Watching the wheels go round and round.

I like this photo…not just because I took it, but because I actually had my camera with me when I saw ‘the moment’.  The dog by the way, was incredibly well behaved.  Just sat there with his human and watched the world (and other dogs) go by without moving.  In a day and age when we all have a camera with us (if we own a smartphone, or even a semi-smart phone) it’s of course, much easier to capture moments like this.  I do try to keep a DLSR with me when I go out, or my mirrorless camera if I don’t want to carry that heavy thing around.   But like the man said, the best camera to use is the one you have with you.

Extra points if you get the reference made in the title. 🙂

Are you pondering what I’m pondering?

So it seems that Google has handed off all the Blogger stuff to an Indian domain.  Thinking of moving over to WordPress.  Really don’t care to have a .in address, nothing against the folks from India.  I work with a lot of them and they are fine people.

So, unless you want me to put the rubber pants on the chimp, that’s what I’m pondering.  I really need to get serious with this blog anyway.  Life has been really busy, but I must get busy blogging again.

Work flow

We hear this term a lot, but what does it mean? It most often refers to the way one processes their images after they come out of their camera. This is most usually applicable if you are shooting in your cameras native RAW mode (NEF for Nikon, Canon has it’s own version) which in every case was developed and expanded from the TIF model.

I often hear photographers crowing about an image being “straight out of the camera” (SOOC). Well, how wonderful for you. Yes occasionally it all comes together and we get it right. But perfect? I don’t care how good your camera is, if you’re shooting in RAW, jpg, what have you, every image can stand some buffing up, even if it’s only a little bit. So, that’s SOOC huh? So, what’s that thing here in the shadows? Wow, that area sure is bright, and that sky sure seems a bit washed out. Get my drift?

I can empathize with a beginner, because I once was one, and still consider myself a student of this thing called photography. It actually took me several years to get my workflow down to something I called acceptable. After some trial and error with several pieces of software, I think I’ve hit on the combination that works for me. Or have I?

I started re-thinking my work flow after reading a tip from Moose Peterson, who I hold in very high regard photographically speaking. Plus he seems like a pretty good guy too. It was a setting tweak in the Nikon menus that frankly, I’d never considered because I had stopped using Nikon’s Capture NX2 program, for the most part. I hadn’t abandoned it completely, but it was starting to gather some dust on my hard drive, so to speak. I’ll also be frank enough to say that the program is starting to become a bit dated, in light of some other software that’s available. I also use the Nik Software Complete plug in package for Photoshop/Lightroom. I guess I felt like I was missing something because I began exploring some other options. None of them were filling the bill for me.

It dawned on me, that the settings I was using, were part of the proprietary file settings in the NEF file, that are basically unavailable to Photoshop, Lightroom, and any of the others. So this little tweak wasn’t actually showing up in my workflow and wasn’t a factor in what I was seeing in Lightroom as I downloaded my cards. Clearly, I needed to get back to Capture NX2 in some fashion. I started comparing images in Capture and Lightroom side by side. Yep, Capture was showing the tweaks I had made in the camera. Simple matter of a couple other settings and export as a TIF, then continue with my regular workflow. The image above was created in Gloucester, UK, at Gloucester cathedral. It was also managed in my previous workflow. Yep, it’s a perfectly acceptable black and white image. In fact, it’s one of my favorites. You may not agree, but I only have to please me in this case, not a client so you are welcome to your opinion :-).

Since I had been thinking of adapting my workflow, I decided to do so using this image as a comparison. So starting from the NEF file, I ran it through Capture before Photoshop/Nik. I’m much happier with the second image overall. There’s a bit more richness of detail as well as tonality to it. This second image is here:

I mentioned that Capture NX2 is slightly dated. Well, it was introduced about 4 years ago as a significant upgrade to NX, which itself was a huge leap forward from the original Capture program provided by Nikon with some of their cameras. That program was nearly useless, in my opinion. Enter Nik Software. They did a major overhaul of Capture, it was renamed Capture NX, which introduced the concept of ‘control points’, allowing the photographer more selective control over processing. Nik has since developed their plug ins to a very high state of usefulness, providing a very powerful and easy to use interface. No, they don’t pay me to tout their products. I just love them that much. So much, that I found myself drifting away from Capture NX2. I’ve rediscovered the power and ease of use this program offers to Nikon shooters in processing NEF’s, before adding all the wonderful finishing tools also offered by Nik. Sorry to say, that users of other camera platforms will not benefit from the more powerful aspects of Capture NX2. Those can be made available to them in their other offerings however.

