Saturday, April 30, 2016

DMRRC: Bullpen

I previously mentioned I had a total of 22 shots of which maybe 18 were OK and there were four really good ones.  I'm really down to one really good one (Loading Station) and maybe four second tier ones.  We'll see.  A lot of times playing with an image does something unique which will catch me by surprise.
This photo was one I called Bullpen.  Baseball analogy.  These trains are waiting to be called into action.  The Bullpen is located under the main platform and there is no real scenery around.  The light also stinks.  At the time, I could have made
some better environmental choices.  The subject is there for sure.  There are some great colors on these units.  But coulda, woulda, shoulda.  Next time.  But what I have here I can work with.
This is a seven stack shot.  Should have been 14 to 15.  If you know what to look for, there are small areas that are not as sharp as they should be.  Again, I learned something.
This is a great lesson for shooting RAW.  The original images are very dark.  Because I shot in RAW, I could bring out more light and colors.
This is the initial image after the stacking process and sending it through Photomatix to give it some color, just at the Default setting.

Again, there is a bean bag involved.  A lesson here is I should have taken more time in setting up the bean bag to gain elevation.  Yet another lesson.  But for stacking purposes, this is a great effect.  Even at f22 - I'm guessing you wouldn't get the focus in the track you get with the stacking.  And might be good experiment for the next visit.
The next question would be to the DMRRC would be, do you like this background?  They might like this, where I think it needs help.
So the plan is going to be mask out the area above the trains, and merge with the Hollywoods mural from previous shots.
I did the masking work in On One.

I won't show the Hollywoods mural again, it can be seen in the previous posts.
I tried many effects, but most took away from the yellows that I didn't like.  This would be a good photograph to play with specific colors - yet another rainy day project.  I also decided to go away from my usual 5x7 format.  I changed to a 3.5x7 format for this one.  Just too much track in the foreground for me.
So the final image for me comes to this.

I like this shot a lot.  It's growing on me.  But the real question is, would the DMRRC like this version, or the original?  Bet they'd take the original.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

DMRCC: Loading Station

As I go through the shots from the DMRRC, I'm finding that four photos that are going to make the cut for extra work and display.  The Hollywoods Station was a real sleeper until I started playing with it.  The Zehaufer Mill was certainly fun to play with and did turn out better than I thought it would.  The fourth shot is the only shot from a tripod, looking up the side of a mountain straight into some florescent lights.  Yep - that needs a lot of work.  I need a crappy Saturday for that one.
Which leaves the third shot - the Loading Station.  From the time I first went on the scouting mission to the DMRRC, I had visions of this one and doing something really good with it.  
This started as a nine photo stack.  I did the fake HDR trick, using five images one stop apart.  This is what I came up with:

That is some piece of work.
Before I can even get to the effects, there is so much to do.  There is a level issue that needs to be corrected.  The unfinished structure needs to be covered.  I thought about trying to make it look like a bridge, but if you're going to alter it, just do it.  And the lights.
All that stuff is doable.  And done.

When I'm editing, I usually keep all the edit changes in case I want to work a tweak at a later time.  Like the Egyptians killing the slaves when the pyramids were completed - I killed the files.  There will be no tweaks.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

DMRRC: Zehaufer Milling

The finished photo turned out a bit darker than I originally thought it would.  And I'm not sure why - but that is where I wound up.  Sort of went a bit Charles Addams.  (Google it.)  This is my first attempt to combine focus stacking and HDR.
The initial issue when trying to combine the two styles is how can this be pulled off?  In a perfect world, you could take three sets of stacked images and try to combine them.  Let's see, 5 shot stack for each three or five set HDRs.  Quick!  I need a non-Common Core math expert.  Will the HDRs be sharp enough to line up?  Will HDR negate the photo stacking effect?
The primary goal here is a sharp image.  The focus, pun intended, here should be the focus stacking.  My light contrast just isn't all that wide so any HDR is really for effect only.  The image pixel information will be there - no blown channels.
So the plan is to focus stack to one .tiff image, then using ACR increase or decrease the image two stops to blend.
The image information:  6 shot focus stack.  f/stop 8; 1.3 seconds; ISO 100; 18 mm; Manual.  Camera was ground level on the tracks, using a bean bag for support.
Last is I know there will have to be a background 'sky' inserted.  I'll deal with that later in the process, I need to concentrate (couldn't use focus again.) on the scene. 
Step One:  The plan.  Completed.

