Saturday, February 23, 2013

Photo Talk: Processing

In late 2006 I began taking photos in digital format. For many years prior to that I shot with a Canon AE-1 Program and like many people before me, paid lots of money for film and processing, and wasted a lot of money to get those two-three "keepers" per roll of film.

For me one of the most exciting things about digital was that I learned photo processing was now in my hands. As I became more knowledgeable I learned that my first digital camera, the Canon 300D, only shot in the JPEG file format. As I learned more about the digital age I learned that JPEG is really a processed image. The processing is done by the camera in accordance to the JPEG processing the camera was designed to do.

So with my Canon 300D I began taking JPEGs (processed images) and entering them into software and processing them again. Once I was done processing I would save the image in a JPEG format which was the final product. To me the enhancing I could do the the image once I got in on my computer was totally exciting! years have passed and I have learned a few things. One, I no longer shoot in JPEG mode. JPEG is compressed and not all the data the camera originally captured is available once it is compressed.

In addition, when shooting JPEG the camera is deciding on lighting adjustments, shadows, sharpness, saturation and so on. In Canon cameras there are Picture Styles and these basically are presets and customizable settings that factor into the in-camera JPEG processing.

So, the second thing I learned over the years was to shoot in RAW format. By doing so I have all the data the camera captured so I can process the image the way I want it to be. I am the photographer, I am the artist. :-)

Since 2006 I have processed just under 2000 images. As time has passed I learned a few things about processing. Software like Photoshop Elements is a tool and within it there are many tools. Only with practice and a little education can one learn to use the tools more effectively. By no means have I mastered using these tools. However in looking back at some of my older work, I can say that I have learned a bit.

 I would like to share with you an image I took in 2007 of Romeo. This image was one of my first images of Romeo and he and I have taken many photos since.

When I dug into my archives and found the original JPEG image (from the camera) and then the original processed image I did in 2007, it was very clear I would be processing the image again and the results would inspire a Photo Talk blog posting.

The image is titled "Wicked Stare". It was taken on March 3, 2007 with a Canon 300D and a Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 II lens.

Original JPEG file from camera

The above image is the original JPEG that the Canon 300D processed.  If you right click the image and "Open in New Tab" you will see a larger version of the image.

Back in 2007 I was using Photoshop Elements as I still do today.  I think I was using version 5 back then and now I am using version 11.

My original 2007 processed JPEG using Photoshop Elements

The above image is the original JPEG I processed with Photoshop Elements.  Although it is much richer than the original file, I now see that it is a bit overdone.  The shadows are too dark, the colors are too saturated, and the tones not natural looking.

The 2013 processed JPEG using Lightroom 3 and Photoshop Elements 11

The above image is my latest version of "Wicked Stare" after several years of learning how to use processing software.  My hope is that this version exceeds the quality of the original camera image yet is not overdone like my 2003 processed version.

If you have not done so already, right click each of the images and "Open in New Tab".  When you select each tab you will see a larger version of each image.  As you go back and forth between the tabs, compare the images to see the differences between them.

The 2013 version was first processed in Lightroom 3.  In Lightroom I primarily adjusted the exposure a little, enhanced a little fill light, adjusted the blacks, adjust lighting tones, and added just a little bit of vibrance.

Once I made all the adjustments I wanted to do in Lightroom, I then opened the image in Photoshop Elements 11.  The final image consisted of five layers.  One of the layers focused on sharpening, the other on lighting tones, another on light rendering, another for a black & white soft light overlay, and the final for some fine tune tonal adjustments.

I am far more pleased with the 2013 version over the 2007 version.  I think the 2013 version is more natural in tone, lighting, and sharpness.

My goal with this Photo Talk blog is to encourage you to get to know your software.  The original file of  "Wicked Stare" is a JPEG coming out of the camera, and a rather inexpensive camera set up at that.  I like to think the 2013 processed image looks like it came from a more expensive camera set up and show just what can be done with processing.

Processing is significant in what the final product looks like.  Processing was significant in the film days, and it is still significant in the digital age.

Some may read this blog and take the "purist" approach and say they only post what comes out of the camera.  To get a final image the way you would like it to look, processing is necessary.

In Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin there is a museum dedicated to the work of H.H. Bennett.  Not only was this guy the inventor of the automatic shutter, when it came to processing this guy used every trick known at the time to help develop his historic images.

