Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A quick tip to make snowy scenes pop! And some other seasonal shots too.

Well I thought I would do a video on this, but time has been a little sparse lately so I decided to write up a post instead. Now if you're not familiar with how camera metering works then I'd recommend you check out Episode 6 which is on the topic to get you up to speed; the supplemental post has some good resource links if you'd like to learn even more.

The Setup
Have you ever looked out at a beautiful snowy landscape thinking what a wonderful photo it would make, then after taking the shot you ponder why it turned out so flat? Well, you can pretty much blame the way the camera's metering system works for this outcome.

Let's use a simple example to understand what is happening. Before us is a landscape covered mostly with snow, a cloudy (thus white) sky and some trees also mostly covered with bright white snow. To our adaptive vision, all is well and the snow is a brilliant, almost blinding, white and the shadow areas of the scene (trunks of trees and exposed rocks on the hillside) are full of many interesting minute details. But to most cameras, this scene is averaged into a boring middle gray tone with care taken not to blow out the highlights.

You happily press the shutter button to capture this moment in time, only to discover that the image looks quite noticeably darker. You then begin to pout, take a sip from your hip flask and consider if life is worth living. Ok... maybe it's not that bad.

Before moving on, here's a fun and quick experiment you can try on your own to see the metering system in action. Grab your camera and head over to your computer. Open up an application with a lot of white in it like Notepad or Microsoft Office. Point your lens at the monitor, zoom in so all you get is white in the frame and with manual focusing on, ensure the screen is not in focus (if you use autofocus then the camera might focus on the pixels on the screen; we want a diffuse white instead and that's also why we're using a monitor as the brightness is more even compared to a lit white wall for example). Use a common mode on your camera such as aperture priority without any exposure value (EV) compensation and take a picture (although this should also work with shutter priority and automatic). What you should see is a grayish image, not white!

What Can be Done and Why
As you can probably guess from the last paragraph, you can employ the EV compensation feature on your camera to over-expose the photo (the EV button is the one with the little "+/-" sign in a square). This may sound a little odd perhaps to over-expose what appears to be a very bright and white scene, but taking into consideration how the metering works, this should make sense. Over-exposing may also be the wrong terminology to use here, because you're actually adjusting the camera's values to attain a proper exposure; over-exposure generally means blowing out bright areas of a photo. Now all cameras differ to some extent so you will have to experiment a bit to discover how your machine behaves, as you may require more or less compensation. Towards the bottom of this post you'll find some photos I took so you can see how my camera (Olympus E-P2) behaved at various settings. Note that even at +1.0 EV, no highlights are blown (according to the histogram in Photoshop CS4).

Before moving on, I do wish to add that I almost always have my cameras set to center weighted metering. I have found with experience that I get fairly consistent and reasonably good results with it compared to the area or multi-metering style (which uses numerous points all over the frame). Perhaps try experimenting with both settings to see the differences you get. As for spot metering, I use that option quite rarely and usually for special cases.

But why use EV compensation? Some of you out there might be shooting RAW and are thinking that you could just pump up the exposure in an image editor; even if you're shooting JPEG you could increase the brightness. To a certain point this may be true, but software can never truly replicate what would've happened if the image was better exposed for real. And if there are very dark areas of the image present, then detail in those zones may be permanently lost... even if you're saving photos in RAW format. Black is black and you can't do much with that. I also find that more noise and graininess comes forth when using software to modify the exposure of some under-exposed images.

Another benefit to using EV compensation in such cases is that you won't need to edit your photos as much. Personally, I've always like the mindset of shooting right first, versus shooting messy and fixing later. Thus, unless you need to use RAW for whatever reason, you might be able to use the JPEGs right out of the camera with minimal after-work. Time saved is definitely a pro, whether you are doing photography for a living or just want more time for other hobbies like wood carving.

So in summary, by using that good old EV compensation button you can make images more pleasing by enhancing their contrast, improving details in shadow zones, making colors more vivid, all the while decreasing edit time. Of course in some cases there may be artistic reasons you would deliberately want to under-expose shots (heck, you can use negative EV!) and for the HDRI fanatics out there, this is hardly of much importance due to the huge dynamic range captured in several shots which are combined (if you want to know more about HDRI, check out episodes 25, 25A and 26). Lastly, not just the wintery and snowy shots benefit from a little compensation. If the scene you are shooting doesn't have a large contrast between light and dark (think landscape with a bright sky and dark ground), but instead has a more even luminance (colorful leaves on the ground; flowers against dark foliage), then increasing the EV might improve the shot, especially in regard to color (this was fairly noticeable in the shots I took of Daisy).

So I hope this simple tip improves your photos and gets you experimenting with EV compensation, especially if you haven't used it much.

Also, wherever you may be, I want to wish you and your families all the best for this season! May your celebrations be merry and filled with happiness, and all your photos come out of the camera perfect... and if they don't, then label them "art" or "abstract". :) L8r!

Photos below are linked to full size versions in my Flickr Photostream.
Logs at 0.0 EV

Logs at +0.3 EV

Logs at +0.7 EV

Logs at +1.0 EV

Pine Tree at 0.0 EV

Pine Tree at +0.3 EV

Pine Tree at +0.7 EV

Pine Tree at +1.0 EV

Daisy at 0.0 EV

Daisy at +0.7 EV

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Viewer Q&A - Camera Maintenance and Care - Supplemental Post

Well I figure I better finish up the supplemental post to my Camera Maintenance and Care viewer request video I made a few weeks ago, seeing as I'm almost ready to start making the next episode.

Overall, I believe that most people take fairly good care of their camera equipment, especially the amateur enthusiasts and pros out there. On the other hand, I do know a novice photographer who used her fingers to wipe the lens clean... I still shudder to this day.

This video was the longest I've made since I started my photography series, but it was comprised of many short segments succinctly covering many camera maintenance and care topics. In no particular order they included:

  • Replacing the camera body and lens (front and rear) caps to help prevent dust from collecting on the inner components of the camera and the exposed glass elements, respectively, and from other damage occurring (e.g. scratches on the lens; a finger accidentally entering the mirror box and poking some critical bits)
  • Cleaning the lens, mirror, electrical contacts and sensor
  • Using a lens hood to help prevent accidental bumps
  • Storing your camera safely such as in a padded camera bag in a location where it's not going to be bumped or has direct sunlight on it, excessive heat (e.g. over a heating vent), etc.
  • Tips for changing lenses to decrease chances for dirt (or rain/snow) to get into the camera body
  • Getting into the habit of always putting on the camera strap (e.g. around your neck or wrist)
  • Charging your batteries regularly, even if the camera is not being used for a while, which can help increase their lifetime

I don't want to rehash much from the episode as I think the topics are straight forward enough to grasp, but I do want to emphasize a couple of them. The first is about cleaning your lens and the importance of always beginning by blowing off any particulates from the glass such as specks of dirt or dust. For one, this may be and is usually all the cleaning your glass needs. If this action indeed corrects your dirty lens issues, then stop here. Further wiping and fiddling with the lens isn't going to help and you may end up damaging the precious coatings. Two, if you need to perform a more thorough cleaning, let's say because of a minor finger print on the optics, and you don't wipe down the lens first, then those particulates will act like sandpaper. The force of the cloth pressed against the lens will drag those fine and potentially sharp bits against the glass and with enough time the element may become scratched up. Definitely not good for image quality. And three, if things get really bad and you have no choice but to use a cleaning agent, I recommend you pay a visit to a local camera store and find a liquid cleaning solution that is safe to use on camera lenses and/or coated optics. I'd recommend one, but for all the years I've owed cameras and telescopes for, I luckily haven't had the need for such fluids. Oh, and I strongly recommend against using general window glass cleaners as these may do nice work on the inexpensive plate glass you peer through to the world outside your home, but they may seriously damage or even remove the coatings off your lenses.

As mentioned in the video, I have personally never cleaned the sensor in my dSLRs as I've simply never had the need to. There is a good link below on that topic, so if you are noticing a sensor dust problem, then feel free to check out that article, Google the topic further, or visit a professional camera place to get some advice/products from there. From my own readings it is advisable to put your camera into cleaning mode, which disables most features on the camera from working along with keeping the shutter open until you complete the operation (or your batteries run dry!), and I suggest taking a similar approach as with cleaning the lens. If you've managed to blow off the dust and that fixes your problem, then leave the sensor alone. No sense in risking permanent damage by brushing or adding cleaning solutions to the thing.

