Tuesday, September 29, 2009

White Balance

Why do people get so het up on white balance - it is absolutely meaningless in your camera if you are shooting RAW and why wouldn't you be?

I leave my camera on auto white balance just so the thumbnails are of a reasonable colour, then when I take the raw file into Camera Raw, use the gray balance dropper (upper left) to neutralize the image. If you happen to have some tones that are supposed to be neutral then you are laughing - this weekend I was shooting white lab coats. More often you won't have a neutral colour. In that case I will do one of two things, play with the colour temperature slider (top right) or I will use the gray balance dropper on the most neutral colour I can find, then make small adjustments to the colour temperature sliders (there are two, a main one and a cyan/magenta one).

Once in Photoshop, one can do an Auto Colour in the Image menu or do a curves adjustment layer, using the gray balance dropper once again on the most neutral colour. Here I can use the layer opacity slider to tone back the colour effect and often this is just exactly what is needed to get the colour adjustment where I want it.

There are many other ways to colour balance - this is simply the method that works for me.

Tilting LCD

I was very sorry to see that the recent Canon 7D did not come with a tilting LCD screen. I have no ambition to shoot movies but Michael Reichmann mentions on Luminous Landscape that a tilting LCD is really essential for shooting video - after all the viewfinder is blacked out.

For myself, I'd find it great for low and high shots and some of those awkward positions we sometimes find ourselves in, camera jambed between a rock and a hard place, and no room for my eye behind the viewfinder - ok, it's an industrial thing - between a pipe and a ledge, right?

Anyway, I'm curious about how other people feel about a tilting LCD screen - let me know what you think - and just to guage interest level - how many of you would be willing to pay an extra $100 for a model that did have a good tilting swinging screen?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Commercial Assignments

Occasionally I have taken on a commercial assignment. A few years ago I shot Mount Royal College. There were no questions about who owned the images - I did, and I simply charged for the images produced, the prints made. I have used those images in my first book and any time the college wants to use the images in a new way, they need to get my permission and I charge accordingly. It was an arrangement that worked well for both parties.

This last weekend however, I was asked by one of my patients to handle an industrial assignment - they are redesigning their website. I was escorted and had access to the entire complex, inside and out.

It was clear from the start that they wanted to control the images, that I could not use these images for my own purposes - not unreasonable because that's what they were paying for. In fact, I did ask that if I were to find something of artistic merit, would it be possible to get permission to use specific images. Already I have found two that I would like to show you, to make prints, to publish or even to sell.

You might be wondering why I'd even agree to such an arrangement which could limit my use of the images. Simple. They wouldn't agree to the assignment under any other terms - take it or leave it. Actually they didn't say that, but it was understood.

Some time ago I was photographing a log pile and the plant manager was concerned that his competition could do a log inventory on the basis of my images and so he wouldn't let us into the middle of the plant but did let us photograph from the driveway - given the speed those log carriers whipped round corners with gigantic loads, I was very happy to be where I was thank you very much.

I was refused access to ADM flour mill - apparently there are proprietary methods and machines which they don't want their competitors to see.

In the case of this weekend, the largest concern was of inadvertently photographing a safety issue, not because they are careless, rather the contrary, because they are very aware of safety and rule issues and work hard to have a good plant, but human beings being what they are, anyone can make a mistake now and again and a photograph taken at just the wrong moment before someone else catches the mistake could create problems for the plant. I fully sympathize and simply hope that the images that I particularly like and want access to are not ones to raise any concerns.

When presenting a customer with images, it really isn't practical to hand over 1000 unedited full resolution images which might require 40 DVD's or their own hard drive. You can either set up an action in Photoshop or the equivalent in Lightroom to process the images to small jpegs and put those on a single CD, or you can publish the images to a private website, password protected for client use. In the case of my weekend customer, head office is elsewhere and so publishing to a private website makes the most sense.

You probably don't want to give your customer every image - why should they have to plow through all your mistakes or closed eyes or whatever. In fact, what I'm doing is I have gone through every image taken so far (900 or so) and marked them in Bridge as being either useable or not (zero or one score). I am now in the process of editing the one score images and saving them to a separate folder. So far I have corrected colour balance, perspective, and tonality on about 100 images, selecting the best of the one score images, and I'm about half way through. Anything for printing will likely need more editing work, but these edits are useable already. Some are cropped but keep in mind that clients often need to do their own cropping to specific shapes and so coming in really tight on the subject is going to create problems for them - one thing to crop out something that spoils the image, another to eliminate excess sky or wall when it might just be handy.

