Monday, December 30, 2013

My Best Images Of 2013

The above four images are from a new project, photographing storefronts and street scenes. Not sure where it will go. So far its been shot with my Nikon 800E, Sony Nex-7 and Panasonic GH2. No saying what's next.


And the above three from my ongoing abstract series.

Two from my garden, one from the back alley, and the last from a flower arrangement.

and I need to show that I still take black and white seriously.

and a few other images from the year. Don't forget that as usual, you can click on the image to see it larger.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What Is It About Me And Propellers?

Also from Granville Island. Nex-7, Zeiss 16-70, tripod and base ISO.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Colour from Granville Island


These were shot with the Nex-7 Sunday morning before flying home.


Two pictures from last weekend's trip to Vancouver. The first is on Granvill Island and shot with my Panasonic GH2 , the second with my Nex-7 on UBC campus. I was on a shoot with my daughter who's deciding what camera she would like to work with.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Thoughts On Camera Systems

Just back from Vancouver and while there I did my first serious shooting with the Nex-7 and came away with some definite likes and dislikes.

I'm delighted with the Zeiss 16-70 - yes, I'd prefer a 10X zoom but not if it meant compromising quality. I have no need for a faster lens (f4) even if I can imagine situations in which shallow depth of field would be handy.

Two things did frustrate me about the camera - firstly that because it has a tilting LCD but not swinging, it simply doesn't work when the camera is vertical - do camera designers not realize we shoot vertical pictures?

The second issue is that like my Nikon D800E, the Sony does live view (the only mode it has) with the lens stopped down - fine for previewing depth of field, hopeless for trying to accurately focus.

CORRECTION: this incorrect. If you turn off preview exposure, you also start using wide open aperture for focusing. Why the two should be linked is a bit odd, and it isn't clearly documented that this is what happens, but it does - so I lose exposure preview in return for proper focusing.

Now normally on the D800E I shoot in manual mode, which means that to open up the lens I also have to adjust the shutter speed to correct for too bright a screen when focusing - at least with the Sony, I only had to adjust one knob to focus and adjust it back to expose - that's handy enough I might just start using the Nikon on Aperture priority. It would be so much nicer though if there were  a simple button that I could press once to focus and either let go to return to the exposing aperture or press once to focus, and again to return.

On returning home last night I checked my GH2 and noted that it works like the Canon, working at maximum aperture till actually taking the picture.

I don't know if there is any way to set up the Nex-7 to do things differently. Could this also be an issue for the A7 and A7R?  SEE ABOVE CORRECTION.

I really wish the Nex-7 had a more painless way to turn on and off image stabilization and manual focus rather than dipping into menus and hoping you remember which main category has those. I think I might be able to set the menu to manual focus and override with the switch/button on the back to temporarily auto focus, but you can't do it the other way - once in auto focus, you can't go manual.

I much prefer having the is/no is on the body or on the lens.

Image quality from the Nex is excellent and I'd be loathe to give up such a small kit. At the moment I have the 10-18, the Zeiss 16-70 and the Sigma 60 but I think I'll replace that with the 55-210 for the occasional longer shot. This would give me a very flexible kit in a very lightweight small package, ideal for flying with - I worry that one of these days they are going to try wedging my Nikon backpack into their little frame and it won't come out and I won't be able to fly with it - airlines are definitely getting tougher.

Will I switch from the Nex because of my frustrations - almost certainly not. I could switch to a 24 MP DSLR like a Canon 70D or 7D2, but I'd take a hit on size and that was the whole point of this kit.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Progress On eBook

Thanks for those suggestions. Yes, Blurb does do ebooks but it looked all too much like the print book, with left and right hand pages and small images - needed work. I'm going to explore Craft And Vision further, and get their current magazine.

In the mean time, progress has been made. Still haven't reached the tutorial on character and paragraph styles but on a hunch I took my ebook and forced the basic paragraph style on the text and lo, it's a lot closer to what I intend, a big step forward. Stay tuned...

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Well, I have a fourth book almost ready. It's been printed in Blurb and frankly, that makes it impractical to purchase for most - it's a 12 inch square book, 154 pages, 71 images, hard cover and by the time you ship, you're looking at $140 - ridiculous.

So, I'm exploring self publishing but distribution is a nightmare, with discounts and returns and shipping costs it's probably not going to fly.

