D800 Article Posted45 plusses - 201 comments - 13 shares | Read in G+
I've posted my D800 introduction article at http://www.bythom.com/d800intro.htm
. Let's try to keep the discussion about this camera here and not spreading through my other streams ;~)
How Many Pixels Do You Need? 67 plusses - 150 comments - 9 shares | Read in G+
Hmm. A couple? This image certainly doesn't need many.
We're in the midst of the lastest camera introduction waves (CES and CP+ shows being the catalyst), and megapixels seem to be on everyone's mind. Olympusians are eager to try 16mp, as are Fujifilmians. Nikonians are salavating over 36mp. Even the camera phone folk are thinking about wandering above 8mp.
It's been interesting, though, in how many of the emails I've been getting about "should I preorder?" just how rare it was for anyone to actually ask "what will I use those pixels for?" Even the ones that do seem to often be speaking generically (e.g. "I'll use them for landscapes"). Landscapes don't tend to move, and I've yet to find many situations where I couldn't stitch a far bigger image than any rumored camera could do on its own. So, no, "landscapes" is not the answer.
If you answer "because I want to print 48 inches wide" my question to you is going to be "how many times do you think you'll do that this year?" If the answer is a couple or a few, you don't need to buy a camera, you could probably just rent a MF camera for a couple of weeks and satisfy your big print lust for a lot less money.
Another common answer I get is "it'll give me more cropping flexibility." In other words, you don't own the right lens and you have no idea how perspective informs an image.
Now, this isn't to say that there aren't uses for more pixels. More pixels, all else equal, does offer us benefits. But make sure you know what those are and what they'll do for you specifically before you lust over pixels. As I've noted several times, I find myself using my D3s more than my D3x, and according to all of the emails I get about why more pixels are better, I ought to be doing the opposite (landscapes, cropping, print wider).
One thing I noticed about a lot of pros in the past few years: we talk far less about pixel count than we used to. We're more often talking about lens selection, perspective, and light these days than bemoaning something our cameras can't do. Somewhere we crested a pass and have moved on to things that are more important to our work.
Sure, we'll take some more pixels if none of the other things we count on don't go backwards, but we're in no hurry to grab more pixels. We have enough for most of our jobs. So here's a question to you: don't you have enough pixels for what you do?
RESHARE:60 plusses - 2 comments - 71 shares | Read in G+
In case you haven't seen this. The one-page manual for Google+.
Google+ Cheat Sheet version 2.
Quick Reflection92 plusses - 54 comments - 6 shares | Read in G+
Whenever you deal with reflections you have multiple decisions to make. One is compositional symmetry (do you split the horizon right at the middle of the frame?). Another is exposure symmetry (should the main item and reflection match in exposure?). A third is reflection clarity (is the reflection as clear as the original?).
Sometimes one or more of these things is almost pre-determined by the scene in front of you; you'd have to introduce an effect or tool (e.g. graduated ND filter) to alter the reality.
One thing I love about Alaska (and Patagonia) is that sometimes you don't have to do much of that thinking, because the image is relatively obvious in front of you and the light lingers long enough to take your time in working it. Just compose it and shoot at your own pace.
Which is exactly what I did here just before I went to bed for the evening. The mood of the exposure reality in front of me (foreground a bit darker, far mountain in last waning light, reflection soft) was exactly the mood I felt: end of the day, with the focus slowly receding from me.
After taking this quick and dirty "check" shot, I proceeded to make a few further decisions and shoot a 10 frame pano. Now I just have to work through the details in post (the glacier in this shot is a little weak, for instance (it's the thin diagonal white line below the peak at center going to the water line).
One reason why I leave my quick-and-dirty camera (in this case a Panasonic GF5) in 16:9 format is to better assess pano framing. That's not perfect, as I often make my panos 2:1 or slightly more, but it's usually enough for me to assess the potential "energy" of a wide print.
Saturation and Vibrance 69 plusses - 47 comments - 17 shares | Read in G+
So what's the difference between saturation and vibrance?
Saturation is a linear color boost. Each increment you increase saturation, all colors increase together. If you increase saturation too much you will eventually blow out some colors, pushing them past one or more channel maximums. This is one reason why things like red bricks start going orange when you boost saturation too much, for example.
Vibrance is a non-linear color boost. Things that are less saturated still get boosted, but things that are already saturated don't get boosted. In theory, a good vibrance control won't blow channels on you (and certainly never as much as saturation does).
So what's the relevance outside of post processing? Unfortunately, Nikon cameras only have saturation controls. Indeed, one of my problems with Nikon's Picture Controls is that the special ones like Vivid and Landscape use both contrast and saturation boosts. The end result is not subtle and relatively accurate color, but rather comic book color that often pushes some things into unnatural tones. There may be times when you want to push towards comic book color, but you'll be surprised to find that the above raw image (Nikon 1) was processed with vibrance, not saturation.
Saturation increases tend to push really bright colors into saturation, where you get what I call "nuclear colors" and loss of detail. Try it. Take the image here and push the saturation up and watch the brightest parts: the colored treetops start losing detail rapidly, as the red channel is already maxed out in this rendering. As you push the saturation up, you not only max out the red channel in more parts of the trees, but now the colors start shifting, too.
Unfortunately, we've been trained to like saturation. It increases perceived contrast and we've been exposed to many years of photo editors and television producers pushing and pushing and pushing further. Check out the intro title sequence on Survivor, for example: someone set the saturation dial to 11. Coupled with nothing staying on the screen for more than a second, it's an outright assault on your eyes. So much so that any ad that follows the intro tends to look tame ;~).
Color 51 plusses - 90 comments - 5 shares | Read in G+
One of the persistent comments I get from digiphobes is that "film had better color." If they'd just phrase it "film had color I liked better" I might tend to agree.
Here we've gone into the Wayback Machine to look at an old Fujifilm slide of Denali. That's definitely not a set of colors I'd tend to get on a digital body (though I should point out this is a digital scan of slide, so probably has some digitalness to its color, too).
One of the characteristics of the Fujifilm stocks was that they had greens and reds with some yellow to them (which is a double hue shift), blues and shadows that tended towards magenta, and heavy color saturation. They weren't very color accurate, but on a light box, they had a lot of zap. Kodachrome and later Ektachromes had their own color incongruities. By that, I mean that the colors weren't accurate.
Heck, the white balance wasn't usually accurate, as it was fixed to 5400K for outdoor film and that's only close to accurate for a mid-day setting for mid-latitudes and sea level.
I've never quite understood the aversion of some to "digital color," because, much more than film, I have full control over what the final color really will be. I can shift greens to have some yellow if I want. Or not. I can take shadows to magenta if I want. Or not. I can dial in as much saturation as I want, and I can do it selectively. It's much more likely in the digital age that we get "accurate color" than in the film age, and it's also more likely that we get the color we want.
I think most of the aversion some have to digital color has to do with "I hate post processing." Okay, that I can understand. But still, my digital cameras have quite a range of image quality setting ability even with JPEGs, so the aversion really must be "I don't want to do anything, I just want color to come out magically how I like it (or am used to it)." As I'll try to point out in an article or two this week, that ain't all that hard.
Story Continued. GH2 raw. That's me on the left. That's a cheetah on the right. Obviously, there's a story here ;~). Since I seem to be here to write about it, obviously the story didn't end the way you think it did from just looking at the image. First, about the image itself. I've done very little to it. I cropped the bottom to better fit the format I use on this site. I sharpened it. I boosted the colors a bit. That's basically the full post processing work. This isn't a double exposure, I am indeed in front of the cheetah and thus there's no optical illusion involved in terms of placement. So what the heck; did I really try to run away from a cheetah? Last time I checked I can't run 60 mph. Okay, here's the inside scoop: the cheetah is a metal sculpture that can be moved. Over the course of the week I was at Kirkman's Kamp this year, we moved said cheetah all over the place (it's heavy, that wasn't easy) doing all kinds of set up shots with it. It even showed up for our traditional bush breakfast one morning. Kirkman's had just acquired the sculpture, so they really hadn't a good idea of what to do with it yet. The staff watched with great curiosity as I kept trying to figure out photos to do with it. I'm pretty sure they thought I was crazy. But it isn't every day that I have a very nice cheetah statue to play with--I was going to make the most of it. This image, therefore, is a complete set up, obviously. We were up before sunrise every morning and off on safari, so said cheetah became part of my ponderings over my earning morning tea. Now about the shot. There are intentional issues with the shot. If the shot were too perfect, you'd suspect that it was a set up. Thus, having the camera slightly unlevel and part of me cut off are false cues that attempt to get you to believe that this was a spontaneous "catch" and not something set up. Obviously, since the statue is metal, we needed to silouette it, which meant either a dawn or dusk shot. I wanted you to fill in the story with this shot (cheetah about to take down human), and I was trying to come up with a number of small things to get you to believe that story. Note, for example, that I am really moving (see the blur in my foot). Like last week's "story," this is about previsualization. I saw this shot long before we captured it. It was more of the matter of getting the elements aligned "right", just like last week, only I had more control of them this time. Mom? Mom? Mom, you can start breathing again. The only way that cheetah was going to hurt me is if I dropped it on my foot while moving it around.75 plusses - 41 comments - 7 shares | Read in G+
Start with a V1, add a mode dial, dual control dials, a programmable function button, a hot shoe, and an internal flash and you get this. Of course, the P7100 might be harder to sell ;~).48 plusses - 87 comments - 1 shares | Read in G+
Downdraft 64 plusses - 28 comments - 16 shares | Read in G+
D100 NEF. Big horizontal landscapes require big decisions. In my thinking either the land needs to be big (and the sky small), or the sky needs to be big (and the land small).
