Sunday, February 4, 2018

A Colormunki Afternoon

In the quest for better photography, some of the issues we deal with is a consistency of color, from the subject to the final medium.
When you think about it, consider the path a specific color of red goes through from the subject to the PC display, RAW/JPG or print.
Ambient light hits the color red on the subject, goes through a filter attached to the camera lens, through the camera lens (OEM or other) to the camera, processed through software to a file.  That's a lot of handshakes - and we're not across the finish line yet.  From the file the journey continues to either electronic display or print.
So - what is the possibility that that one specific color of red that started with the subject finished at the destination with the same color?  The odds probably not good.
In reality, do you really need to capture that specific color or red?  If you are OK with the way you photos turn out from your (phone) camera, and with what the manufacturer algorithm does to a RAW image in the conversion to a JPG, and how your display presents the image - then you don't need this.
If you're already on the road to the dark side, that is take the time to process your own images (RAW), then you'd probably see value in the extra time to get the original colors right.
So how to do that?
A few years ago I purchased a color card.  X-Rite's Passport to be exact.  (This is not a commercial for them, just fact.)  Once I understood the difference between a JPG and a RAW file, it only made sense to me that the only way to get a true color duplication was with a color card.  OK - if not true, then a truer color duplication.  What I found out was that my both my Nikons using OEM lens' were a little light on blue shades.
But is that really true?  Or was the blue shade not represented correctly on my monitor?
In reality, I think I have only one side of the conversation.
Now, dealing with displays only, I have the other piece to help in getting the color representation.  I purchased X-rite's Cololmunki Display.  Again not an advertisement.  In theory it should blend in with the current process I use now.
As with most tech-toys, there are lots of Youtube videos on how to set the product up.  It really wasn't that difficult.  But what was missing - or I missed, was where the profile file was used.
The Colormunki creates an .icm file, much like a printer profile.  And like a printer profile file, the file has to be 'read' by the device.  I've played around with printer profiles before, so I sort of understand the concept.  Just have to translate the knowledge to the display.
Actually, it was easier than I thought it would be.  For Windows, it is in the display settings.  DOH!.

If you have multiple displays configured, a unique profile can be created and used for each.
So - the real question is, did it help?
I can see a difference.  For me, the monitor is somewhat darker and thus the colors are not so washed out.  But the neat thing is that all three monitors, different manufacturers, are now pretty much the same.
I haven't set up my laptop yet, need something to do next weekend.  I'm expecting a big change there.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Will phone cameras ever be as good as a (D)SLR or mirrorless?

I sometimes find myself in conversations about DSLR cameras and phone cameras.  It usually happens right after Apple launches its newer and better phone unit every year.  We can save the topic of why Apple's newer units are always better than the older ones for another day.  So anyway, someone always says to me that their new Apple is better than my (insert camera name here) that I have invested/sunk (insert $$$s) in.  
What they should really be asking me is if I think phone cameras are to the point where people think the images captured are as good those that most people can get with a DSLR.
My answer would be something like this.
Phone cameras these days are frickin' awesome!  My phone camera will even generate a RAW image.  How cool is that?  There are apps that will even manage the phone camera settings.  Image file sizes are fairly comparable between the two.  That has to be the same quality, right?
Well, it depends.
Phone cameras make good photography within the reach of most.  The $$$s required are minimal.  After all, the camera is basically paid for.  A lot of what I would call post processing software can be found for free.  Who could ask for more?
The answer begins, as always, is physics.
First, I am a hobbyist.  Not a professional.  And I didn't get too far in physics in high school.  Now that we've set the expectations, let's get on with what is possible and what is fantasy.
The heart of all image capture is the sensor.  This is the same on a phone camera and on a DSLR.
From a very high level, all sensors are the same.  The sensor captures light and translates the information to digital information.  The digital information is captured in a file and you know the rest from here.  To be sure, that is probably 100 steps condensed to 3.  We'll keep it simple.
For the sake of my answer, I'll go with the image capture at the sensor is the best it can be.
If you look up the definition of photography, every one deals with the capture of light and somehow converting that information to another medium.
The key word here is LIGHT.
For most of my friends who are photography enthusiasts, we have (can afford) equipment with what is called a APS-C class size, 23.6mm x 15.8mm for an area of 3.73cm(sq).  Most of us have dreams of hitting the lottery and going full frame which is 36mm x 23.9mm for an area of 8.6cm(sq).  Ah, the quest of light.
So, what's in a phone camera?  Without getting into the math, the APS-C sensor is roughly 18x-20x larger that what is in my phone.  That's the physics part.  I'm sure there is some law that states the bigger the sensor, the more light it will capture.