Step two:  Focus stack the image:  This is the merged image from the six shots.  The 'extra' in the background couldn't stand still for all the shots.  Anyway - the primary purpose of the stack is for the subject to be in focus all the way through the depth of the photo - and it is.

Step two:  Completed

Step three:  Remove the background.  (And I hit it with a bit of sharpening and contrast effect.).

In trying to keep the DMRRC theme, the sky is from the mural with can be seen in the Hollywoods Station photo.  As it is just the top of the mural, tough to tell, but it is the mural.  I did the layer work in On One.  For me right now, On One seems to be much easier and quicker than Photoshop.  On One has a feature called 'smart brush' that allows painting out around objects fairly easily.  In Photoshop, the 'smart' brush' function starts with defining the object, then removing layers of pixels for sharpness.  Anyway - with the On One I have some decent definition with the trees.

Step three:  Completed.

Step four:  HDR it.
OK - lets dispense for now the argument that what I'm about to do really isn't HDR.  If it makes you happy to say that I'm doing a process that generates an HDR like image, go with it.
Since I'm working with .tiff files, all the pixel data is there.  There is plenty of room to move the light around

I decided to go with a total of five stops.  Two Up, two down and a 'normal'.
To do this, I use the ACR 'Exposure' sliding bar.

I'll move the slider to a value of -2, -1, 0, +1, +2 taking an image at each stop.  I'll then put the images through Photomatix using the Default setting to help set the colors.

Step four completed.

Step five:  Finish it off.

I didn't see anything in Photomatix that got me.  I saw some interesting effects, but nothing that was the end.  So I put it through Nik's HDR Efx pro 2.  OK - there's some stuff.  That will put some edge to it.

And the final image is:

As I mentioned in the beginning, it is a bit dark.  I could lighten it up a bit but this works for me.

As I go through these, I keep thinking that this probably isn't what the DMRRC was thinking when they offered my club access to the layout.  But that's OK, there were 12 other photographers there who probably came up with some real nice shots they'll like.  I sleep OK.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

DMRRC - Hollywoods Station

Thank goodness it was and still is a crappy weekend, relating to the weather.  I had a lot to do with the photos from the DMRRC shoot on Thursday night.
First I had to go through all the photos, 180 of them.  I needed to separate the photos into groups for stacking.  In the end, I wound up with 23 groups - which means a total of 23 possible finished products.  I found two sets that were technically OK, but not as interesting as I thought they'd be.  I will have 21 good photos to play with and I think that's OK for first effort with stacking and miniature subjects.
My workflow is also changing.  I made the official move to using Photoshop, upgrading from Elements.  There's a bit of a learning curve there - but lots of YouTube videos.  (How did the caveman ever get along with out the 'net?)  Once I got that installed on the PC and laptop, I need to re-install On One and Photomatix to get all the plug-ins connected.  Did I mention it was crappy outside and that's a good thing today?
As to Hollywoods Station....
This photo is from the front of the railroad display.  In the background is a very cool mural, which is where the Hollywoods name comes from.  There are some very interesting colors here, so I'm wondering anyway why is this shot in B&W?  As i went through proofing these photos the monochrome really works for me with the railroads.  It is just me.

For this and most of my other shots, I put the camera right on the ground, with a bean bag supporting the lens.  I set the camera at F8 for the entire shoot.  I also set the ISO at 100.  I was going to be using some form of support all shoot, so a high speed wasn't necessary.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Detroit Model Railroad Club

Had a wonderful evening last night with the photo club at the Detroit Model Railroad Club in Holly, MI. ( Website)
The DMRRC rolled out the red carpet for us.  Lots of people wanting to make sure we had all the shots we needed.
Although I find the trains and the support interesting, the detail in the scenery and the thought that went into the planning of the rails is just fascinating to me.
I focused on stacking photos.  I'll have 24 images to work.  t least one or two should be good, right?
This is the first time I shot in MANUAL mode.  Also the first time I used a bean bag.  And the wi-fi.
I hope these turn out good!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Focus Stack Depth

This is probably the last post on Focus Stacking with the sole purpose of getting to understand the process and what it will do.  I had this little test set up in my light-box.  This is a rubber pad with some plastic cap rings.  The total distance is roughly 15 inches.  The calculated DOF is roughly 5 inches.
This is the best of the combined images with the DOF entirely in the center of the shot.

