Thursday, 27 November 2008
Friday, 21 November 2008
Following on from my last post on camera testing, I thought I'd air a few observations related to shooting JPEGs. This is particularly relevant if you have a RAW-capable camera but don't use it. And there is a final conclusion on another reason to use RAW.
The underlying premise of my testing was that RAW would be unchanged regardless of camera parameters but that these parameters, as applied to the embedded JPEGs, would affect the histogram and thus ones perception of the dynamics range and metering. And so it turned out. What has that to do with JPEG shoting? Well a lot, actually.
The thing I then came to realise is that the settings in the camera had a very strong influene of the ability of the camera to capture the dynamic range of a scene, convey accurate colours etc. There are a lot of review sites that do comparisons between even DSLRs based on their default JPEG settings. Quite frankly, these are useless test for comparison purposes, except possibly as measures of resolution erlating to pixel count. There is almost certainly more variation to be had within the parameters of any single camera thean there are differences between makes or models. If you do shoot JPEG and do not vary the parameters, you're not getting close to even the burned-in capabilities, let alone all that is lost in not using RAW.
I reckon, if I was shooting JPEG, I'd need greycard shots for all lighting situations (not just because that gives more accurate colours but also because it reduces the risk of blowing a single channel by getting it wrong), variable contrast for different lighting, likewise saturation. I'd be leaning towards the lowest contrast setting to maximise the dynamic range that can be captured. I might well need different settings for different light.
So, if you insist on sticking to JPEG, don't sweat comparisons and learn how to use the camera settings to maximise your return.
Or be a lazy shooter and go RAW. As the base data is the same for a given shot regardless of settings, you'll always get it right (providing exposure is OK). It only takes minimal RAW conversion to get from that to what you'd have got with optimal in-camera JPEG. Thus another reason for RAW - minimal fiddling around at shooting time and less chance of messing up the shot due to poor camera settings.
Thursday, 20 November 2008
This is an update to the post I made a while back on the relationship between metering, histograms and camera settings for my Canon EOS 20D. The update is for a repeat of that testing but for my new EOS 40D.
With the conclusions I drew about the 20D histograms, I realised I'd want to optimise the settings on the 40D as well. A few initial test shots also made me realise that the settings are substantially different on the 40D than the 20D and so I'd need to do a whole suite of testing before I was going to be happy using the camera in anger.
So what did I do? I effective repeated the testing I did before by shooting a whole lot of parameters on a fixed scene in constant light, all shooting in a batch. As before, a nice high contrast scene to push the highlights. I tested variations in contrast, saturation, WB and highlight tone priority (HTP). All RAW files converted in 4 different software packages: Canon's DPP, CaptureOne 4.0, Lightroom 2.0, Lightzone 3.4.
What were the results? Largely the same as before: contrast setting is the key factor, white balance acts largely as a blue-shift. However, the contrast settings have a very different effect in the 40D than the 20D - reflects, I presume, the updates Canon have done to their firmware with the newer processors.
In all cases the RAW files are identical. Same scene, same light, same metering, same basic data. What you'd hope from RAW. This also means that all testing is absolutely consistent.
I found that a Contrast zero (C-0) reflected the same range in histogram as in RAW: 0-100% show for the JPEG reflected 0-100% in RAW. This means the setting has been tweaked to offset the limited DR of JPEG to match the overall tone range of RAW. That's actually quite nice - it means out of the box performance is very consistent. C+4 is very strong. About 1-stop difference between the indicated over-exposure (flashing highlights) and actual RAW highlight point. Too much headroom for me. At C+2 there is about 1/3 to 1/2 stop difference, which is nice. This is also consistent with how I've set up the 20D. This level means I can push exposure until the review gives some flashing highlights and know I've nailed ETTR.
Obviously, negative contrast settings go the other way. Even at C-2, there is a tendency for the RAW highlights to saturate before the histogram does. Not good.