I can hear the rumble within the Apple community now, well Mr. know-it-all, how come my phone doesn't stink with that kind of math?
You have to give credit where it is due, all those phone engineers earn their money.  Apparently there are tricks in order to get the most possible light to the sensor.  Technology is a wonderful thing.
So the Apple crowd will also ask, well why don't they just put a bigger sensor in the phone?  Well, you'd have to ask Apple, but one reason is with the rush to get smaller and more powerful the constant enemy is heat.  And a sensor will generate heat.
So in the end the answer to the original question lies in, what do you want to do with the hobby?  If you are happy with your phone camera, then yes you can take just as good a picture with your phone camera as you would with a DSLR.  But my answer to the the question is no, my phone camera will not take pictures with which I would create my art.  And it never will.  And I'm OK with that.
My phone takes great 'family opportunity/travel/vacation' shots.  I'm OK with Samsung's algorithms to produce a good JPG file.  However, if I want to show off or print pictures, or as I like to say digital art, than I want the best capture of light I can get.  Or the biggest sensor I can afford.
This covers just the sensor size.  There are other aspects to this conversation as well.  What about the elements of the sensor, the pixel element?  With smaller sensor sizes comes smaller pixel elements, right?  Is smaller better?
How do you get light to the sensor?  I spend a few $$$$s on glass.  Could it be that the lenses on the camera phone are just as good?
Another discussion, another time.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Old Schoolhouse

I found this old schoolhouse on a back road a few years ago, October of 2015.  Not sure I could find it again.  But it is in Michigan, that much I know for sure.  There was a large drainage ditch next to the road, followed by a small rise of debris in the path to the building.  As a result, I couldn't use the viewfinder.  I had to hold the camera above my head and hope for the best.  I have a lot of (blind) shots.  The framing on most could be said to be interesting.  
This was taken with the D90 through the 18-200 lens set to 40 mm focal length.  1/50 of a second, f/25, ISO 200 Aperture Priority.

I like the autumn colors, the orange of the leaves and the color of the weathered roof.  I get the added benefit of some good wood grain which is a personal favorite.  I will suffer with the tree in the front.
In the original image, there was visual junk everywhere.  Back in 2015 my only tool to remove unsightly distractions was to use a clone stamp in Elements.  I played with this image for a while before giving up.
This is the original image.

There were four distractions I need to work on removing.  On the right wall, there is a white tube that is a wire marker.  Just off center right, there is a small tree growing up through the white/gray window filling.  From the lower left, there is a thick horizontal branch that is probably the main objection.  In the upper left, there are a few stray branches the are just irritating.
In Photoshop, I used the fill function set to content aware.  But to use that function you had to use the lasso tool and circle the objects to remove.  I used the mouse, I used the tablet.  The software did the job, but there was a lot more effort involved than I'm used to.  I like easier. So my next effort was with On One's healing tool.  That was much faster.  Just use a brush to highlight the area to clean up, and presto.  That takes care of the overall image.
For my contrasting, even though it is no longer supported by Google, I'm still a big fan of Google's NIK package.  I use the HDR effect module.  In this case I used one of my favorite presets that really over-sharpens and over contrasts.  But instead of going with the total effect, I cut the opacity to 50%.  That was enough to bring out the clouds and the wood grain.  It doesn't look overly altered/butchered.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Rio Grande Trestle

Good afternoon to work on a photo or two.  Single digit Temps, negative temp wind chills.  Perfect day to work on a photo or two.
One of the shots I have from last year's trip to the Detroit Model Railroad Club is of an older model train on a trestle.
This shot was staged for me, as the train was positioned where I wanted it.

This is focus stacked from five shots.  And, as will be shown from one of the originals, some of the background was 'replaced'.
The details: Manual Mode, 32mm, 1 Sec, f/8 and 200 ISO.

Here is the middle shot:

I used Helicon Focus (Pyramid Method) to merge the five shots.  I was pleased with the outcome.

I used On One to remove the office wall.  

I had a photograph from a trip to New York a number of years ago taken on a hike to a waterfall.  The background matched up pretty well.  The sky had a little color and the trees in the background came close to matching.

I used Google's Nik HDR effects to top it off.

Good project for the day.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

St Joe's Light and Waves

Looking again to photos from the March 2010 Michigan west coast lighthouse tour, the first stop was in St. Joseph, Michigan.  The light is one of my favorite subjects.  They are fairly unique.  I've been there on multiple occasions.  What I can say about the area, if it is nice outside the photos will be very boring.  Consequently, the more interesting the photo, the more challenging the weather conditions.  I'll give the weather a 5 on the scale, for being windy.  (And cold...)

Spoiler alert.  This is a combination of two images.  The main shot of the water and buildings is one image and the sky is another.  Both images were taken within minutes of each other and from the same location.  The only difference was zoom.  In both shots, the particulars AUTO, ISO 200, f/13 and 1/320.  In the original image of the water and buildings, the sky was just plain flat.  Could not do a thing with it.  I found another image from the same environment with some definition in the sky.  Time to combine.

In each image, I create multiple exposure levels.  For the water and building, I created 5 images covering two full stops above and two stops below the original exposure.  For the sky I created 3 images to cover two stops above and two stops below the original exposure.  For each image, I put them through Photomatix - giving each image the same settings.  I used On One to mask the sky in the original image and combine the second image below it.

In this case it all worked.  The mask creation was simple - mostly straight lines.