This is one of a series of images I took over the course of five years that I refer to as my Big Sky series (many of which were taken in the Big Sky state, Montana, though this one is in the state just below it: Wyoming). My decision is usually made easy by a simple question: what dominates what? In this case, the sky is obviously bigger and more dramatic than one of the most dramatic mountain ranges in the US.
So it's got to be a Big Sky shot, not a Big Land shot.
I wish I had been more into panoramas and had a really high resolution sensor when this situation happened back in 2002. What you can't see is what's going on to the right and also in back of me, which was just as dramatic, maybe even more so. Indeed, a few minutes after this shot I found myself in the middle of a wild horse stampede, a sight and sound I'll never forget.
I chose this shot, though, due to the iconic mountains over the slightly less iconic and dramatic peaks to the right, because it says something: the grandest peak (pardon the pun) in the range is a mere trifle compared to just this one single downdraft. Moreover, the peak's and downdraft's shape mirror one another.
Note the date. I need to rework the image with everything I've learned about post processing over the years: the highlights are a bit rough, and I'm sure I could pull a bit more contrast out of the mountains, as well. Yep, not only have cameras gotten better since 2002, so have I.
How Much Dynamic Range Do You Need? 48 plusses - 59 comments - 8 shares | Read in G+
If you thought last week's discussion was heated, this one will probably contribute to global warming. This week's image, by the way, was taken with a Nikon V1.
By my calculations, I needed a minimum of three more stops of dynamic range to fully open up the shadows on the left side, even more to get fine detail on the shady right side. Even then, given the low light and the small sensor, I'd be fighting with not enough electrons.
Or maybe not. I've deliberately left this rendering dark for a couple of reasons. First, I want to provoke a discussion of dynamic range;~). Second, it was dark. Not only is there no internal lighting during the day in most of this Quito church, but it was late in the day and the sky was full of menacing rain clouds. The feeling you got inside the church was pretty much what the designers probably intended: look up at the stained glass and the light from above. Thus, I've tried to express that in my post processing.
But let's say I had a camera that gave me unlimited dynamic range. What would happen then? I'd still have to post process, because our output media (prints, displays) has limited dynamic range capability. Anyone who talks about wanting more dynamic range also has to confess that they're a tonal rearranger. 14 stops of dynamic range rendered straight will look very flat in a print. Post processed correctly, it will look, well, dynamic.
So that brings me to this: the V1 is a small-sensor camera with little dynamic range, right? This image, though, proves it has more than enough for very tough subjects. Say what? Well, that wall on the right? It's post processed +3 stops and then carefully brought down in tonal value to where I want it. The stained glass you're looking at? Post processed -2 stops with 100% recovery. So whatever the base dynamic range of the V1 in a regular conversion, I've actually extended it 5 stops here via my post processing. And then, in order to recreate the visual impact of a church interior lit only by ambient light coming through stained glass, I actually took a lot of that dynamic range and either removed it in places, or moved it more than a stop in tonal position.
Is there noise? Surprisingly, not really. I didn't use any noise reduction at all in the conversion or post processing. There is a slight blockiness to the deep shadow detail that I've had to spend some extra time working on, but in a 24" print of this I doubt anyone would really expect it was an image taken with a small sensor camera.
And Now for Something Completely Different. Canon G11, IR converted. I've been hesitating about posting this image for quite some time now. I took it earlier this spring while photographing a Colorado mountain biking group. This image was taken right at the end of the session when things were winding down, riders were cooling off, and everyone's "posing guard" was mostly down. I've been showing a lot of images lately with "mystery" in them, and this is yet another. Who is this? Why is she dressed like this? Where are we? How did she get here? While it might look like she's shot putting, she's actually pivoting on response to a pose request from another photographer off to the right. I have plenty of pictures of her posed and more conventionally framed, including some with her and her bike, but both she and I like this one the best. I actually grabbed my IR converted G11 out of my pocket instead of using the D3s hanging around my neck for several reasons, but the primary thing was that she was a very bright object that was going to get framed against a very bright background and sky. I knew her upper body would be in deep contrast against an IR sky, and I felt that contrast was going to be an important element in this image. It turned out to be a good decision: she pops off the background better than I imagined.61 plusses - 39 comments - 8 shares | Read in G+
Learn to Fail49 plusses - 39 comments - 13 shares | Read in G+
Some amateurs assume that pros never miss a shot. That pros never take a bad shot. That pros keep 100% of the shots they take.
Nonsense. Pros fail. A lot. Pros fail far more than they succeed, but they succeed far more than they need to in order to fulfill the job. In fact, if pros are not failing all the time, they rarely progress beyond a simplistic and formulaic way of shooting pictures.
What you see above is one of my failures. As a matter of fact, I didn't get a single image I liked from a one-hour shooting session. Not one. You all know why I was shooting: practice and play. If I've got spare time with a camera in my hand I'm in either practice or play mode, or both (see previous teaching points).
Even when I know something isn't going to work--and I pretty much knew this shot wouldn't work--I'll still go through the motions of thinking it through the best I can and taking it. From failure comes information. The more you follow through on the failure (take the shot as opposed to just skipping over it), the more information you get.
A lot of students are dismayed that I do very little image culling at the front of my workflow. Even failed images like this one get into my files. Why? Because I want the data point to learn from. When I took the picture I was aware of two major things I didn't like and which were going to cause this image to fail. In looking at it dispassionately after the fact, I can find another half dozen or so things that would have to be dealt with for this picture to start working the way I'd want it to.
By keeping the picture around, I can look at it at length and consider all those things and what I might do about them. As I write this a day later, I'm less than a one minute walk away from that spot. What would I do if I figured out how to make the image work? Why, I'd walk over there and take the "good" shot. Not because I want that shot for my files, but because I want to test whether what I figured out actually was the solution.
I wrote recently about the fact that it takes 10,000 hours or so to become a master of something. Most of those 10,000 hours are failures. You learn far more from failures if you are open to it than you ever will from your successes. Go out and fail at a photograph today. Fail correctly and your photography will be better tomorrow.
Timing57 plusses - 40 comments - 6 shares | Read in G+
Nikon V1 NEF.
One of the problems with small cameras has traditionally been that they're just not as responsive as DSLRs. The lack of responsiveness comes in multiple forms: lag in the LCD used for framing, shutter release lag, and focus acquisition slowness. Press button, wait to see if you got the moment, and when you 99% of the time don't, swear at the camera and vow to buy a DSLR.
Recent technology changes are making that a thing of the past. The Nikon 1 directly addresses all three issues. Enough so that missing the timing is now pretty much the photographer's fault, just as it is with DSLRs. Does that mean you can get birds in flight shots? You'll have to wait for my review to find that answer. But of all the things that come up with the cameras I'm in the midst of testing now (Nikon 1, Olympus E-P3, Panasonic G3, Sony NEX 5N), they all do pretty well in regards timing. Certainly far better than we've been exposed to with lower end and smaller cameras in the past. Most of the failures now come in other areas.
Now, to the image at hand: this was a matter of me waiting out the seal. Too many people come to a spot, look at the shots that exist at the moment, don't see one, and then move on. I come to a spot and look at the potential for shots, consider what it might take to get them, and simply wait until the right things happen before taking an image. In this instance I saw a seal coming out of the water obviously heading for some sun time on the rocks. I saw that the ocean waves were sometimes breaking farther up the rocks than the seal had so far attained (I noted that from the wet marks). I therefore imagined what would happen when a big wave set hit before the seal was where he wanted to be. I wasn't disappointed.
The other thing that happens when you work this way is that you can deal with other decisions without haste. What lens? What exposure? What shutter speed? What focus point? All those things were locked firmly in place while I waited. It didn't take more than five minutes of waiting to get this.
Simple truth: if you're completely counting on your spontaneous reaction time to both seeing and then taking a shot, you'll probably miss the shot near 100% of the time. Your mind must be working ahead of reality and anticipating. That's true of sports, wildlife, street, and many other forms of photography.
From a Cessna. Shooting from planes has all kinds of special considerations that come into play, but here I want to write about one: color. This is a September sunset on Denali, it should have a slight pink/orange tone in the snow in the sun, slight cyan/magenta in the shadows. There's only one problem with Cessnas, especially older ones: they have a notorious greenish tint in their windows, and it will impact your white balance and overall color. So the question is how to do your deal with that? Well, you could shoot raw and try to deal with it later, but it's a slightly funky tint that's not always easy to correct perfectly by eye. When I know I'm flying, I carry my Cessna filter (an old FLD-like filter no longer made that's somewhere between a 30 magenta and a true FLD, but that's a little too much correction (though on the right side of wrong for a shot like this). One thing I always try to do is have the pilot stand outside the plane with my gray reference and take a shot of that just prior to take-off. In this case, that worked, though images taken late in this flight when the light had changed couldn't easily be corrected by using the reference shot.59 plusses - 34 comments - 7 shares | Read in G+
Timing 2 34 plusses - 77 comments - 3 shares | Read in G+
Nikon V1 NEF. All you need is one boat, eight tourists, and one dolphin. Fortunately I had two boats, 25 dolphins, and 100+ tourists to work with.