So if things settle down in the next few days, hopefully I'll be able to finish my next video. I already took the shots for it and they turned out exactly as I expected. L8r!

Web Resources

Monday, December 6, 2010

Daisy ponders the angles of the wooden shark

I know, I know! I'm a tad overdue in writing up that supplemental blog post to my camera maintenance and care video; soon, really, seriously, soon!

I've finally posted a couple of photos of my wooden shark, which turned out quite well; the grain is just amazing as it flows along the body. She's essentially done except for a couple of coats of varnish to protect her delicate skin. In total I think I've spent around 17 hours on this project, most of that on sanding, detail work and a little pyrography to etch the eyes, nose, gills and mouth. I'm fairly sure what my next project will be and as soon as my mind makes itself up and I have a bit of that piece going, I'll post a pic of two of it. I'll also have to start using a vice of some sort for future work though, as there were a few moments where one would have come in very handy to free up both of my hands; this was especially apparent when using the rotary tool.

Also, I couldn't help but snap a few of shots of Daisy, my cute Golden Retriever. On Facebook I wrote a couple of quick tips as reminders to accompany the photos. The first is in regard to focusing on the eyes when taking pictures of animals. This may be easier said than done as our beloved house pets don't always make good stationary models. But as with photographs of people, the eyes can covey all sorts of emotions and sharp peepers will tell a better story than blurry ones in most cases. The second tip touched upon using unusual angles. Although they don't work for every image or type of subject, on occasion it can be fun to experiment with. The "aerial" view of Daisy didn't do her justice and just flattened her furry body into the carpet (yes, I know, it's really filthy!). But by shooting her from ground level, her paws seem to reach out at you and there is much more of a dimensional quality to the image. If only my carpet was cleaner and the background more aesthetic, I would've had a really cool photo. Then again, I wouldn't have captured this fun little moment with my dog. Sometimes you just have to take the shot when you can.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Viewer Q&A - Camera Maintenance and Care

It's been quite a while since my last video, but after receiving another request for camera maintenance and care, I thought I'd quickly whip up this show. In the next week or so I'll also finish off the supplemental post with some links to cleaning products and other websites on this topic. And if I'm not too lazy in the coming days, I'll also post a shot or two of my wooden shark as that project is progressing quite well. L8r!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It's cold outside, but I still want to take pics! Can I? Huh? Can I?

I had a question submitted to me regarding what advice I could give about photography in cold weather... I mean really cold weather, think -20C (-4F). Even though I'm not very far north, living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada has taught me a thing or two about taking my cameras out in frigid conditions.

Let me first begin by saying that you should always consult your camera's manual and find out what the model's operating temperature range is. In general, most digital SLRs (and even many point and shoot cams) have operating temperatures listed between 0C (32F) and +40C (104F). Be warned that if your camera is still under warranty and damage is caused by taking it outside, the warranty may be voided.

What could go wrong?
Speaking of damage, what could happen? First of all, it's fairly common to hear about batteries loosing their power quite quickly, and having been in situations where I had my camera exposed to cool air for lengthy periods of time, they do die noticeably faster. Even if you keep a warm extras in your pocket, they're still going to be placed in a cold machine and the juice will run out sooner than in warm temperatures.

Now if all you use on your camera is the optical viewfinder, then this problem may not affect you much, but LCD screens tend to hate cold temperatures. If it's very cold outside, let's say -20C (-4F), then the LCD might not even function at all or will take a long time to display anything; even if it does manage to show an image, the colors on the screen will likely be off.

Most seriously though, the fine mechanical components of the camera could be impacted like the mechanism that flips the mirror up and the operates the shutter curtains. In very cold temperatures, these precision metal and plastic parts will contract ever so slightly, which could make them malfunction; in other words, they could jam. Although this type of damage might occur more rarely than the other forms mentioned above, I doubt most photographers want to see a broken or dislodged shutter curtain or experience unusual problems later on.

So far I've discussed what happens to a camera when it's in a cold environment, but the device can also be damaged by condensation, which occurs when the equipment is moved suddenly into a warm place. It goes without saying, but moisture and electronics are usually a bad combination and condensate can build up not only on the outside of the camera body and the exposed element of a lens, but also on the internal components and glass, respectively. To reduce the effects of condensation there are a few things that can be done and I'll sum them up briefly as the Buzzle article, listed in the Web Resources section, already does good work of explaining this in more detail.

  • If you took a camera bag out with you, put the camera and lenses into it before entering the warm environment. Then leave your equipment in there until they warm up to whatever the inside temperature is. If you want to see your photos immediately after, then remove the memory card before entering the warm and happy place.
  • If you didn't take a camera bag outside, then at the least ensure the lens cap is on the lens, or if you prefer removing the lens from the body, then replace all caps; that is the front and rear lens caps and the cap to seal up the hole in the camera body. This prevents the warmer air from blasting onto the cameras cold surfaces and suddenly forming condensate.
  • If you plan to go into the cold again with your camera, wait until it warms up and dries completely before doing so, because if any moisture did end up forming on the equipment it could freeze and potentially wreak havoc with your precious camera.

And like I said, check out the Buzzle article as it has some other useful suggestions.

So no shooting in cold weather?
I would say no to this question and although I haven't shot in cold conditions that often (mainly because I don't like being in the cold that much), there are a few things I've done to help keep my camera in good working condition. And as I usually say, if you choose to shoot in such conditions, it's your choice and responsibility, so you're doing so at your own risk; you can choose to follow my ways or not.

To begin with, I usually wear a large coat which not only keeps me nice and protected from the elements, but allows me to stuff the camera inside of it; if a long lens is attached, I usually point it downward... and yes, it does look a little odd with the camera bulging the jacket out, but I've never cared about style that much. This keeps the entire device much warmer than if I let it hang off my neck outside the jacket. When placing the camera in my coat, I ensure to have the lens hood or lens cap on so the glass doesn't get scratched. If I come across something I want to shoot, I first examine the scene to determine what I want, then I quickly whip out the camera, take the shots, and then put it back in my coat. To help speed up this process further, I adjust the settings to what I feel works well for the conditions (i.e. camera mode, ISO, etc.) before venturing out, and I keep a jacket pocket open so I can dump and the retrieve the lens cap with ease. Without rushing, I would say it takes me about 20-30 seconds to do this, and speaking for myself, I have thankfully not encountered any issues with condensation or my camera's operation. Lastly, using this method I've also noticed that the batteries live about as long as in "normal" conditions.

Cold weather will likely never stop me from taking photos, as there are a lot of wonderful and amazing things to capture, and below I've included some shots I've taken in below freezing temperatures. So if you're out there in the cold snapping away, I wish you warm thoughts and great moments. L8r!

Web Resources

The image above is more impressive viewed at full size; click the pic to see it in Flickr.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Photography Q&A - Volume 001

I've been so busy lately with various things around the home that I've been neglecting my videos somewhat. The next episode should be a quick Q&A one, but after putting some good though into the answers to the questions, which were submitted through my Binary Graphite profile on Facebook, I came to the conclusion I could better reply to them here. Winging the video would yield short answers with little sustenance, and in the end I'd still end up writing a supplemental blog post. At least with writing I can take my time to better conjure up an adequate response. So let's get started!

Oh, but before I do, a quick word of warning. Some of the questions/answers below involve taking photos of the sun. If you do choose to take such shots, be warned that if you're not careful, you might not only cause irreparable damage to your camera, but to your eyes as well.

Question 1: What is the best way to use a lens hood? Once again, I tried to use one for a picture of a sunset but there was still a noticeable flare.

Answer 1: First of all, let me quickly talk about the purpose of a lens hood. For one, they are primarily designed to cut down extraneous light entering lens, which often has the effect of producing flare on the photo. Another way to understand this is that lenses are designed to take in light ideally coming from only particular angles, and if you try to visual this, think of a squashed pyramid of light going into the lens with the lens sitting at the tip of the pyramid. Still a little confused how that would look? No problem. After a little research I found a great link on the topic; the first one in the Web Resources section.

