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!

Web Resources

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!