One of the questions I keep getting about the small systems cameras (m4/3, NEX, NX, or Nikon 1 used here) is whether they're up to getting timing right on fast moving or spontaneous shooting. According to Photo Mechanic, I took exactly 17 shots in this sequence, with the maximum burst being 2 frames (once). This frame is separated from the previous and next frames by 15 seconds in one direction and 10 the other. In other words, I hit the shutter release at the moment you see for a single frame only.
So the answer to the question, certainly for the Nikon V1, is "yes, you can use it to capture decisive moment action." Indeed, most cameras, even many of the high-end compacts, are these days pretty decent at not adding shutter lag, especially when you've prefocused as I have here.
The issue isn't really shutter lag any more, it's shutter speed. Because of the small sensors, we want to keep ISO down, but keeping ISO low means we get longer shutter speeds, too. I was testing Auto ISO with an 800 maximum here and fighting the camera. In the 17 shots, the ISO ranged from 280 to 800 and the shutter speed from 1/60 to 1/200 (there's nothing obvious in the slight differences between the shots as to why such a large range was triggered).
Nikon may have designed the Auto ISO function for complete novices, but in doing so they've made it actually more difficult to capture shots like this with it on. Is that really what you want to tell the user moving up? "You can't get there from here, thanks for the money." That's because the shots that dropped to 1/60 don't hold the action and without moving to another exposure mode--remember, there's no mode dial--there's no way to tell the camera I'm shooting action so emphasize shutter over ISO. The camera companies really need to get their act together.
This good news/bad news scenario is becoming a distressingly common aspect of almost every new camera feature that comes along. Whoever's designing these features certainly isn't pushing the camera in real scenarios to see what happens. Sure, there's no shutter lag and I can fire 25 frame NEF bursts if I want, but if I let the camera do the balancing of shutter speed and ISO in the ubiquitous You're a Dummy mode, getting the right thing to happen in decisive moment shots like this one sometimes gets impossible. Unfortunately, sometimes all we have is the You're a Dummy mode. Note to camera companies: stop treating camera users as brain-dead beings that can only understand the term "Auto."
Someone asked me how the camera companies could survive in the cell phone era. Here's how:34 plusses - 62 comments - 9 shares | Read in G+
Practice53 plusses - 32 comments - 10 shares | Read in G+
I probably walk the terminal connector at O'Hare airport more than a dozen times a year. If you've never see Sky's the Limit by Michael Hayden, just know that it's a target rich environment for a photographer. Target rich environments are perfect for practicing photography.
Practicing photography is defined as taking photographs solely to improve your skill and craft set--you have no other purpose or particular output in mind. If you threw away all the photos from a practice session, it shouldn't bother you. On the other hand, sometimes you make some pretty darned good images from practice, and you do keep them.
I make it a point to spend at least 15 minutes every time I'm at O'Hare to do some photography in this connecting tunnel. I give myself two assignments: (1) find some way to capture a photograph I haven't done before in this place; and (2) work on timing and composition for something I've done before and see if I can top it.
In this particular shot I was working on variations of timing (#2). I've come up with at least six different variations on this image that I like and which convey different things. But I was mostly practicing timing the exact moment to press the shutter release on a new camera (learning its shutter lag).
So here's today bonus: if I put this lone walker on the right instead of the left, what happens? Is a left walker in more of a hurry than a right walker? Is a left walker closer to their destination than a right walker? Is a left walker more solitary than a right walker? Why symmetrical framing with asymmetrical subject? Why only a single subject? Why is the right heel lifted?
Now you know some of what I was thinking about as I was practicing my shutter lag on a new camera between flights this time.
Find your own place that you visit regularly at which you can practice photography. You don't need to visit it every day (though the more you practice, the better you should get), but you need to visit it regularly. It needs to be photo rich, a place where you keep finding new photographic opportunities. It needs to be convenient or else you'll never go there to practice. As I noted above, I typically only spend about fifteen minutes. So you don't have to spend a lot of time, you just have to do it often. It's a very useful fifteen minutes, and it makes me a better photographer.
Play Time. Sony HX9V, 1/3 second. Every photographer needs to play and experiment. If all you do is make the same pictures over and over, at some point your audience starts to see the same thing over and over and grows bored. In the arts, you live on the shoulders of those that came before you, and someone will stand on your shoulders in the future. This picture of the Dulles Airport subway doesn't exactly raise above anyone's shoulders, but it illustrates this week's point: I'm always carrying a camera with me when I travel, and I'm always playing with it, seeing what things I can provoke out of it. Despite the fact I had exactly an hour from the time my plane landed to clear Customs and get to the gate for my next plane (including the subway ride, above), I was still in play mode. In some ways, having only one quick chance for an image increases the play intensity. Remember, the camera can see things in ways we don't see them. Slow shutter speeds, like the one used here, blur time in ways that change the experience. Likewise, fast shutters speeds freeze time in ways we have a hard time doing in real life. When we play and take images like this one, we learn little things, like sometimes a wrong white balance is better, or that oddball color controls can sometimes impart a different feel. If all you're doing is trying to duplicate some "normal" picture you've seen somewhere, you're probably avoiding more than half the controls and settings your camera has to offer. Don't you ever wonder what they'd do if you used them? I do. I don't always like what I get, but I almost always learn something every time I do head down that path. So get out your camera and play. Make an image you haven't made before and learn something from doing that.54 plusses - 37 comments - 7 shares | Read in G+
Decay61 plusses - 24 comments - 4 shares | Read in G+
What the heck is it that attracts photographers to decay?
Go to any ghost town, unmaintained cemetery, abandoned warehouse, or other decaying bit of civilization and count the number of people you see visit it. I'll be that more than half will end up being photographers. We just can't resist. I once considered starting a Decay Documenters Anonymous, a twelve stop program (wait, I mean step) to help you control your urge to crawl through old collapsing buildings and structures. But that would be silly, because old buildings like this office in a stamp mill are great for photography.
The attraction is simple: they're full of interesting detail and they don't move. Essentially, they're giant still life sets that allow you to take the time to create complex compositions. Do make sure your tetanus booster is up to date, but don't be afraid of such locations. Indeed, all across the country we've got sites that actually cater to photographers, including a big one here in Southeastern Pennsylvania I'll eventually get around to writing about. I've written before about practicing photography. Well, there's no better place to do so than to spend a day or two in one of these fascinating locales.
Wildlife Lenses 19 plusses - 62 comments - 5 shares | Read in G+
It isn't just about reach when you shoot wildlife, it's also about isolation. Those two things are not quite the same. One of the problems of shooting wildlife-- whether it be in a zoo, in a private preserve, or in the wild--is that foregrounds and backgrounds can be distracting. In fact, I'd say that if you're shooting animals with long telephoto lenses, more often than not the foregrounds and backgrounds are distracting.
Basically, there are two types of wildlife shots: environmental (shows animal in its environment) and isolation (shows key aspect of animal or behavior). The 70-200mm is my go to lens for the former (on an FX body--I'd want wider on a DX body). It's the other end that leads us all to the exotics, because 500mm f/8 often doesn't give you want you want in terms of isolation.
Of course, the 400mm f/2.8 and 500mm f/4 are very expensive lenses, which leads wannabe wildlifers to ask "when's Nikon going to make a 400mm f/4?"
Be careful what you ask for. At 50' we'd have about a foot of depth of field on FX, about 8" on DX. Is there a way we can get that level of isolation today at a reasonable cost? Yes: we get about the same one foot DOF with a Nikon V1+FT1 coupled with the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens shot at f/2.8 and 200mm (effectively 540mm).
So if you already have a 70-200mm, you don't need to wait for a 400mm f/4. Just buy a V1 and FT1 and use your existing lens. Bonus: that's cheaper than a 400mm f/4 will be!
A lot of today's discussion centers around new camera bodies, like the D4 or D800, but often the answer to a problem you face is more nuanced than just waiting for the latest and greatest. As a pro, I pick the right tool for the right job. As it turns out, the V1 is the right tool some of the time, and a 400mm f/4 wouldn't actually give me all that new an option, as I've already got that option in my bag!
Announcing sansmirror.com31 plusses - 47 comments - 3 shares | Read in G+
Today I'm happy to announce that I've taken the first step in redoing this Web site. Wait, nothing seems to have changed!
Yes, it has. Beginning today, you're going to find that bythom.com
just became two Web sites (and those of you paying close attention to the new site will notice that there will be further bifurcation shortly). The new Web site is sansmirror.com
, and that's now the home of all current and future news, commentary, reviews, and information I write about small system cameras. That includes the Nikon 1, the Olympus Pens, the Panasonic G's, the Samsung NXes, the Sony NEXes, and a number of other small systems cameras. For the time being, the site is headed "byThom sans Mirror" so that you know it's still me, but eventually this will just be "sans Mirror."
One of the issues I found when trying to revise the bythom.com
site is that it was sprawling, and rapidly. We're talking about hundreds of long-form articles and thousands of short-form ones. My interests in photography and high tech are wide and deep. Yours probably aren't. Moreover, your requests for even more articles and information from me dot a horizon from one end of tech to the other. Thus, more and more, people were having to wade through a lot of things they weren't interested in to find what they were.