Hoods also offer some protection for the lens, especially the front element. Think about the time where you might have bumped your lens into a glass window; I know I've done that a few times at the zoo for example. But since I almost always have a hood attached to whatever lens I use, the plastic or metal shield easily handles the impact. Now to be clear, a hood does not make the lens invincible. Dropping your expensive piece of glass or giving it a heavy hit could cause damage to those fine components within the lens.

There are also a variety of lens hoods on the market. Often times, one will come with your lens, but they can also be purchased separately, to for example, replace one that has been damaged or went missing. Commonly, there are two major types: the petal and conical. I'm not going to rehash what is written in that excellent article mentioned earlier, but in a nutshell the petal design is generally more effective at blocking light rays that do nothing or are no good for photos verses the conical design hoods. Other reasons for purchasing a lens hood can include that you might already have a conical one but would rather go for a petal design to help further reduce chances of flare, or perhaps the existing hood is too shiny on the inside and one with a higher quality matte finish may improve the situation.

Now let's start addressing the question. In some cases, flaring might still occur even with a lens hood attached; simply said, they are not foolproof devices. When shooting photos of sunrises or sunsets with the sun framed within the image, a lens hood is next to useless (perhaps they help a little if there are other sources of light just outside the field of view of the lens; think street lights). Internal reflections (light bouncing between the lens elements and other internal components) often cause lens flares to occur. Some photographers like the effect, others don't; I personally don't mind, but it depends on the photo I happen to be taking. Now because I have not seen the photo from the person who submitted the question, perhaps I should have asked to see it, I have to generalize my comments a little. Since the sun is quite bright, even when nearing the horizon, there's not much one can do to completely eliminate flaring. Some lenses do handle it better, whether due to being prime lenses which are less susceptible to the effect or because they have high quality anti-reflective coatings (see that purplie-greenie hue on the lens?), or sometimes one can just luck out by being in such a position where the flare is barely visible.

My recommendation is to use a lens hood if you have one. It may not prevent flaring completely, but in many cases it will which can help improve your photos.

Question 2: I am still curious about multiple exposures.

Answer 2: I've been asked this question a while ago, but only now have I finally had the time to answer it (hence the "still curious" part). Stated simply, a multiple exposure is when two or more photos are taken to create a single photograph. In the days of film, there used to be some "magic" to this. To begin, you would take your first exposure and image would be physically there on the film. Then you would take the next exposure and of course the film would be exposed further, thus achieving some interesting effects.

However, taking multiple exposures using digital cameras is an interesting case. Many digital SLRs don't have the feature to perform such a thing, and those that do are limited to two photos (to the best of my knowledge I don't know of any that can do three or more exposures). So assuming the dSLR has a multiple exposure feature, you take your first shot like you would with film, but once the sensor has been exposed that image vanishes from the imaging chip. So where does the picture go? Well, right onto your memory card (or other storage medium). Here's where I feel the "magic" is lost. When you take the next exposure, and often the LCD screen will overlay the first image so you can compose the next photo more easily, the second exposure is again stored in memory and the brains of the camera combines the two shots into one. Yeay.

Really, a photographer could simply take as many photos as s/he wants and use an image editor like Photoshop to combine the images as s/he pleases. Frankly, I believe this option is open to far more creativity than being at the mercy of whatever capabilities the dSLR has.

Honestly, I've personally never been much of a fan of multiple exposure type shots, but there are a few that have caught my eye. In the Web Resources section below there is a link to an article on Shutterbug's website about this; I have to admit, I really like that dreamy appearance to the focus shifted shots.

Question 3: How do you take a picture of a sunset where the sun looks solid with sharp edges. Everything I have tried so far has yielded in a blurry blob of light (I am using a 50 mm lens with f16, high shutter speed and negative compensation).

Answer 3: Here again I should have asked to see some shots so I could target my response, but I do have some general pieces of advice to give. First off, as most people have already noticed, the sun is really, really bright, especially when it is high up in the sky. In cases like this, I actually don't recommend taking photos with the sun in the frame, especially with a telephoto lens (I would say anything greater than around 70mm). Remember when you used to be a kid and you could burn paper using a magnifying lens to focus the sun's light? Well, basically the same thing happens, but instead of being on paper, that bright spec of light is focused right onto your expensive sensor when you take a photo. And if you use the optical viewfinder, then keep in mind that the sun's light will be focused quite nicely onto your eyeball... it may be the last thing you see. Not cool.

Now does this mean you should never take a photo of the sun? Of course not. If the sun is very low to the horizon (sunrise/sunset) or if you're using a very wide angle lens, then usually this is not an issue. With the sun hanging low (below about 20 degrees), the earth's atmosphere filters out a lot of the sun's energy, in which case it's usually safer to use telephoto lenses. In addition, here's where an ND filter would come in handy, as that could further reduce the amount of light getting into the lens. And if the sun is above you head, then very wide angle lenses (less than 28mm), are generally ok to use; the sun is so tiny on the sensor that it lacks the energy to do much or any damage. But I will strongly recommend that if you are taking photos with the sun within your frame, make it quick, just to be on the safe side.

Back to the question. A few things come to mind as to why the sun appears as a blob versus a nice round circle with a hard edge. To start with and if you think this might be an issue, you could try manually focusing as on occasion the auto-focus system may not jive with the bright ball of mostly hydrogen in the frame. Next, using a 50mm lens means the sun will actually be quite tiny in the picture, and with the amount of glare around the sun, it may be challenging to get the sun to look hard edged. Thus, try shooting with a longer lens, like 100mm or greater (again, be careful and ensure the sun is nice and low to the horizon). Personally, nothing negative comes to my mind about using f/16, but you could open up the aperture to reduce the effects of diffraction. If you're not doing so already, I would also recommend shooting in manual mode, which will give you the ability to use whatever shutter speed you want. By the way, use a low ISO setting too (like 100); not only will this give you a cleaner image in terms of noise, but you may not need to use such fast shutter speeds as you would at higher ISO levels. The last thing that comes to mind at the moment is that perhaps the shutter speed was still to slow; depending on lighting conditions, the shutter speed might have to be around 1/1000 to 1/4000 of a second.

Lastly, I just want to add that if you are interested in solar photography (to clarify, that's taking photos of nothing but the sun --things like sun spots and prominences; not scenic landscape type photos), that's quite a different area and often involves getting very special filters (e.g. Baader solar filter) to block out as much as 99.9% of the sun's light and to capture specific wavelengths of light (e.g. H-Alpha). Also, this usually involves telescopes and very high magnifications of the sun, which again can permanently damage equipment and cause serious eye injuries and even blindness. If you don't know what you're doing here, don't try it.

Question 4: A little education on ND filters would be very appreciated.

Answer 4: Now I've already responded to this individual, but I thought I'd post my reply here as well. Episode 11 of my photography series is dedicated to the topic of neutral density filters, so for those of you also interested in finding out more about them, then by all means feel free to view the video. Now I've been meaning to do a show which discusses graduated ND filters specifically, but I have yet to find the time to work on it. Nonetheless, using graduated ND filters isn't very difficult and many issues related to "ordinary" ND filters apply such as quality of the material they are made from, color cast they might add to a photo, and how dark it is... well, how dark one half of the filter is.

Hopefully I've answered these questions well and they are helpful. As time permits, which has not been kind to me lately, I endeavor to finish that episode on taking photos of fast moving subjects. L8r!

Web Resources

http://toothwalker.org/optics/lenshood.html - Lens hoods
http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/lens-flare.htm - Lens hoods and flare
http://shutterbug.com/techniques/pro_techniques/0408multiex/ - Multiple exposures

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Macro Photography; Supplemental Post - Photography with Imre - Episodes 29 and 30

Macro photography can open up a whole new world that is often either overlooked or simply missed due to its small size. To start with, I'll quickly discuss the topics covered in episode 29 on the many ways one can accomplish close-up and macro work, and then I'll finish off with the techniques portion which relates to episode 30. And there's a dirty little secret I'll like to get off my chest too; keep reading.

Close-Up and Macro Definitions
The definition of macro photography seems somewhat illusive and unless I'm missing something or haven't poked around enough, I haven't yet found a single and universal one. But that said, most sources I have seen say that if the lens (or combination of lenses) is capable of projecting a one to one ratio or life size image on the focal plane (sensor or film) then you have a true macro lens and are able to take such photos. Some sources also include magnifications up to about 10 to 15 times, beyond which you enter the micro realm. Personally, I'm not that hung up on exactly where macro photography begins and ends, but if you asked my perspective on this, then I would say from life size to a magnification you can reasonably attain using regular lenses, without requiring specialized optics such as a microscope.