As for other settings, no real impact. I've been testing the HTP mode as well to see how much headroom it actually gives in RAW conversion. With DPP I get a lot. But then the entire dynamic range & tone curve is adjusted. With all the others I've checked this with 2 types of exposure. Firstly just to the limit, but no blown highlights in the RAW. I then check exposure differences.
Second with just over-exposed and using recovery tools. I then compare degree of recovery required to just clip highlights.
In both sets, it's about 1/3 stop difference. Recovery tools typically only have 1-point setting differences, EV compensation 1/3-stop offset difference. This is nowhere near the 1-stop claims. More investigation required here. Contrast parameter settings seem to have more influence in judged exposure than HTP.
First-up, as before, setting in-camera are important even for RAW shooters when evaluating exposure with histograms.
Second up, my personal settings. I'll be using contrast +2 for normal shooting and contrast +4 for low light (I like to slightly under-expose high ISO settings).
Third, I'm not touching HTP until I've got a better handle on its effect and that means more testing.
I've also got a bunch of conclusions from this about JPEG shooting but that is a whole other post.
Out reading in blogland this afternoon a thought came to mind about how the great RF practitioners might work today in the digital age. It came down to seeing. One of the great advantages touted for the rangefinder viewfinder is thee ability to see outside the frame, watching action approaching. Well yes, to some extent. With my Zeiss Ikon and a 28mm, the angle of view fills the viewfinder.
Much handier is the live view of the modern LCD. Not because it's live view but because of its size and hence arms-length use. With a decent size screen that one holds away from the body, or at unusual angles, one can actually hold the camera in place and watch the world around. I often do this, aligning the camera, setting some sort of visual marker for where I want the subjects coming into frame and firing when ready.
Maybe HCB would be using a small digicam for its discrete size and ability to see the whole scene during the act of shooting.
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
I've been reading some more stuff on how much effort should be applied to gathering photos. Some interesting stuff particularly around snap shots. So here are a couple of broad observations:
For landscape stuff, I think photographing takes some contemplation to get the right feel. If you want good photos of great locations, a certain degree of effort is well rewarded. Even without the camera, taking time to soak up the view is worthwhile. For the stuff I take in the mountains, even just walking along snapping, I may take several minutes per shot. With the tripod and a subject I'm really interested in, that process can take half an hour (although camera time may be quite short). And yet so many I see are flying by with hardly a second glance, snap, snap, snap and on their way.
Contrast that to "street photography" (reportage if you will). Really a subject and method that lends itself to fast pace, see, frame shoot, move on. Don't dither or you'll miss stuff and waste time that could be spent on the next subject. I really enjoy photographing other people taking photographs, partly because I think it's humorous to do so, and partly because it hones my reflexes for subject and shot. If you've been reading a while, you may have seen me post some. Here's a typical sequence: I notice the camera in hand from several yards away, I close the gap, raise camera, frame, focus, snap and away. Camera-in-hand is still busy framing and fiddling.
Of course, I'm dealing in broad generalizations here but this is certainly the way I see the vast majority approach their picture taking.
Am I the only one who thinks it's odd the way others approach their photographs?
Saturday, 15 November 2008
I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.
Some of the things I've been reading recently, and participation in the print exchange, have made me realise just how much there is still to learn in photography. Just when you think you're getting better, you realise the bar is higher.
An analogy: learning is like climbing a mountain backwards. One is always fixed on how far one has come, not how far it is to the top. I've just turned around on the path, and while it may be quite a way down from here, it is even further to go upwards.
For my city visits I've been looking for a small bag to carry my stuff in for a while. Typically it's something I need in the winter, when I carry not only the camera gear but hat, gloves, jacket etc. I was after something light, low key, easy to get into. I've got a large size courier bag but it's way too much for a day about town.
I finally bought a Billingham Small Hadley, after putting my hands on one in a camera store. I've bought the black nylon (FibreNyte) version, which is much lower key than the traditional canvas models (I've always thought the canvas bags scream "I'm a camera bag"). This is my mini-review.