Beyond that, everything needed at least a Web 2.0 makeover, if not Web 3.0. You'll note that sansmirror.com
has RSS, social sharing, separate formatting from content, and a host of other modern features, which many of you have been asking for. Despite what it's actually produced in (Sandvox), the site content actually lives in a database, which makes it easier to maintain and expand.
If you're interested in compact systems cameras that aren't DSLRs, you'll want to check out sansmirror.com
thoroughly and keep coming back to it, as it's now a live site that gets as much of my attention as bythom.com
. If you're not interested in such cameras, you can just ignore the site (though I'd strongly suggest you take a look--there's more going on with these cameras than you might think, and most DSLR users are going to want a competent compact system if they don't already have one.)
For the time being, I'm keeping the reviews and articles that have already appeared about mirrorless systems on bythom.com
intact; I've removed nothing from the bythom.com
site at the moment. But as I continue working on my Internet presence, these will eventually go away so that this site has a more clear focus.
So what else is in store? Obviously, a lot. I'll be rolling site changes out in manageable pieces for the foreseeable future. There's an awful lot left to do. As I finish a new piece, I'll announce it here. One thing you'll note with sansmirror.com
is that there is new material there. Lots of it. Yes, I've been collecting and writing tons of new material for my entire Web presence, including this one. However, rather than rolling that into the now tired bones of bythom.com
, I've been keeping it for the rollout of the new sites and the complete re-do of this one.
To be clear, sansmirror.com
will be where all news, reviews, commentary, and information about the Nikon 1, Olympus and Panasonic m4/3, Sony NEX, and a host of other small interchangeable lens cameras (Samsung NX, Ricoh GXR, Pentax Q, etc.) will be found in the future. You won't find those articles cluttering up bythom.com
in the future.
I'll have additional announcements soon. Trust me, it should all make more sense when I've made the full set of changes to my Internet presence. You'll be able to drink from the fire hose (everything I write), or find the drinking fountain with the water you prefer (individual sites).
One thing that all this Internet rethink does allow is for me to consider adding other voices and contributors. Your continued support will help me do that, so please don't forget those Support this Site links.
12 plusses - 77 comments - 1 shares | Read in G+
If you haven't been to the bythom.com
Web sites today, you're missing a lot of new information. Indeed, all this week both sites will be very active with updates. On bythom.com
we've got the initial commentary on the D4, on sansmirror.com
the initial commentary on the Fujifilm X-Pro1, plus both sites have other articles today and will have more all week.
How Much Animal is Enough? 35 plusses - 41 comments - 3 shares | Read in G+
Anybody having any problems distinguishing what animal this is? Didn't think so. Anyone having any trouble figuring out what kind of terrain the animal is in? Again, didn't think so. Composition starts with some simple questions you have to ask yourself. What exactly are you trying to show?
A lot of people on their first safari get all excited about seeing the animals in the flesh for the first time and short-cut the composition to "just get the animal fully in the frame." That often even means "be broadside to the animal so you see the full flank."
Yes, this is a tight composition (made tighter by my cropping the bottom to better fit the wide-screen format I use for these images). But it answers the "which animal" and "what terrain" questions fairly well and gets us to what I was really trying to capture: the birds that come and groom many of the animals.
Last year in Africa I went nearly five weeks completely rhino-less. This year it seemed that I couldn't avoid them. Indeed, we even had a more-than-an-hour long session with a baby rhino and its mom where they basically just ignored us and went about their business. Very unusual for rhinos to be so calm and not bolt, but for some reason they let us approach close and stay close this year.
This probably isn't the best shot I got, but I kind of like it for its peek-a-boo aspect and the startling splash of color in what would have been otherwise a monotonic composition.
Quick Survey19 plusses - 64 comments - 1 shares | Read in G+
Sept 23 (survey)--Last night I ran a quick Snap Poll in an attempt to get a better understanding of how my site visitors viewed both Nikon's new mirrorless camera, but the state of the mirrorless market itself. A couple of things before we get started with the results:
I poll my site visitors both randomly and openly on a regular basis. At this point I have hundreds of thousands of responses and a pretty good idea of who they are. To over-generalize, they tend to be what these days are called enthusiasts: serious shooters who are looking to improve. I do get some more casual followers from time to time, but most people reading my site are both active serious shooters and active buyers in the camera market.
I broadcast the availability of the poll on my Twitter and Google+ accounts, and on my Web site only. While my Tweet and post were retweeted and reposted a handful of times, looking at the timing of responses I doubt that those influenced the results greatly, if at all. I arbitrarily set a 3000 response limit and that almost filled before the first retweet. Overall, it took only a couple of hours to hit the limit, and considering that was late night where most of my readers reside, a fairly impressive response.
Yes, I know I closed off some possible options. I didn't allow a "maybe" response in terms of buying the Nikon 1 for a reason: I wanted to force people into a quick yes/no opinion, not let them equivocate. Again, this is a snap poll, what I call a "testing the waters" type of survey, and I was trying to see how many were really committed to what they had or what was about to appear.
Despite being only four questions, there's a lot of cross analysis that can be done (for example, do current m4/3 owners think another camera is the most compelling?). I'm not going to report that here. I'm only going to give the base results for you to ponder. But the cross analysis was actually more interesting than the base results ;~).
Without further ado, the base results:
Question 1: Do you own a mirrorless camera? 2461 no, 639 yes. That's 21% of those surveyed owning a mirrorless camera. I'll bet that's a higher number than you expected.
Question 2: Which mirrorless camera do you own (assumes yes in first question)? 552 m4/3, 138 NEX, 16 NX, 6 X100, 12 other. Of the 21% that owned a mirrorless camera, 86% owned an m4/3 camera. Given that I've reviewed and covered the three major mirrorless cameras, that m4/3 number is a bit higher than I expected, but it could be readers mirroring my own preference at the moment.
Question 3: Will you buy the new Nikon 1? 2692 no, 408 yes. That's 13% yes. I suspect that's a higher number than you expected, too. It's significantly higher than the result on the Nikon Rumors poll, for instance. Given that we have serious photographers coming to my site and that the Nikon 1 is targeted at a different user, this is an eyebrow raising statistic. Yes, it could be somewhat jaundiced by my reporting of the Nikon 1, but based upon email and Google+ comments by poll takers, I'm not sure it is. (By the way Nikon, your choice of brand name is really, really bad. You can't effectively Google the term Nikon 1.)
Question 4: Which is the most compelling recent mirrorless camera? Hold onto your horses folks: 995 (32%) NEX 7, 802 (26%) Nikon 1 V1 model. Do I need to go further? The next best showing was the Olympus E-P3 at 385 (12%). Everything else (J1, E-PM1, E-PL3, GF-3, G3, GH2, NEX 3C, NEX 5N, NX200) was down in the single digits, and way down in the single digits, including the Nikon 1 J1 model (ugh, that name just grates).
Given the make up of my site visitors, it shouldn't be surprising that they favored the NEX 7 and E-P3, which target them directly. The Nikon V1 number has to raise eyebrows though. Some people are seeing something in the announcement that others aren't.
What is It 3?38 plusses - 34 comments - 2 shares | Read in G+
Like a lot of photographers, I have my special little problems I try to solve.
This happens to be a tree in my mom's back yard, which I've been working on trying to get just the right image of for years. Because it's the bark of the tree that appeals to me and that produces some pretty bizarre bits and pieces, I generally work on this puzzle as an abstract. So all the discussion of the last two weeks still applies.
But today's lesson is a bit different. I haven't really written anything about bokeh (pronounced bow-kay), which is the concept of how the out of focus (OOF) areas of an image look. Here I want you to look at the brightest green out of focus highlight. Notice how it has just a hint of octagon to it? That's because this was shot with a lens that uses 8-blades in the aperture, and those blades weren't rounded.
Indeed, the very top of the OOF highlights have a bit of a point to them while the rest of the blade intersections are better masked, something I call bokeh asymmetry. On the other hand, this lens doesn't have another problem that's common with OOF highlights: edge reinforcement.
Lenses with lots of chromatic aberration, especially longitudinal, tend to form a slight ring at the boundary of the OOF highlight. Here, the highlight falls off naturally and has no real hot spots of its own.
Since there's little in the bokeh to distract, I'd tend to call this good bokeh. It's not great, as it does have the non-circular defect, but it's still not that bad.
These days, of course, the temptation would be to just use Photoshop's tools to produce a better blur in the background. Still, the bokeh of the lens will intersect with that: a greatly distorted circle would still be a greatly distorted circle after Photoshop's blur, unless you just obliterated the background completely.
I've heard a few photographers say that because Photoshop now has handy tools for this (and onOne's FocalPoint is another such tool), that you don't need a lens with good bokeh. I'd argue that you still do. Better data in, better data out.
43 plusses - 31 comments - 0 shares | Read in G+
It should be obvious at this point that I'm going to mirror images that I'm posting on my site (bythom.com
) here and participate in discussing them. So far, so good. It's been respectful and interesting (hopefully to you, too). Thank you.
