Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Barn Art on Rt 30

I had the chance to drive Rt 30 from Breezewood to Ligonier in Pennsylvania.  Along the way, I passed this barn with some fantastic art painted on the sides.  Just another reason to not take the turnpike.
The day was really crappy.  Low Clouds.  Flat Light.  Photographer's dream.
First I really liked the scene, not your normal Mail Pouch Tobacco barn art.  
So here is the original image:

1/640   f/5.6
EV -1.0
Aperture Priority
ISO 200
Focal Length 18mm
Focal Length (35 mm) 27 mm

First, I wanted to get ride of the eye distractions, most notably the power line, the light on the side of the barn and the lightning rod on the top of the structure.  Usually small objects cause problems with tone compression which is amplified by a halo.  I used simple erasers to remove the objects.  
Image with the objects removed:

I put this image through Photomatix to work on the tone mapping.  Added my favorite touches, and this was the image:

OK - so now I have the base of what I see in this.  At this point, I could be finished but I like a little more detail and sharpness in my photos.  The barn wood and stone really have some potential to be unique.  And the sky really needs some help.   I will use On One's products to really pull out those details.  
This is starting to come around and I like what I see.

Before I'm done, I'm not real happy with some of the angles.  I used Elements to correct level the barn beam between the stone and wood.  I also corrected a bit for camera distortion but straightening the left and right edges of the barn.  It won't be perfect, but it will be better.

And put my backing and signature block on it - and final product.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Grass Snowmobile Races - In September

A local organization sponsored a grass snowmobile race in my local area.  I know a number of people who enjoy being out doors, going 70 mph in sub-zero weather who do just fine without my company.  But this looked like fun for them as well, although to be sure, there wasn't much 2-stroke gas exhaust odor.  Smelled a bit more high octane,
But this event was great from a photographic exercise as well.  As noted in a precious post, I tried many different settings.  I was trying to picture how the photos would look.  After taking some at very high speed to get clear images.  But those images didn't show the speed that was involved.   So - I slowed the image down as much as I could.  (With a little more time, I would have sped it up just a bit - but this was a good learning experience.)
Here is the original photo.

1/60   f/20
EV -0.7
Aperture Priority
ISO 200
Focal Length 62mm
Focal Length (35 mm) 93 mm

I've seen other images with this 'colder' look and it is interesting.  There are a lot if issues with the treeline I might try to clean up if this shot were to go to any competition.  It has possibilities.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

RAW Shooting

I shoot my photographs RAW.  End of story.
Yea, sounds cool.  Yea - usually requires some extra work.  But I shoot RAW and will not change.
Truth be known, everyone shoots RAW.  Even my phone shoots RAW. 
The photographic process goes something like this.  The image is seen through the lens and hits a sensor.  Information from that sensor is put in a file, either physical or some form of RAM for further processing.  The information that is put in the physical file is RAW.  That's the information I want.  The light information that hits the sensor is unaltered.  When the light image is processed further and the output is generally a JPEG file what you are seeing is your RAW image with further 'clean-up' that your camera manufacturer has developed.
I want to take control of my photos - and not necessarily see what Nikon wants me to see.
So, if I'm going to take that much control - what can I do to help my camera get the best possible image?
The biggest image killer I come across is the 'blown' colors.  It is usually the form of a blown sky - that flat - no definitions.  
This is how I get around this issue.
When I get to a location that has the possibility of a dull sky, I shoot some 'test' photographs.  I'm looking for blown areas.  My camera has a 'highlights' feature when will show overexposed areas.  Simple, quick.  I also use the histogram feature on the camera.  All one has to know is that any part that is blown on the original image is non-recoverable.  Software can't recover what isn't there.
I use the EV setting to compensate the image.  The more highlights I see, the higher the setting.  After some time, I can generally look at the environment and know what EV setting I need to use.
This is one of the test shots I used for an outdoor event.

This is the histogram:

Not a bad looking histogram - but the information on the right shows the sky information - and some of that information is lost.  No matter what I do, it is un-recoverable.  The EV on this is already -0.7, so I'm getting closer.

