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PIXelations 16

Greater Hartford Invitational Track Meet, 2007

by fotofinish , 05-03-2007 at 08:32 PM (216 Views)

A friend of mine who is also the head track coach at a local area high school, contacted me and asked if I would be interested in photographing the Invitational track meet this past Saturday. I did something similar for him last year. He also asked if I would be interested in offering the photos for sale to anyone interested. I decided to take him up on his offer.

I chose to place the low-res thumbnails on my website with a note to email me if interested. I could have fully automated this process through a website like PhotoShelter, but there is a cost involved for this which I am not convinced that I will gain back. My theory is that most people are jaded by this type of event photography since many of the spectators had digital point’n’shoot’s. I am hoping to be pleasantly proven wrong…

The shoot went well. I used my 70-200mm L IS lens this year instead of my 100-400mm L IS since the former lens focuses faster. I used aperture priority at either f/5.6 or f/8 at iso800 for maximum shutter speed, although this proved to be overkill. I elected not to use my normal focus and recompose using the * button on the Canon 20D for the track events. I was not disappointed with the results.

I did discover that this did not work for the field events, since the focusing could not keep up with the action coming from a diagonal direction as in the high jumps. I found success with focus and recompose for this, by pre-selecting say, the high jump bar, and waiting till the action arrived at that spot to allow continuous mode to capture the action.

Here are a few examples:

You can see the rest of this gallery here.

Tower sunrise

by fotofinish , 05-20-2007 at 03:19 PM (167 Views)

One Friday morning a few weeks ago, I was driving my normal route to work when I passed by the water tower at the local golf course and saw a nearly full moon. I immediately vowed to return the next morning at sunrise for the picture. I had this image in my head of the moon and tower for some time, so I was eager to capture it. Little did I know the developing adventure I was about to have.

When I captured the image, I bracketed the exposure: one for the tower and one for the moon. I figured I would blend them. When I got home, I looked at a Daily critique item on smart objects. The smart object discussion wasn’t that important to me as was the demo of how to replace the sky even through trees by using select/color range in CS2. However, I then spent 2-3 hours trying to get just the right look in black and white.

So here is the result:

On another matter, I have decided to commit to the George Barr image approach. I bought Helicon Focus to create greater depth of field through blending of manually focused images. I also bought PTGui to stitch together multiple rows of images of a scene to achieve a different sense of depth of field as well as creating panoramas. If you are interested in reading more, have a look at George’s informative blog here.

My initial Helicon Focus tests proved interesting. If the wind is blowing, it is not worth doing the blend. However, when the conditions are right, the 4-image blend below is the result:

Unfortunately, a web version doesn’t do it justice…

One Print

by fotofinish , 05-27-2007 at 02:58 PM (154 Views)

A mother of one of the track athletes who participated in the recent Invitational Track meet I photographed has ordered one 5×7 matt finish photo of her son. Of course, the photo she wanted was a marginal quality photo. I should never have posted it. There were two runners in the picture. The other runner’s image was not as soft as the desired one. I did what I could in photoshop. Smart sharpen help a bit in lens blur correction mode. Lesson number one: only post images that are perfect…

My original plan was to process the picture and let CVS or someone local print it for me. However, no one offers matt finish for a 5×7. This forced me to print it myself. This was far more expensive than I planned. I figure this will cost me $4-5 in total, including mailing it, when I expected to spend between $3-4 dollars. I charged the woman $7.

Still waiting…

by fotofinish , 06-02-2007 at 10:31 AM (202 Views)

I talked with my vendor yesterday and he said my Canon 1D Mark III should be in next week. I hope he is right. I leave for San Francisco and then Yosemite starting next Saturday for a week, but only two days at Yosemite. I’m not expecting much. The weather conditions can make all the difference. If I am fortunate to get some dramatic clouds or lighting, I should be able to get something a little more special.

But I guess what I am really hoping for are my architectural and landscape abstractions. I plan on dragging my body out of bed for some early morning shots in San Francisco. We are staying right at Fisherman’s Warf.

Also, I hope to catch one of the early morning photo walks put on by Kodak at Yosemite. There is also one to Glacier Point for sunset that I would like to take. I figure with my limited time there and with this being my first trip, this should maximize my opportunities. If nothing else, it will be a good scouting trip for a return visit, if that were to happen.

I have read several good books like this one and this one. So I know what I want. I hope I can get what I want.