Story. One important aspect of composition is "story." What's the story the image is trying to tell? It doesn't have to be a true story, but you should be trying to have your images say something to the viewer, otherwise they'll just take a glance and move on. A good story stops them to linger over and consider your image. I fly home all the time on an approach that brings us low over several power plants. On this morning I was noticing how the small, puffy clouds looked a lot like gigantic forms of what appears above those power plants. I wondered whether there would be a window where I could get a power plant in the blank spots between the clouds and make it look like they were creating the clouds. As it turned out, there was. This was a case of me thinking about the story ahead of time and previsualizing something rather than noting something spontaneously and snapping it in response. Indeed, had I waited until I noticed such a correspondence, I almost certainly would have missed it, especially considering that I was shooting with an XZ-1. So a simple task for all of you to try: think of a story and then go out and try to shoot it.43 plusses - 22 comments - 4 shares | Read in G+
Touchfire15 plusses - 35 comments - 14 shares | Read in G+
I generally don't do this (disclosure: the inventor of this product and I worked together at one of the seminal Silicon Valley startups), but I know enough of you have opted for iPads and you'll see me doing more coverage of the photographic aspects of that Apple product in the future, so...
Touchfire is a clear overlay that makes the on-screen iPad keyboard feel like a real keyboard. I don't know how to say it any simpler. At one ounce and iPad Smart Cover friendly, it's sort of a no-brainer if you do any significant typing on an iPad, as you don't need to add an external keyboard to your kit. The screen area is still visible and active underneath the transparent plastic that provides you the tactile feedback, and you can easily flip away the Touchfire if you need to.
We're slowly getting photography software on the iPad that takes advantage of keyboard access. For example, imagine a scenario where you're in the field and you've imported the contents of your SD card directly into your iPad, at which point you use a Lightroom Lite type of application to do your edits and entry of your metadata. A keyboard would be a big help in that instance, but it sort of defeats the purpose of going light with an iPad if you end up with an external keyboard that makes the combination as big as a MacBook Air.
Thus, I can see the Touchfire's utility being of interest to us photographers soon. Since it's currently a Kickstarter project, the Touchfire is not yet available, but I have little doubts it will jump over it's low funding barrier and become real, very soon. If you want to be an early adopter, you can check out the story at touchfire.com
and sign up for one of the very first units (US$45).
As I wrote, I don't usually step outside of a narrow set of boundaries in terms of product coverage, let alone one with a potential conflict of interest. I always disclose when I do, as I am here. The inventor and I go way back, and we've had discussions about missing software products that we may yet just act on. I'd love to see Steve go over the top of his Kickstarter campaign, mainly because I want to get my own Touchfire sooner rather than later.
Try 1/1537 plusses - 20 comments - 6 shares | Read in G+
I generally don't get caught up in the "rules of thumb" that get bantered around, but here's one that I find a good starting point: use 1/15 second shutter speed when panning with motion.
This image is 1/13 second and I'm panning on the oarsman's head (which is why he is in tight focus). Look at the oars, the background and the water: we've got clear motion in them, which is the effect I was going for. Is it enough motion? No, I don't think so. On review, I'd probably go down to 1/8 or even 1/6.
But here's the thing: the longer the shutter speed the harder it is to keep the pan properly aligned on something, so you'll start losing the clarity of the oarsman's face. That's why 1/15 is such a good starting place for these experiments: most people can learn to pan smoothly through a 1/15 second exposure. From there they can use the camera's LCD to judge whether they need more or less motion.
When I encounter motion I want to smooth pan through that's anywhere from a fast walk to about 25 mph, I'll therefore usually start my experimentation with 1/15. Slower than a fast walk requires longer shutter speeds, faster than 25 mph and you have to start thinking about shorter shutter speeds.
Longer shutter speeds increase the likelihood that your pan isn't smooth enough but will improve the motion blur if you get it right, while shorter shutter speeds are easier to pan but may not provide enough blur so that it can be distinguished from "sloppy camera handling."
This is one of those photography types where it pays to have some repetitive action you can practice on over and over. Moreover, it's one of those things where you want to do some serious post shooting analysis. My analysis for the Grand Canyon? For most of the river's minor rapids and ripples (as we have here), 1/8 is probably the right shutter speed for me. Only at the really big and fast rapids did 1/15 work the way I wanted it to (plus the boats are doing up/down motions in the big rapids that adds a degree of difficulty to the pan!).
Completeness35 plusses - 26 comments - 4 shares | Read in G+
Yes, I have a version of this image with the near hoodoos complete. Though it has more, it lacks something.
Funny how that works sometimes. I talk a lot about depth cues in images. Sometimes it isn't just focus that gives you that cue. Our brains work using big/small, too. Big is near, small is far. By cutting off the forward hoodoos I don't give you the chance to decide how big they are. You have to guess at their size, and our brains often will decide that the incomplete thing is actually bigger than it really is, which is good, because that means we fool the brain into thinking it's closer, too.
What is It 2?36 plusses - 28 comments - 2 shares | Read in G+
A different take on last week's subject. The debate here is whether to include the small strip of ground at the bottom and the little swirl in the left of middle top. Again, we're dealing with abstracts here, so there is no right answer.
One point I believe that you have to think about when you start going abstract is "what is the payoff?" By framing the way I have here, there are some small payoffs that reward the eye for moving around the image. True abstract doesn't give you that, as you never discover anything other than the abstraction (in this case, lines). I like toying with the viewer a bit and giving them just a hint (small payoff).
As with last week's image, upon returning, I found that I actually liked a vertical or square composition on these images, something that is now in my notes to explore next time I'm in a similar situation. I do believe that the square frame gives no clue to orientation and lets the abstract speak more for itself, something I hadn't noticed in earlier shooting.
So my teaching point to myself is this: I'm noticing a pattern I think I like when I use a crop I normally don't consider. Thus, next time I'm in a similar situation I'm going to take more time with crops I normally don't consider. Fortunately, this kind of subject lends itself to just that: it's not moving and the light stays relatively useful for a long period of time.
Wanna go sailing? 31 plusses - 31 comments - 3 shares | Read in G+
Yes, it's been a long time since I've taught a workshop. One of my next ones will be on that 216' boat in the background (max 14 students), and we'll be shooting things like those lizards in the foreground.
Yep, you guessed it: Galapagos. Don't have full particulars yet, but we're shooting for end of 2013, start of 2014. If you're interested, you really need to follow me on Twitter, because that's where I'll announce my next workshops when they open (I'm also closing in on details for two Africa workshops in summer 2013). However, you can also drop me an email saying you're interested, and I'll send details to those people when I know them.
Oh, you wanted to know what the teaching point was? Depth. This shot was taken with a Nikon V1, which everyone will tell you has a small sensor and thus has too much depth of field. It does if you use it wrong, I suppose ;~).
The thing I want you to note here is what your eyes do. They pull you to the marine iguana. In fact, if you're paying close attention, you'll note that your eyes almost try to do the same thing they'd do in real life: the muscles want to move to pull focus. That's one of the "depth signals" our brain interprets (eye muscles moving, object is closer/further), something called vergence. If you use hyperfocal distance to put everything in focus (e.g. lizard, boat, volcano in background), you totally destroy the pseudo-vergence cues. The image "feels" flat. Yes, our eyes don't actually start to cross looking at such pictures, but even just that little hint is enough to add depth to the image.
Do we need the boat in focus? Not really. This image says "Thom's in the Galapagos and he got there on a 3-mast barquentine." Does the boat need to be in focus to know that it's a 3-mast barquentine? Nope. Indeed, those of us who've been to the Galapagos a few times could pretty much tell exactly which boat is in the background of any picture you take with one out of focus like this. There's plenty of information there, even with it being out of focus.
Note also that you can't really stay looking at the boat. By putting focus into a tight plane I'm forcing you to look where I want you to; you eye is forced to the iguana. The result is even more dramatic if you crop the two sides a bit (I normally use a 16:9 crop for these teaching images, so I can't show you the image that is 3:2).
By the way, that boat? Incredible. 16 passengers in a boat designed for 34, first class staff, food, kayaks, snorkeling gear, you name it. Those of you who worry about cruises after what happened in Italy: we do a safety drill immediately on board, have superb and extensive navigation and emergency equipment [EPIRB, SART, AIS, plus four rafts that can carry 90 passengers!], and the captain is one of the most careful I've met.
Channel Issues 24 plusses - 38 comments - 4 shares | Read in G+
Today's image is one taken on one of the most bizarre and challenging mornings of light I've encountered. Check out the histogram.
The red channel was almost two stops hotter than the green channel. Now, some of that is the D3--the D3 has a strong red channel to start with. But most of it was the Patagonia sunrise reflecting off the rock. It went flaming red. Adobe red (which is to say, orange ;~).
I've not tried to alter the color here from what Adobe's converters pull out of such images, other than to pick a slightly better white balance than Adobe chose. I want you to see just how wild the raw data really is.
My teaching point today isn't about good composition, or good image, or even good processing. It's about getting an exposure in the first place that gives you a shot--pardon the pun--at a workable image. Had I exposed solely on the "normal histogram," the red channel here would have been considerably blown out. I'd have no ability in post to deal with the colors here, as most of the image--the three Towers in the middle and the clouds in the sky--would have been off the charts in the red channel and unrecoverable.
This problem happens in landscape photography more than you might expect. It's definitely something you have to watch for at sunrise/sunset with mountain or Southwestern rock, but I've seen it happen in places where we didn't have reddish rock or sand, too. The simplest way to watch for it is to use the RGB histogram instead of the regular histogram. If you're really concerned, using UniWB gives you even more information about exactly what the channel balance is, though UniWB is a topic for another day, as it's a bit complex to put into practice.