Capture NX2 was designed as a RAW processing tool only. Rumor on the street has it that Capture NX2 is being redesigned with some/most/all of Nik’s other plug in capability, which would make it a formidable competitor to, dare I say it…Photoshop? Details are of course, sparse. It may not even be true. I have talked with people about this possibility and speculated on this very thing happening down the road, so I can only hope it’s true. Keep an eye on for further developments.

In the meantime, try to stay flexible. This was the original point of this post. Just because something works for you, doesn’t mean something else won’t work better. It was somewhat satisfying on my part, to rediscover an important place in my workflow of something I had once considered very important but had lost sight of. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some demo products on my hard drive that I must delete.

Fun with filters

To get that ‘silky’ effect on flowing water, or for that matter, clouds or anything that’s moving, you need to leave your shutter open for a much longer period than normal. This of course requires a tripod for a stable base for your camera. Now, since most of these images are taken during the day, you may well ask yourself, “Self, how do I do this without blowing the image completely out?”

That’s an excellent question. What we are told is that we need a very dark (several stops) of neutral density filter. This will work also, but what I use is a Vari-N-Duo Neutral Density filter from Singh-Ray. No this is not a plug, but I do love their filters. They aren’t cheap, but the highest quality of anything rarely is. This filter allows you to dial in the strength of density (it’s cool to watch it get darker, until opaque when you turn the ring!) as well as giving you a polarizing filter to reduce glare from the water. They also now have a Vari-N-Trio, which adds a color enhancing filter. I haven’t as yet had a chance to evaluate this filter, so I can’t speak for that claim, but what I CAN speak for is that I have several of their filters and they all work as advertised. I have no reason to doubt them on this one. Click this link for more information at Singh-Ray’s website. Don’t have a heart attack when you see the price, however let me remind you, that will be the last time you’ll need to buy one unless you lose or break the one you bought.

As a budget alternative, I have read that you can use a stack of two polarizers, a linear and a circular polarizer and get the same effect. If anyone out there who may be reading this has experience with that alternative, I’d love to hear about it.

This is the North Falls, at Silver Falls State Park in Oregon, a very beautiful park with loads of water and water falls and huge trees. I highly recommend you visit if you get the chance. Oh yes, bring your camera.

Light painting…sort of.

As a photographer, I’ve never been particularly attracted to light painting, though I’ve seen some really nice work done in that respect. I was sitting in my dark room late last night, with a laser pointer, watching my computer finish up some DVD rips, and was playing with my laser pointer at a time when the dogs were asleep in the next room and not likely to go insane over the green dot on the floor, or walls…

It occurred to me that I had my camera sitting next to me and I wondered… Yes, it works. It’s interesting doing this because you can only see it while you are tracing out a letter, so you’re not really sure how it’s going to look, but there it is. I think further time was…er investigation is in order.

Pretty sure I still have a piece of black cloth somewhere around here. Should make a nice background for more of this tomfoolery. By the way, if you try this, keep the dogs and cats out of the room. They really love to chase these things and they’ll get in the way or likely break something. They get quite exuberant.

Project 365?

I’ve been mulling over the idea of doing a photo of the day project, a ‘Project 365’ if you will for some time. My friend Brian started one, and frankly it’s made me feel like I ‘should’, but it’s a huge commitment. So far he’s kept up with it. I know I would feel guilty if I couldn’t and with things in my immediate future being a bit uncertain, I may just wait a bit before I start it. It’s a great idea, and it forces one to get out and do some shooting and thinking about doing things out of your normal comfort zone, all of which I need to do. Maybe when some immediate concerns get take care of I can concentrate on it better. Feeling just a bit unfocused on photography right now, please excuse the unintentional pun.