Therefore, I have to look at ebooks. Well, that's a pain. So far I have explored iBooks Author but not only does it tie you to Apple and iBooks and them taking 30%, but design isn't as simple as I'd thought. So I looked at InDesign. I probably wouldn't have paid for it but it comes with my Photoshop CC subscription so I tried that - both with scratch design and templates - but what I get looks nothing like what I design - clearly I have some learning to do. So I read that Pages can export to epub - and you know what - it ain't bad. Not at all what I wanted, but quite functional - pictures are surrounded by text, but when you double click on them they go to full screen, minus the closure bar at the top that hides the last half inch of image, and you can make that go away with a single click - now the images look great on my iPad retina, and this could be workable, but I don't like that the closure bar hides part of the image - it's rather like having to remind you guys that to see the images in this blog properly, you have to click on them, then they come up full size - and I add a reminder in the text every so often - too often for some and probably not often enough for others.

So I signed up to and am about half way through some 13 hours of tutorials on using InDesign - I've learned all manner of things, except so far, not how to make an epub look like what I want - hopefully that comes soon. I understand the secret is in character and paragraph styles and how they are applied, and we haven't got to that yet.

I hope to have a small test epub in the next few weeks for you to download. I'm also exploring ways to sell the full and final epub - on iBooks or more likely on another site. That too is complicated - believe it or not, to use iBooks, I have to register with the U.S. government so they can track any money made by me, a Canadian, which puts me right off to begin with.

I wonder if I can find a Canadian based site that will handle e-commerce and file downloading for me. I wonder if Apple would allow a free iBook that shows part of the book and refers people to my website, which would then let them purchase the full book. All very complicated.

In a a way, I'm not surprised it's this hard - I know that several ebooks that I have purchased or downloaded for free really don't work seamlessly with my iPad - I have to move text around to see it because it was not set up for the iPad specifically.

If this InDesign thing works out, I'll eventually arrange for ebooks for not only the iPad but other devices as well.

I'm going to get this if it kills me!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Oven Edited Further

 Wayne suggested the centre dark area be lightened, something I agreed with. This is the result of my edits today seen above, next is the mask used to make the adjustments and note that I changed a lot more than just the centre dark area, and blow that is the image before and finally the adjustment curve that works with the mask to produce the image above. Did I take it too far - only time and repeated viewings of the print will help me decide.


Sunday, November 03, 2013

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

This is the latest iteration of my back of the pudding oven image, here a bit darker in the shadows and a fair bit darker in the highlights. I now have a 48 inch print hanging on my office wall and still think it looks like something the Hubble would have photographed.

Incidentally, I shot this with the Zeiss 50 mm. f2 macro and the image at 4 feet is nose on sharp without seeing any sharpening artifacts - this image at 100% on screen looks like any other image at no magnification it's that good. True, an even tougher test would be distant treeleaves but damn, if I can make 4 foot wide prints, why would I ever need anything more. Glad I didn't go for the Pentax 645D even though it's a very nice camera, and even more so, not for a used Phase One.

Once again, don't forget to enjoy the image at max. size - no it's not 100% mag. but it will better fill your screen. 

Zeiss 16-70 mm. For Nex-7

My Zeiss zoom for my Nex-7 arrived yesterday and I made a bunch of shots in the snow and found that it made nice contrasty images, very sharp near the centre. I then decided to test on the proverbial brick wall but forgot to turn off image stabilization (which by the way seems to work very nicely). I've just finished a second batch of tests with IS off (too bad it isn't easy to find (it's in setup, not camera).

Anyway, what I have discovered fits with much of what has been said and shown on the internet. Wide open the lens is exceptionally sharp in an image circle that reaches to top and bottom of the horizontal image but doesn't reach to the left and right edges (and definitely not the corners). Is this satisfactory for a 5X zoom, wide open (albeit f4)? I think so - most kit lenses aren't nearly as sharp or contrasty in the centre wide open and when zoomed half way to longest are already working at f 5.6 so I'm satisfied. The extent of the sharp image is sufficient for everything but landscape and architecture and those are rarely shot at f4 anyway unless you want a blurred background and likely don't care about the corners anyway.

At f11, critically sharp extends to the sides of the horizontal image and only the furthest corners aren't quite sharp - a lot better than wide open, and probably not even noticeable in a 13X19 print.