Through the years I have learned a bit about processing and I still have much more to learn.  I am never afraid to share what I have learned.  I enjoy helping others develop the kind of images they desire.

Get to know your software, research techniques, and experiment.  The images you desire are just a few clicks away.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Photo Talk: Birds In Flight (BIF)

I really do wish I wrote more blogs. I find while I am in the field taking photos there are many people that have questions regarding techniques and specifics related to their camera.

It is not that I know everything about everything...I just like to help people and if there is anything I can share that will help someone, then that is what I would like to do. So with this issue of Photo Talk I would like to share a little bit about taking bird in flight photos.

I did not start taking BIF photos too serious until about three years ago. In fact, I did not even think much about taking photos of birds. After committing to expanding the kinds of subjects I photographed, I have found birds to be fun to photograph and very challenging.

So...what are the key things I find necessary for BIF shots?

- Higher ISO for Faster Shutter Speeds
- Set focus method to AI Servo or Continuous Servo
- Select the center focus point
- Select the highest burst mode your camera has

I like to have shutter speeds over 1000th of a sec whenever I can. I tend to shoot in aperture priority mode. On you camera it will likely have a Av on the mode dial. I aperture priority I select the f/stop and let the camera select the shutter speed.

Everything is going to depend on the lighting situation. In most cases I like to shoot at ISO 320 and my f/stop is set to 5.6. I often am taking BIF shots with an Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM or a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L USM with an attached EF 1.4x Teleconverter (with results in a maximum f/stop of 5.6).

If need be I will select a higher ISO to get a faster shutter speed. Since both of my lens combinations can only go to f/5.6 then I need to adjust the ISO to achieve a faster shutter speed.

ISO, aperture, and shutter speed...I talk about these BIG THREE in a different blog.

Once you have the big three ready to go, now you need to make a few more adjustments. In AI Servo focus mode your camera will be able to continually focus as your subject flies through the air and you track it with your cat like speed. Without setting your camera to AI Servo, you camera will lock in a focus as the bird moves and before you know it, the bird is out of focus again and again, and again.

Selecting the center focus point allows you to use your camera light a sight on a gun. If you are like me, you will be surprise just how hard it is to follow a moving bird by looking through your lens. Practice, practice, practice.

Here is what a Nikon or Canon focus screen might look like:

With you camera in AI Servo and the center focus point selected, the next thing to do is select your cameras fastest drive/burst mode. Hopefully you camera can at least shoot 4-5 frames per second., otherwise you may miss some nice wing action.

Technically you should be set. Now the key is try, try again.

Dont become too discouraged. Keep low expectations. Realize that to get that one "keeper shot" you will likely take dozens and dozens of shots.

Here are a few samples from my archives. I have included the camera model and shooting details so you can evaluate how you might want to set your camera and such.

This is one of my first BIF shots. It was taken in 2009 with a Canon 30D.

- ISO 640
- f/8
- 1/2500th sec shutter speed

This next shot was taken in 2010 with a Canon 40D.

- ISO 250
- f/7.1
- 1/3200th sec shutter speed

This next shot was spur of the moment as I realized the hawk was overhead. Taken with a Canon 30D in 2011.

- ISO 320
- f/5.6
- 1/2000th sec shutter speed

The eagle in the shot below was located in Le Claire, Iowa. The image was taken in 2012 with a Canon 40D.

- ISO 400
- f/5.6
- 1/2000th sec shutter speed

And the final shot here was recently taken in 2012 with my most current camera body, the Canon 7D.

- ISO 320
- f/5.6
- 1/2000th sec shutter speed

BIF shots can be challenging, require the correct settings on your camera, and need you to invest time into practice. When it is all said and done you will be very happy to share with others your BIF shots.

I hope something of what I have shared proves to be helpful.

Happy Shooting!!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Photo Talk: Tripods

My last post was in May 2010…wow!! Between being blessed to make another trip to Kenya, Yellowstone, spending time in central Illinois at a Civil War reenactment, my last wedding (yippee!), and various other photo ventures…my summer of 2010 was packed!!!

Well…lets get back to some Photo Talk. I used to think my using a tripod was just me being old fashioned, that is until I read more and more articles from professionals I respect saying that using a tripod is the best method to make sure your camera is stable…period.