I really like the water and wave colors here.  It is difficult to leave the rust colors of the building alone.  Any additional saturation borders on obscene.  I struggle with the red roof.  In reality it isn't so bright.  I tried to leave it alone and let the water carry the image.  Just didn't work for me.  So there is just a little pop there.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Grand Haven Light

Way back in March of 2010 I visited the west side of Michigan, theoretically on a lighthouse tour.  Not kidding myself, it was not a warm journey.  The temperature was very, very brisk.  The good news, I did have to 'remove' many tourists from any images.
Given the file number of the image, I was just starting with the D90.  Which also means, every shot I was taking at the time, I was learning something.  And this shot is no different.
The shot is late afternoon/early evening.  
I was walking on the concrete pier toward the light (west!).  I have many shots from this time, but since I was shooting into the sun in this one, the camera was really confused.  Back in those days, I was shooting in AUTO mode.  I'm fairly certain, even in MANUAL I couldn't have done much better.  In these situations, a three shot minimum HDR would have done the best.  Again, lesson learned.  But another lesson, when in doubt, shoot dark.  Shooting dark allows more colors to be reclaimed.
The setting sun is in direct line with the light.  Under normal circumstances, this spells disaster.  Without the help of software, this doesn't work.  I used my main three packages to get this done.
First, the particulars.  This was taken with a Tamron 18-270 lens.  I wound up trading that in shortly after the purchase for a Nikon lens.  Another story, another time.  ISO 200, f/9 and 1/500.
The original Nikon JPG looked something like this.

Dark, eh?

That was one confused camera.

Staying in the 2010 age, my primary editing packages would have been Adobe Elements and Photomatix.  And I like the grunge look.  Really grunge.

Using these two packages and my taste at the time, I came up with this.

I created multiple images, each with a different exposure using the RAW Editor.  I probably did three images.  I used Photomatix to blend the three images to one image and played with the setting until I came up with this.  This is still one of my favorite 'artistic' shots.

Fast forward to 2017.  Software updates.  Process improvements.  Taste changes.

My goal for this was to get the light color (red) to come out, keep some definition of the sky/clouds and water.  Everything else should fall into place.  And I'd like to take some of the saturation/grunge out if it.

The creation process was along the same lines as in 2010.  I created five different exposures in the RAW editor.  I combined the images in Photomatix.  Using one of the presets, I came really close to what I wanted.  I like the darker version, as opposed to dark version, but I still couldn't get the red of the light right.  I tried a new trick.  Using On One, I combined the post Photomatix image with one of the lighter images created in RAW.  I masked out the light on the darker image, allowing the lighter light to show.  I changes some of the tone settings to get a slightly warmer feel.

I like this version.  There's more time invested in this edition than in previous versions, but that's OK.  It's all a learning experience.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

DMRRC - The North Western

I like HDR shots/effects.  I've run from light effects to full onslaught grunge.  And I'm not going to apologize for any part of the journey.

That being said, I found an image that I couldn't make HDR work for me.  I tried all the tricks.  Nothing worked.

So I went plain.  And I liked the result.  

I usually like 'slightly' over sharpened effects.  In this shot, I thought it took away.  Not that this is smooth by any stretch.  The ISO is 6400.  I'd use up to that setting again.

This image breaks a few 'rules'.  I like the lines of the North Western train.  In this frame, it is close to the center.  I was limited by the angle of the view in the setting so in the center it will stay.  If I wanted to go further with the shot, I'd work on removing the three bright 'dots'.  Or maybe just the bigger of the three.  

The one adjustment I did make was to darken the gravel in the foreground.  In the original image, it is quite light.  There might have been an odd light source.  Anyway, that had to go.  I think the image is full, so can't find a different crop that suits me.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Barn in Fall - What a difference eight years makes......

One of my favorite subjects to photograph is old or wood barns.  First, it seems that no two buildings are the same.  Next, you have the wood patterns and what digital processing can do.   Another aspect I like are the surroundings, whether it is nature or multiple legged.

One of my first subjects is a barn in Pennsylvania.  And by first, we're talking eight years ago.  We're talking D80.  I must have deleted the RAW files somewhere along the line, but I do have .HDR files that were created by Photomatix.  And at that point in time, the single image process wasn't that good, so I'm guessing there were three merged (RAW) images.  At that time, I was also using Elements.  Not Photoshop.

I thought it might be interesting to see how processing, software and my tastes have changed over the years.  These are two shots taken on the same day, minutes apart.

The first shot is one I last worked in 2009.  It is one of my favorites.  When I was part of the Art at the Market group, it was a seller.  Again, at that time I was using Elements and Photomatix only.  I also thought grunge was really cool.  Here are a few flavors:

Trying to recall, but I must have been real happy to figure out how to watermark the image and get the copyright right.  Pretty plain.  This is the image I sold at the Market.  This image came out best when printing to paper.  I remember the color of the barn doors is what caught my eye.

On the next/following image I remember trying to boost the colors with Photomatix.  I used this image for years as part of my personal screensaver slideshow.  As I look at it now, it is a bit over-saturated.  Or just colorful.