However, I had occasion to go to DIA (Denver International Airport) today to drop off a friend. I decided I’d better bring my camera so I could get some images of the famous Demonic Horse. There is quite a backstory on this one, and you can read a bit about it at the following blog: where you can ALSO read about a number of conspiracy theories about DIA that are frankly… well, I’ll let the readers decide for themselves.

I was sort of half thinking that this might be a good image to start with a project 365. It’s kinda different, kinda weird. Nevertheless, I haven’t been able to make myself commit to this sort of project, yet.

The back story on this sculpture is how long ago it was commissioned, vs. how long it took to get delivered, and how it actually killed it’s creator. Now of course, those who want to place some mysterious significance on any event that happens normally in life consider the sculpture haunted. I think its an interesting piece, at 32 feet tall, it really dominates the horizon. It does seem a bit out of place given the type of art, but what do I know from art? At any rate, I present to you, “Blucifer”, aka “DIAblo”, the Demonic Horse of DIA.

HDR, and just what the heck is it anyway?

Like many photographic processing techniques, when many people become aware of it, they have to ‘do it to death’. This is often done as a means of salvaging a bad photo. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because we all do it, including me… Sometimes a really bland looking image can be made…really incredible with the judicious use of some interesting processing. Now, what do I mean by a ‘bad photo’? Badly composed, badly exposed, heads cut off your subjects, etc etc. I repeat, learn the rules of composition before you ‘bend’ them. I’ve often said that you have to know the rules before you break them. Well, maybe ‘bend’ is a better word. When you break compositional concepts, you just end up with a crappy photo more often than not. When you ‘bend’ them, you are often doing something with proven compositional techniques that artistically will make a statement. I may have to try to illustrate that one later. I really meant to continue with the concept of ‘the eye’ in this post, even though I renamed the title to HDR.

HDR is just another one of those tools that one can use to enhance an image. So, just what the heck is HDR anyway. The human eye, in case you hadn’t heard this before, is just an amazing camera. Better than anything Nikon, Canon, or anyone else has been able to create. Some of us get frustrated because we can’t duplicate what we see with our real eyes on our high dollar DSLR. Well, don’t. It won’t happen…not exactly anyway. While modern DSLR’s are getting better and better, nothing has the dynamic range of the Mk I, Mod xx Human Eyeball. Nothing. When we are out and about on our evening walks in our favorite places for said evening walks, and we see something, and think to ourselves…”Self, that would be an amazing photograph”. If we brought our camera along, we try to take that photo, and then when we get home and get it on our computer, we are often…less than enthused with the result. Well, thats because that eyeball has a HUGE dynamic range. We can see all kinds of detail, ranging from the deepest shadows, to the brightest highlights, save when we are looking into direct sunlight when all we can see then is that painful yellow ball. Don’t do that for long or you’ll damage the best camera you’ll ever have.

So you may well ask, Doug…just how do I get a photo that shows all this detail. Well, dear readers, I am here to tell you that you can. It’s just not going to happen with one image, and it’s just not going to happen with out a little extra work. But it can be well worth it.

HDR, is a photographic processing technique that allows you to take bracketed images, and blend them into one image, with hopefully ‘almost’ the dynamic range that our eye can see. What is/are bracketed images you aks? I’m glad you asked. On our wonderful high dollar DSLR’s, and even some higher end point and shoot cameras (I am not denigrating these cameras at all, some are really good!), there is a feature called ‘bracketing’. This is a technique that’s been around for years. Consult your manual for specifics for your particular camera. But…you turn on bracketing, designate how many frames you want in that bracket, designate the light stops in between each bracket (.3, .7 etc.) and then fire away. Technically, you can create a decent HDR with 3 bracketed images. More is better, up to a point, depending on the lighting conditions, depending …. Well, it depends. Experiment. That’s what makes photography FUN! I might also suggest that you use a tripod. It isn’t, strictly speaking, necessary, provided that you are: steady (you want the images to be, essentially, identical, as in the identically framed sujbect). The ability to do this can vary by the levels of light, and the ability of your camera to be handheld. Higher ISO enabled cameras make this easier. If you have an older DSLR that doesn’t give you good noise reduction in low light, particularly at high ISO, then use a tripod at a lower ISO to get a better quality image. /disclaimer off.