The all important question - what does it carry? Well, I packed it into my carry-on holding my 40D plus 17-55 f/2.8 & 50 f/1.8, my Zeiss Ikon with the CV 28 f/2.0 & CV 40 f/1.4 and my Lumix LX3. I packed batteries and film separate for travelling. I'd stripped out the padding, which I always thing is superfluous in such a bag.
Plenty of room for a water bottle or a pile of film (few rolls in front pocket)
Around Berlin I was carrying just the Zeiss and LX3, foregoing the DSLR. I had both cameras and the spare RF lens, a lightweight jacket, hat, gloves & a bottle of water. Front pockets carried the film (about 4 rolls) and batteries. It was easy to carry, I got no aches or pains and barely noticed I had it on. I carry it slung across the shoulder & chest like a courier bag which is more stable and more comfortable. It then sits nicely in the small of my back.
If I was going with the SLR, the bag could carry that, a small spare lens, jacket, hat gloves. If I decided to hand-carry the camera or put it around my neck, I could easily carry a 70-200 plus the other stuff.
It takes a bit of practice to work the quick release straps. Once I got the buckles set right (a bit looser than I might otherwise do) it became straight forward. I though the fixed strap would be a problem for packing but it is quite flexible and folds under the main flap for packing which is nice. The size is just right to drop in the bottom of a carry-on packed with gear so it doesn't really take up room.
All in all, highly recommended for the photog-about-town.
I came across this report of the new Prix Pictet, supported by Kofi Annan (former SG of the UN). A photographic prize in support of sustainability - the latest hot topic amongst the politically correct. Right-on!
If you know anything of contemporary photography, you're likely to recognise quite a number of the short-listed photographers.
While this is a worthy attempt at raising various levels of "awareness" I can't help but feeling it's little more than artistic posturing, in the form presented. looking through the work, I don't get any sense of needing to go do something. Or, for that matter, a sense of a global problem depicted. I think it is a problem of trying to present subjects like this as purely visual - there is no context in the images themselves. I miss the text that supports the work. Pictures speak a thousand more words, but nothing alone.
A few days ago, The Landscapist asked:
What about you? How/ what do you feel about your relationship with the pictures you create?I thought this idea was worth a post. For me in this respect, photos are a time machine. Transporting me to other times, recreating memories & feelings. I can specifically recall weather or location or the people I was with, depending on the circumstance of the image. My pictures can help me remember what I was thinking, recall a frame of mind, set me back in a frame of mind where I was thinking about something in the future.
Of course, I can also appreciate the image for what it is and its subject but so often it is much more than that. In that manner, music can have the same effect on me.
Friday, 14 November 2008
This is not going to be a call to my audience for ideas. I reckon if you keep coming back, it's for what I'm writing. If you're a passing visitor, you don't much care. But I though some of you might find it interesting to here my motivations for the subjects I post.
There are 2 main reasons why I'm writing here.
The first is the cathartic, journal writer's need to get stuff off my chest. Not so much stood on a soap box, but getting down things I'm thinking about. These are the posts about why I photograph, what I'm trying to achieve and to some extent just posting my pictures. It's this sort of stuff that has me reading other blogs, so I figure writing it in a public place might help others, too.
The second is all the technical stuff (equipment, reviews, software etc). While there is plenty of that stuff out in webland, I'm trying to fill some gaps. I tend to choose unusual equipment, look for new ways to do stuff etc. I also find that getting information on the stuff I'm looking for is very difficult. Therefore I write to fill gaps. It's mainly aimed at my past self: stuff i wish had been around when I was looking. The kind of information I wanted but couldn't find. The subjects may be esoteric but there seem to be plenty of people coming to read it, so if I help one person per post, I reckon my goal will have been achieved.
Thus, I write the things that I'd like to be reading, in the hope that others also want to.
Amongst all that, I also hope you enjoy seeing some of my pictures, too.
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
I thought I'd gone through the summer's backlog of scanning but came across 2 rolls that I'd missed when sorting out some papers. I'm a highly disorganised person, stuff is randomly scattered about my apartment: finding 2 rolls of film amongst financial papers is not unusual.