And as mentioned in part 1, close-up photography means the size of the subject that appears on the focal plane is smaller than it is in real life. Most point and shoot cameras and non-macro lenses are capable of close-up photography and not true macro. This is one of my pet peeves (though not a huge one) about how manufacturers use the label "macro mode" on many point and shoot models. *sigh*

Macro Lenses and Such
As you saw in part 1, there are numerous methods a photographer can employ in order to take macro (or really close-up) photos. Starting with the obvious (and keep in mind I'm sticking to the dSLR realm), you can get a lens labelled "macro". It doesn't get much easier than this as all one has to do is attach the lens and start shooting. Macro lenses usually come in two flavors, prime and zoom. In regard to quality, prime lenses generally have the edge but they also have a closer working distance that may make them less practical for certain types of subjects. Remember, the working distance is the span between the front of the lens and the subject. In general, the shorter the focal length the smaller the working distance. For shooting shifty subjects like bugs, zoom lenses can give you that additional space which helps snagging pics of creepy crawlies easier; not to mention safer if you want to get a shot of a hornets nest in action.

Moving on, close-up lenses, more commonly referred to as close-up filters as most simply screw onto the thread on the front of a lens, can be a quick and fairly inexpensive method to get some impressive magnification. In particular, these work best on lenses with longer focal lengths and the amount they magnify is determined by their diopter value (see Web Resources below for determining magnification); the greater the value, the higher the magnification, and in most cases close-up filters can be stacked. On the downside, image quality is not as good compared to dedicated macro lenses. Usually images suffer from some softness and progressively become blurry towards the edge of the photo.

Yet another method to increase magnification is to extend the focal length of a lens via extension tubes or bellows. As seen in the video, these are basically hollow tubes that move the lens further away from the focal plane and unlike close-up filters, these provide the greatest increase in magnification with shorter focal length lenses (around 50mm or less). Extension tubes are generally not that pricey (although I think they are considering they're nothing more than empty tubes) and if you stick to the brand that your camera is, many have electrical contacts going through them so auto-focusing amongst other features are retained. Bellows, due to their more complex construction, are usually a bit more expensive and somewhat more cumbersome to use; many also lack electrical contacts to the lens. On the other hand, their major advantage comes from the ability to adjust the distance of the lens from the focal plane. Both extension tubes and bellows may not allow most lenses to focus into the distance.

Teleconverters (aka extenders) are similar in construction to extension tubes, but these have lenses inside which increase the focal length of the lens attached to them by some value, most commonly 1.4X and 2X. Because of their construction, teleconverters can cost as much as some lenses (I think my 2X cost around $450), but on the upside the resulting image quality is quite good and you generally don't have issues focusing into the distance as with tubes or bellows. And if math is not your strong point, then figuring out the new focal length and magnification of the image is simple -multiply the value on the teleconverter with the focal length and there ya go! Like the example in my video, if I put my 2X teleconverter on a 300mm lens, then the effective focal length becomes 600mm (with twice the magnification of course). Other than cost, there are a couple of other cons here. For one, the increase in magnification isn't huge if that's what you're aiming for, and the quality of the converter counts. Although nothing to really complain about, I can notice some softening of the image with my 2X attached, along with a tiny increase in chromatic aberration.

Lastly in this section, we come to reversing a lens on the camera and putting a lens on backwards onto a regularly attached lens. Starting with the former, macro reversing rings allow you to attach a lens in reverse onto your camera. These rings have a bayonet style mount that fits on the camera and the other side is threaded so you can screw the front of the lens onto it; remember to be mindful of the thread size on your lens when selecting these. If you're curious, I purchased mine online from a company called Fotodiox; to be clear, although I'm happy with my purchases, I'm not affiliated with this company and it's up to you to choose the place you want to buy from. This technique works best with short focal length lenses and of course helps increase magnification beyond what the lens is normally capable of.

But as I mentioned in the video (part 1), if you want some impressive magnification you can attach a long focal length lens normally to your camera, and then use a filter to filter coupler to attach a short focal length lens in reverse onto the font of that lens (via the filter threads). This certainly makes for an odd looking configuration, but the results are quite something. As you saw in the video, I attached my 70-300mm lens to the camera as one normally would, then using the coupler I attached in reverse my 35mm macro lens. This yields around 8.5 times magnification (with the 70-300mm zoomed in); in other words I can image an area about 2mm across.

The bad part is there are a few cons to this setup. To begin with, the loss of light will be substantial. I had to place my fluorescent light (it just burned out recently so I'm not quite sure what the wattage was, but I believe it was equivalent to a 60 watt incandescent bulb) right next to the figurine I was shooting to just barely be able to see it through the viewfinder/LCD. It goes without saying, but positioning the subject at such a large magnification, along with focusing, was challenging. In addition, I had to support the lenses to ensure I wouldn't damage the mounts. You could not see this on the video, but I had the camera on a tripod and the end of the lens setup was supported by a book on my bed. Thus, the camera and lenses remained stationary and I moved the subject around for placement and focus. Depth of field (DOF) was also very, very small, likely around 0.5 to 1mm. As with the lack of light issue, this not only made focusing tricky, but I also had difficultly simply identifying the part of the subject I was looking at. Lastly, I advise you to be very careful about using autofocus with such a setup; really, you should not use it. Lenses are not meant to have such a substantial weight at the end, beyond what a couple of thin filters would be. This is why I physically positioned the subject by moving it around.

After considering this section for a little while, I have to admit that I must generalize it. Because there are multiple types of subjects that can be shot, along with the numerous macro photography methods that can be used as discussed in the section above, some techniques will obviously work better than others. Nonetheless, I don't believe that even for novice photographers it will be difficult to figure out what works and what doesn't.

In part 2, I started off with hand holding the camera versus using a tripod or monopod. More often than not, I would say that I most commonly hand hold my camera when shooting close-ups and switch to either my tripod or monopod when shooting very small subjects. Since I'm farther away from the subject when shooting close-ups, thus the DOF is a little larger (remember, DOF widens as the distance from your lens to the subject increases), I can keep the aperture open a little wider achieving faster shutter speeds; plus I usually have the image stabilizer turned on which I'm sure helps a little when the shutter speed drops closers to the shaky hand threshold.

But when I start getting really close to subjects and enter that macro realm, I find that a monopod offers that extra bit of stability. In addition, a monopod can be quickly relocated as they're not as gangly as tripods; great for when you need to change position often, like chasing after insects. However, the tripod is difficult to beat in terms of both stability and fine tuning. Simply said, three legs are better than one to hold firm and although you can attach various heads to most monopods, they're easier to use on tripods. For example, I often favor my Manfrotto Junior Geared Head as I can quite precisely and slowly aim the lens with it. Although I also have a standard three way head, I find they're too jerky when moving them, and as I tighten the grip to lock the position the aim tends to shift ever so slightly. So as you can probably figure, tripods are better for finicky work where magnification is quite high.

Oh! And before I forget, I wanted to suggest the use of a ball head on a monopod. When you want to change your shooting angle and the camera is directly attached to the monopod, then you pretty much have to tilt the whole stick around to aim. But with a ball head, the pod can remain more or less in one place and the camera can be quite easily swiveled and even rotated with far less overall movement.

Up next is manual focusing when shooting macro. In this case the video spoke for itself, as in some situations and due mostly in part to very narrow DOF ranges, auto focusing may not only be a little sluggish (depending on the lens you're using), but as good as cameras are getting, they still don't have much of a clue what you're shooting. This leads to the camera picking a spot that you may not want in focus, hence a missed photo opp. By manually focusing, whether simply selecting one spot and sticking to it or manually adjusting as you go, you're likely to have better results; I prefer this method and for me, this has proven more successful than trusting the camera's brains. If you haven't manually focused much, then be prepared for a little learning curve, but hopefully with a little practice you'll find it satisfactory (even for other types of photography for that matter).

Now to get a larger DOF you can simply stop down your lens, and if that's what you're after (i.e. to get an image with more of the subject in focus) then I say go for it! Even though the diffraction effect may worsen a little, the drop in quality isn't detrimental and to some point can be recovered with a little sharpening and image massaging. If you want to find out more about diffraction, there's a nice link below to Cambridge in Color's tutorial on the subject. The more substantial problem when stopping down the lens in my humble opinion is that with reduced light hitting the sensor, the camera has little choice but to slow the shutter speed way down. As you can guess, welcome blurry shots... not good.