OK, so now you’ve got all these bracketed images, now what. You do need some software magic to make this work. There are a few that I am aware of, and that I have used. In no particular order, they are: Photomatix (a very nice program, and easy to use), Adobe Photoshop (Nearly all the CS versions, I believe, do HDR. The newer the better of course), and now, my personal favorite, Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro. All of these are relatively easy to use. If you are already using some of the Nik Software plug ins for Photoshop/Lightroom, this should be a no brainer. Budget conscious folks, may I recommend Photomatix? It too is a powerful tool and easily learned, not terribly expensive either, as far as software goes. I know there are others, Google them, and you will find a metric… er, a lot of them. I am only going to comment on what I know, and that will be HDR Efex Pro at this point. The net result is basically the same, no matter what you use.

The image you see here, was combined from a 7 bracket shot (.3 stops apart) mainly as an experiment to see just how HDR Efex would work, and just how. I had downloaded this plug in, and had as yet, not done anything with it, so I wanted to see just what was up with it. This is basically straight out of HDR Efex, with only a few adjustments in Viveza (brightness, contrast, saturation and structure) applied. The area where I took this set of brackets was, in a word, a bit gloomy that day. I was trying to capture that gloom, and also to capture all the detail in the shadows. After running that range of photos, which ranged from very underexposed, to very overexposed due to bracketing, the software averaged out the exposures into something ‘resembling’ what the Mk I human eyeball ‘saw’. (Actually, it’s what the eye transmits to the Mk 1 Mod xx Human Brain which ‘perceives’ this image. But I digress…)

This was a very reasonable representation of what my eyeballs ‘saw’ that day. But it was what I envisioned in my head that I was after. HDR, in this case, gave me a starting point. In many cases, once an HDR image is created and the aforementioned adjustments made, that you will have the image you wanted. In this case, I was going for…something else.

That something else is what you see here. After the adjustments I mentioned earlier, I applied an ‘effect’, using Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro. I love these plug ins from Nik because they make my workflow so dam easy. Yes, one can replicate these effects in Photoshop alone, by creating layers, blah blah blah…but why? Nik Software does it for you. One may argue that these are ‘canned’ effects and don’t allow you full creativity. Poppycock I say. The adjustments for each of these effects are virtually unlimited, and one can do, pretty much anything you want. For the record, this effect is called “Midnight”. I couldn’t begin to tell you what else I did, because the adjustments are so flexible. I brightened it considerably because the default is quite dark. Would that have worked? Sure, but it wasn’t what I ‘saw’, when I shot this image. This is what I wanted from it, this is what I ‘saw’, and the tools I have made it possible. What more can a photographer ask for?

What is "the Eye"? (cont’d)