So I turned to scanning them and wow, what a set. Of all the stuff I've shot this summer, these are probably the most successful in terms of showing what I intended in the way I saw it. I'll be posting some over the next few days, and more to the photo of the day next week.
Given the results, I sometimes wonder why I bother slogging it out with all the natural landscape stuff. At least I'm making progress somewhere.
Now I'm set for auto-on-idle. The software monitors the folders set in the auto jobs, when new stuff is written and the folders become inactive, it runs the back-up in the background. As I'm backing up over a network, I don't see any hit in normal operation. If I was working on the files to be backed-up, AllwaysSync would just wait for me to finish. In the week I've had this setting active, I've not missed a sync and not had to intervene. Perfect for the forgetful/lazy man.
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Monday, 10 November 2008
I've made a few minor changes to the sidebar: re-ordered the groups, adjusted my profile a little and made a few changes to the blogs displayed. I've taken off the website links.
The profile reflects my changing personal view of my own photography. The blog links reflect those that I read a little more regularly. I read far more than these from my reader but these are my top picks for others.
As I mentioned at the end of this post, I've been using Lightzone as my main black and white conversion software for sometime. It produces really pleasing results with lots of control and minimum effort. This is where the underlying linear colourspace and the ease of the Zonemapper come into their own.
With the funky new tools, I thought I'd take a crack at using Lightroom in a sort of shoot-off. This won't be a long post because, quite frankly, there was no contest. Lightroom is very clunky and fiddly to use in comparison. Sure, it's got all the fine tuning possibilities in every part of the spectrum and masking etc. But with Lightzone I get that same power, with far fewer clicks. Plus I can stack tonal adjustment layers in Lightzone, which isn't possible in Lightroom (limited to a single curve tool).
Even for tweaking monochrome scans, I find Lightzone better, largely because I'm so tuned into the Zonemapper, but in these cases it's a closer call. I'm using Photoshop for scans mostly, anyway.
So for black and white, Lightzone wields the single stone that slays the Lightroom Goliath
I've intrigued for some time by the application of blur techniques to create images that convey moods rather than details. I've played around with various blur techniques myself: Processed Gaussian blur, out-of-focus techniques, multiple exposures etc.
The idea of using camera motion deliberately was a new one to me. I've been enjoying seeing Juha's experiments recently and the image with the post is a recent experiment of my own.
Then I read of the "Impressions of Light" work of William Neill over at Luminous Landscape, where he expands on his techniques. And that brings me to the subject of this post. All through my experimenting with various techniques I've been looking for specific ways to achieve specific goals. It is far from straightforward to do. I was hoping Neill's work would yield more insight. Quite the opposite.
While I really like the work he has produced, his expansion of his methods seems to remove the skill (the Latin artis) from the art and make it more a matter of persistence and random selection. the final result doesn't seem to get much past a 1 in 1000 random selection. Neill also states that use of Photoshop or other software to produce thee sort of results can often look over done. Indeed. That is where the skill comes in. He gives the impression (although it is probably wrong) that he doesn't have the software skills to produce the effects, and so has to resort to many attempts in the field. I get the feeling from his descriptions that just about anyone could produce similar work, which then relegates the value of his own work.
I'm feel sure that, with the appropriate techniques for certain subjects this whole arena can be turned into a much more skilful process than it appears currently. And that also means we shouldn't deny the ability to use software tools effectively as being a legitimate skill of the modern photographer.
Saturday, 8 November 2008
Now I've been shooting black and white film for a while, I think I've got a smooth workflow down. I thought some might be interested in me sharing. Starting at exposure, I'll run through the process to print.
I tend to under-expose all my black and white film, for various reasons. HP5+ @ 800 (as much as 1600 in very low light), FP4+ at anything from 125 to 200. Delta 400 @ 800 indoors. Key reason for me doing this comes from the development and scanning routine.