To interpret the following images, you MUST click on the image to see at full size.  Captions are below the images. I inadvertantly left the lens at 18 mm. instead of the max. wide of 16. ISO was 100, focus was magnified manual at f4 (too hard to focus at f11, especially at the wide end - too much depth of field - remember that like my Nikon D800e and NOT like my previous Canon 5D2 and 3, live view focus (and in the case of the Nex-7 viewfinder focus too) is at stopped down aperture.

 Bottom left at 70 mm. f4

 Two Thirds of the way out to upper left corner at 18 mm., f4

 two thirds of the way out, 70 mm. f4

Extreme upper left corner at 18 mm.  f4 and you can see that there is considerable difference even in this small crop - the lower right corner of the crop is already quite decent and is well out to the corner as you can see in the full image below.

 Full image at 18 mm., note I did not correct distortion.

 And the full image at 70 mm.


It won't replace my Sigma 60 that is tack sharp wide open right to the corner for critical work, but given it's a zoom that isn't much bigger, covers almost 5X range and has image stabilization, I'm quite pleased with the lens and will be keeping it. Is it the best zoom ever? No. But at $1100 which is less than half the cost of my recently purchased (and damn good) Nikon 24-70, I think Zeiss got it right - noticeably better than Sony's kit zoom lenses for the Nex (18-55 or 16-50). As a walk around lens, it's plenty sharp where it matters and as a backup camera for serious work, f11 provides the resolution to make 16X24 prints of any subject.

Why did I purchase the 16-70 when the Alpha 7R has already been announced? Wouldn't it make more sense to use the newer camera and its lenses. The answer is size and versatility - I already have the 7, and it's sig. smaller than the 7R, and the lenses even smaller. I will now carry in my small cloth bag I like so much the 16-70, 10-18 and the Sigma 60 though I could see replacing that with the announced Zeiss 50 macro since I don't have really close performance with the current kit - but this is pretty low priority given this is my walk around kit.

Actually, I'm quite impressed with the close focus of the Zeiss 16-70 - no it's not for photographing bugs some prerelease images notwithstanding but at just over a foot at all focal lengths, it's not bad at all.

I don't think I could even get the Alpha 7R into my new camera case, and probably not the lenses either other than the 35. No, I think I have made the right decision. Now that I can access the PSAM 'dial' by centre press of the back dial, the lack of a real dial for same doesn't bother me nearly as much.

I need to explore custom menus more to see if I can move image stabilization somewhere more convenient - oh yes, and white balance and formatting cards.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Fall Leaves, Catch Em While You Can

I wandered around the garden yesterday, photographing with both the D800E and my Nex-7 - adaptor and the Nikon fit 35 mm. Lensbaby Composer. I then extended my search to the back lane and found this interesting plant across the alley. Timing was everything as there was no wind at all and I was able to use the D800E, tripod, base ISO and a relatively small f-stop.

In processing the image, I duplicated the image and then used field blur to add a a little more background blur, left upper corner and left lower corner and upper centre - each controlled to taste. Then I masked it black and used the paint brush to apply the effect just where I wanted (and to the degree I wanted) to give this natural look (better than gaussian blur that I have used in the past.

Today the wind is blowing, there's several inches of snow on the ground and more coming down, and zero change of making an image like this, possibly for the next year or more.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

EBooks and Ipad Ready Image Purchases

I've been asked to make an ebook of my images, and given the cost and marketing issues for a printed book, I'm starting to seriously think this is a good idea. This further raises the question of whether there is a market for fine art images at size to go full resolution on the latest iPads with their retina screens - 2048X1536.

This raises all manner of issues since this is a big enough file to make a great 8.5X11 image and probably a pretty decent 13X19 - so any photographer releasing those files is more or less eliminating any print purchases from that image - for the purchaser, and possibly for many others if the file gets shared despite best precautions (pirating is going to happen, we just have to live with it and remind ourselves the people who pirate were never going to pay anyway so it's not really lost money.

Despite this, I am tempted to make a few test fine art images available in this format, for $1 each.

So I'm asking - is there a market for a) an ebook of images, probably at the resolution of the original iPad, with text and voice, price $5 and b) for individual images at the resolution of the Retina screen iPad, price 1$ and you could make your own prints from this, for personal and family use only?

If I were to release a few test images this way, what images would you particularly like to have at high res or to be able to make yourself a print from?

You can respond with a comment to the blog entry, or you can send me an email to george dot barr at shaw dot ca. If the latter I'll let you know if and when it becomes available and promise not to abuse your email address with a bunch of promotions, and absolutely not release it to anyone else.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Thoughts On Camera Systems

I've been asked to comment on the merits of the various systems and how resolution compares.