Even though black and white is driving me these days, I wanted to compare these photos in some way. These are some pretty tasty colors and contrasts here. It’s a sunrise “golden hour” image made in Grand Isle, LA, where there is some really amazing light during these times, both morning and late afternoon. It’s a place I’ll come back to. I’m particularly happy that this didn’t really need a lot of post production tweaking, except for a bit of color cast removal. All that blue water and sky, etc. My camera is particularly good at this sort of lighting condition, really reaching into the dynamic ranges and laying them down in 1’s and 0’s like no other. To answer the inevitable question, it’s a Nikon D3s, which I love with all my heart. It captures, more often than not, exactly what I am ‘seeing’, and of course, what it see’s as well. No camera sensor made yet, has the dynamic range of the Mark I Eyeball, connected to a brain. That’ll be a scary day when that happens. FYI, for those of you who have heard of HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography, and wondered what it is, it’s a technique that is done through various software manipulations that approximates (or tries to) present to the computer screen (and a print) a representation of that very dynamic range that our eyes/brain sees. Now, the limitations of this are the computer monitor, and the printer which we use to print said image on photographic paper. It gets sorta close, but it’s not exactly accurate. Pet Peeve time: Those who think HDR is that horribly over tone mapped acid trip looking crap (yes, I have strong opinions on this matter). Some think that is what HDR is supposed to look like. Now, I’ll grant anyone artistic license that wants to make some sort of artistic statement using this. However, every Joe Shutterbug out there who has heard of this, has interpreted this to mean that this assault on my retinas is what HDR is ‘supposed to look like’ and there has been a plethora of such hideousness posted on nearly every photo sharing site to share with all their friends and relatives. Please. Learn what it’s supposed to be before you ‘break the rule’. I briefly toyed with the idea of putting up an example of this affront to visual acuity, but I just can’t make myself do it. /rant off/ Sorry to go all Ken Rockwell on you. 😉

OK, tasty black and white time. Again, I’m no Ansel Adams, but I am so happy with how this turned out. Yes, I processed it first as a color image, with lots of tonal range, and then, ‘poof’, ran it through my black and white conversion software (Nik Silver Efex Pro, highly recommended) and after again, very little work, came up with this tasty treat of tonality. Lest I forget why both these images needed little post work, I was using a Singh-Ray LB Color Combo Polarizing filter. Yes, they are pricey…yes they are worth it. No, I am not paid to recommend them, unfortunately. They could pay me in filters and I’d be a happy man. Best ones I’ve ever used.

This is what I ‘saw’ when looking at the color image, and I am happy to report, this is exactly what I was looking for. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.

What is "the Eye"? (cont’d)

A disclaimer here… I never have considered myself to have a lot of artistic sensibility. Until someone pointed out to me that as a photographer, I am an artist. What? Really? Well, that debate raged on in the early years of photography until one day “they” decided that a photographer was indeed an artist. Really now, anyone can point a camera and fire off a photo. In this digital age, it’s even much easier. Crazy easy. There are some pessimists out there who feel that the days of photographic artistry are over, that the days of photojournalism are over, due to the plethora of cameras. Anyone with a cell phone has a camera in their hand. Some of these cameras aren’t even half bad. I personally feel we are on the edge of a whole new era in photography. The new digital SLR’s coming out are in short, astoundingly good. Tony Sweet, a well known pro shooter, has been having tons of fun with his new iPhone…and of course creating some beautiful images with it. To paraphrase John Lennon… “I’m an artist, give me a tuba and I’ll make something out of it”. Yea, it’s also a line from “The Departed” but he really said it.

Well, we all know that the artistry of photography happens…somewhere else. Really it begins in the eye of the photographer. It comes to fruition in the darkroom, whether it be a wet or dry one is irrelevant. Not many people are using wet darkrooms these days. To my regret, I never had the fun of inhaling those chemicals to process my own images. I’ve watched the process and found it fascinating.

These days, I get nearly as much joy out of sitting in front of the computer and processing images as I do out of the shooting. Almost.

The last image I posted here was in color. As I looked at its thumbnail on Facebook, I was suddenly struck with a thought of how it would look in black and white. So here you are, the previously mentioned image, in black and white. While this isn’t quite what I saw, I really wanted to post this to make a point. Your ‘eye’, what you see, your vision, can often change. I’ve had images that I’ve taken in years past, that for one reason or another didn’t speak to me. Then later, something about them, well, did speak to me. Or I remembered why it is that I took that image in the first place. Or I saw another way to process it, according to how I ‘saw’ that image later. Hell if I know. I just saw it differently and said ‘hmmm…’. What I saw, in that color image, was textures, shapes, lines, gradations. It was small enough that the details weren’t overshadowing everything else I guess.

That boys and girls, is yet another aspect of what makes our photographic eye. It’s somewhat of a misnomer, because it starts in our mind, our vision of what we saw, or how we wanted it to be seen by…everyone else. That is art. Who knew?