A EV setting of -0.7 is a comfortable setting for me.  If I was doing shots where there was more sky, I'd probably go to -1.0 or -1.3.  But in this case, I'm just looking to recover any sky I do capture.

In the worst case scenario with this setting, where I'm not getting any sky this is the result.

Here is the original image as shot.

This is a EV of -1.    The histogram looks something like this:

This histogram shows that although dark - all the color information is there.  This is something that I can work with.

I use Photomatix to set my color levels.  I've also used Elements RAW editor and auto levels to do the same.

This is what you get with one pass through Photomatix.

And the histogram is:

So even with a darker image, I can get the light levels correct.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Stitching - Way to save that photo!

One of the benefits of joining a photo club is that you get to see how others solve simple problems.  I am fortunate to have a friend/mentor through my local club in how to do simple 'touch ups' that will make a photo stand out from the others. 

One such photo that really sparked ides to me was that of a replica early Wright brothers airplane.  The subject was in a museum.  As with most museums, space between large objects was at a minimum.  I don't know if he would have taken the shot with a wide angle lens if the whole aircraft would have fit in the frame.  But what he did was to take multiple shots at 50 mm (considered normal focal length) and 'stitch' the images together.  The result was absolutely fascinating.  It was a good photo, technically.  Even he'd admit - it was going to win anything.  But that photo will stick with me for as long as I'm with photography.  The most interesting feature of that shot was that all the lines were straight.  There was no distortion due to being shot with a wide angle focal length.  Since I've adopted this hobby, that was one of the two to three most influential images I've seen.

Stitching is a process of combining multiple images into one image.  Sounds complicated, but software does all the heavy lifting.

What I've discovered about stitching is all the work goes up front.  Here goes:
1.  I usually shoot photos in Aperture Mode.  This is a must.  Usually the scene is uniformly lit and if Aperture Mode is used, the speed of the shot will usually be consistent.  The lighting has to be consistent.
2.  An overlay of 33% will usually get the trick done.  I usually try to go in the area of 50% to 60%.  This gets a good coverage and, not that it happens often, will cover if one photo doesn't turn out as expected.  Digital images are cheap.  The more, the better.
3.  The best images are shot portrait.  What I'm showing in this example is landscape - only to show it can be done.  But what ever orientation you use, make sure the focal length is 50mm.
4.  If you look up how to shoot a panorama, you will find all sorts of equipment to purchase.  I hand hold my camera.  Yea, sometimes the edges are a bit out of alignment, but you are going to lose the edges anyways.
5.  If you are going to make image corrections, make them on the originals.  Also be very careful not to make corrections in the middle of the project.  In the third photo below, there is a plant that is taking away from the entire picture.  That had to be removed on the original, prior to stitching.

So here is my example.  This is a local park pond on a sunny day.  In order to get as much of the scene as possible, I could take a wide angle shot.  If I had done that, the trees and other vertical object would have a distortion.  Or - I could stitch the shot.

These are the four shots used:

Using Elements 13, I used the Photomerge Panoramic function, the resulting image is:

At this point, depending on the format used other post processing actions can be taken.  I usually save to a TIFF file and send it to Photomatix.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Follow me by Email

I've added a widget to allow a 'follow by email' option.  It is unrealistic to expect everyone to look once a day - and to be honest I do take vacations both literally and figuratively.  

All that is required is a valid email address.  You'll get a notification at the email address entered that will require a reply to register.  Simple standard stuff.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

B-17 Engine (Workflow from Here to There)

This was an interesting project - and by far the most time I've ever put into any photo.  For the most part, I generally go with what comes out of Photomatix.  Call me lazy, but the software is getting so good, that the halos that are generally associated with HDR are almost non-existent.  But they are still there to the somewhat trained eye.  In this close up of a B-17 engine, the contrast between the sky and the engine cowling was great enough to halo a bit when applying effects of HDR.  It just didn't look right.  So what to do?

I liked the sky off of the original enough - with a little darkening.  The engine needed a lot of work.  The cylinders were not so visible.  The propellers and the propeller hub are also a bit washed out.  Last and least, the light tower is a bit distracting, that had to go.