In the next image, I used the grunge setting in Photomatix.  At one time, I thought this was just plain cool.  And all I can say now is, sometimes you just have to step over the line to define where it is.  (Don't judge me.)

Now let's fast forward to today.  The images is from a RAW D80 file using current On One and Photoshop software.  And my personal take.

Initially I see more sharpening used.  Not as much fall colors in the trees.  I tried to pop the tree colors, but it didn't look right to me.  Made the image look too 'Photoshopped'.  So this shot for me is a lot cleaner, still has some colors and not overly painted.

Fun to see the differences.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

DMRRC - Burlington Northern

Earlier this year I purchased a 85mm (AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/3.5G ED VR) Nikon lens.  The main goal was to get sharper images than I was getting with my 18-200.

My first excursion with the lens outside of Grandpa's Dungeon was to the Detroit Model Railroad Club.  I had grand visions of what the day would bring.

I didn't do much to this image with respect to sharpness and bokeh.  If I remember right, this was taken on a tripod with a remote release.  To help maintain the sharpness, I didn't do any smoothing.  In my past train photos, I've photo stacked to get the image entirely in focus.  So this is different.

The vitals:  85mm, 1/15th, f/5.0, ISO 800.  Put that in the DOF blender with my distance of 3 ft and that gives a DOF of about one inch.  That is probably pretty close to correct.

When going through some shots to work on, I chose this one because of the sharpness of the front of the train.  I also chose to process the shot entirely with On One.  The exposure didn't need much work as the light is pretty even all around.  i was going through all the filters in On One when I stumbled on this color shade.  For what ever reason, this combination with the existing colors works for me.

In the past, I might have warmed or cooled an image a few points but that is as much as I've ever used for a total color shift.  This is new to me and I'll have to remember it.

On many fronts, this is a different photo from me.  Maybe I need to explore more?

Summer 2017 is over.........

Well, the summer photo vacation is over.

I didn't take a lot of new shots this year.  I'll have to make up for it with software amazement.

I've updated my software packages.  Photomatix, who I last gave money to over three years ago, still gives me no charge updates.  Beside the fact it is world class software, that alone makes Photomatix a valid software consideration if you are looking to get into HDR.  I updated my On One software package.  Looks like they've made some very nice enhancements.  The Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom 2018 versions just came out.  We'll see how lost I can get with that stuff.

Adobe also has Photoshop and Lightroom Apps for your mobile device.  I should add they are FREE apps.  I've played with them for a bit - and they are a lot lighter than the desktop versions, but for free they are still very powerful.  I just completed a technology upgrade (tablet and phone) where I can try these apps out.

The improvements in the On One Photo Raw 2018 software look very interesting.  I've used the software primarily for the the masking functions as I've found them to be much better/easier than Photoshop.  Related to this, I now understand their luminosity mask and how powerful that can be.  I need to get more comfortable with On One.

I will also work more with my phone camera.  For now it won't take the place of my DSLRs, but it would be nice to get 'better' results.  Now that I know about the Adobe Apps, I need to work on transferring photos between my phone and tablet, without wi-fi.  I'm not kidding myself, working on the phone screen is not going to happen with me.  The kids in the training videos are awesome, but they don't have my peepers.  I can live with working on the tablet.

I'd also like to get more comfortable with my device tablet (instead of mouse).  I've played with it off and on, but now that my mobile tablet has a pen I should get more comfortable with this device as well.

That's the plan for this winter.  Between now and June 2018 the paying job will get very busy.  I will have some opportunities for photos so I'll just have to make the most of them.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

DMRRC 2017 Visit Prep

My photo club field trip to the DMRRC is this week.  Time to get ready.
Last year I had new camera, and a new strategy.  This year if something goes wrong, I don't have those excuses.
This year I am using new software for my remote tethering.  I've been working with it for a few months so that can't be too much of an excuse.
There could be a new and unexpected twist.  I'm comfortable with the D7200 and the Helicon Remote software.  I haven't worked that much with the D90 and the software, so was down in the dungeon putting that configuration through its paces.
The D90 is not wi-fi capable, so had to use USB cable.  Not a big issue.  What I did discover is that in some configurations the Remote software will not save to the camera.  The table I'm using has about 6 GB of space available - I need to save to the camera or at the very least save to the tablet's external card.  If I changed the my thoughts and had all the images sent to the tablet, either USB or wi-fi, that adds a lot of time to the shooting process.  I do like the idea of sending a image tot he tablet, only for verification.  But i want the RAW image to stay on the camera, both for speed considerations and file size.
Fortunately there is a setting on the Remote software as to what to do with the image(s).  This setting will send the JPG image to the tablet and will save the RAW image to the camera.  I tested on both the D90 and the D7200 and it worked well.  Cuts the stacking process by more than 50%.  Huge.
The next change will be I will start off using the 85 mm lens (AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR
85mm f/3.5G ED VR).  The lens I used last year, my go to 18-200 did are real nice job.  I thought i would use it again.  But as i was int he dungeon for a few hours, I decided to see if there was a difference in the lens with respect to clarity.  yea, I know.  With a prime lens I should always get better clarity.  I just didn't know how much.  And now I know.
The subject is the underside of a PC disk drive, the circuit board.  This looks like a really good subject for focus stacking.
Both shots are 30 shot stacks.  For the display, the area that is shown is at 100% magnification.  i tried to get as many environmental settings as close as possible.  The camera and the subject were not intentionally moved.  Both shots were with the D7200.  ISO is 100.
The first shot is with the 18-200 lens.  The focal length turned out to be 150mm.  This is f/6.3 at 1/25 second.

