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dark_lord’s latest blog : image enhancement ? still seen as ‘cheating’?


Image Enhancement – Still Seen As ‘Cheating’?

28 Jul 2021 9:46PM  
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It’s a long held belief that using software to enhance an image is the devil’s own work. I’m not talking about creating misleading, fake or fraudulent imagery but using simple basic adjustments that many images benefit from.

The idea for this blog came from reading a description of post-capture processing on an image uploaded for critique. It’s welcome to see someone detail their processing steps, so that we know what has been done to the image. It must be noted that these were bread and butter adjustments such as contrast, levels, and so on. It’s a pity the original unprocessed image wasn’t included so that a comparison and assessment of the changes could be made. Were the steps taken enough or did they go too far? That’s what’s needed in order to provide the most useful feedback. While different people will have different ideas, further small adjustments did improve matters.


Straight from the camera

That last sentence is the caveat. Ten different photographers will produce ten different results from the same image. I don’t mean because they use different gear (hough that could be the case), but give them a RAW file to work on and the same software to use you won’t get ten identical results. True, some will be quite close to one another, but some won’t. Indeed, a single photographer can easily create several versions all of which they like.

While it’s hard, if not impossible, to dial out personal choice and style, and I don’t advise anyone to go that route (unless they’re) there are good practices to observe. We all want our images to look as good as we want. It can be that we’re too close to our own work. Coming back a day later and evaluating what’s been done can be helpful. Sometimes a small comment is enough to make us see what needs to be changed. For example, on one of my images, quite a number of years ago now, reference was made to a slight magenta cast. It was there, and using the white balance picker on the white background made the image so much more viewable.


Colour Balance warmed, Shadows lifted, Curves adjustment

I’m talking about basic adjustments required in order to bring out the best in an image. Good colour, contrast, shadow and highlight detail retrieval, a crop maybe, and so forth. Nothing that creates a fraudulent result (for example removing or adding people from a street scene for political ends or creating artificial looking skin in a portrait, though those types of manipulation have ben done decades before digital appeared).


Straight from the camera

Years ago, photographers would choose a particular film for its characteristics. Velvia to a boost insipid tons in a drab northern European winter landscape, Astia for more natural skin tones. Filters would be used to control colour, polarisers to boost saturation. Not to mention the renditions of different black and white films together with contrast enhancing filters and control over the print using different contrast grades of paper. All of which are choices you have using the basic adjustments of which I described above. You’re just replicating what has always been done, albeit with a greater degree of control.


Levels and Curves adjustments and further Curves adjustment on the sky

The allegation of ‘cheating’ is misplaced and comes from a lack of understanding, mainly from non photographers who don’t understand either analogue or digital methods and would have had negative film processed at a low cost (that must mean good value and thus a good job) minilab and accepting the results as given. Even some dyed in the wool photographers at the start of digital photography regarded the greater control with scepticism, and I think, apart from the fact it was a change, considered it cheating because they didn’t understand computers and software not realising the potential and freedom to actually produce the style of images they always wished for. Yes there would be a steep learning curve, and that doesn’t suit everyone. There is also the fact that so much more responsibility was put on the photographer to come up with the goods. No more blaming it on the local photo processing lab.

There are still purists who don’t like post capture processing, preferring to accept the jpegs straight out of camera (or other device), not necessarily realising that a whole lot of processing has already been done defined by algorithms with no creative appreciation. That’s their choice of course. In the end they’re missing out on getting the best from their efforts.

So, for the rest of us, let’s continue with our adjustments.


Too far?

All text and images © Keith Rowley 2021

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dark_lord’s latest blog : wallpaper (not the decorating stuff)


Wallpaper (Not the Decorating Stuff)

13 Jul 2021 3:27PM  
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We all have at last one device (well if you’re reading this you must have, unless you’re on a public device or borrowing from a friend) that you can display your images on.

Following on from my ‘A Picture for the Wall’ I’m turning to those other display spaces, the screen of your computer, laptop, tablet and phone. Before I go any further, I intend this blog to cover personal rather than work devices (unless you’re self employed and thus the boss so you can do what you want).


I bought my first computer for photography just before the turn of the century. I recall reading a suggestion not to use strongly coloured images as the wallpaper. The justification was twofold. In the days of the cathode ray tube monitor, bight images would be a strain over time on the phosphor coating. If you were editing bright images the same would be true so that argument is on shaky ground. The second issue, and perhaps related, was that a monochrome image didn’t overuse one particular phosphor. Imagine if you will a photo of your football team wearing red kit.