It’s coming!

by fotofinish , 06-06-2007 at 05:23 PM (153 Views)

Just talked to Brad at Berger Bros and he says he’s going to send me my Canon 1D Mark III camera for tomorrow!!! Brad is the manager at the store and he took good care of me, especially since I leave for my Yosemite shoot on this Saturday. Nothing like cutting it close. I can’t wait…

In preparation, I ordered and just received a storm jacket for my camera and lense. This should keep everything dry when walking near Bridal Veil Falls.

If only tomorrow would hurry up and come already…

I Got it!

by fotofinish , 06-07-2007 at 09:59 PM (189 Views)

The Canon EOS 1D Mark III viewfinder is so much brighter and clearer than the 20D. The LCD is so big and bright and easy to read. Navigating the menus isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it might be. The ability to put the most common menu items I like onto My Menu is awesome and a time saver, especially since I can put mirror lockup there and two clicks and I’m done.

The view finder is a challenge for me. Most of my first pictures came out way under exposed. I have to feel my way around the viewfinder.

Headed out…

by fotofinish , 06-09-2007 at 09:19 AM (223 Views)

Jayne and I and my daughter Sarah and her friend Katie are headed to San Francisco today and then on to Yosemite on Wednesday! I tried to use the Digital Photo Professional that came with the Mark III but I felt it was inconvenient to my worflow. So I broke down and upgraded to CS3 and raw 4.1 which has the Mark III camera raw file. All I can say is WOW! The clarity of the Mark III pictures is truly amazing, even without any processing. I can’t wait to see what I bring back from Yosemite and the neat architectural abstracts from around ‘Frisco! Se you all when I get back June 16…

California or bust

by fotofinish , 06-27-2007 at 09:01 PM (314 Views)

From a photographic perspective, my trip to California involved three separate galleries: San Francisco, Alcatraz, and Yosemite. Since this was the first time I had been to these locations, I did not hold out much hope of getting little more than mere snapshots. I was right. I took close to 600 pictures, and a number of things worked against me.

Time. Three days in San Francisco and little more than a day in Yosemite was just enough time to scout out some locations for a return visit, if that were ever likely.

My wife, Jayne, daughter, Sarah, and her friend, Katie, like a second daughter for so many years, were good sports to put up with my brief photographic “hesitations”. However, setup time was almost non-existent, so I had to rely solely on my instincts and scenic emotional value to quickly spot something worthy and non-family to capture.

San Francisco is known as the “Foggy City”, yet I only saw about two hours of slight fog during the three days there. The weather was perfect tourist weather and awful photographically: hazy and hot (100 degrees in Yosemite!), white skies.

New equipment.
I received my Canon EOS 1D Mark III the Thursday before we left on Saturday. I went out with it on Thursday night to practice, and I certainly had time to read the manual while waiting at the airport. And while I quickly felt comfortable, it still is a one-series camera with no sense of humor!

Technically, I shot mostly in manual: manual aperture, manual shutter, and a lot of times, manual focus. I was frustrated by not being able to select ISO 100 or ISO 6400 when I wanted, even though I set it for ISO expansion. I have since read that since I had Highlight Priority selected as a custom function, it restricts the ISO to this range. I also have no idea, yet, how to make my 580ex flash work with the Mark III.

Stupid things I did.
Well, as usual, I didn’t spend enough time at a scene to let the first wave of emotion wash over me like a tidewater. Case in point, the first morning in San Francisco I got up at 5am and walked the 10 minutes down to Fisherman’s Warf by myself, not the brightest thing I ever did alone, walking down unknown, dark streets with $10,000 of equipment on my back. I instantly saw the marina with Alcatraz in the background in partial fog. So, I set up my camera, 70-200mm f2.8 L IS lens, tripod, mirror lookup and cable release and proceeded to shoot. I totally forgot to consider that the boats in the marina were actually moving ever so slightly. But at a very slow shutter speed, they might as well have been in a hurricane! But I did manage to get a keeper:

You can see the rest of this gallery here.

Alcatraz. I originally wanted to photograph it during the night tour, but we would have had to wait till our last night of our trip. I didn’t want to do that since we would have just returned from Yosemite and I knew we would all be tired, and we were. So, we took the 9:30am tour and returned by 12:30pm, not the best light by any means. I did manage to be allowed to go up to a restricted floor in one of the cell blocks that was not opened to the public. Boy, did I get the stares from folks! All I did was say I was a photographer and asked for access, and they said yes! So I did manage to get a few interesting shots like:

The rest of my pictures from this marvelous location can be found here .