If you happen to shooting subjects that don't move then slow shutter speeds are generally not a problem, as on most digital SLRs the mirror can be locked up for a couple of seconds before taking a shot (to prevent blurring caused by the mirror suddenly slapping up) and waiting patiently until the exposure completes. But unless you can control wind to make it stop blowing your flowers or command bugs to stop moving around (unless you smack'em dead, which I hope you won't do!), then another method must be found to increase the shutter speed.

One method to increase shutter speed is to increase the sensitivity of the sensor. This does pose the problem of more noise in the photo, but if your camera is newer and doesn't suffer as much from this or you don't mind the extra grain, then you may be able to return to shutter speeds that can freeze the action more adequately. The second way is to add more light to your scene, and as you saw in the video, the good old electronic flash works wonders for this. Depending on what you're shooting, certain types of flashes will be more useful than others. For some close-ups, the camera's pop-up flash may provide enough power to illuminate the subject well; keep in mind that some lenses may cast a shadow if they're physically long or have a large lens hood; at least a lens hood can be removed. In other cases, external flashes can be employed.

I would consider the ring flash to be one of the most commonly used for macro photography. These units usually attach onto the front of the lens (although big expensive models have specialized rigs) and provide very even illumination; they're also quite common for portraitures. Twin flashes are very similar, but they usually illuminate from two sides opposite from one another, and the power of each flash can be adjusted so a photographer can be more creative with their lighting needs. In my video, I simply used my FL-50 attached to the hotshoe via a flash extension core (and my dirty little secret... it's made by Canon! The store didn't have an Olympus one in stock, but the Canon one ended up being less expensive and with the right number of electrical contacts... works for me!). This one flash method works quite well, but keep in mind that one of your hands will be used up holding the unit, and there will likely be a shadow cast on the subject. Like I mentioned in the video, some people like me may not mind as it offers a little definition to the subject, but others may not like that as much. To conclude this bit, I'm sure there are many other ways to get light onto your subject, but I quickly wanted to mention the reflector. Whether you choose to purchase a fancy one with changeable covers or you prefer a simple white piece of paper, they may be beneficial as the light they bounce back onto the subject will be somewhat gently than what a flash can do. Thought I'd mention this in case some of you out there like to experiment with such things.

And there you have it! I think this post took me the longest to write out of all the ones I've written so far, mostly thanks to my life becoming a little busier these days. Next episode will likely be a Q&A one, so if you have a question about photography, then by all means feel free to contact me (e.g. leave a comment or email me; address in my profile). My soup is waiting and I'm hungry, so off I run! Happy shooting!

Web Resources
Diopter and magnification: http://www.bertech.com/product8/magnifi_notes.htm
Fotodiox: http://www.fotodiox.com/

Monday, September 27, 2010

Macro Photography, Part 2 - Photography with Imre - Episode 30

I'm very happy to announce that the second part, and conclusion, to the macro photography series is done. I liked the way it turned out and hopefully in a few days I'll finish up the supplemental blog post. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Yes! I'll be doing Macro Photography Part 2 soon!

I know, I know! It's been a while since my last video and by the end of the week I should be done part 2 to macro photography.

But for now, I thought I'd share a couple of new photos from my wooden fighter plane project I've been working on. For about one to two hours before I head off to bed, and for the last week or so, I've been carving away at this model and it's finally starting to look quite plane-like; not meant to be any specific aircraft by-the-way. Now I can appreciate why such finely hand-crafted wooden art pieces cost so much! In all honesty, when I started on this jet I thought I'd be done within a week. However, the more I got into it and as I'm starting to become more accustomed to carving, it's far more delicate work than I'd ever imagined. This is seriously going to become an addiction though. I'm already starting to think about the next carving.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

First Thoughts on the Olympus E-5

Olympus E-5 Press Release

As a long time Olympus camera user, I was quite looking forward to the release of the company's next flagship dSLR. When I bought my C-5050 back in mid-2004, I thought it was an amazing little camera with its f/1.8 lens, crisp 5MP CCD (well... crisp at ISO 100), and the many options it offered. A short while after the E-500 was released, I picked one up and found it to be a worthwhile investment and a wonderful step up from the advanced point and shoot model. By the time Olympus came out with the E-3, I could hardly stay in my skin. I wanted a better, faster dSLR, and Olympus delivered. The E-3 was a monster; weatherproof, faster and more accurate AF, improved image quality, more megapixels, and many controls to keep even the most avid of photographers happy. I was also very pleased to add the E-P2 to my collection at the beginning of this year. Even though the little stainless steel beast sits in a different class, it manages to capture higher quality photos than my E-3, is fairly portable, and the video is superb; the primary reason I snagged one as I could use all of my existing lenses (with the adapter).

So other than I might be an Olympus fan-boy, what else have we learned from this quick history lesson? Progress. Improvement. Those are a couple of words that come to mind. So does the E-5 live up to my expectations? Let's continue... but keep in mind that the following are only my opinions and depending on your experiences and needs, you may feel differently about this which is totally cool.

The Pros
Perhaps some photographers are not impressed by a 12MP sensor, but I'm not terribly disappointed myself. Twelve is still a nice number to produce great looking prints up to 11x14" and even beyond if you don't mind a little resampling. In addition, fewer pixels on a sensor can translate into a cleaner (less noisy) image. Apparently Olympus has lightened up the AA filter and the new TruePic V+ engine can perform a little magic to maximize the detail out of this sensor (which according to a few sources seems to be the same as in the E-PL1). I have yet to see sample pictures, so at this point I'll cross my fingers and hope there is a noticeable improvement in quality and noise levels at higher ISOs.

The larger 3" higher resolution swivel LCD screen is a welcome enhancement and long overdue in my opinion. Although I don't spend a lot of time gazing at the photos on screen after taking shots, this could make macro photography and shots from unusual angles (e.g. very low) easier to compose when using live view. Speaking of live view, it also seems that AF has been improved when using it.

Although a minor change, bracketing can be set to seven frames versus five. I can already hear HDRI fans rejoicing. Lastly, at least what has caught my attention, is the ability to add copyright information to your photos. Canon and Nikon have offered this feature for many years and although it certainly wouldn't prevent some individuals from copying photos, this feature has its merits.

The Cons
Alright, I just wrote that I'm not terribly disappointed with 12 megapixels, but it would have been nice to see a little increase... 14 perhaps... dare I say 16... even if a little noisier. For those of us that jumped on the E-P1, or 2, or PL1 bandwagon, there's not much incentive to upgrade from this perspective, unless the weatherproof body and faster AF is a must (or longer battery life). I'm just as happy composing and taking photos of landscapes and bugs as I am with my E-3; in fact happier as the image quality is wonderful from the PEN. I can only assume at this point, but it's likely the E-5 can squeeze a little extra out of the sensor than the E-P2. Nonetheless, I doubt it is a substantial enough increase to alone justify the roughly $1,700 price tag of the new model.

Art filters... in a pro model? Ok, in all fairness this may not necessarily be a con, but this just seems out of place. Even though my E-P2 has them I've only recently tried them out. Yet I still avoid their use as I prefer to muck around with the effects/tools in Photoshop where have a lot more control over the look and feel I want. May work for some, but not a selling point for me.

Some people may disagree with me here, but I actually quite like the ability to shoot video with my still camera (keeping in mind that I do aspire to one day create some short films and already produce a photography series on YouTube). With my E-P2, I don't mind that it can only do 720P HD video; it's a compact and primarily still camera after all (yet manages to capture some very good looking video). However, to me there is no excuse that the E-5 can't at the very least do one single mode of 1080P HD video. For $100 Canuck bucks more, I can get a Canon 7D body and no less than three useful full HD videos modes (not to mention an excellent 18MP digital SLR).