Reality is, this isn't all that bad.  (Or so I thought.)  I accept the challenges of small sensors and some what limited lenses.  Unless I'm going to enlarge this to a wall sized photo, this will look good.


This is the 85mm prime lens.  Same speed and f/stop.  Same number of photos in the stack.

Based on this information, I will start with the 85mm lens - until it doesn't work.

I will do more prep this week.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Back to the Detroit Model Railroad Club - 2017

In a few weeks, my Photo Club will be heading out to the DMRRC for a return visit.  Personally, I had a lot of fun last year.  The DMRRC members who were out that night were just wonderful.  Like most places as soon as I left when we were done, I know I left so many shots out there.  Fortunately, I get another crack at them.

Last year I worked with focus stacking.  While most of my shots lacked train aesthetics, but technically they were good.

I've been asked by the Club to lead a discussion in our next meeting about the photo shoot.  Most of our members are outdoor photographers and being inside is a stretch.  

From talking with Club members after the 2016 visit, many said they didn't understand why the shots appeared out of focus.  That seemed to be the number one challenge.

I've been out to the DMRRC a few times in the last weeks.  I was in with the paying public, I didn't have the freedom to do focus stacking in these visits - as well as the trains were now in motion.  Well, this stinks.

In my first visit this year, I shot maybe 300 images - and only two came out that were any good.  And guess what - they were all fuzzy - like out of focus.  And then it hit me what the problem was.  Depth of Field.  I could usually find some point that was sharp - just not the point I wanted.

Unless this engine is getting ready to hit a fog bank, the focus starts to come in about two to three inches behind the front of the unit.  This is a clear miss on my part.  I'll bet I hit the front with the focus point and as I moved the camera back to center the subject, I held on the focus and it moved.  Rookie mistakes.......  Well that mystery solved.  But this illustrates how shallow the depth of filed can be.

So....  Speaking of Depth of Field, working inside is a real challenge.  The lighting isn't too bad but far from ideal.  You are shooting short distances to subject with high lens mm settings.  For example, if you shoot f/8 at 30 inches to subject with an 85mm lens - your DOF is essentially one inch.  Which coincidentally is just about right on for the image above. 

So the first points to the club are this.  Be sure of your focus point and have a strategy to deal with Depth of Field.  

One of the environmental factors is the subjects will more than likely not be moving.  They will be staged as requested.  So the speed question is reduced.  Even better if you bring a tripod.  I used a bean bag on the track last year.

Also, I will be focus stacking again this year.  I've gone over this with the Club a few times, hope they stayed awake.

Next up:  Increasing ISO if necessary.  (And it might be.)

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Hole Drill

Nikon is running a sale on two lenses - theoretically for close up work.  Both are prime.  One is a 35mm and the other is a 85mm Micro.  Nikon is calling its macro a micro lens.  Whatever, as long as it works.  

Yep, bought them this weekend.

I bought a 50mm last year - and it really wasn't doing the trick for me.  I was using it primarily for portrait work of which I don't do very much.  But I couldn't get the family picture right.  So - I'm going to a 35 mm.  As to the 85mm micro, I don't have anything to do real close up work.  With this lens, I can get close ups just under a foot away.  with my other lenses, I'm looking at another six inches away.  Doesn't sound like much, but.....

So today is play day.  My subject is a common hole cutting drill.  Truth be told, I had six different sets of shots.  Either the expose wasn't right, the tilt wasn't right or the lights didn't do the trick for me.  But stuck with it.

This is a 36 shot focus stack with the 85mm lens.  ISO 100, f/5.6, .3 Sec.  I shot this in RAW and the post work was in Photoshop.  The object is placed on a white poster-board.

As most of my efforts are HDR and somewhat 'soft', this is quite different.    

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Toy RC Helicopter

This weekend's subject was photo stacking a smaller subject than the Walking Shoes projects.  I have a small, very small, RC helicopter I bought a few years ago to keep me occupied for a Christmas Day.  The Cats were not amused.
The toy has been sitting on the shelf since then.
Before I get into the toy, I thought a look into what I am now calling the dungeon.  I've set aside a corner in our basement for my photographic equipment.  I have two tables set up - one has the mat cutting equipment and the other is the table top studio.