Nikon D800e

remember that I use live view 95% of the time, tripod mounted, low ISO, manual focus, manual exposure, and if I forget the remote, then the self timer.

- I bought the 85 1.4 Nikkor because of its superb resolution, then used it wide open with an extension tube for dreamy soft garden photographs - go figure. haven't taken a single image where it's resolution would be important. I now have the 24-70 so whether I'll keep the lens remains to be seen.
- the 70-200 is excellent - I stopped carrying alternatives like the 180 sigma macro and the 200 micro nikkor as there was little to be gained. Its sharp up close and that is important to me.
Zeiss 15 - damn this thing is sharp.
- focusing live view at f11 is challenging, f16 impossible so I tend to open the lens part way to focus, then stop back down for the shot - wish it was easier but I also recognize that this eliminates focus shift errors with fast lenses.
- the self timer makes no noise and the only indication is at the front of the camera, which you can`t see from behind - come on guys. I normally use a radio remote but it wasn`t in the case yesterday.
- I like the definite controls for iso and self timer and so on and switching from Canon wasn`t difficult - but why do lens caps screw on the wrong way?
- battery life isn't great - I can run out of juice in a couple of hours - so now have 3 batteries and was beginning to think I might need four - don't remember that ever being a problem with Canon
- with focusing live view stopped down, the noise on screen in low light and even normal room light is a significant issue - not enough to switch cameras, but sure wish it weren't so.
-  image quality is stellar - 100% with judicious sharpening looks like you are looking at the whole image, not a tiny corner. High ISO is excellent but base ISO is definitely best.

Canon 5D3

Didn't have it long but it's a lovely camera and had the 36 MP high dynamic range Nikon not been available, and had I not run into some very noisy shadows I was opening up, I wouldn't have switched and of course live view is terrific - I spent a year deciding against the Nikon, only to eventually decide that sensor quality trumped good live view.


Damn but I like the small size and light weight and canvas camera bag combination. A general zoom would be nice though that 60 mm. Sigma is absolutely stellar and resolution with this camera and lens combination is excellent - yes there is some noise even at base ISO - rather like film grain, but overall image quality is top notch and the camera at ISO 1600 is entirely function for any purpose, making the camera versatile. Image stabilization on the 60 would have been nice and I will be inteterested to see just how decent the new Zeiss 16-70 turns out to be. I have been known to change ISO accidentally and so have learned to check on a regular basis. I have never! accidentally shot a video or even got the message to come up asking if I want to - they must have done something more than just software = perhaps a harder spring in the video button. Although I set up the camera so a centre button push brings up the PSAM screen, I do wish I had a simple dial so I'd always know instantly what I had.

The viewfinder is contrasty and therein lies a problem - you can't see into shadows and highlights both through the EVF, fine for pointing the camera, less than ideal for assessing an image. I can live with it but since the sensor records good dynamic range, I don't see why I can't see that in the EVF - surely something could be done.

Will I keep the Nex -7? Of course things have been complicated by the recent announcement of the Alpha 7 and 7R, the latter a 36 megapixel full frame camera. The good is it has a separate PSAM control, a newer sensor, the capability of putting on all my Nikon lenses and use at full frame (even my 15 Zeiss) so its a great backup body. It will even take my current Nex-7 lenses, albeit cropped to 16 megapixel. So the question is, do I want a high megapixel backup to the Nikon, or do I want the small lenses of the apsc size, either at 24 megapixel current Nex-7 or 16 on the Alpha 7R?

I really don't want another large lens system with 20+ pound camera bag so I'm not sure that I will rush out and get the 7R, never mind the expense. I might just work with the Nex-7, the 10-18 (that I have) and the Zeiss 16-70 that has already been ordered, and maybe the Sigma 60 because it's so darn sharp to the corners. But then again... A matter of do I want a backup for my Nikon lenses (ie. a second body) or do I want a backup system weighing a fraction of the Nikon gear.

Image quality wise, the Nex-7 is terrific. Had I made Saturday's image with the Sigma 30 (I did) but with tripod and base ISO I wouldn't have thought to return for a reshoot - after all 36 just isn't a lot bigger print than 24 MP.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Oven Edited, Then Reshot

So I was very happy with the last version of the image, but... I'd shot it hand held, with the Nex-7 and 30 mm. lens, ei. 800, and hadn't quite got it as sharp as I might, and fairly grainy by the time I did sharpen it and with some luminous noise suppression which didn't help detail.