Imre's Verdict
I'll start this conclusion off with what I think personally. With the equipment I already have there are too few valid reasons to add this body to my collection. I say this with pain though, as I absolutely love the Olympus cameras and Zuiko lenses that I own (especially the lenses). If I had the money and was forced to "upgrade", then at this point I would instead consider moving to a new system entirely (Canon 7D or 5DMkII; they simply offer more bang for buck even though other issues hit the fan such as investing in a new lens collection = $ x lots). On the other hand, I'd like to emphasize that this is coming from my perspective and situation. For example, if you only own an E-3, have a growing lens collection, and require the faster AF and tank-like body, then I see the E-5 becoming a very attractive new workhorse. In this case, you get more megapixels, a better sensor, a few new features, and of course your lenses would still be just as useful (oh... and art filters!). And if you currently have no digital SLR at all, the E-5 may still work for you (smaller and lighter lenses compared to the larger sensor cams for example), but it is certainly up against some stiff and worthy competition. What do you think?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Lonely Composition

Lately I've been braver in applying various image effects to my photographs in order to make them more interesting, which has also infused them with different stories to tell versus their original nonchalant versions. Sepia tones and black and white conversions focus attention on subjects in images where color was distracting or simply didn't add any value to the photo. In addition, such versions can age a scene or add a gritty feel, especially when combined with other effects like pinhole and noise. In fact, I'm particularly becoming quite fond of noise to make it appear as if the shot was taken with a fast film and to remove that digital crispness. For my next outing I think I'll deliberately set my ISO to 1600 on some shots to see what that yields. So much for having a camera that handles high sensitivity levels well.

Image effects aside, I wanted to add a little about unusual compositions. Breaking rules can often be difficult as it both puts us beyond our comfy zone and the results don't always live up to our expectations, which can also put us off of trying again. I find that most of my photos adhere well to the rule of thirds and golden mean (or spiral) and there's nothing really wrong with that, as such photos generally end up being pleasing to the eye. But as a fairly keen photographer, I'd like to start getting more of those, "wow, that's different!" pics versus, "yea that's nice" ones. The picture of the excavator below is starting to get there in my opinion. Rather than worrying about putting the subject where the rules dictate, I focused on the story I wanted to tell with the image. Here's a monster of a machine that has been tired out by the amount work it has been doing all by itself. Sure you're tough, but a little help is always nice.

The original photo was very different and what you're seeing here is a substantial crop. In fact, the machine was centered towards the lower part of the scene, there was plenty of sky present, a few buildings were in the distance off to the right, and a little more dirt filled the lower portion. But by squeezing the excavator to the bottom right-hand corner and tightening in on the shot, the dirt mover actually appeared to shrink and become less significant. Why? Well without the buildings, power lines, and other visual cues, it's now more difficult to relate sizes of objects; plus there's a bit of compression from the zoom lens which exaggerates the dimensions of the rocks in the foreground and the dirt hill to the left.

Anyway, the idea I've hopefully presented, especially if you'd like to improve your composition skills, is to sometimes try to fit the photo to the story you're trying to tell versus trying to fit the story to a set a rules.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Macro Photography - Photography with Imre - Episode 29

The long (very long) wait is over! The macro photography episode is live on YouTube and happily awaits your attentive gaze. When I started to write the script, I realized I could provide more value by first showing off some of the many methods that can be used to take macro photographs, and then following up this show with another where I'll cover shooting tips. I've been working on this show all day long, so it's time to take a break and have a little chow. Do enjoy!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Splish Splash My Dog Dries in a Flash

I've had this shot on my Flickr photostream for a few days now, but I couldn't help post it here along with a quick tip on freezing motion (click pic for larger versions):

I doubt one can tell that I was casually drifting on a lake a few meters from the shore in my little inflatable boat when I took this. In hand was my E-P2 with the 70-300mm lens (of course using the four thirds adapter ring as that lens mount is not micro). Auto-focus was on and set to the center dot, which I generally prefer, and since Daisy was ecstatic to be outdoors and swimming in the lake, slow shutter speeds were not going to cut it as she was moving about quite quickly. According to the EXIF data, I shot this at a focal length of 70mm and my aperture was set to f/7.1. Funny thing is I actually meant the aperture to be f/8 as I find this lens is tack sharp there, but close enough as they say; I'm certainly pleased with the result. I addition, using a small aperture here also meant getting a larger depth of field, again great for an excitable dog that won't stand still for long... or at all.

As you can see, the sun was still high up and hardly any clouds were present, so I could've used a sensitivity around 200 ISO which would've keep my sensor noise to a bare minimum. But such a setting meant having a shutter speed far too slow to ensure a sharp capture of Daisy. Thus, as you can expect, I turned up the ISO to 800 and voila, the exposure time decreased drastically; the shutter speed for this photo is 1/1250 sec. I must also add that this was a lucky shot too, as I only took one exposure; the drive was on single, not high-speed sequential. And never will I hesitate to use this little cam at such high sensitivity levels again. Since I shot this in RAW I could easily vary the noise reduction slider and I think I used 60 or 65 for this (luminance, for color I leave it at 25), which I feel was quite aggressive. A setting of about 45-50 would've done the job as well. If I keep getting shots like this from the E-P2, I have a feeling my E-3 isn't going to get as much action (unless I need faster auto-focusing or for whatever reason decide to shoot in poor weather).

Times have been a tad busy for my lately, but I'm aiming to complete the macro photography episode this weekend, so do keep an eye out for that. L8r!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Part 2: Image Size, Resolution, and Cropping - Photography with Imre - Episode 28

Let's get right into this, shall we? We'll start off with a quick discussion about where the resolution value comes from for those who aren't sure, then a segment on what you should keep in mind when shooting photos for print, ending off with suggestions in regard to what resolution could be used for particular print sizes.

Resolution Value
So how does Photoshop (and most other image editing software) come up with the resolution value for your image? It's actually quite simple; divide the pixel width by the document's width (or use the height values, the result is the same). So if your photo is 4032 pixels wide and the document width is set to 12.841, then you get: 4032 / 12.841 = 313.99423720894011369831010045947 to be exact, but you can't realistically have .994... of a pixel, thus the program rounds to 314 (these values are what you see in the episode). By the way, pixels per inch and dots per inch are generally used interchangeably but there is a difference. Digital things, like scanners, graphics you create with your computer, and digital camera photos use pixels per inch (ppi), whereas physical things, like your laser or inkjet printer and professional printing machines use dots per inch (dpi). For more info, Google "ppi vs dpi" and you'll find articles discussing this topic in more detail (or if you're too lazy to type then scroll down to the Web Resources section).

Shooting with Printing in Mind
If you're anything like me, then there's a certain pleasure to be had seeing your photographs on paper. But as I'm sure you've already noticed, not all sizes of print are created equal in terms of aspect ratio. Let's take a look at some:

4x6" - 1:1.5 or commonly said to be 2:3
5x7" - 1:1.4
8x10" - 1:1.25
8x12" - 1:1.5 (or 2:3)
11x14" - 1:1.27
16x20" - 1:1.25
18x24" - 1:1.33 (or 3:4)
24x36" - 1:1.5 (or 2:3)

Also good to know are the aspect ratios of the sensors found in digital cameras:

Full-frame (or 135 film, aka 35mm, the sensor measures 36w x 24h mm) - 1:1.5 (or 2:3)
APS-C (slight variations in size exist, click here for more info; aspect ratio appears to be the same for each though) - 1:1.5 (or 2:3)
Four Thirds (17.3w x 13h mm) - 1:1.33 (or 3:4)

Aside from a few print sizes that have the same aspect ratio, most differ and is why you can almost never just resize your photo using the image size dialog box (otherwise your image gets stretched or squashed). Instead, this is where you employ the crop tool and selectively adjust the size of the photo. By doing so, you're very likely going to be excluding parts of your image, so this is where the shooting with printing in mind bit comes into play.

If you compose or frame your shot tightly, meaning you are not leaving much space or area around the subject in your scene, then you may run into problems when cropping. Either you'll have little choice but to cut into your subject or the crop will leave little to no breathing space around the subject. You're probably already thinking that the solution is to shoot in such a way as to leave little more room around the elements you want. You'd be completely wrong. ... Actually, I'm kidding, that's exactly what you'd do. Not much to it at all. Over time you'll become accustomed to how much space is enough, and if you don't already, consider taking a couple of additional shots with the composition adjusted (e.g. zoomed in or out some more) just to be on the safe side.

Another great reason to leave extra room has to do with framing (or matting) your print. I must thank a member on my Binary Graphite page on Facebook for mentioning this; you know who you are, thank you sir! Based on the frames I've purchased (i.e. those where the print sits behind the wooden, plastic, or metal frame), you usually lose about 1/8" from each side, or even more from cheaper ones. By taking this into consideration, you'll hopefully only have to print once, then be able to sit back and enjoy your work.