Yosemite. The cliché of all clichés, yet it had not been done by me. My plan of attack was to try an maximize my sights through the use of two tours: the morning 9:30am photo tour and the Glacier Point afternoon tour. The morning tour was almost an entire waste, except for this one:

The Glacier Point tour had me try to capture the view at 2:30 pm, again certainly not the greatest light. I did manage to get this tiresome classic:


I felt I did better with the series I shot as I exited the park at sunset, like my personal trip favorite:

The rest of my pictures from this marvelous location can be found here .

As always, some lessons learned; some opportunities blown; but some good captures made, just enough to make me smile when I look at them…

Yosemite workflow

by fotofinish , 07-07-2007 at 11:00 AM (204 Views)

When I got back back from my trip out West and first processed my photos, I felt that I really only had a set of snapshots. And for the most part, I still feel that way. But I had time to live with my photos for a few weeks now, and I have been able to reprocess a few which are a little more than snapshots, ones that I now feel best captured the spirit of the Yosemite I saw. I really believe that you need to let some time pass after spending such a concentrated time taking those photos. They are just too close to you and your experience of the shoot. This is especially true when you have such a limited amount of time with the location, and it was the first time at the location. For me, I have yet to evolve to the point where I can just show up at a scene and take the perfect shot. I find that I am at my best when I can live with the scene for a period of time. Inspiration takes time to percolate within me.

Because time was short, I had to go with my first emotion of the scene. Unfortunately for me, I also have not evolved yet to allow the scene to wash over me emotionally first, and then take the shot. Some of this is due to the fact as the “tourist”, I only had minutes at a scene to access and then take the shot.

During my first week back, I selected and then processed many of the photos as snapshots for the family album. I also wanted to give Sarah’s friend, Katie, a set of pictures as well. What this allowed me to do was first see what my new camera (the Mark III) was capable of producing. By processing these for the first time through, this allowed me to relive the shots. This was instrumental in helping me to select the final ones for fine art processing.

As far as my final workflow goes, I learned a few things. This was also another set of firsts for me, since I worked with new versions of my tools, as well as a few new tools. Lightroom 1.1 has a marvelous new slider called “Clarity”. What this magically does is perform a contrast sharpen of the detail in the image, in effect making the detail in the image literally pop out of the screen! I kept the defaults for sharpening and noise reduction in Lightroom since I felt most of my shots would benefit from the minor adjustment. My black and white conversions of some of my images are made delightful by the ease and power of Lightroom. I also now have Photoshop CS3, and although the same raw converter ACR4.1 is in there as well, I guess I am just used to working with the user interface of Lightroom. The user interface of the CS3 converter is just not as convenient as it is in Lightroom where all the dialogs are stacked on top of each other and easier to see at a glance.

So I would process the negatives in Lightroom for black and white or color and contrast and exposure adjustments first. Then I would open each in CS3. From there I used the Shadow/Highlight tool first. This tool is amazing for high dynamic range images. Its ability to selectively control the shadow areas and the highlights is amazing to enhance and balance the detail found in these areas. I then converted each to LAB mode and applied a curves layer to tweak the final color and lightness for the last time. I then saved the image as a psd file for future use as my starting point for printing or web posting.

I then resized each to 12×18 using bicubic smoother. Here I discovered upon examination at 100% on the screen that if I kept the resolution at 240 instead of 300 that the image was sharper at 12×18. I then began a series of sharpening steps. I discovered the amazing ability of Smart Sharpen to improve the clarity and apparent resolution of the image. In some cases, even though I used a tripod, mirror lockup, and a cable release, there still was some camera shake which slightly blurred some images. And since most of my photographic signature revolves around using telephoto zooms for capturing detail rather than grand landscapes, the compressed distance is not kind to any camera movement, no matter how slight.

After using Smart Sharpen to improve the apparent resolution, I then used Unsharpen to use contrast sharpening for the detail in each image. In essence, it is very similar to using the Clarity slider in Lightroom, but I felt I had more control to enhance specific areas of the image with Unsharpen. Here, I would bump up the Radius slider to the right with a large percent while keeping the Amount slider way to the felt, using a very small amount, usually less than 20%. I kept the Threshold at 0. You have to see the difference that this contrast sharpening does for yourself. It really does make the detail pop. I would then apply my normal output sharpening as my final step. I use Photokit Sharpener for this.

If the image needed noise reduction, I used Noise Ninja to perform this, usually after the raw conversion. Sometimes, I had to apply a second hit of noise reduction if I aggressively enhanced the shadow areas of the image.