I swore that as soon as I was finished with my second book (that was last week), I'd start to switch over to Lightroom with suitable keywords for searching for my several thousand images, but it looks like it might be after this assignment. I may have to get tough on myself.

Before accepting an assignment, make sure that both parties understand who is going to hold the original files, have publishing rights to them and who is going to get printing done. For my assignment this weekend I am simply charging for my time and have given them some sample prints 13X19 on epson enhanced matte - relatively cheap, easy to stack feed, easy to look at in any light. They are welcome to pin them to the wall but have already warned them that before spending money on framing and whatnot, I'd recommend they let me make "final" prints with more editing and care in printmaking. Still, they served to let the customer know where he stands in terms of useable quality.

Anyway, these are issues you need to consider if you contemplate taking on a commercial assignment.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Abstract In Cracked Paint

Found a dumpster with interesting patterns of rust and cracked paint this afternoon. Once the image was recorded, the biggest question was where to crop.

Shot it with my 70-200 f 4 IS at f 11, using live view instead of mirror lock up - no initial shutter opening to shake the camera. If extended use of live view causes problems, they have been too small for me to see, but I have not done any formal testing.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tilt And Shift Lenses

I quite often use my 90 ts-e lens and you might reasonably wonder how important is it that one purchase a tilting lens. Perhaps you don't even know how they work but are curious.

Canon and Nikon and Hartblei sell lenses that tilt or tilt and shift. Many people are under the impression that lens tilt increass depth of field. This is incorrect. Tilting a lens does not add any depth of field at all, it just changes the plane of focus. In a normal photographic situation, when you focus a lens at 10 feet, there is a spot 10 feet directly in front of the lens which is sharp, and usually the area of sharpness extends left, right, up and down perpendicular (90 degrees) to the line from the lens to the centre of the image focussed at 10 feet. This invisible wall is usually flat but sometimes curves nearer at the edges as a flaw often seen in wide angle lenses (my 17-40 certainly has a curved plane of focus, focussing nearer at the edges and corners of the image. Anything in front of the plane of focus (that invisible wall) is progressively more and more out of focus the further from the "wall". The same thing happens behind the wall (ie. further away).

It is possible however to take that invisible wall, the plane of sharp focus, and tilt it in any direction we want. If the thing we are photographing is relatively two dimensional, ie. all in the same plane, it should be possible to shift the plane of focus to match the plane within which the subject lies.

So, for example, if in the foreground we have some short plants, in the middle distance some medium height flowers and in the background some tall ones, the flowers (but not the bases of the plants) lie more or less in a single plane from near low to far high, and it would sometimes be helpful to change the plane of focus to match the position of the flowers. This is what happens when we tilt the lens.

If I tilt the lens downwards, it is at an angle to the sensor or film instead of being parallel to it. The distance from centre of lens to top of sensor is now larger, the distance from centre of lens to bottom of sensor is shorter. As shorter distsances focus further and longer distances between lens and sensor focus nearer (think extension tubes to focus close), you now have a situation in which the top of the sensor focuses far, the bottom near. Remember of course that the image is upside down on the sensor so what is really happening is that the low foreground is focused sharply on the top of the sensor, the far high background flowers are sharp on the bottom of the sensor. Since the middle distance flowers are also on the same tilted plane, they too are sharp.

What isn't sharp is anything that lies above or below this tilted plane - so the bases of the plants are blurred, and any plant that is exceptionally tall compared to the others will also stick up out of the plane of focus and the stem will be sharp but neither base nor flower will be in focus. At wide apertures this can look quite bizarre, but with a small f stop, the unimportant parts are sufficiently sharp that the odd plane of focus isn't problematic.

In table top photography especially, it can be very effective using wider apertures and a tilted plane of focus, sometimes keeping the plane vertical but tilting it from parallel with the sensor so it is near on one side and far on the other.

When photographing landscapes with a tilting lens, the amount of tilt needed to shift the plane of focus from vertical to nearly horizontal can be very small, fractions of a degree. On the other hand, in close up photography, you can run out of tilt quite easily.