Despite playing with this and similar images taken that morning for many hours, I've not yet come up with a color balance that I find acceptable. I remember the morning light as being bizarrely intense, but not as bizzare as it keeps coming out in working with the image. I can correct the color to something akin of "normal," but then the image doesn't represent what we actually saw with our eyes that morning.
In the Air 38 plusses - 21 comments - 2 shares | Read in G+
I've been doing a lot of crisscrossing the world via plane lately, so it's perhaps a good time to discuss shooting from commercial flights.
This image is not altered to black and white; this is the way the land looked in color. As with all photography, light is an essential element, and if you have the chance to schedule flights over interesting places at or near the edge of the day, you should. From high above, mid-day light tends to flatten landscapes while edge of day makes even near flat landscapes like this one show its contours.
Needless to say, you need a window seat, but you should opt for one in front of the wing. The air behind the wing on most jets can be tricky to shoot through, especially if engine exhaust is involved. Newer and well-maintained planes have decently clear windows, though you'll find that even the best tend to reduce contrast (which you'll boost in post processing). Bring something to clean the inside of the window with--more often than not I find the windows haven't been cleaned.
Rain and near freezing conditions tend to be problematic for clear shooting like this image because you'll get water or ice on the outside of the window.
Internal lighting and light colors in the interior of the plane are problematic. One way to avoid that is to drape the window with something like a Lensskirt (though some flight attendants go ballistic when you mount something on the window; hint: sweet talk them first and show them that the Lensskirt is innocuous). Wear black, kill all the interior lights you can if you aren't shading the window.
The center of most jet windows is the only part that's not optically distorted--avoid the edges if you can. Keep your shutter speed up (1/500 and preferably faster until you're at full altitude).
Don't have your body or camera in contact with the plane's exterior--you'll transfer vibration. Keep your attention forward of the plane. by the time things get to where you can shoot them, you'll have very little time to react before you pass on by.
In the Air, Three.40 plusses - 17 comments - 1 shares | Read in G+
In the discussion about my first In the Air image this year, someone asked about shooting at night from planes. That's not easy, as you're dealing with basically black landscapes versus visible lighting. The higher you get, the more it becomes about patterns of lights, but the less light that actually gets to you (light falls off with distance). So most of the time you're restricted to shots that are not that far off the ground, and then shutter speeds become an issue.
After reading and responding to that comment in the discussion, I looked through my files for something that was appropriate to a continued discussion, and found this shot. It was taken early one morning on approach to O'Hare with an LX-5 at ISO 3200 and 1/80 second (lens wide open).
It's barely saveable. First, the 1/80 second shutter speed puts motion into the near lights that I had to adjust for in post processing. Second, ISO 3200 on the LX-5 is really pushing what it can do. I had a lot of noise to deal with and was fighting between sharpening and noise reduction to get a presentable image, even at reduced size.
Plus this isn't actually "night," but dawn, where there is some ambient light. So use this image as a marker point: you'd need one of several things to do better. The big ones are: (1) more ambient light; (2) higher ISO or a camera that does ISO 3200 better than the LX-5; or (3) higher shutter speed, which requires #2 or a very fast lens. The higher you fly, the more you need the first two. The further from sunrise or sunset you are, the more you need the first two.
What is It? 20 plusses - 43 comments - 1 shares | Read in G+
I love images that are more mystery than documentary. I'm not sure I've mastered them, though.
I love the light, colors, and textures of this particular place, but it's a real challenge to photograph well. I'm using this image as this week's teaching point for a reason. Hold your hand over the top half of the image. What you end up with is an abstract that tells you virtually nothing about place (though you might guess from the coloration).
Now hold your hand over the bottom half of the image. Different reaction, right? The pour over at the top center tells us a lot more about place. The question you have to solve in a location like this is whether place is important or whether the absolute abstract is what attracted you. There's no right answer.
In this case, however, there's a crop that works better than the one I show (hint: hold your hand over the left half of the frame). I was actually a bit surprised by this when I was shooting. All the cues in this particular landscape are horizontal (okay, slightly diagonal, but with a strong horizontal component).
Generally, when cues are horizontal, the right framing is horizontal. But there's an exception: when what you have is a stack. Stacks are a strong incentive to go vertical.
It seems with these weekly teaching points we're hitting Google+ fatigue. There was a healthy dialog early on and as the number of people having me in their circles increased. However, lately the dialog has cooled considerably. That makes it less interesting for me to post here, as this is technically a duplicate of information posted on my site.
So, either I need to get added to a lot more circles, you now passive readers need to get more active again, or both.
Lightpainting and Blend Modes. D3, three 30 second exposures combined in Photoshop. Which brings me to Photoshop World. If you've never attended one, you're missing out on lots of knowledge and information. Like Dave Black's Lightpainting class at this year's Las Vegas Photoshop World. I'm not going to duplicate or repeat Dave's teaching--you can find that at his Web site under Workshop at the Ranch, where he's been doing a series of articles on his lightpainting techniques. But let's tackle a few things about the image above. Dave set up several still life and portrait positions at Photoshop World where we could learn and practice his techniques. Obviously, with lots of students in tow, Dave wasn't able to give each of us a lot of time with his set ups, so basically we had three tries at getting our flashlight-wielding right for a subject, with Dave making suggestions as we went. None of us quite managed to get the "perfect" lightpainting, unfortunately. However, the great thing about Photoshop World for someone with an open mind is that ideas and knowledge intersect in interesting ways. While I was a bit disappointed with my three individual shots--I didn't manage to get all parts of an individual image to look exactly as I wanted--it so happened that I encountered Adobe's Dr. Russell Brown and his stack-a-matic script almost immediately after finishing up with Dave. Hmm. What would happen if I took the three JPEGs and ran them under stack-a-matic? Isn't lightpainting a bit like star trails, where you don't necessarily get what you want in one shot, but with multiple shots you might fill in the gaps? Sure enough, the three shots layered up in Photoshop using Lighten as the Blend mode does exactly what I wasn't able to do in Dave's class: get one fully painted image pretty much as I wanted it. Indeed, because I now had three layers, I had some further choices on what parts to use from each image. I did a bit of masking on two of the layers to "pick" the light from one shot over another. So, standing in a completely black room at Photoshop World with a flashlight in my hand went from nothing to the image you see here in a matter of minutes. I've done nothing additional to the images. No use of exposure changes, burning, dodging, shadows and highlights, or any other Photoshop tool. I didn't even correct the slight color cast. I simply stacked the three images into three layers, switched the Blend mode to Lighten, and then in a couple of small areas, used a mask to hide one layer from participating in that section. Now that I know what I'm doing here, I'll bet that I can go from black room to final picture like this in less than five minutes with regularity. So, if you haven't gotten the message: even pros learn and discover things at Photoshop World. I highly recommend you attend one and see what you've been missing. The next Photoshop World is in March 2012 in Washington DC (plus they'll be another in Vegas in September 2012). See you there.28 plusses - 19 comments - 6 shares | Read in G+
Spooky36 plusses - 6 comments - 4 shares | Read in G+
There are found photos and made photos. This is a made photo.
The location is Spooky slot canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante. I only had a few minutes here at the entrance because I discovered that my hiking companion had seriously dehydrated himself and was showing signs he needed to be dealt with. So I set him down in the shade with all the water we had and started him drinking while I quickly tried to figure out what I might be able to shoot while he sucked down the H2O.
The problem is that Spooky doesn't really live up to its name until you get way back into it. I didn't have time for that, so after a bit of thought I decided to put my ghost in the image coming out of Spooky. Nothing is spookier than having me come haunt you, after all.
The trick here is actually really a trick: you shoot a very long exposure (say five seconds), hold in position for a small portion of it, then move for the remainder. Had I thought that I'd do this shot before I left on the hike and had I had more time to actually shoot it, I'd change a few things.
First, the color of my shirt and pants. They're too close to the red/browns in the slot itself. A ghost needs to contrast its background. Second, I would tried more variations of how long to stay still and how fast I moved when I did move (there are almost infinite variations that could be done here, but I only had time to try a couple). Third, I would have raked the sand and only had footprints where the ghost is moving. Finally, I probably would have played with graduated filters or flash or both to change some of the lighting contours on the walls of the slot.
Of course, if I had really had more time, I would have just gone all the way in to the part that gives the slot its name ;~).
And yes, my hiking friend came through okay, though he didn't do much more than sleep and hydrate for the next 24 hours.
Call me Ishmael36 plusses - 8 comments - 3 shares | Read in G+
"I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world." There's a place in Alaska where whales gather, and where one massive humpback with the name of Gabriel sings. I've now heard those songs, seen those pods, and paddled those waters. Color me impressed.
Photo: Olympus OM-D EM-5, Panasonic 100-300mm
Playtime30 plusses - 13 comments - 4 shares | Read in G+
Let's see how many things I can do at once and still fit in this space.
I believe every creative artist has to give themselves the chance to play. It's like sleep, food, and that other thing: it's elemental. Everyone needs a vacation (from work). Even us. All work and no play makes Jack a...wait a minute, wrong script.
This image is a double play. First, I was playing with a new camera and lens. How close can I get, what can I do with it? How's it focus? Second, there's Photoshop Touch for the iPad to learn, so I pulled the image into it and started play round two.