I am using Photomatix and On One's Perfect Suite 9.5.

Here is the original photo.  (The original format is RAW - that explains the washed out colors.)  

The first step was to remove the sky from the photo.  I did this with PS Layers.  

Once the sky was removed, I sent this image through Photomatix.  My main goal was to bring out the cylinders, and to add a little jazz that suits me.  I would up choosing the preset VIBRANT.

When pushing this through Photomtix, it doesn't treat the transparent space that used to be the sky well.  Photomatix adds back the space as part of the image as almost white space.  Not a big issue, but it is removing that part of the image for a second time.  I hate double work!  So, after pulling the image back into PS into the original file with layers, I used some enhancement tricks to darken the propellers.  

From here, I worked on the original image as a whole - I needed to get the sky correct.  I used a clone tool to remove the light.

So I have the sky where I want it.  So I added the engine back into the original, and this is the final Image.

There is the final image.  Before I put out here on the web, I crop to a 5x7 format.  I have a layer with borders and and my signature block.  

1/500   f/9
Aperture Priority
ISO 400
Focal Length 18mm
Focal Length (35 mm) 27 mm

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

B-17 Engine (Close Up)

I was fascinated by the radial engines on the B17.  The thought of getting 9 cylinders to fire when they are supposed to and run for hours on end and not look like a conventional block engine baffles me.  I'm also fascinated by the variable pitch propeller system.  I (used to) know a little bit about how all that works from a prior life.  But the props on a C-130 are driven by a jet engine and not cylinders.
Some of the categories in my photo club deal with machinery, so I took a number of close up shots.  This could also be a self portrait and somehow I managed to get myself in the lower left - along with shadow.

1/500   f/9
Aperture Priority
ISO 400
Focal Length 18mm
Focal Length (35 mm) 27 mm

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

B17 Cockpit - Part II

This could be my training photo.  There is a lot going on.  Lots of contrast and colors.  In this one, I tried to darken the photo pretty much all around.  I think I get a better black.  
The sky still presented an issue, but I think this one works better.  There is a reflection in the center hubs of the sky that is blue and has some clouding.  Matches a little anyway.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

B17 Cockpit

This project was fun.  
This is a photo of the B-17G cockpit.  As with most shots with very high contrast, either the low light or the high light comes in - but not both.  This is a blend of the interior and a stock sky photo.
Many firsts went into this photo.  
One first was I used the Pen and Tablet for about 50% of the entire process.  I used it for all the detail work.  Still used the mouse to do a lot of the navigation work.
Another first is I used On One's perfect Suite 9.5 for all of the intermediary work.  I don't want to say that laying in the sky was easy - but it was however time consuming.
I like the way it turned out - however it is not contest worthy at this point.  The daylight washing the interior doesn't really mesh up with the area around the windows.  Not sure if I would either wash out the sky or darken the area around the windows.  Something for another day.

1/100   f/9
Aperture Priority
ISO 400
Focal Length 18mm
Focal Length (27mm) 123 mm

Wacom Intuos Pro Pen and Touch Medium Tablet

When searching for tips and tricks - usually involving YouTube - much of what I found came from people who use pent and tablets.  One of the members in my photo club used the equipment during a presentation.  I did some research and came up with the Wacom Intuos Pro Pen and Touch Medium Tablet.  So I got it.
There are some videos on how to set it up and most of the capabilities.  (How did the caveman ever advance with out internet?)
The set up was easy - once I disabled my anti-virus package.  Getting to that point was a bit frustrating - but that's in the past.
I played about 30 minutes of Spider Solitaire to get used to the position and movements.  Sounds funny, but that is why solitaire is there.  Pointer skills.
On the unexpected side, when people are talking on how they use the P&T most seem to gravitate toward the use of layers - which was never my strong point.  With the P&T demonstrations, the whole concept became much clearer to me. 
The first project will be trying to create something really nice of the interior of the B-17 cockpit.  The photos are a challenge because of the contrast of light between the interior and the bright flat sky.  We'll see what happens.