So far, the single lighting source into the umbrella is doing the trick.  I have been very happy with the results.  That tip alone was well worth the gas money to Procam and back.
On to the helicopter.
The goal was to test the Helicon Remote (PC) and Focus programs with something other than the default settings.
Over the course of the day, I found out a few things that sound like I should have known them before today, but like most things I have learned I needed to see it for myself.
The first thing I figured out, is don't be so fast to jump to a RAW format.  As RAW files are larger, guess what?  Yep - they take longer to process.  That probably cost me a hour.  Lesson learned, unless there is a reason for RAW format or you are just testing go with a medium JPG format.
Another lesson, it appears that the smaller f/stop (larger opening) doesn't always mean a clearer product.  i found in the course of the shooting that for some reason, the tail section would never come out clear when I was shooting f/2.  Not sure if it was the complexity of the section, or the backdrop or a combination of the two.  I would see clear shots in the stack, but in the processing it never came out.  I'm sure there is a way to clean that up, but that is time I'd rather not take.  When I shot a stack at f/4.5 and f/8 the tail section came in very nicely.  Lesson learned, if you have the time take multiple sets with different aperture settings.  I believe it can make a difference.
Next lesson, complex subjects can be frustrating.  I'll define complex as having multiple points of focus that overlap.  In this case, I spent a lot of time moving the rotor blades so they didn't overlap the body.  The more independent each element, the better.  It took me a while to get this straight, and coupled with the RAW image lesson, there was a lot of time consumed.  Lesson learned, practice, practice, practice.  Note: I always go back to my first stacking adventure, the DMRRC shoot.  These were not so much complex shots, for the most part the scenery was uncomplicated.  There was depth, but none of it was overlapping.
And probably the last lesson for the day, when it comes to rendering the photos there is always room for improvement.  In this case, methods A and B worked best when the radius and smoothing values were set to 1.  And while that was fun trying to figure those settings - option C worked the best with no extra effort.  The Helicon vendor website said that most of the default settings would work most of the time.  Don't believe it - explore.
So on to the Helicopter, again.
Using two different DOF web calculators with the following:  Camera D7200 crop sensor, distance to subject of 24 inches with 50 mm lens set to f/8 gives me a DOF of just under 2 inches.  The helicopter is 7 inches long, plus maybe 2.5 inches for the front rotor blade.  Something isn't going to fit.
This is one of the mid-photos in the stack where the focus is just forward of the rotor.

The front looks OK, but from roughly half way back on the tail the sharpness is fading.

With a 16 shot photostack, this is the image:

And a close up of the tail section:

The tail section is sharp all the way through.

So that is the stack part - done in JPG.

And the Blog version:

As this project was done in JPG, I'm stuck with the coloring of the backdrop and soften the object shadow a bit.  Still in the learning process.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Walking Shoes II

Had a really good photo related day on Saturday.  I started with a few hours at ProCam in Livonia for their Demo Days event.  I had a few subjects to address while I was there - and all were taken care of.
First, I had the sensors cleaned on the D90 and D7200.  Pretty reasonable price and they did it while I was there.
Next I wanted to see what the Nikon 200-500 lens really looked and felt like.  I did.  Yea, I could have bugged the store people about it at any other time, but on Saturday I could bug the Nikon Rep.  It's bigger and heavier than I thought.  What I found out is I need to include in that purchase price a mono-pod.  The lens is coming in at around 5 pounds, its not a real mobile thing.  Good information.  Still in the running.
I'll get to the walking shoes.
I also needed to chat with someone about lighting for the downstairs studio, aka Grandpa's (Munster) laboratory or dungeon.  In the first effort with the walking shoes (Walking Shoes) I thought the subject was OK, but the environment was not.  I was mostly concerned with correcting the shadows cast on the backdrop.  The first thing I could correct was moving the backdrop back a bit, and that's easy to do.  But that might not be enough, I needed to get to the light source.  So I needed to chat with someone about the dungeon lighting.
Seriously, I'll get to the walking shoes.
I found a sales rep for Westcott, a seller of studio lighting materials.  Condensing the story, he said I had everything pretty much all wrong.  (I take things like this well, as I hear it a lot.)  I had used two table lamps on the previous walking shoes photo.  The light was OK - but I did get unwanted shadows.
The sales rep's suggestion was to use the modeling light on one of my White Lightnings into an umbrella to expand the light source and see what that does.  Go down to one light?  Less is better, right?
I was all for that - I already have the stuff.  No extra $$$s necessary.
Now to the walking shoes.
I set up the environment so the backdrop was more relaxed and back off the subject.  I used one overhead light with the full power of the modeling light into an umbrella.
I used a nine shot photostack.  I changed the defaults on the Helicon program to take two shots per focus step instead of one.  More is better, right?
And one other teenie weenie change, I returned to processing RAW files.  (I was playing with JPGs earlier because in the stacking learning curve, I didn't want to confuse any issues.)
On the previous project, the light temperature from the table top lamps came out pretty close to what I would want.  In this new set up, not even close.