Resolution Suggestions for Print Sizes
Ok, so you've decided on the size of print you want and you have an idea of how you'd like to crop your photo, but what resolution should you use? In my video, I briefly suggested leaving the resolution field blank, which ensured that the original pixel data in the image would be retained; in other words, no resampling would occur, thus no pixels would be created or removed due to enlarging or shrinking the photo, respectively.

Well here's what I use as a starting point. Open up an unaltered shot from your camera and check out its image size. Using the picture in my video as an example, the resolution is 314ppi. This value may be different for you and is generally set by the manufacturer of the camera. At 314ppi, this photo, which has pixel dimensions of 4032x3024, has a document or printed size of 12.841x9.631". These values will be useful to determine the next steps.

My personal rule of thumb is that if I crop my photos, the resolution should remain greater than 200ppi and if it drops below this value then I will resample the image to 200ppi. In other words, I try to avoid resampling the image unless I have to. After thinking about this a little further, three major scenarios that have occurred in my experience:

1. Cropping to a smaller print size then the original document size of the image: In this case, the resolution of the image will increase, thus there is no need for resampling. For the crop tool options at the top of the screen, I only enter a width and height value, but ensure the resolution field is blank. For example, if I crop to a 4x6" (assuming I use the whole width of the example photo), the resolution increases to 672ppi; that's great.

2. Cropping to a larger print size close to the original document size of the image: Let's say I crop my photo to 14x11". After trying this in Photoshop, the resolution ended up at 275ppi. Since this value is greater than my threshold of 200ppi, I leave it be as this should still print fine on most printers and is at a level of quality I can accept personally.

3. Cropping to a larger print size much greater than the original document size of the image: Perhaps I want to go big with my photo, so I crop it to 36x24"; a three by two foot poster. If I leave the resolution field blank, thus no resampling, I end up with a meager 112ppi. Unfortunately, printing it like this would result in a blurry looking image, even if viewed from several feet away. Therefore, when cropping I don't just enter the width and height values, I also enter 200ppi for the resolution. This will resample my image and I end up with my picture having a 7200x4800 pixel size. Viewing this image at 100%, I notice it's a tad softer than the original, but even if those new pixels had to interpolated, the printed result will still be acceptable to me. I haven't printed many 36x24" photos, but the ones I did have turned out quite well. Looking at them from only a foot away reveals the lack of image data, but to most non-techie-photogs standing about 5 feet away, the image looks fine.

Now I'd like to point out that there are other methods and preferences photographers have in regard to this. For example, maybe one person likes to keep his/her file sizes down, so s/he will enter a resolution value when cropping to smaller print sizes. Others might not mind if their image is resampled and ends up being twice the original size, even if the image looses a little sharpness. And certain photographers might not even print images larger than a specific print size, because to them it is doing injustice to their work. As with most things I suggest, feel free to try it out and use it if it works for you, or come up with something that you find adheres to your needs better.

Next episode will be on macro photography; I'm sure the two people who have requested it are eager to see that show. Lots of other great episodes lined up too, and by all means feel free to submit video requests on a topic you'd like to learn more about. If you haven't already, please "Like" me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, and subscribe on my YouTube channel. Thank you, L8r!

Web Resources
Google Search for PPI vs. DPI

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Image Size, Resolution, and Cropping - Photography with Imre - Episode 28

I changed my workflow to create Episode 28 on image size, resolution, and cropping, and the idea worked well even though I needed a couple of takes to get it just right. Instead of winging it like I did for the other Photoshop tutorials, I wrote the script for the whole show, recorded the narration, and then played back the audio while I recorded the screen video. Certainly sounds more professional and I got in the information I wanted versus "umm-ing" my way through.

There are lots of things I'd like to say in the supplemental post for this episode, especially in regard to resolution of printed images. As usual, keep your eyes peeled for that in the next few days. Right now I'm off to devour some burgers! L8r!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Some Planes, a Crow, and a Fire Truck

Originally, my intentions at the Calgary International Airport were to capture shots of a fully restored Avro Lancaster. Pitty I arrived just in time to whip out of the car and take some shots of the lovely craft through a horrid chain link fence. Oh well, at least I snagged a few other pics of which, for whatever reason as I can't quite put my finger on it, I really like the first one displayed below. Click on the pics to view larger sizes in Flickr.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Part 2: Landscape Photography - Photography with Imre - Episode 27

Landscape photography is a significant topic as a whole, but even its parts are nothing short of substantial. Not only can specific topics be expanded to include more detail, but various types of landscapes lend themselves to be captured better in a certain way; techniques for shooting prairies may not work as well in mountainous areas.

That being said, we all have to start somewhere and I've almost always found that understanding the basics inside-out not only allows one to produce better imagery, but those basics after a little time will start transforming into more complex techniques being explored; think unusual angles, compositions that follow no rules but look fantastic, and use of various filters to enhance certain aspects of the scenery.

Now I covered quite a lot in the video, but there are a couple of details I didn't mention. Before doing so, here's a list of some of those basic rules and techniques:

Level Horizon: If you're new to this sport, try to keep your horizon as level as possible. Either use a tripod, simply be careful when holding the camera, or fix it up in post. Slightly angled landscape photos tend to look amateurish and could downgrade what might otherwise be a really nice picture.

Rule of Thirds / Golden Mean: To aid you with composing your shots, keep the rule of thirds and the golden mean in mind. Many great images adhere to them and indeed there's merit to their use, but just because you can't "fit" them to a certain scene doesn't mean that that shot won't make a great photo. Like I said in the video, these are rules and rules can be broken. (see Episode 4 for more on this topic)

Smaller Aperture: Although there are exceptions to this rule too, in most cases landscapes are shot with smaller apertures to increase the depth of field (DOF) in the image; in other words, to ensure that subjects closer to the lens as well as far away remain in focus. Other positive side effects to using the lens stopped down a bit is that vignetting can be reduced or even eliminated, and that most lenses will project a sharper image on the focal plane (i.e. sensor or film).

White Balance: If your camera is set to save images in JPEG format only, then be very careful with your white balance settings. Most digital SLRs are getting quite good at fairly accurately representing colors under various lighting conditions, but they are by no means perfect. In my seventh episode I showed off a photo of a moose, which looked a bit purple (and I assure you, to the best of my knowledge there are no naturally occurring purple moose in the wild). The reason for this is that the scene didn't contain anything pure white or neutral, which threw off the camera; that scene only had a brown moose, dark shadows, and lots of green foliage. A poorly white balanced photo, in a format other than RAW, is essentially unrecoverable as those pixels are basically "burned" into whatever color they are; yes you can edit away using Photoshop or your favorite image editor, but unless the changes that need to be made are within some threshold, you can only take it so far. So to combat this, you can manually set the WB on your camera (e.g. presets, custom WB, external tools like the ExpoDisc) or save your photos in RAW format (or RAW+JPEG). The RAW format of course, allows you to change the WB after the photo has been taken. (Episode 7 is on WB and Episodes 18 and 19 explore RAW vs. JPEG)

Landscape Orientation: For the most part, based on my readings and observations, landscape orientation is preferred for this type of photography. But there always those exceptions where an expanse of scenery can be better represented in portrait orientation such as waterfalls, streams and rivers from certain angles, tall trees, and rocky cliffs. In addition, using portrait orientation in this fashion helps to exaggerate qualities of the aforementioned subjects; makes trees look mightier, rivers stretch far into the distance, and cliffs look even more majestic. Ansel Adams has several such images, so I recommend examining some of his photos to get a feel for them.

Time of Day: The "Magic Hours", about an hour after sunrise and about an hour before sunset, are often common times of day to shoot landscapes. The warmer tones enveloping the scenery and dramatic shadows cast between the details can be very aesthetically pleasing. Nonetheless, some our lives are such that we may not have the luxury (or will power) to wake up early or stay up late enough to take advantage of this light. But that certainly doesn't mean that outstanding photographs cannot be taken. A high sun could make for some impressive contrast between the land and a cloudy or stormy sky. Without long shadows obscuring subjects, details become vivid and clear.