Two of the professionals I respect that have written about this are George Lepp and Art Wolfe. Both have acknowledged that even though image stabilized lenses and cameras are on the rise, the best way to make sure you are steady is by using a trusty tripod.

For a while I started to feel like the odd man out walking around carrying a tripod. When I would go out on shoots I would see other photographers with image stabilized lenses and I would start to think – maybe I should get with the times.

Then I started to watch Art Wolfe’s Travels to the Edge on PBS. Ahhh…world renowned photographer Mr. Wolfe shot with a tripod more than not. In fact, in addition to a tripod he most often shoots with a remote trigger as well. The remote trigger with a tripod mounted camera and lens gives you the best chance of stability and no unwanted movement from you pushing the release button.

There is yet one more trick up Mr. Wolfe’s sleeve that I knew about but seldom do…mirror lock up. The mirror lock up mode stops your mirror from flapping when you take a shot, therefore stopping movement.

The moral of the story? If you want to make sure your camera is stable, use a tripod, a remote trigger, and mirror lock up (most often for landscape).

I personally do not have a single lens with image stabilization technology. For me the big reason is cash. Canon L lenses are not the cheapest things in the world and I don’t have an endless bank account.

Take the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L USM for example. The standard version can be purchased for about $625-$700. The image stabilized version runs about $1200 or more. There have been a few times I thought image stabilization would be nice but then I remember that many photographers, well before my time, have produced breath taking images without an image stabilized lens.

Regardless if you buy a pro-grade lens or not, you can still get great shots and you still want your camera stable. So…let’s talk tripods.

I see many people carrying small tripods and many of those tripods being insufficient for what they are trying to achieve. The idea is to make sure you are stable. I have seen some cameras on tripods that waiver in the wind. Such a situation defeats the purpose and of course puts your gear at risk.

Don’t be fooled that you need to spend $500 on a set of tripod legs that are solid and stable. Sure there is some truth to - you get what you pay for. Still, there is also a point where spending $500 or more on tripod legs is really hard to justify.

I set my limit at $200. There are several really nice tripods you can pick up for under $200. Flashpoint, a house brand from Adorama offers several models under $200, as does Giottos and Benbo.

I use Giottos MT-7371 Tripod Legs. I selected this particular model for a number of reasons. One is that it is an older series from Giottos and can be found for a respectful price. Granted it is getting harder to find these legs in stock at e-stores but with a little work you might just get lucky. And…there is always used on Ebay and other auction sites.

Another reason I selected this model was that it has twist lock legs. I live in Wisconsin and do a fair amount of cold weather shooting. I have had tripods with clasp lock legs and although I never had a clasp break on me, I always lived in the fear that it would happen.

Yet another reason I selected this model is because it has only three leg sections. This means there are only two twist locks to adjust. Not only can this make tripod set up faster, the legs are thicker in diameter, therefore more stable.

The Gittos MT-7371 also has the ability for very low level shooting. I used to have a really nice Manfrotto tripod I loved. The problem was that I could not use it for stabilizing low profile shots.

One of the last reasons was this models maximum weight limit of 22 lbs. I figured out my Canon 30D with battery grip, EF 400mm lens, and Sigma EF 500 DG Super flash weighs in at about nearly 6lbs. I felt more than confident that my tripod legs will handle my gear.

If one day I am blessed to be able to afford the Canon EF 400mm f/4 or the Canon EF 500mm f/4, my tripod legs will still be able to handle the weight with utmost confidence. Man…I sure hope that blessing comes around one day.

I no longer let the fact I am lugging around a tripod bother me. I believe that the percentage of “keeper shots” has increased because I use a tripod. Whether it is taking photos of still life, nature, landscapes, events, or wildlife I use a tripod. Besides having increased my chances of stability, using a tripod also decreases fatigue.

The only time I have a hard time with a tripod is taking bird in flight shots. I know there are plenty of photographers taking bird in flight shots using tripods. The problem for me is not the tripod; it is following the birds…LOL!!

The next Photo Talk will focus on tripod heads. If you spend money on a respectful tripod and get a weak head, the point has been defeated. The information I have shared about tripods is based on having owned four different ones through the years. I will use that same experience in sharing about tripod heads.

Thank you.