Development is all commercial, through my local camera store (who send it off to Fuji's Pro lab). I don't know what chemicals they use, but at least the results are consistent. No pushing or pulling, just straight-up. I've no mind whatsoever to start my own darkroom work.
Scanning is done in bulk on the entire roll. As I'm using an Epson V750 flatbed, this is more efficient in my time. Always on a 2-pass scan, which yields a slightly finer grain output. Always scanned as positive with software inversion.
I've got a development profile for this in Lightroom now, which speeds things up tremendously. I also do rotation and initial cropping in Lightroom (used to be in Lightzone). Inverted images exported to 16 bit TIFFs as a batch. I only invert the ones I'm going to work up further - this is the first screening point.
Final adjustments depend slightly on image and subject. I've got a couple of profiles for Lightroom for quick conversions, especially to web. For anything decent, it's off to Lightzone for a couple of layers of Zonemapping or Photoshop.
Typically the adjustments are for final white and black point setting, shadow depth (my inversion routine means the shadows start open and I burn them in) and mid-tone contrast. Sometimes I run a light noise reduction with Neat Image, normally to tone-down graininess in areas of uniform tone, like expansive skies or large shadow blocks. Hiraloam and output sharpening to close.
I'm now printing through Lightroom because I really like the way their print manager works, plus it means I don't need a specific print version of the file, that I find I always need with other software.
After spending the summer shooting HP5+, and some Delta100 I decided to try their counterparts, namely Delta400 and FP4+. I had some expectations. I hoped Delta400 might offer deeper shadows,being a higher contrast film and that FP4+ might offer smoother tones that Delta100, which tends to be a bit too contrasty for me in mixed light.
What I found: Delta400 is a huge disappointment outdoors. The high contrast leads to blown highlights, limited mid tones and yet muddy shadows. Indoors is another matter. These features seem to give it better definition in rubbish light and a better overall look than HP5+. I still like HP5+ indoors, however, and it is fantastic in overcast conditions (not that unusual in Europe).
FP4+ is a whole other matter. What a revelation. Straight off the scanner the results are better than Delta100: it has all the smooth tones of HP5+ with the lower grain and fine detail retention of a good slow film.
So, I think I'm set in my choices:
Delta 400 exclusively for indoor shooting.
HP5+ for general shooting for its sheer flexibility. Take along 2-stop ND filters on bright days.
FP4+ for outdoor shooting, especially on bright days.
Why not try Kodak films? Because Ilford are British and I like to support the small guys.
Friday, 7 November 2008
I've been using Lightroom a lot since I first installed it a few weeks ago. I'm finding it great for bulk file handling around my various workflows. This week I started the process of producing a second edition of my Kristiansund book that I put together for SoFoBoMo. Originally I had very few shots from which to choose and pretty much all the decent ones ended up in the book. A pretty good effort for a few hours works and relatively easy to do by hand.
Well now I've got a summer's worth of picturing and a whole lot more shots to choose from. My first rough-cut got me down to 120 plus covers and I'm aiming for 50-60. Enter Lightroom and some nice features.
Here's what I've been doing:
Key to this process has been the use of a Collection. The original files are stored in a varity of locations on my system. The Collection enables me to gather them all in one place without moving or copying the originals.
Once I created the collection, I ran a print of contact sheets to plain paper to eliminate the obvious edits - all those that are not up to the job, duplicates, subjects that don't fit etc.
Next, back to Lightroom to remove those and start ordering the rest. I can easily click & drag the images in the Collection organiser to sort into the chapters and start the basic sequencing. This helps me identify further shots that don't fit, understand the overall story I want to tell and hone in on the best.
I'm not yet done with this process but was able to get from 120 down to around 90 in under an hour, together with having all of the images grouped by chapter. Now it is a question of balancing the chapters & getting to the images that tell the story succinctly.
Using Lightroom in this way is really speeding up the whole process of mocking up the book, especially the difficult task of trimming the selection down to a manageable number of images. I can see this leading to me putting together more books in the future.
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
I'm going to expand on a point I made in a comment on Gordon McGregor's blog regarding improvement.
