plain out and out suck. In RAW, I can recover alot of those “blown” highlights and pull back the fringing if I want. I also can run my normal workflow of Noiseware and a highpass filter which gives me clean and sharp images. Much better than the in-camera JPEG processing could ever hope to be.

Use the built in flash but use it wisely. In other words, dont turn it on and leave “on”.. learn to set it just like you do aperture or shutter speed. The built in flash works very well as fill for getting rid of those nasty shadows under someone’s eyes in bright light. It works very well to bring up the shadows in a dim museum assuming you are allowed to use the flash.

Amanda Oxford Portrait

Play with different techniques and post work flow. Dont be afraid of blur or Black and White. I learned a trick from Jack Davis (How to WOW) about using slow shutters while shooting out the window of a moving bus or car for an impressionistic look. With a bit of luck, it looks very cool. Also, take interesting shots of family, they are the models traveling with you and since they tend to ignore you anyways, play into that.

Rider
Blue Skies

Black and white is easily accomplished with today’s tools and remember, it’s BLACK and WHITE, not middle grey which is what you get with default settings of greyscale. It’s all about tones and texture in B/W, not color so strong subjects, close ups and something with a large tonal range can work very well in B/W.

WWII in B/W

Stairs of Light

Dont forgot to use interesting composition!! Dont take the same damn shot everyone else takes. Well, take it first and get it out of the way then start experimenting. You have digital film for pete’s sake, damn near unlimited assuming you either have a large flash card or you brought spares. You DID bring spares yet?

Hyde Park in London

Museum of Natural History Oxford

And FOOD!!! Remember, this is traveling and you are not eating at the same old places (you had better not be!) So sometimes, the food can be quite interesting to shoot and share with friends later.

Pizza

Every one of these pictures were taken with my point and shoot Canon G11 under a varity of conditions. All are not your typical crappy image out of a point and shoot. The equipment helps but in the end, the photographer working the camera makes the biggest difference. The point and shoot allows you to travel very light on equipment and in many ways, frees you to be more creative by doing more with less. Try it and I think you might yourself addicted to using the point and shoot alot more than you think you will.

Happy trails!!

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Snow Fall

I love playing with Black and White conversions. There is something about B/W that has always stuck with me over the years. I remember well in my first ever college photo class, we were told we were shooting in B/W only. There was a collective groan but by the end of the class, I really did not want to shoot color.

Snow Fall

When I took this, I knew it was going to be a B/W conversion. Snow and trees lend themselves to B/W like air is to breathing. I started my primary conversion by a clean up in LR but the heavy lifting was in CS4. I used the greyscale conversion but used curves to really bring up the whites and blacks. A simple 50% high pass filter finished off the clean up.

So many of the B/W “conversions” I see on Flickr and elsewhere are just grey.. flat middle grey. Do this people not look at the classic B/W images to see what makes them so rich? It certainly is not middle grey.

And lets talk about how much is done in camera shall we? In this image, there was a main highway that I hid by taking a few steps up the stairs leading to my room. Then a mild zoom cropped out the buildings on the right hand side. A touch in post cleaned up the rest and we were done with the cropping.

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Image Recovery or how to restart your heart

Card Error! – Two words that strike terror in the heart of a digital shooter. In the old days, it was opening the camera after supposedly rewinding the film and see film still there. But now days with the blessing of technology, we get a bit spoiled in thinking that since the widget is “digital”, it should be perfect every time. But it’s not perfect every time, sometimes the card has issues, the camera has issues or the person running it all has issues and the pictures are not readily accessible.

Unlike in the old days of film, I’ve only had ONE digital card (SD card) go bad enough to where I could not get the images off the card, even with the help of a specialized forensics lab trying also. I have had several times where I had to use special software to recover images and for the most part, the software works pretty well.

The recovery of images is not any different than recovery of files from a hard disk since the flash card appears to be a hard disk to the camera and computer. They are typically formatted in FAT32 though the older cameras use FAT16 and trying to mix n’match between these two formats leads to problems. FAT32 has been around a long time and is pretty reliable overall. The reliability is enhanced for our needs here by most camera manufacturers taking a short cut when we say “Format” the card by just erasing the root directory and not the entire card. So when you accidentally format a card with images, it’s a small matter for the software to go and scan each block of data looking for specific signatures that indicate JPEG files, RAW files, TIFFs and so on. You wont get the original name back, but you will get the image back. That is how it works in the simplest form.