I can't tell you exactly what I did, because I tried everything, and I ended up with multiple layers using almost every tool in the program. I blurred, I faded, I blended, I graduated, I...well, like I said, every tool in the program.
In play, you have to listen to the tool. I think I ended up with an interesting image. It looks almost nothing like the original other than the crop. And it looks better than the original, by far. I was going for "other worldly" and it does indeed feel like we're in another world (or at least we're taking a Fantastic Voyage of some sort).
It looks the only way out is the way we came in, so I'll just finish up with this: stop fussing with technique or trying to do the right thing; instigate your own playtime.
Bonus round: there are seven movie references in this short bit. You see, a body once at play tends to remain at play until acted upon by another force.
Motion22 plusses - 17 comments - 7 shares | Read in G+
There are a few things to discuss in this shot. This image was taken by zooming the lens during a long exposure.
First, let's talk about the regularity of the motion. Look at the light streaks: notice how close to straight they are? Notice that they're evenly weighted from one end of a streak to the other? Those are indications of a relatively even zoom and a stable platform (this is handheld by the way: the stable platform is my stomach--that's one nice thing about those tilting LCDs, as you don't have to have the camera at arm's length or eye level). If you're not consistent with your motion/zoom or not on a stable platform, all those streaks start to get wavy and uneven.
When you zoom you also need to zoom at either a constant speed or an constantly accelerating speed--no glitches in the motion are tolerated as they show up as bobbles in the streaks. That may mean you need to practice your motion/zoom so that your hand is in a comfortable position throughout (the usual catch is you start to zoom and your hand gets to an awkward position and you bobble the zoom). You also need to pick a stationary point that the motion is around or toward. In this case I picked the balloon, not the Eifel Tower. That's because of the lettering that tells us where we are (Vegas, baby).
If you nail the zoom/motion and the object you're centered on is at or near the brightest thing in the scene you often get very clear detail on the object if you linger on it a bit during the exposure. I had to try this shot three times before I got an acceptable balloon. Even then I had to select the "Paris" and run a deblur routine on it to get the full sharpness you see here. The deblur function Adobe has been showing lately as a technology preview would have made this a more simple task than it turned out to be with the tools I had available. It also would have helped if the lettering was on the left side of the balloon instead of the right, because my zoom was to the left side. That suggests that I should have zoomed to a different finishing point or moved my camera position.
Assignment One: Bum Lens Bonanza13 plusses - 37 comments - 2 shares | Read in G+
All this week's assignments will have something in common, which I'll discuss at the end of the week.
Here's your first shooting assignment: pick the absolutely worst lens you own and go out and take pictures using it. Not just any pictures, but the best possible pictures you can. Learn to use whatever liability that lens has to advantage.
Now, if you go out and do this with a lens that's got a cracked front element, expect a lot of folk to walk up to you and tell you that your equipment is damaged. Don't let that stop you. You'll find that, surprisingly, most such damage doesn't actually keep you from taking decent pictures, though it might reduce your contrast. Use a lens hood and do other things to keep from losing too much. That's one of the points of this exercise: figure out what your drawback is and optimize your shooting around it.
If you've only got one kit lens, then restrict yourself to the worst focal length(s) and aperture(s) of that lens (hint: it's not the middle range, it's one or both of the extremes).
Now don't cheat on this assignment. Don't bring any of your "good" lenses. Just your bad one (or ones). Lenses you avoid using for some reason. Let's smash through that avoidance and find out what you can really do with them. You might be surprised.
If you'd like to show your results, I've posted this article on my Google+ page so that we can get them all in one place. Don't expect me to do image critique, however. That's not the point of this week's assignments.
And if you think timing the tail is difficult (and it is), getting the head up on lunge feeding is even more difficult. You're looking at open water when suddenly you have a whale head in front of you and it's only there for a moment. But you have no idea it's coming, let alone where. It's all quick reaction and having the camera preset.30 plusses - 16 comments - 0 shares | Read in G+
Here's an example where I was set all wrong (I was at 100mm because I was photographing the whales right next to me; I would have liked to be at 300mm, obviously, but you have absolutely no time for that, as this happens very rapidly). If you look closely you see little black bits to the left and right of that whale: those are fish jumping out of the water in front of him as he lunged upward ;~). Also, if you don't recognize what you're looking at, the vertical part is the top of the whale's mouth, the horizontal part is the bottom. In other words, his mouth is open at 90 degrees as he came up.
Still Trying19 plusses - 22 comments - 3 shares | Read in G+
Another professional photographer once asserted to me that "you can never create a good water picture from above looking downstream." I'm not 100% sure of whether I believe that to be true or not, but every time I'm around water, I spend time trying to disprove the statement (thus this week's image).
The teaching point this time is an unusual one, because I'm going to tell you to not believe me ;~). Whenever you hear an assertion—something I make a lot in these short teaching points—don't just nod your head and say "yes Sir Thom, I'll do as you say." No, the real response should be almost the opposite: try to prove the teacher wrong (yes, that attitude made me a real hellacious student to find in your class, but that's another story for another day). The higher level the thought is, the more you should test it to make sure it is relevant to what you're trying to accomplish or what you think.
Many of my Aha! experiences in life have come from not just accepting some teaching lesson as is, but actually challenging it and trying to apply it myself. Try critical thinking and hypothesis testing as opposed to blindly following the leader. You may indeed find that your teacher/mentor is most of the time leading you down the right path. But it's that time when you discover even a small flaw in the teaching that you suddenly rise above and stand on the shoulders of those who came before you.
There's a popular notion that everything is a remix (see http://www.everythingisaremix.info/watch-the-series/
), but it's how you perform that remix that's important. Start with good ingredients (hopefully my teaching is one of those) but invent your own recipes.
Ya Shoulda Been in Movies 10 plusses - 39 comments - 0 shares | Read in G+
I don't usually put news or commentary stories on Google+, let alone complete. But I'm going to do that with this story because I'm curious where the discussion will go. Story originally appeared on bythom.com
on Nov 4, Copyright 2011 Thom Hogan.
Quite some time ago I suggested that Nikon needed to produce a video-only camera, what I called the V1. Nikon did produce a V1 and it does do remarkably good video, but it isn't a video-only camera.
Canon, meanwhile, got the message: today they announced Cinema EOS and the first of what are likely to be multiple large sensor video cameras based on their existing lens mount (you can get it in PL mount, too). The result looks a bit like some alien tinkerer hacked up an EOS 1D, but it's most definitely a video camera, not a hybrid still/video camera. Almost exactly what I suggested Nikon do (it's missing a higher than 1080P format, though).
Meanwhile, RED finally announced Scarlet is shipping. So here we have two high-end and highly anticipated large sensor video cameras and they come in Canon or PL lens mounts. Hollywood's love for F-mount lenses is coming to an end, apparently, and it isn't Hollywood's fault.
From the Kayak26 plusses - 12 comments - 2 shares | Read in G+
Not the greatest of images I've shot, but I've been asked questions about kayaking with cameras before, so my recent trip makes this a good time to answer them as a teaching point.
First up, you really want one of the cameras designed for water use when you're only six inches off the water all day. I've tried a dozen of those waterproof compact cameras, and the only two that do well for a serious photographer, IMHO, are the Coolpix AW100 and the Olympus T-G1 (this photo was taken with a TG-1).
Pity that none of these cameras shoot raw, though. For that, you'd have to go to a bigger camera with a dedicated waterproof housing. For example, I use the Canon G1X with Canon's inexpensive housing when I need to shoot raw on the water, but that makes for a slightly bulky package on a kayak. Manageable, but barely.
However, today's main point is this: note how my partner's camera is vulnerable: handstrap not attached, holding the camera with gloves. Very easy to have the camera slip from you, and then all your images are gone to the bottom of whatever you're paddling. (Hint: download before you head out.) But you can't really have the handstrap always attached while paddling, as the camera gets in the way. My way of dealing with this potential problem is to use the AW100 or TG-1 with a "floatie strap".
Even if you don't use a waterproof camera you'll still want a floatie. First, these straps are easier to get on and off your hands when kayaking. But if you drop your camera into the water, it will float (at least enough to retrieve it and all the images you've shot so far). The downside is that they're bulkier to deal with overall, so make sure you've figured out where the camera goes while you're actually paddling and how you'll handle the awkward floating part.
My camera slips into a pocket on the front of my PFD with the floatie left hanging out. Yes, that means that I had to pick a PFD that had a pocket in which my camera would fit. A lot of kayakers instead use a clear waterproof box strapped to the deck just in front of them. They put their camera away in the box when it's not in use. There isn't a camera store at the dock where you depart, so you've got to figure all this out long before you put your bottom end down the cockpit. And yes, we're headed for that cave in the glacier ;~)
Some people won't notice any differences between two images from different cameras properly prepared, while some will. The question is this: if you can't see the tree fall in the forest, did it fall? Or worse still, quantum mechanics might be involved if you don't actually perform the comparison: if you don't look in the forest, the tree might or might not have fallen, and which of those is true won't be determined until you look.10 plusses - 38 comments - 0 shares | Read in G+
Can a photograph succeed and fail at the same time?17 plusses - 21 comments - 3 shares | Read in G+
The answer to that question is yes, it can.
This is a question that more of us need to ask ourselves. By looking at the reasons an image succeeds and why it fails, you have a real foundation for what to do next time: repeat the things that succeed, fix the things that fail.