We all go through periods of self-doubt, it's part of the learning process for me. The important thing is not to get stuck in those thoughts. In any endeavour, improvement is made by assessing the weaknesses and working on the strengths.
I'm reminded of a guy I met a few years ago on a cycling holiday. It was his first time in the big mountains and he was struggling a bit - we all do. (If you've ever watched the top cyclists speeding up the mountains apparently effortlessly, believe me when I say that comes from years of hard work.) However, the experience had completely demoralised my acquaintance to the point he was intending selling the bike and packing it in.
Photography, like life, can be like that. We hit bad patches and wonder why we bother, the key is to keep going. I work on understanding myself and the things that make the good days and acknowledging what is missing on the bad days. Sometimes it is just lack of practice (when I get back on the bike after a while away, I always struggle). For a photographer, it doesn't have to be just technical aspects: it can be location, weather, personal feeling - there are many things that go into making a good day, and therefore many omissions that can create a bad one, especially if one requires a specific combination of factors to make the good days.
For me personally, it is the really bad days that define the good ones. Without knowing the struggle I cannot properly experience the joy.
I could create several long-term projects from the things I observe in cities. I've probably written before about my fascination with the way cities exhibit their evolution through their architecture. Berlin is a fascinating example: one of the few I've come across where there is a concerted effort to demolish the signs of a particular era & replace it with the most up to date.
Sunday, 2 November 2008
As I lamented earlier in the year, skies are a trouble for me. I got some excellent pointers at the Landscapist but it seems to demand effort. Or at least until now.
This shot, and the last few from Berlin have all come from the Lumix LX3 and quite frankly, the rendering of sky blows me a way. I'm not doing anything fancy to these shots, it is a camera that just seems to be able to produce great looking skies in fairly contrasty conditions straight out of the box. These are certainly better results from single frames than I ever managed to achieve with any other camera.
A note on the photograph. On the left is the Berliner Dom, the ruins to the right are from the East German Palast der Republik. The third "city" of the title is the newly rebuilt Berlin rising from the rubble of the effects of Communism and segregation.
Saturday, 1 November 2008
On the face of it, not a desperately exciting subject but quite revealing.
On the trip I took 3 cameras: my new EOS 40D with 2 lenses, my Zeiss Ikon with 2 lenses and my Lumix LX3. From typical previous trips like this I would have largely used the big DLSR most of the day, keeping the rangefinder for an afternoon's people watching and them have the small camera in my pocket for other times. I had a Billingham Small Hadley for carrying stuff in (more on that another time).
It didn't quite work out like that. In fact, I shot not one single frame with the 40D. The bulk was done with either the rangefinder or the LX3. In the final analysis, I could have done a lot more with the pocket camera. Here's why.
I'm finding the output from the LX3 is perfectly adequate for this kind of around town photography. Details are nice, colours are good, responsiveness is good. With live histogram I don't go around bracketing everything. This means less frames overall but just as many keepers. The 24mm wide end is fun for photographing people. I can't recall missing a shot due to its response - most of the time I stick to wide end, zooming when I want a bit more detail of a static subject.
To this, the rangefinder is a useful addition for people photography in lower light (e.g. indoors). Not that the LX3 can't do this, I just like the output on film in those conditions.
The implication is that I won't bother with an SLR in the future. I'll also take far more photos with the LX3. My small camera thinking had been predicated on the fact that the average quality of photos isn't very good, so I limit the subjects I shoot. With the LX3 this isn't so. For me, for the kinds of subjects and print sizes I generate from a city trip, the LX3 meets all my needs in a very small package. I'll tag the Zeiss along on some occasions or when the main subjects will be people.
I've started to go through the images from Berlin. I didn't actually shoot all that much (as I explained here) but there is just enough to capture the range of impressions I got.
These two are from just a few yards apart both looking north across what was no man's land behind the wall into the old East Berlin. There are many areas of town where there is still a degree of dereliction along the line of the wall. About 5 yards behind me are the apartment blocks seen across the open ground in my last post.