Thursday, April 17, 2014


Happened to notice the tarnish on this tea spoon, so parked it in the cupboard for later. I photographed it with the A7r, 90 mm. tse, tilted and with a 30 mm. extension tube. The whole thing vibrated in the wind, and I was pushing it with the 2 second self timer to settle that quickly and not be influenced by shutter shake but it seemed to work out fine - only the centre is in focus. I shot two images at different exposures and blended them manually to avoid the washout of highlights at the base of the spoon.

The background was blurred with a gaussian blur on a separate layer, then masked back, then I did the same again, only using lighten so only the lighter pixels would smear, and masked much of that from the centre of the image.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A7r Photographing People

I had an interesting opportunity on the weekend at the local model train show (where we help kids build cardboard train stations as well as give lectures on basic model railroading). There's lots of opportunity to photograph the fellows helping cute kids construct the stations. On Saturday I brought the A7r, 55 FE 1.8, and the 70-200 Canon L IS. Interestingly the latter worked better than the former, using manual focus to get eyelashes sharp. With the wider angle of the 55 and very poor autofocus.  I hadn`t expected greatness, but considering the indoor soccer centre was decently bright, was more than disappointed with the number of failures (about 3/4 of the images).

So the next day I came with my Nikon D800E and 70-200 f4 lens and autofocused without problem and nailed the eyelashes 3/4 of the time which I thought very reasonable. When it came time to actually edit the images, though, shooting at ISO 6400 (ok, maybe it was darker than I realized but kids move fast) and wide open or at most f5.6, image quality definitely suffered. There isn't a fix for this currently - just a fact of life. The problem was less one of ISO than depth of field.

Now, the real reason for this 'test' was to see how the A7r would handle indoors photographing artists and musicians (part of our holiday) and the bad news is, NOT WELL.

The A7r would be absolutely fine for formal portraits, less fine for casual people pictures and hopeless for photographing indoor soccer (or equivalent).

Interestingly, I also had a particular model mine I wanted to photograph on Sunday so brought my tripod for the D800e - and after a couple of weeks with the A7r, what a pain using the D800. The viewfinder was dim. I switched to live view and had to put up with the terrible image on the lcd, swimming aaround, even after I turned of IS, and of approximately 200K visual information, vs. the 2.4 meg of information in the Sony Viewfinder.

I'm going to love the A7r for my landscape and industrial work.

I'm going to be interested to see how the A6000 does when it gets properly tested as using the same lenses and at 24 MP, it might be all I really need for the weekend's work in which case I can get rid of the Nikon.

My casual impression (looking at images on screen at 100%) is that shutter shake on the A7r with the battery grip is not a significant issue, and the bulk of the battery grip still makes the camera smaller and lighter than the D800e without battery grip.

Once again I have to say I was impressed with the 10-18 on the A7r - would I recommend someone deliberately run out and buy one for the A7r - NO, but if you have one already, for sure - and I'm not going to carry a separate ultrawide.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A7r and 10-18

There's lots of talk on the net about the 10-18 covering all of the full frame sensor of the A7r - with examples showing distortion and poor resolution at the corners. I went out to the garden yesterday and made an image, at 16 mm., no vignetting but definite blurring along the far sides. I did some checking and cropping and bottom line is if one trims the image to square, resolution is superb to the corners, this on a 24 inch square print.inspected from 8 inches away.

My intention to carry a large and heavy ultrawide is definitely on hold for now. Too bad the A7r can't be cropped in camera to square - now that's a firmware update I'd pay for, and maybe 4X5 ratio with this lens.

The widest view combined with a reasonable number of pixels is a 2:3 crop of 22 megapixels at 12 mm.

Given the small size and extremely light weight of the 10-18 - it will make an ideal travel lens for me this summer when I go to Newfoundland.

The Canon 70-200 L IS lens works great on magnified manual focus, and the IS is great - very sharp pictures at 1/60 and 200 mm. - perhaps that battery grip is helping shutter shake as much as some people say - anyway - works for me.

I have the 55 FE 1.8 native lens, and now just need something between a cropped 12 which is probably about 15 mm. equivalent, and the 55.

The sensible thing is probably the native 35 f2.8 since I don't need another fast lens, and perhaps a 24. I might lug the 24 Tse, but it's quite a weight on the A7r.

Anyway, in the mean time I will have no hesitation to use the 10-18 on serious landscape work.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Power Pole

After considerable debate and a lot more research, I decided to purchase the Sony A7r and 55 mm. lens and battery grip. I didn't yet have an L plate (or any plate) for the camera but I rested it on top of the tripod and held it lightly in place while making this image. I was inside the pole that was lying on the ground waiting for installation. The light at the other end is in fact simply reflection from the end I'd crawled into. I could walk stooped over it was so big.

I'll be commenting on the A7r experience in the next few weeks as I get used to it - things like how big a deal is shutter shake, does the battery grip solve that problem, what about the compressed raw files and how does the camera handle. Is autofocus fast enough, and for what, and what about other lenses on the camera?

I have a metabones Canon adapter for my Nex so will be using the few Canon lenses I hung onto - my 24tse, 90 tse and 70-200 f4 L IS.

I then have to make the decision on what to do with the Nikon equipment, some of which at least will need to be sold to pay off the A7r.

Impressions so far:

1) the camera is a delight to use.
2) I wish the image magnify button was somewhere not next to my eye and glasses.
3) images at 100% look crunchy - def. very artificial compared to the images with the D800e.
4) Live view is infinitely better than on the Nikon, probably the single biggest reason for going ahead with the purchase.