This image succeeds in capturing an interesting moment in the life of a lioness. Her mood was playful, mad, and tired, all at once. She wanted to play, was mad at the male when he wouldn't, but was also just waking up from a nap. Her strange dichotomy of relaxed and vulnerable position coupled with the display of teeth (from a yawn) give this photo a real voyeuristic "moment."
Obviously, the things that let me be there at that moment are things I want to repeat. That means sticking with a pride when nothing is happening. It means making sure the lions are comfortable with my presence and ignoring me.
On the flip side, my persistence in being on the ground while shooting in Africa has both helped and hurt the image. It helps for the reason I do it: we're at subject level, not looking down on the lion as a lot of safari images shot from the tops of vehicles end up. But shooting through the weeds like this has its drawbacks. Note the line of white out of focus blobs down the lion: leaves I couldn't get out of the way. The fact that they're bright is a distraction from where I want the eye to go. I need to pay more attention to brightness in my foregrounds. But more importantly, we don't see the eyes of the lion, also obscured by weeds.
In looking through some of my Africa images recently, I found more "eyes obscured" faults than any other. I need to correct that next trip. That means carefully positioning myself so that the eyes are in a clear gap in the foliage. And yes, this does mean that I keep most of my images, even bad ones, for long after I shoot them. I don't do a heavy delete until I've had some time away from the subject and can be more dispassionate in what did and didn't work.
Here's the thing: it's those shots that both work and don't work that I learn the most from.
THIS WEEK'S IMAGE 21 plusses - 17 comments - 2 shares | Read in G+
Balancing Acts. This was a quick grab shot taken on the standard 45-minute tour of the mill at Bodie Historical State Park. The "grab" nature of the shot shows, unfortunately. Why? Because the tooth at the far right is cut off (this is the whole frame horizontally--I cropped a little at top and bottom to fit my usual widescreen image spot here). Notice that at the left edge, I can get away with clipping some of the small washers and nuts. But the two large metal cogs are the dominant subject of the image, so clipping a bit of one of those is problematic. But the important thing I usually talk about with this shot is how balance works. We've got two very large things on the right, and 50+ small things on the left. Here's the teaching point: lots of smaller things can balance a few large things (and vice versa). While your eye will move right due to the heavy metal over there, they don't necessarily stay right because they have lots to take in at the left. Once you know where you want the eye to go, you want to consider what balances against that. If you have nothing (e.g. plain planking on the left), the composition will feel unbalanced. If you have something that holds its own, the composition will feel more balanced. I really wanted to get in there and move and add a few items on the left, but the ranger was on a schedule and was trying to pry me away from taking time to photograph this as it was. While I don't regard this as a fully satisfactory image, I do now know what I'll do the next time I encounter something like this, because I've studied how I think the balance in it works.
Paris on Fire24 plusses - 6 comments - 4 shares | Read in G+
Let's see, where were we? Ah yes, abstracts. One of the things I've been playing with--for reasons that'll eventually become clear--is moving the camera intentionally. Funny thing is that I first encountered this as a filmmaker (and no, I don't mean pans, I mean haphazard or camera motion not with or on subject). And it's intrigued me ever since.
Now let's see, what if I had an icon, a reflection in the window of a bus that drove in front of me, and a bunch of other stuff. Heck lets add some people walking with some strange lit contraptions (Vegas is like that. Oh, did you think this was France?). What could I do with all that? That's today's lesson.
I was getting frustrated by all the traffic in front of the spot I had chosen to try An Eifel Tower Landing shot when I realized that maybe I should just embrace the chaos and see if I could incorporate it. This is one variation I came up with, which now had me trying to time my camera move on the Tower with the timing of the bus coming in on the left. Yikes.
But I must have liked what I was seeing. I had dozens of variations on this when I downloaded the card. Maybe some day I'll go back and try to actually get the shot I previsualized ;~).
Did You Hear Something Go Boom?20 plusses - 15 comments - 2 shares | Read in G+
It's a holiday week here in the States, so no big lesson. Just a small one.
This is actually two images. They were combined by copying image two over image one in Photoshop. A new layer gets created. Since they were both from the same camera and precise alignment wasn't necessary, I didn't need to do anything else other than change the Blend mode to Lighten. Did some fireworks just go off in your head?
Bonus lesson: note that these fireworks aren't blown out (there are some small highlight blowout areas, which you'll never avoid), but the main elements are within proper exposure. Exposure is mostly determined by aperture, ISO, and distance to the fireworks. The closer you are, the more you probably need to stop down, especially if you're using long exposures as I was here. Don't get caught up in the fireworks display. Take an early exposure and evaluate it carefully. Note that in most programs the intensity of the fireworks will get higher, especially at the end, so if you start with overexposure, you're going to get a mess of blown values at the end.
In the Air, Too. 20 plusses - 16 comments - 1 shares | Read in G+
One of the things that photographers are always on the lookout for is a way to take images that stand out from others. We're all looking for one of those style or technique things that'll make our images look different from those of all other practitioners.
In recent years, that has involved breaking the rule that a photograph is something that exists because you pressed the shutter release once. At the moment we can't do this sort of image in camera (but we will someday I predict, and you can with a camera that does multiple exposure if you control all light). It lives in the same realm as panoramas and HDR once did: multiple images used to create one in post processing.
Indeed, I made this shot pretty much the way you do panos, including using Photoshop's auto merge capability. Then you just go into the resulting layers and use a mask to only show what's different on each layer. Astute observers will note that I (intentionally) left the layers flipped. Normally you'd have the first image (right most cyclist) in the background (bottommost layer), the last (left most cyclist) on top. This set isn't the right one for it, but with the right long sequence you can actually play with having the subject come towards, then away from you by layer manipulation.
Really close observers will also notice the small piece of dirt that came off the front wheel and is on an arced descent to the ground.
2011-12-0517 plusses - 8 comments - 1 shares | Read in G+
Price, Performance, Quality, Brand, Newness, Feature, Size/Weight8 plusses - 21 comments - 0 shares | Read in G+
See "And Speaking of Buying" on the http://www.bythom.com
site. If you want to comment about that article, please do so here.
Complete Guide to the Nikon 1 is Here!6 plusses - 14 comments - 0 shares | Read in G+
My Complete Guide to the Nikon 1 is now available at http://www.sansmirror.com/books/complete-guide-to-the-nikon.html
. US$19.99, 500+ pages.
Slightly different arrangement with this book: it's immediate download via license agreement, not physical product (CD) sale as previous Complete Guides.
Fly me to the moon. Nikon P6000 NRW. 10 plusses - 7 comments - 0 shares | Read in G+
I was looking through my image library the other day trying to find an example shot for a presentation I was working on when I came across this image. I wasn't exactly sure why I kept it until I looked at it a bit more carefully. First, this is a shot before dawn taken somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean from an Airbus A340. The camera is a Nikon Coolpix P6000.
The exposure is set for the moon (note that there's detail in it, though it may be hard to see in this reduction). It's dark enough (both inside and outside the plane) that I didn't have to worry about reflections in the window, though I was wearing black just in case. There's nearly no light on the wing (when I was browsing images, all I initially saw was black with a white dot, which made me wonder why I'd saved it).
Yet, with a bit of adjustment not only was I able to pull the wing up to a reasonable tonal value, but I was able to pull up some detail while holding noise down to a low level. Now, I don't show this image as an aesthetic triumph. It isn't. I probably took the image because I was bored with the 14-hour flight and the inner geek in me was pushing buttons trying to see what I could and couldn't accomplish with a compact camera in an extreme situation. One of the things I learn from these play sessions is just how far technology has brought us: you can push even the small cameras further than you might imagine.
There are some rules to this game, though.
First, you need to find the optimal ISO for your camera, which often is (but not always) the base ISO. Using anything else puts you at the mercy of the (often cheap) electronics, which always introduces more random noise in the pixels as the transistors munge values.
Second, you need to shoot raw. You need every bit of bit integrity you can get, and raw is the only way to get it. 12-bit (or 14-bit) raw data gives you much more to work with than 8-bit compressed data (JPEG), not to mention that a JPEG is no better than some Japanese engineer sitting in a cubicle thought you needed. If you look closely at the photo, you'll see a bit of banding in the sky, which came as I reduced down to sRGB color space and 8-bit JPEG. Bits are bits, and when you press the shadows hard, don't be surprised when you don't have enough of them. Thus, starting from a compressed 8-bit sample is always worse than starting from a 12-bit uncompressed one.
Third, you need to really master noise reduction. Whatever tool you use for that, you need to know its controls inside and out, and be prepared to run some tests to find your optimal settings. Here I've just used Adobe ACR's basic NR, but it took me a fair amount of tweaking to get a result I liked. Normally Adobe's tools are designed to work top to bottom (start with the topmost one, keep working your way to the bottom). ACR gets this very, very wrong on the Sharpening/Noise Reduction tab: everything's backwards from that reasoning. Start with color noise reduction, then luminance, then sharpening.
A bit later in the flight, I got the second shot shown here (both are cropped vertically).
2011-12-053 plusses - 0 comments - 0 shares | Read in G+
2011-10-242 plusses - 0 comments - 0 shares | Read in G+
Scrapbook Photos1 plusses - 0 comments - 0 shares | Read in G+