Focusing into the corners of an SLR image has always been problematic - at least until live view with magnification came into place. The ability to place the area of magnification anywhere in the image means that you can check absolutely that the plane of focus is exactly where you want, and at least on my Canon 5D2, you can stop down and confirm that the depth of field on either side of the tilted plane of focus is sufficient to handle any important part of the subject which projects above or below the tilted plane.

With my 90 ts-e lens, the tilt does not exactly centre on the sensor and so there is some shift in the image as you tilt, which will require reframing the image (or using the shift). I usually just do a minor reframing.

Given that focus blending with Helicon Focus does in fact result in greater depth of field and copes beautifully with three dimensional subjects (that don't lie in one plane) the obvious question is - so what's the point of a tilting lens?

The advantages are several and may or may not be important to you.

1) there is some loss of resolution in focus blending - not a lot, but perhaps enough that if a tilt will do the job, then it may be preferable. Mind you since any lens can focus blend...

2) you can stitch with tilting for higher resolution images where this would take a huge number of images in a combination focus blend stitch.

3) With tilting, you see what you are going to get.

4) Tilting can be used with shallow depth of field to blur areas of the image. This can be done to some degree with focus blending but in different ways.

I quite often use the shift ability of my 90 mm. lens to do a stitch, shifting the lens one direction and the body by and equal amount in the opposite direction to capture a series of three images (left, right and centre) to make a square image which would otherwise have required a crop - so instead of a 3000X3000 pixel image, I get a 5000X5000, which does make a significant difference, to wit prints that are 67% longer on a side. This is the difference between a 10X10 print and a 16X16 print.

I don't tend to use the shift capability for correcting perspective very often, preferring to correct perspective in Photoshop, though a recent demonstration of loss of resolution in the stretched part of the image was impressive - at least in theory - in practice, I have not noticed substantial quality issues in my usual print sizes (13X19) even when stretching a 17 mm. image (ie. severely leaning backwards).

I like my 90 for its close focusing and high resolution, but I probably wouldn't rush to buy it again, now that I'm happily focus blending. Then again, I sure wouldn't mind having one of those new 24 ts-e II lenses - so who knows. not going to pay $2500 for one any time soon.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Camera Height

We naturally see the world from eye height. Of course, children do too, just not the same eye height. It is so easy and natural to take photographs from eye height that shooting from any other height takes some conscious effort. Even with a tripod, it seems natural to crank the legs to eye height and set up the camera.

Not that many years ago, people photographed with twin lens reflexes which naturally worked best at waist level and the viewpoints offered were often very effective.

The downside to photographing from really low is that you can't avoid capturing a lot of foreground which invariably is out of focus (unless you are using focus blending or a tilting lens). Perhaps more importantly things like grasses get in the way of seeing the subject.

However, there are lots of times that a blurred foreground isn't a problem, that a low position isn't comprommised by tall grasses and the view of the subject with a plain sky background can be very effective.

Bottom line is that we should ask ourselves with every shot - what is the most effective height?

Sometimes the best height is two feet above eye level - do you travel with a small stool to shoot from a high position - might be a good idea.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Emphasizing The Important

What we see in a scene may not be what the viewer of our images takes away from the print. It is therefore important to use our skill to direct the viewer to how we want them to "read" the image, where to look first, and what to concentrate on.

We can choose subject (or at least an example of this subject) which tends to stand out from the surrounding and background. We can wait for or supply lighting that emphasizes what we feel is important. Often however, this kind of viewer direction doesn't come to us until we are editing the image (even though it would have been better to consider this from the start).

A light object against a dark background stands out, as does a dark object against light, though perhaps not to quite the same degree. A blurred background helps emphasize the important while a cluttered fairly sharp background is a nightmare for emphasizing the important. However, by reducing the contrast in the less important parts of the image, while also darkening them, we stand good chance of emphasizing the important.

While deliberately blurring a large background (or foreground) often looks artifical, done subtly or in small areas it can be useful. More importantly, you could deliberately only add sharpening to the important elements of the image. Of course, it would have been better in the first place to have given yourself a choice, one shot at f16, another at 5.6 so you could choose the best effect for this image.