I continue to be impressed with the Mark III’s color capability. It is stunning and a noticeable difference than with my 20D. The new Highlight Priority custom setting feature is also impressive at toning down highlight areas in high dynamic range scenes. All in all, any camera is still no magic wand when it comes to deciding weather or not to post process an image.

I also used HDR in CS3 to merge bracketed images to bring out some of the detail in those images. Even at late afternoon, these images still had too much dynamic range. I didn’t use this a lot, but when I did, it truly made a difference, as seen below:

For printing, I used a new to me matt paper from Hahnemühle, Photo Rag Satin. I must admit, fine art matt papers for my taste are better for color than glossy-ish, photo black papers. It is a whiter paper. I also like this paper better than the Crane Museo matts which tends to be warmer, yellower.

I am still not finished with processing my images from the trip. There is still more fun to be had!


by fotofinish , 07-22-2007 at 12:28 PM (298 Views)

I have spent a lot of time doing final processing and 12×18 prints of my Yosemite series, “The Shadows of Giants”. And although Yosemite is a tired cliché by now, it has not been done by me. While there, I felt my contribution was to be a sunset gallery featuring various peaks caught in the shadows of other peaks. You know in looking at some of the images, that the shadows cast upon the other peaks came from something enormous. These shadows really impressed me, as well as the sense of dimensionality created by the features of the many crags. The rich amber light of the setting sun made the surfaces come alive in warmth and color. This is the Yosemite I will always remember…

The final creations I want to spend time with is an idea I have to create a montage of Yosemite pictures, something a little different from the usual presentation of the park. This should really test my Photoshop skills, and teach me a few more in the process, I hope.

A friend of mine called me up a few days ago and asked me to do a family portrait for them. I agreed to do this as I would for any family member or friend. I am not ready to do this for the public at large yet. Special equipment and lighting is needed, not to mention technique and expertise. Maybe when I retire I will do this from time to time to help offset the costs of my passion.

I was pleased with the way the Mark III performed with my 580ex flash. I did not buy the 580ex II which was made for this new camera. But it didn’t seem to matter. The shoot was outdoors at a local state park so I used the flash as fill to even out the light. I used Av mode at iso200-400 with my 70-200mm f2.8 L IS for most of the shots, and my 50mm f1.8 for a few others. I was pleased with the results. I hope my friend is equally pleased…

On a quest

by fotofinish , 08-05-2007 at 07:07 AM (295 Views)

My Yosemite pictures suffer from the same malady: softness! Even though I use a tripod with mirror lockup most of the time, I need to research how and why my pictures are not razor sharp.

Lightroom keeps a large array of statistics which is a fine starting point for my investigation. These stats can be found in Library mode and are organized on the right side in the Metadata Browser. Since I have my shoot divided into two subdirectories, Lightroom has summarized my shoot according to the following:

Number Of Shots By Lens
100-400mm: 156
70-200mm: 244
50mm: 8
16-35mm: 73

200: 296
250: 1
320: 11
400: 24
640: 10
800: 94
1600: 3
3200: 50

By Shutter Speed
From 1/100-1/1000: 145
From 1/50-1/80: 40
From 1/10-1/40: 181
Less than 1/10: 31

By Aperture
Almost all at f/16

Unfortunately, it does not tell me by lens which millimeters were used. So I did this the hard way and tallied it up by lens by mm:

100-400 by mm
100-200: 55
220-300: 20
310-400: 80

70-200 by mm
70-100: 124
105-148: 28
153-200: 33

The 100-400mm L IS is notoriously soft at the high and low ends, typical of most lenses, but especially so for this lens. It seems such a shame to have a lens with reach and not be able to get the clarity at the high end.

Again, I only shot a small percentage with my 70-200mm L IS f2.8 at the sweat area, 105-148mm. This was my lens of choice for a large percentage of my entire shoot.

I have to believe that shooting with any telezoom lens at its largest focal length at very slow shutter speeds, 1/10-1/40, is probably not a good thing. I think the most significant factor is not waiting for the lens to “settle down” after mirror lock up on a tripod at slow shutter speeds. I believe this to be the biggest problem.

But how to correct for all of this and still maintain my use of the zoom ranges is a process I have to explore toward a solution. I am headed to Rocky Mountain National Park at the end of September…

On a completely different topic, I just loaded the new Mark III firmware, 1.1.0. Time will tell if this will have any influence on my shooting. My son has a championship softball game tomorrow night. I might have to bring the camera to test it out!

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