Stay tuned for more objective assessments.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Pathway Ice

Walked past this as I was looking for a train photo, but while waiting for the train, started to look around and found this rather inconspicuous scene. Shot with Nex-7 and 55-210 hand held.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sunday, March 09, 2014

High Key Images And Snow and Ice In Particular

Mike wrote:

I really enjoy your high key B+W images, but have had no luck at creating my own. Would you be willing to share your technique or direct me to other resources where I can learn how??

I do have some techniques to increase the chance of good high key images, which often involve pictures of ice and snow.

Here's the steps I take:

1) Use the highlight control to increase detail in the white and light areas by moving it to the left in Lightroom or Camera Raw

 without the highlight slider moved to the left.

and with the highlight slider moved left, and the shadows slider moved a little right.

The next step is to do normal editing on the image, adjusting tones as needed. In this particular case, there isn't anything I want to do to the image before applying Akvis Enhancer that opens shadows and increases separation in the highlights. The Clarity slider dose the same thing though more to midtones than either highlights or shadows, so most often if I think I'm going to need Akvis Enhancer, I will not use any clarity at all.

and here we have Enhancer applied then toned down to 72% of effect - just because I usually find the full effect a bit too much, and with any further editing the risk is to look cartoonish.

The next step is to make sure that the image pushes the boundaries of white. I do this by adding a threshold layer, set to 250. What this does is to turn to black all pixels darker than 250 on the 0-255 scale, while leaving the rest as is.

In order to see the underlying image - and know where to work - I then turn down the opacity of this threshold layer so the image is peeking through, and we have:

 there are literally only a few pixels out of the entire image that even approach pure white - definitely going to produce a muddy image when printed, even though because of the brightness, it looks fine on screen.

The next step is to add a layer under the Threshold Layer, a Curves Adjustment Layer, in which I move the top right point in the curve to the left (ie.  producing a steeper straight line). This has the effect of driving light pixels closer to white, and I don't mind going a bit past that point because I'll mask this layer after. How far to the left? To taste, experience, and not driving most of the ice over the top. Say, about this much:

The next step is to add a white mask to this Curves Adjustment Layer so I can reduce the intensity of the layer as and where I want. I then paint into the white mask with black, opacity somewhere between 10-30% opacity on the 'black paint'. To know how to do this, I use a combination of with the Threshold layer and without, so I can see how effectively I control those over the top whites (with the Threshold layer visible) and how realistic the tonalities are (with the Threshold Layer invisible (uncheck the box to the left of the layer).

And we have the above after turning off the threshold. Now we have the brightness we want, though the detail and tonality of the ice is a little lacking. I now use a Curves Adjustment layer, a sagging curve with the biggest change in the highlights to increase the contrast in the highlights further. I did this locally first, then decided I hadn't done enough and created a second sagging curve of the same shape, but applied globally and then used the opacity slider for the layer to adjust to taste and we have:

You might be tempted to think that all we've done is to go back to the step before I added the threshold layer, but not quite - there is a lot more detail and texture in the ice now - but I do agree, it's back to being too dark.

So, one more step. I flatten the image and duplicate it in a second image layer (you drag the image from the image layer down to the second icon from the right (the create new layer icon) and voila, two image layers - one I can mess with all I want, because I've a virgin copy underneeth.

So, what am I going to do with this extra image layer - I'm going to use the dodge highlights tool (Dodge tool, with Highlights selected in the submenu above the image window, and set to 5% opacity). With this, I'm going to bring back the glow to the highlights, and yes, I'm going to use that threshold layer again (I have it as an action - threshold at 250, opacity on the layer to 85%).

Again I'm turning on the Threshold layer to make sure I didn't drive large areas to pure white, while turning it off to check for overall tonality. Once you have a few small areas that barely get to 250, it's pretty easy to adjust the rest of the image to match.

At this point, it's worth taking a break and coming back the next day, as it's easy to carry this too far. Notice I did a bit of dodge highlights on the rock and it looks as if a little stray sunlight made it in, the rocks are now significantly more three dimensional. Think of dodge highlights as liquid sunshine, to be applied to taste. The dodging brush is applied quite uneavenly.

this rather bizarre image is the result of the dodging highlights, then applying difference blend mode to the dodged layer relative to the virgin layer below, and the result lightened a bit so you could see it better. This is just to show you the parts of the image that were dodged - black indicates no dodging was done. Note the different intensities of dodging, and also where I dodged, following the flow or edges or highlights of the ice, while leaving the recessed parts of the ice alone - further enhancing the three dimensional effect. Again you can see the rather intense amount of dodging done to the background rock to get the sunlight effect. Sometimes dodging the rock can result in splotchy lighter areas so I now tone that back (by masking out the dodged layer in those splotchy areas, and I have the final result for tonight. I took about an hour to make all these adjustments as well as write the article as well as save the various generations. Normally I'd spend twice that long just doing the editing - but as you can see, even rushed and a bit carelessly, the result is still effective.

As usual, don't forget to click on the blog images to see them larger so you can get a better idea of texture.  This technique can be taken way too far, and I have learned over time not to get too carried away (most of the time) and still sometimes have to start over.

So Mike, are you sorry you asked? What do people think - too far, over the top, or worth while?

Seebe Dam

Eric suggested an excursion, and he, Erna, Ken and I headed out to the Seebe dam, or to be more accurate, to below the dam. I'd not been there despite driving past it many times. It was extremely windy and tripods blew over and I did most of the day hand holding my Nex-7 and whatever lens. In this case, the 55-210, f11, and a 5 image stitch.