So, since the conditions on-scene shouldn't be any different, I called Bob and asked a big favour - could he get me back into the church kitchen, for a reshoot - more pixels, iso 100, tripod and even more careful alignmnet parallel to the back of the oven. I even donned yesterdays bright red shirt thinking that had added colour to the image.

It was impossible to exactly reproduce the image despite trying to duplicate everything as closely as possible  - even minor changes in position made a huge difference to the reflections. Actually the closest copy of the original image wasn't quite parallel and the top is blurred, so I worked with one of the later images and a bit of editing. I actually resized the original image and placed it on top of my new version so it could be turned on and off to gradually work towards the previous version.

In the end the colour is quite different and is simply what I like today.

Oven Edited

This is the same image, without me removing the green hues with the colour temperature sliders in Lightroom.

Editing consists of a series of curve adjustment layers masked,  image duplication  and application of Akvis Enhancer, applied locally via masking, then image duplication and some highlight dodging (set at 5% dodge) for subtle highlight brightening. A couple of white splotches were removed with the healing tool, and the large blob of baked on  food on the left lightened with a masked curve.  Finally the image was brightened a tad with an s shaped (albeit subtle) curve before printing and converting for the internet, oh yeh, and it was sharpened for printing.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


This rather surreal image is actually of the back wall of a gas stove pudding cooker - a six box, steam filled device for mass producing Christmas pudding and other steamed foods.

I found it in a church basement where we were holding our annual model railway auction. To me it looks like a cross beween Encounters Of The Third Kind and something the Hubble Telescope would have photographed.

I'll probably trim a bit off the bottom once I have had a chance to think about it but in the mean time I think this is the best I have done in some time.

Hand held with the Nex-7, 30 mm. Sigma lens.

There's a message here - both about the oddest subjects making interesting images, but also about curiosity and the recognition of potential.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Turtle Mountain

To the far left of the image is the start of Frank Slide in which a large section of Turtle mountain broke free and buried part of the town of Frank to a depth of 50 feet. Even 110 years later the size of the debris field remains impressive, the train track at the base of the debris dwarfed by its size.

Monday, October 14, 2013

More From Waterton Trip

The first image is from the canyon wall at Lundbreck Falls, shot from the base, the middle image from Driftwood Beach in Waterton and the last is at the Leitch Colliery in the Crowsnest Pass. The first and third are stitches, the second a focus blend.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Back Yard, Lensbaby Composer Pro

Both images are somewhat cropped, and both have the lens tilted down the way, more in the second image. The goal was to produce a dreamy effect without the classic "lensbaby" look or almost normal centre and radically stretched and blurred borders. Note the stretching of the image opposite to the direction of the lens tilt.


That time of year. We don't have the maples to add red, but we do have Cotoneasters that look like they are on fire. Shot with the Lensbaby Pro. I can't remember if this particular image was the 35 or 50, but def.  not the 80.

I'd gone to the Camera Store to get a replacement 50 double glass, in Nikon mount (I already had the Canon one, but no more Canon to mount it to. They were out of the 50, but turns out my 50 mounts just fine on the Pro, so I now have the 35, 50 and 80. Not really sure what role the 80 will play as it doesn't have the lens distortions of the others, but probably isn't good enough to act as a true tiltable normal use lens - something to be tested though.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Round The Corner

We've been in Waterton National Park for the last week. At the base of Red Rock Canyon, a second stream joins up, and following that upstream a hundred yards takes one to this interesting rock formation. The shot was made with my Zeiss 15 mm. lens and a series of five images for focus blending (the bottom left corner is inches from the lens). The furthest focused image was used for the water (focus blending does odd things to moving water). Why blend with such a wide lens? Well, even f16 would not have covered the bottom left corner to infinity and the lens is sharper at f10 as shot here.

This really is an amazing lens and while I could have used the flexibility of the 14-24, I think I made the right decision.

Interestingly, I'm not sure that I made the same right decision to go with primes for my 35, 50 and 85 mm. lenses. Yes, they are unquestionably better than Nikon's 24-70, but the flexibility for framing would have been very handy.

In many shots in this area, I was standing at the top of a small cliff and had little opportunity to change position, or there was one best position compositionally, and none of the lenses quite had the right coverage.  I think I might be willing to sacrifice resolution for perfect framing.