Framing, Foreground Objects, Lines: These techniques more or less spoke for themselves in the video and they are great for generating that extra bit of interest in a shot. Framing can help highlight scenery in certain parts of the photo (doesn't have to be in the center!), whereas foreground objects can help tell a different story, and lines can lead us on a visual journey.

Black and White: There have been a few occasions where I've shot an image and although I was really happy with it, something was missing. Then (usually by accident) I'd convert the image to black and white and I could finally get some rest. Almost all digital cameras have a black and white mode, but I'd recommend always shooting in color because if you shoot in black and white, you're stuck with black and white. Having the color version gives you an option and most software provides you with more flexible controls for black and white conversion anyway, so you have an advantage there as well.

Triangles, Shapes, Patterns: Although I wouldn't consider myself a portrait photographer, I have read and flipped through some books on the topic. Many of them have discussed the triangle shape and how it can be used to help place people, but triangles can also be wonderful shapes to look for in landscapes. I have to admit that the examples in my video were a bit extreme, but hopefully you understand what I was going for. In addition, other shapes exist in nature that may be very pleasing to the eye. For example, think of an odd angle and zoomed in shot of waves on a lake, tangles of branches like that of fractal imagery, or the patterns of leaves on the ground and sediments in rock. Often times too, shots like this won't fit neatly into the rule of thirds or the golden mean, but they still make beautiful photos.

Filters and HDRI: I'll be the first to admit that I'm biased towards the use of polarizing filters for landscape and nature photography. I just love how scattered light becomes more organized, thus enhancing colors, reducing unwanted reflections, and even adding punch to what would be a lackluster sky. Indeed, a polarizing filter should not be used for all shots, but at the least I do hope you give them a try (remember, use a circular polarizing filter if you have a digital SLR as linear ones can cause the autofocus and metering system to malfunction). I also mentioned the graduated neutral density filter, as they can help balance the exposure of a scene (e.g. can help dim a bright sky and bring it more in line with a darker landscape). But as you probably already know, there are tons upon tons of different filter types out there. Color polarizing filters, for example, can force a mood on an image and a star filter could add that dreamy quality to a shot of a shimmering lake. And although HDRI has nothing to do with filters really, it is a way of recreating what our eyes see with their substantially larger dynamic range than what a sensor can capture. Some people love it, some not so much, but I've seen some pretty impressive results if executed carefully. (see Episode 9 and 9a on polarizing filters and Episodes 25, 25a, and 26 are on HDRI)

And here are some new thoughts I had, which were not in the video:
Placement of the Horizon: I could probably get into quite the argument with some photographers in regard to this subject about where the horizon should be situate in a photo. Some would say that placing it in the center of the shot is the work of an amateur, but then again there are some scenes that lend themselves to such composition (e.g. a perfectly still reflection of the land in a pond). My suggestion is to try various shots if you find yourself in such a position and see which one ends up looking the best. Usually, if I endeavor to keep the horizon from cutting right across the center, I aim to place it around a third from the bottom or top of an image. Lowing your shooting angle or zooming in or out of your scene might help you accomplish this.

Telephoto: Who said all landscapes had to be shot with a wide angle lens? Zooming in, waaaaay in, can reveal details all but lost in wide angle shots. There may be some interesting rock formations or even Bighorn Sheep crowding on a steep cliff, so try switching lenses once in a while and explore.

Feedback: Although this isn't really a shooting tactic, it is a way to improve your shots the next time you're out. There are some great forums on the Web dedicated to landscape and nature (or outdoor) photography, and by posting some of your photos under topics dedicated to such critiques, you might just get some useful knowledge passed onto you or suggestions on things you may not have noticed. Keep in mind though, take criticism with a grain of salt, as they say, because you may also be getting "bad" feedback, and I'm not just talking about trolls either. Like you'll see me write in the next section, a photo to one may be a winner, but to another may be nothing but average. But in general, my experiences in such forums have generally been good, with some very useful feedback which has helped me take better shots.

Lastly and something I briefly mentioned in the episode, looking at the work of other photographers can not only teach a thing or two, but also be inspiring. I could mention dozens of names of famous landscape photographers, but in this case I'll urge you to do a quick Google search. The work of one photographer to me may be impressive, but to you? Well, that's for you to decide. Ansel Adams is quite well known and I do find his work unique, especially since most of it is in black and white and to me looks fantastic; also, I haven't quite been able to take good control of such images... usually they happen by accident. But that's what practice is for and I hope you have a lot of fun doing it.

Hey I just realized this is my 100th post! Woot! And lots of great photo episodes to come, so do stay tuned! L8r!

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Landscape Photography - Photography with Imre - Episode 27

Woohoo! I'm really happy with the way the landscape photography episode turned out. I'll have a fair bit to add in the supplemental post, so stay tune for that in the next day or so. L8r!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

HDR Photography; Supplemental Post - Photography with Imre - Episodes 25, 25A, and 26

Well there are supposed to be thunder storms later this afternoon so I better get writing! I prefer to unplug my computer from the wall outlet to ensure any electrical spikes won't fry the system, even though I do have a battery backup in place. The last storm a day ago made the lights flicker; first time in recent memory.

I think I already said this, but I have to admit that I really enjoyed making these High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography episodes (25, 25A, and 26); I'm especially glad that I added episode 25A, as that clip demonstrated quite nicely how the camera can be setup to capture the multiple exposures needed to create an HDR image. Remember, even if you're using a different camera than the Olympus E-3 (as seen in the video), most have similar functionality, so I suggest checking your manual in order to discover how you can adjust those settings as well or use such features.

Now it is in those multiple exposures where the proverbial secret to creating great HDR photos lies. Although I expressed the importance of taking several shots at various exposure settings, I want to emphasize that the best results, at least according to some of the research I've done, can be achieved by ensuring that in the set of shots, at least two photos have been taken with one that has no pure black areas and one with no pure white areas. In other words, take at least one photo that is really over exposed to show detail in very dark portions of the scene and another that is quite under exposed to reveal detail in very bright regions; being as reasonable as possible of course, as under some conditions that may simply not be possible.

By having such shots, along with the several others in the "middle", you'll likely end up with a more balanced HDR image. For whatever reason, the first time I processed the gazebo photos I missed that I had a really over exposed shot with lots of detail in the shadow regions of the scene. You'll even hear my griping about it a little in the video (ep. 25) that I should have taken such a shot. But thankfully after reviewing my photos more carefully, I realized that I did have it (and you see this in ep. 26). As one would expect, the HDR image with the highly over exposed shot missing lacked detail in the shadow areas, whereas the other turned out much better; here's the properly manipulated image on my Flickr site (link to large size here):

The larger the tonal range of a scene (in other words, the greater the difference between light and dark regions), the more photographs you'll need between the two extreme exposures (over and under) for a better HDR image outcome. Adobe Photoshop's documentation recommends a minimum of three images, but five or more for better results. This is where bracketing may not always work and you'll need to use EV compensation or manual shutter speed adjustment, along with having to lug around a tripod to help ensure each shot is as identical as possible.

And if you "Like" my Facebook page, you may have noticed a question posted in regard to other HDR software products, to which I replied with some links to programs that do appear less pricey than Photoshop, or even free. Other than reading through the specifications of the programs, I haven't tried these out. They appear legitimate, but of course proceed with caution when downloading programs from sources you're not sure of. Here's the list of links:


Lastly, after three takes, I was finally satisfied with the length and content of episode 26, the Photoshop tutorial. I didn't point out one minor thing and that is in regard to the corner option. If you select a node, you can force it to become a corner via the checkbox, which may make it more suitable for your particular editing needs. Other than that, you create some nodes by clicking on the line and shift them up and down, or even sideways, to your liking. As I mentioned in the video, I personally aim to get an even brightness throughout the image. This does have the side effect of making the photo look a little flat or washed out, however once the pic is converted to 8 bit mode then I fiddle with the shot some more using the "regular" tools such as brightness/contrast, saturation, shadows/highlights, etc. to bring out the best in the photo.

And I just want to thank you all for your wonderful comments on my various sites, as well as for your suggestions (including other methods of creating HDR images). In regard to future video suggestions, I have the following requests written down:

  • Macro Photography
  • Lens Buying Guide
  • Landscape Photography
In the coming weeks you'll also be introduced to Gray Ghost, which will be featured in what I believe will be a very interesting photo episode, so do stay tuned for that. L8r!

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