Occasionally a very odd looking Curve adjustment layer can be very effective ad de-emphasizing parts of the image. The same curve might look horribly unnatural for another image but works for this one - you just have to experiment.

Local contrast enhancement is exactly what you don't probably want to do to the things you don't want emphasized, but doing it to the important parts can be very helpful. By the same token though, using local contrast to lighten shadows and tone down highlights can, if carefully applied, reduce distraction from bright highlights and deep shadows, even though there is more texture there.

Careful tonal adjustment of the important objects can render them more three dimensional and therefore more noticable.

We often use lines in our compositions - a fallen log, a linear shadow, or whatever to direct the eye of the viewer from one part of the image to the next. Sometimes the "object" used isn't obvious enough and lightening the whole thing can be helpful or even better is to use Dodge Highlights to highlight part of the object to emphasize the line. Adding highlights to the important elements can really help them stand out, without having to change the overall tone of the object. Dodge Highlights, if done well, can create highlights where there were none before.

The goal of all this image manipulation must be that the viewer isn't even aware that it ever happened. Too often, things are taken too far - if a little bit of dodging or burning is good, then a lot must be wonderful - well, no, it doesn't work that way. The viewer doesn't want to feel manipulated, doesn't need to have a sense of fakery, Not all skies have to look like the end of the world is nigh.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Vincent de Groot

Check out the street and portrait photography of Vincent de Groot, made during his travels - some very nice work. Perhaps we can encourgage him to write about how he approaches all these fascinating people.

Back Photographing

The book is off to the printer - too late to change anything, no point in worrying so guess what - I want to photograph again - and blog.

Several very old oak barrel planters were no longer in use and sat out this summer drying. I liked the texture in the barrel but also the stack of them with a wooden picnic table leaning against the background.

Shot this morning with my 5D2, live view, focus blending and somewhat cropped.
I had to increase contrast to make the uploaded jpeg look good - was fine before in Photoshop, hope it looks right to you.

Don't forget, as usual, you can click on the image to see it substantially larger in its own window.

Friday, September 18, 2009


It seems such a waste to purchase a large printer only to make a smaller image on a more expensive large piece of paper - but damn it, the images look so much nicer if we are handling the prints, pinning them to the wall, placing them in a folio or just thumbing through a stack. With my 13X19 prints and larger I normally use about 2 inches of white on the long sides, more on the ends - obviously depending on the aspect ratio of the image.

For me, a nicer print beats a larger print. What are your thoughts?

Thursday, September 17, 2009


As photographers we tend to photograph things, or people, but what about dedicating yourself to photographing colour - combined with shallow depth of field or even with the use of a wide open lensbaby, this could be a very interesting project. You might not become famous, or rich, or even get published (though you never know), but you could create a lovely set of images. Think of either a series of small framed prints for a wall or a folio of 8.5X11 prints with generous white borders - could be lovely - get to it. Time to haul out that "normal" l=50 mm. f 1.4 lens you never use any more.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

No Need To Avoid Flaws

It might be an interesting idea to deliberately work with the flaws in our normal imaging systems - flare, dirty lenses, out of focus, distortion, exaggerated perspective, areas that have been driven to pure white or complete black, super low contrast or almost two tone.

Can you think of a project in which you might take advantage of one or more of these normally avoided flaws? Hmmm?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

All Your Eggs In One Basket

The editing and image processing for my second book is almost at an end and it should be at the printer within the week (please) and it's time to think about photography again. One of the things I'm going to do is to make sure that I have more than one project in mind. There will be days when any given project isn't practical - wrong conditions, not enough time, lack of inspiration, subject not available, who knows. Further, any project that you involve yourself in intensively tends to come to an end at some point. Certainly that was the situation with Independent Machinery - after about 17 visits, I felt I had done what I could do. Doesn't mean that I might not check back with them a year later to see "what's up" but for all intents and purposes it has wound down. If you don't have some ideas or already a prolonged project on the go, then you could be in trouble.

For example, I'm starting a project on wind - capturing things that move in the wind - whether it be plants or flags or clouds or hair or water, but obviously that requires windy days, so I'll need a minimum of one and far more likely several other short or long term projects to keep me going.

How many projects do you have on the go at one time, both long and short term? Do you ever find yourself frustrated with nothing worth photographing?