Looks like a bizarre autumn warming filter was used.  There's some heavy tungsten temps.  Maybe some white reflection from the umbrella as well.  For reference, the backdrop is black.  Seriously.
Maybe I've lived under a rock for most my photographic journey, but I've never really had to play with white balance before.  I remember trying to find a neutral spot on photographs and identifying it to Lightroom in hopes of making a difference I couldn't see.  But in this case, I need to do something.  So in PS raw editor, moved the WB from AS SHOT to AUTO.  Bingo!  I was in the ball park.  It was that easy.
After I hit it with the WB change, I applied a custom color profile file I created for the studio.
So, here are the vitals:  I used the D90 with a 50mm prime lens.  ISO was set to 200, Aperture was f/2.8, speed was 1/6 second.  I used Helicon Remote to calculate and manage the shots.  I used Helicon Focus to merge the nine shots.  

I hit it with a bit of NIK's HDR filters and Glow.  (Hey, it's still me.)  On the original file, you can increases to 100% and it is tack sharp everywhere, even in the color transition areas.  I attribute that improvement over the previous version of Walking Shoes to doubling the number of shots per focus step in Helicon Remote.
The walking shoes set up was a fun learning experience.  This project is closed.  Time to move on.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Walking Shoes

I've been working with Helicon Remote and Focus.  These programs are primarily used for focus stacking.
The Remote product serves two purposes.  I wanted a better tethering application than the base Nikon product.  The Remote product works on both my Samsung Tablet and my W10 laptop.  That is HUGE.  The product will control everything except a zoom function.
When I have the table attached to my camera, via WiFi, I can place the camera in places that are hard for me to use the live view and control the focus points plus all other elements.  I've configured the application to save the files on the camera which has more space than on the tablet.  I can use this when working on a location.
When I have the laptop attached to the camera via USB, I have the same control but I have the images sent to the laptop.  From there I can run the Focus program to verify the image is as I want it.
The entire package is a bit on the pricey side, that is north of $100.  After a few days of testing, for me it is worth it.
So this is my first public effort with the new package.  The goal is to be ultra sharp through the entire subject (running shoes).  The bonus is that even with a HDR effect, still very sharp.
The vitals:  f/1.8, 1/40th second, ISO 400.  The lens is a Nikon nifty 50.

First effort - not bad.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The White Barn

This is a barn in the Saginaw area.  I was out driving around and the sunlight and sky seem to be calling me.  This barn is photographed often by our Club, so it is not entirely unknown to me.  I've seen many shots at different times of year.  I think this has many possibilities.
First, I've started taking both RAW and JPG files.  I quit taking JPGs a few years ago, but now I have plenty of disk in the camera.  More information, even if it is not used ain't all that bad.

The RAW image:

The white siding is very close to being blown out.  On the histogram, that is represented by indications on the right and the warning symbol.  There just isn't a whole lot to deal with and the side is white so I'm expecting just a bit.

The Original Nikon JPG

By the histogram, it looks like the RGBs were reduced pretty evenly and added some dark blue.
Its OK, but not to my tastes.  First the golden vegetation has real possibilities.  I like yellows.  But I need more definition and a touch of saturation.  I think the real center of the picture is the white siding of the barn.  Again, more definition of the weathering.  And to finish up, the green on the tree and silo ivy is just plain boring, just some saturation.  Also, if I can do something with the sky in terms of clearing up the dull blue, that will be a bonus.

Now that I'm getting very comfortable Photoshop, I'm getting a solid workflow to 'prep' the image.  I start with the RAW filter.  In the RAW filter, I use the Transform tool to set the overall picture horizontal and vertical elements and correct for camera distortion.  Sounds busy, but I pretty much let PS do all the work.

In this case, there was some adjustment.

My next set of adjustments came from On One.  I tried the NIK adjustments and nothing suited me. In On One, I used Dynamic Contrast and Grunge filters.

On One Adjustments:

Now we're starting to get somewhere.  Starting at the top, the sky/clouds are starting to get some edge to them.  The tress and ivy have a lighter color and you can see much more definition.The flat white on the barn side is disappearing.  Not yet where I want it, but it is a start.  And as a bonus, I'm seeing some definition in the roof and silo.  The histogram is showing the image darkened a bit so I'll want to recover some overall light.  I used the RAW filter again to bump up the yellows and greens just a bit.

The Final Image:

I think I got what I wanted.  The sky has some definition, without looking too altered.  The tree and ivy have more color and definition.  The white barn siding isn't so bright, looks more weathered and detailed.  And the gold sea looks a lot more detailed.

Monday, September 19, 2016

High ISO with Polarizer

Continuing my practicing photos with high ISO, I headed out to Port Huron.  I figured there would be plenty of action shots between the boats and the birds.  I shot many images of boats going from 'no wake' to wide open and could follow/pan pretty easily with the 200 mm  lens.  I had lots of luck with clarity and had many more good shots than bad.  It was a good beginning.
Shooting the birds in flight was a bit more difficult.  They did not get the memo to fly close to me and in a direction I could use.  At least none of them crapped on me.
I did see some of them guarding the lights, and with the mix of blue sky and white puffys, there were some opportunities.
I wanted to shoot at ISO 1000 but I was using a polarizer, so bumped it down to 800.  With that set up, I had a shutter speed of 1/640.  I always use a polarizer around the water.
What I learned.  I've shot (photographically) a number of Gulls.  There is definition in the chest feathers.  On this shot, there is no definition.  Like he's wearing a T-shirt.  I'm going to take it that in the RAW image with enough time I might be able to bring something out - but I'm OK with this as it is.  There is a lot of white between the Gull, the lamp and the clouds.  All of it is nice and defined.
The final product is cropped pretty tight, if i was going to do something more with this image I might have to take a different approach.