As expected, the fore and background are out of focus.

I processed the 9 images using both Helicon Focus and Photoshop.  To be fair, I'm not real sure why I'm posting bot, because I really can't tell the difference between products.  What I can say is both are much more pleasing than the shot above.

From Helicon Focus:

From Photoshop:

Photoshop has an extra step or two in the workflow - and I'm guessing HF does the same in the background.

So it looks like in the decision on which program to go with will not have to do with the final product.  Both work well.

Crappy Weekend (Weather-wise)

I've had fun this weekend - and it's only Sunday morning.  Lots of time left.
Took a little shopping excursion Saturday morning.  I'm looking for anything I will need for this week's photo shoot at the DMRRC (Detroit Model Rail Road Club).  
I'm trying to get prepared so I don't freeze in the moment.  I think we'll have 2 hours there and while I think that is enough or more than enough I don't want to leave any shot there.
I am totally convinced that in many walks of life if you smell the roses and listen to the wind what you smell and hear will soon come into play.  And I think that is what has happened with this focus stacking I've been playing around with.
In other words, if I use the focus stacking that the DMRRC shoot - I'll have a much better experience.  So to do that, I need to practice, practice, practice.
(I'll get around to the weekend, I promise.)
First, the new camera.  I've been spending a lot of time with the menu items.  I have it set up for an indoor shoot, with fairly stable objects.  There might be a few moving trains, but for the most part it is the scenery that will be the center of my attention.  Also new for me will be file organization on the camera.  I'm used to using one large folder.  And that works until post production.  Now, there is a way to create new folders on the fly so when I'm done with one object I can create a new folder easily and move on to the next object.  The number of shots gets to be exponential when you need a minimum of three shots for HDR and let's say seven shots for focus stacking.  Not counting the test shots for exposure, you're now 21 images to support one final product.  Organization.  Organization.
Next, I'm not planning on using a flash for fill lighting, but will be ready if necessary.  I know what needs to be set on the flash unit and on camera to get it to fire remotely.  I have some idea of the power settings to use.  (Some idea, right...)
With the new camera I can use remote functionality through a tablet, either wi-fi or tethered.  I like this.  I tried using a third party app to do this, but am really finding Nikon's simple wireless app to do all I need which is really focus and shoot.  The third party app could manipulate many other settings, but the main functionality it is missing is showing the correct exposure.
This week I started putting together a portable and CHEAP light-box.  After one day, I had some pretty good results.  
Working with a light-box or mini studio, I am missing a few support items.  I need a good tabletop tri-pod.  I also do not have a macro-lens.  So Saturday's shopping took care of a new tri-pod which will get pretty close to the ground.  I'm not going to buy a new lens just for macro photography until I know I need and will use one.  To get around the macro issue, I now have some close up filters.  
So Saturday afternoon, worked with the new toys in my home, mini-studio.

On to the software.
For the DMRRC photo shoot, I will incorporate focus stacking to my normal flow which is mostly HDR.  
My HDR software is Photomatix and I've very happy with them.  I'm not planning on any changes there.
For remote connectivity to my camera, I'm sticking with the Nikon utility app.  First it is free if you don't include the price of the camera.  Most importantly, it does what I need to do remotely.  I was looking at the Helicon Remote app.  That app is more robust and will change many more settings, but I had difficulty with the wi-fi connection and it is missing the critical function of displaying correct exposure.  And it does come with some cost.
For the focus stacking, I'm still in search mode.  I'm trying the Helicon Focus program, one of the two big boys on the block.  I like it and it works great, but is way too expensive.  There are multiple other options ranging from free open source - to the expensive.  I'm still looking, but I will try this option from out of left field.  I'm on the trial period for Adobe's Photoshop and Lightroom.  I'm not a big fan of LR, but that is because I don't use it much.  I have LR5, but never warmed to it.  I've been using Elements for years and do like it.  My only issue with Elements is Adobe had no upgrade plan, that is you are changed full retail for upgrading.  But Adobe's new marketing is a package of PS and LR for $10 a month.  That's a pretty good deal if you're going to use them.  PS is $600 by itself.  So i have 30 days to figure this one out.
So - while we're getting anywhere from 3 to 6 inches of snow by tomorrow morning, I'll be multi-tasking watching the Pirate's Opening day game and later on tonight the Pens and Flyers.  Going against that will be YouTube of PS tutorials.