The main idea behind using a mono image was that it was neutral (so no sepia or cyanotype toning effects) so you weren’t over influenced by colour when coming to carefully edit your images. Again, from a practical point of view you wouldn’t be staring at your wallpaper for a long time before editing, and in any case most editing software could be set to be a neutral grey. The issue of overexciting (a genuine term, it’s all to do with energy levels of electrons, much of the theory I’ve long since forgotten) one particular phosphor was the main reason behind the use of screensavers (ah, there’s a clue in the name!).


Nevertheless, I used mono images. It was much easier to see when the screen calibration data loaded into the graphics card as I’d see a change to a warmer one in most cases. Modern LED monitors are much more stable in terms of colour wandering though I still regularly calibrate mine albeit not as often these days. However, I still use mono images, not so much as there may be a hint of logic in those old reasons, but because I prefer them. I find them ore comforting and relaxing. Oh, and colour icons do stand out very easily against them especially on darker and moodier images.

I create separate versions of image for my wallpaper so they fit my screen exactly and are sharpened appropriately. I have a separate folder for them and make each file name end in ‘wall’, to differentiate it from for example uploads to the gallery, website or blog which each have their own relevant ending to the file name. I find this keeps things in order, avoids confusion (and overwriting as they are all jpegs), and is easy to see where the image is used. That’s more to do with my general workflow.


Do you change your wallpaper regularly or do you keep a favourite image up for a while? The images here have been used as my wallpaper for varying lengths of time at some point.

What about you?

All text and images © Keith Rowley 2021

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dark_lord’s latest blog : a picture for the wall


A Picture for the Wall

9 Jul 2021 4:14PM  
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We all like to see a ‘good’ picture on the wall, but just because a picture maybe ‘good’ should it be put up on the wall?


I’ve heard it said, and even said it myself, that ‘that’s a good picture, it would look good framed and put up on the wall’. Now, you may already be thinking of a particular image you have or would like to have, or more broadly about the type of picture, to have on your wall. It’s a fair chance most will be thinking landscape.

I’m looking at this from the point of view as a photographer showing their own work, and as you’re reading this I guess that’s how you’re thinking too. I’m not talking about interior design (which I profess to know little or nothing about) but about personalising your space using your images.
Printers and framing companies would encourage this (of course), and there are a host of presentation options theses days including canvas block prints and acrylic panels.


While choices are entirely personal I want to throw in some thoughts.

Have you considered different types of pictures prints in different rooms. How about seascapes in a bathroom, if that’s not a clich? Then why not one of the local sewage works, at last it’d be relevant (though I’ve yet to take one myself). Do you want easy viewing or something that evokes a response in your visitors? Are abstract images a good bet? Would monochrome images make a statement? Would they suit a modern and minimalist setting? Maybe you’ve got, or intend to take, a selection of family portraits and have them placed around the lounge or dining room like a grand country house. A macro image of a caterpillar perhaps wouldn’t go down well in the dining room no matter haw excellent it is especially if you’re serving salad. How about a peregrine falcon with a freshly killed pigeon? Pictures of demonstrations or hard hitting social documentary images may get a conversation going or perhaps be uncomfortable for those on the political right. What sort of image would you put up in your study?


It’s not just physically printed images, the same applies to electronic picture frames. It’s a good idea to rotate and change images every now and again to keep things fresh. After all, it’s effectively a gallery you have.

So what are you going to put up on your wall today?

All text and images Keith Rowley 2021

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dark_lord’s latest blog : borderless prints


Borderless Prints

6 Jul 2021 6:51PM  
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Unique : 53

A long time ago when you received your printed photos they all came with a border, Then came borderless prints which are now the standard style. But what if you print your own, what do you choose?

When I first got interested in photography the borderless print had become the accepted standard. I’m talking just over 40 years ago. Borderless prints were simple to produce with automated printers using long rolls of paper. I don’t know what method was used before that. It would be interesting to find out.

Home printing was entirely different. Each print had to be produced using an individual piece of paper using a printing easel that held the edges of the paper down so the whole sheet would lie flat. I have a recollection that there were devices that allowed a sheet of paper to lie flat without trapping the edges and so produce a borderless image.


I’m not aware of a printing service that offers prints with borders these days, though I guess there will be some specialists somewhere. Nevertheless, you could always produce a version of your image which includes a white border (or any other colour you like come to that, though I was initially considering the classic look) ready for printing.