Corrupted Image

Corrupted Image

This image was corrupted by using www.recyclism.com

What happens if the image is corrupted? Where a bit or two or three is not what it should be and now the image looks like it has grey blocks or streaks through it, or weird color bands through the image? or the image is unreadable for Lightroom, Photomechanic or your editor of choice? It becomes alot tougher to recovery anything usable. Alot depends on how you saved the images when you shot them. For example, for those of us that shoot RAW, there is a JPEG that is created and kept in the RAW file unbeknownst to many photographers. When I had a card go bad on me and corrupt 90% of the images on that card, I had shot RAW and so I used a tool called “File Juicer” for OSX to recover that JPEG out of the corrupted RAW file. It was not perfect but it was enough to let me recover about 95% of the shoot. I do not know of a similar tool for those on Windows. With FileJuicer, you just drop the RAW file onto the application and let it go. Like magic you will have some folders with the extracted text and JPEG. Here are some screen shots of File Juicer in action on a NEF (Nikon RAW) file.

File Juicer

File Juicer Application

file juicer results

File Juicer Results

juicer file list

Juicer File List from RAW file

It does not get much easier than this to recover a JPEG from a RAW file, even a corrupted one. There are numerous recovery applications for getting images off a formatted or dying flash card. My personal favorite is Sandisk’s own application called “Rescue Pro”. It has worked for me many times where others have not faired as well. You can find out more about it here. I got my copy with the purchase of some flash cards a while back.

sandisk

Sandisk File Recovery Utility

None of these tools will help you if you have overwritten the files by new files and you do not have any back up. All you can hope for is that you can recover some files from space not written to by the new files.

I will say this, flash cards are alot tougher than people give them credit for being. I personally have run two of them through a wash cycle (dont ask) and they were fine afterwards. I still use them in fact but not for paid shoots 🙂 I just read a piece about a couple’s point and shoot getting dredged up from the ocean bottom by a fisherman and he was able to read the card, post the recovered images and reunite the couple with their up to then, lost images. Imagine, months in saltwater and still readable.. amazing but I hope not to have to test this one myself. There are some basic rules to avoid having to test any of this advice due to user error.

The best rule to remember is ALWAYS format the card in the camera it will be used in. Do not trust anything else’s formating tools or the factory formating.

The second best rule is to NEVER delete images from the camera, just keep shooting and delete them in your image workflow software.

A third guideline is to buy the fastest card your camera needs. Not that YOU need but the one that the camera can really use. Using a slow card in a fast writing camera is asking for trouble. Even more so when writing large files like RAW files. JPEGs are about 1/3 the size of a RAW or even smaller so there is more forgiveness there in writing to a slow card.

A trick if you are recovering a damaged card and you use a Mac. Make a image file from the card very first thing. This will let you work from a bit for bit copy of the data instead of a slowly failing card. You can use OSX’s disk utility tool to make this image file. File Juicer has this built into the tool as a menu option, yet another reason to buy File Juicer.

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Folios and PDFs

I’ve been experimenting with using PDFs as a way to show off folios. I found an excellent training DVD from the good folks at Lenswork which is exactly this, making folios in the PDF form. You can see the information here about the DVD. And with a incredible price of 80 dollars US, it is a bargain for anyone using PDFs to distribute images, albums or folios.

With the information in the DVD, I had the knowledge I needed to build very usable PDFs and keep the size manageable for downloads or bigger for using media like a CDR or DVD to distribute my folios. I am able to build my shell of a folio using Indesign to layout the folio, add pictures and text. Once I finished that, I could use Adobe Acrobat to make the PDF with actionable areas on the pages. Actionable areas like forward one page, back one page, go to thumbnails etc.

This image shows the thumbnail page from the folio. It shows each image, a title plus actionable areas. Indesign works very well for laying out a master page and then laying out the images quickly.

Commute Thumbnails

Commute Thumbnails

I think that using the PDF tool is a very useful way to show off my images to clients and friends. The format is virtually everywhere and on almost every platform.

This folio was born of a few reasons, one of which was that I promised myself to take pictures every day. The idea of taking pictures while commuting came from this idea of shooting every day and what better way to while away time while sitting in traffic then shooting pictures out of the windows of my car. Once I had the idea of the project, I decided it would be an excellent way to learn how to build the PDF folios. So I have completed two goals concurrently, I shot pictures every day for about three months and then learned how to use Indesign and Acrobat to build interactive folios.

The extras were that I found myself changing my routes to get “new” art, I learned to see things in a very different way, a more artistic way since I was very limited in my vision. No getting out of the car, no parking the car on the side of the road for 15 minutes, just see and shoot. Some images came from repeated efforts but some were inspired shots that could not be easily repeated if at all. Most were taken with my D300 and a 50mm lens. I found that while I could take shots with my Point and Shoot, most were not the quality I was looking for but they served well as a initial shot to see if I liked the idea. Zooms lenses did not lend themselves to shooting one handed while trying to drive.

I did learn that my side window tint which is aftermarket is equal to roughly a 1.5 stop neutral density filter on a bright day. I learned that the green tint in the windscreen was ugly but worked really well in black and white.

So in parting, I would suggest to anyone who has an interest in distributing images to review the Lenswork DVD on PDF Publishing. I would also suggest that you think about personal projects that might not be “traditional” such as shooting a folio out the windows of a car while driving around.

You can download my demo folio of “Commute” here.

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