Shutter:  1/640
Aperture:  F/11
ISO:  800
Mode:  Manual
Focal Length:  135 mm

Saturday, September 17, 2016

High ISO Shots

My next big photo op is roughly one year away.  I am heading west with a few friends to attend the Reno airshow.  As in Reno, Nevada.  Wow, I have some work to do!
First, this takes me a bit out of my element.  I like nice static subjects.  If I miss it, I can go back.  I'm not much for one and dones.
I've been looking at web sites for aviation photography and a few things I've learned.  One is I'll need to go shopping for something more powerful than my 200mm lens.  Doable.
I'll also need to be able to take shots at 1/2000.  The guideline for taking photos of prop driven aircraft is 1/40 to 1/125.  The blur of the prop makes the shot.  But for jets and very distant shots with longer focal distances, the higher speeds are essential.
One option to achieving higher speeds is to open up the lens' F/stop.  I'm real comfortable at F11.  I'll go to F/8 if I need to but that's about my limit.
Another option is to increase the ISO.  Being brought up in the 35mm days, 100, 400 and 800 are my familiar numbers.  The advertising on my D7200 says I should be able to get up to 1600 without too much issue.
OK, let's find out.
I've seen a number of sites that demo ISO noise effects.  Mostly the changes are in the area of color and definition, plus the introduction of 'noise'.  I should be able to compensate for definition to keep away from a really soft look.  I should be able to saturate as necessary for color.  The noise?  We'll have to see.
Now what I really need is a subject.  And as luck would have it, the snowmobile races that I went to last year - were going on today.  This is as close to air races as I'm going to get today.
To get where I want to go, I'm using Manual Mode.  I have the lens set at F11 and the speed at 1/1000.  I took a few evaluation shots and found that when shooting in the sunlight, 1/1250 painted a very nice histogram.  With a year to prep, I have one data point.

ISO 1,000
Speed  1/1250
Aperture  F11
Mode Manual
Focal Length  27mm
(Just in case you missed it before.)

The JPG that Nikon created was OK.  On the RAW image, which is the one above, all I did was let Photoshop add some depth and I added just a bit of green saturation for the grass.

First test passed.  I think the image is fine.  Next test - will the D90 do as well?  (It's going out west too!)

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Playing with NIK Software

I spent time today talking with two of my fellow photo-club members and as usual we wound up on the subject of workflow processes.
We started talking about the software we used.  We all had NIK software mostly because it is now free to use.  Thank you Google.  The software also works well with Photoshop and Lightroom.
In using NIK, one of the tips I picked up was to use a bleach filter early on in the process.  A bleach filter will do what bleach does - remove a lot of color.  Clean up the stains.  The filter will also sharpen and tone compress a lot of the photo.  In my limited experience (this afternoon) the filter seems to do a much cleaner job of sharpening and compression.  In the process, you can add color back  - and the color stays where you want it - that is no compression halos.
For my testing purposes, I'm using a photo of a church door I shot earlier this year in Flint.  Nothing reacts better to tonal compression that rock/stone and wood.  
This is the original RAW image.

The image is about as sharp as it will get naturally, I used a tripod.  As with RAW images, this is a bit flat and dull.  This is what the camera sees before going through some Nikon processing to make it a bit more pleasing to the eye.  This is the starting point.
My first step is to use the RAW editor to use the camera correction to straighten the image and lighten it up a bit.

In the next step or layer, I will add the bleach filter.

As with bleach, it has removed what looks like a layer of color.  Looking at the door in the center, you can now see wood grain definition.  The masonry looks like a sharpening effect was used, but was much easier than trying to find that right amount.
Next step will be to add some color back in with the Brilliance/Warming filter.

I like the way the color of the door has started to return.  When the new door lays is compared to the pre-bleach layer - you can tell the difference.

With a lot of work, I might be able to get the same result using multiple filters.  With this flow, there is no halo and the wood grain and masonry grain really pop.
I usually don't use - or haven't thought much of using this next filter, but for this photo it works.  The filter adds a bit lo light to the center.  it is basically the same as a vignette, but more of a circular pattern.  And in this case, I just want to accentuate the doors and this does the trick nicely.

So I now have the door where I want it color-wise and relatively speaking.  I'm on the final stretch here.  And because it is me, I need to add an HDR effect.

Now I've got the HDR effect I like.  The color is really close but going to give it just a little warm boost.

Clearly that last add of a warm is personal.
This is the final product up against the original.

If I was going to do more, I'd clean up the snow.  The HDR processing doesn't really do snow any favors, I like the pure white that is in the original.  I'd use masking to fix the snow.  That's about it for this image.
For this purpose, I like using the bleach filter.  That allows me to keep the sharpness of the photo through other adjustment layers.