If you print at home today you have the choice. There’s a checkbox somewhere in the printer driver dialog that allows borderless printing. You need to ask ‘is a border necessary’. If you’re going to frame the print, using a mount inside the picture frame, then, depending on the aperture in the mount any border may well be covered. A borderless print is useful if you want a seamless look. This is likely to be the default as most commercially made mounts are designed for standard borderless machine prints. Alternatively, you may want a border between the image and the mount if you want to print slightly smaller than the mount’s aperture and include a keyline around the image.

If you print your own photobooks it’ll depend on the style you want whether or not you want a border around your page edges or not. And if so, how large.


I’ve only considered physical prints. As an aside, what about images posted online? Most images you see don’t have a border and that’s the easiest and most straightforward way as, apart from any initial adjustments, there’s nothing else to do. Do you want to create a border to represent what a print may look like or to give the impression of how the image would look if it were in a picture frame? Going for the latter could fight against the image for attention. I’ve not seen it much for a while now but there was a trend for producing multiple outline borders around an image which was distracting and counterproductive especially with smaller size uploads. What is useful to demarcate an image, for example a low key image on a black background, is a thin keyline. It’s subtle and I guess part of my style. I sometimes use thicker borders for images originating on film but on the whole I’d rather make the most of screen real estate for the image itself.


Fashions change, often driven by convenience and automation. These days you have so much choice regarding presentation, so make use of it.

To border or not to border, that is the question.

All text and images © Keith Rowley 2021

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dark_lord’s latest blog : calendars



18 Jun 2021 10:11PM  
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Unique : 36

Creating a personalised calendar is a great way to show off your photography whether for the family or organisation. The difficult and/or time consuming part is creating the images.

I first made a calendar using a template that came with Digital Photo magazine just as digital photography was taking off. That was for 2002. They provided templates the following year too. I don’t recall if they produced any more templates as I created my own design using Photoshop. The majority of images in those first years were scanned from film. I have pdf copies of all calendars I’ve produced bar 2005 and 2006 for some unknown reason.


I then made almost identical templates using Serif PagePlus X4, a desktop publishing program. The reason for that too is something else that’s lost in time though it was an interesting exercise using alternative software and a great way of learning. Previous experience with other software such as Quark Express and Microsoft Publisher came in useful.

Nowadays I use Affinity Publisher which is great to use and I can easily and seamlessly switch to edit in the Photo Persona if required. Affinity Publisher read my original Photoshop files so that saved a lot of work. It didn’t, however, read the text as text, instead treating it as an image Layer. It was no problem creating new text frames for the months and captions. I have templates with the first of the month starting on each day of the week. I hide the layers where for example the 31st isn’t required. The whole thing doesn’t take long to assemble and is easily customised though I have settled on a format I like. Once I’ve finalised an image it’s a couple of clicks to import it into a picture frame.


In the early days I printed the calendar myself. I upscaled the Digital Photo templates to A3, and those I created myself were A3 from the start. Binding the sheets together was the weak point in my production process in that it didn’t look great. I then came across, via the ephotozine forums, a recommendation for Fileprint who I’m very happy to use and have done for what must be ten years at least now. I create a pdf, upload it and a couple of days later the order is delivered. Nicely spiral bound and with a hanger. A3 calendars aren’t cheap but they do look good. And I don’t mean an A4 booklet style that opens to A3 with the spiral binding in the middle. Fileprint do request the pdf is in CMYK colour space rather than RGB. No issue for a desktop publishing program.


I also produce a narrow calendar where I get two months on an A3 sheet. I use double sided paper so that’s four months per sheet. There’s a greater choice if you use single sided paper, but the double sided Permajet Matt and Oyster serve me very well. The pictures aren’t huge so I’m not using large quantities of ink. The paper needs cutting down the middle but nothing a good craft knife and metal ruler can’t handle and I can spiral bind it myself too.


So what about the images? I like to come up with different themes. A couple of years running I did British Birds but there were different species in each, apart from puffins which appeared twice (because you shouldn’t ignore puffins!). Sometimes I shoot specifically, such as a series of flowers against a white background so the whole shoot was done in a couple of afternoons. At other times I have to go and shoot a few extra images. Sometimes I’ve got enough from my archives for example from a visit to the Royal International Air Tattoo. Some ideas take a few years to accumulate twelve appropriate pictures.


There are further embellishments that can be added if you’re so inclined, want to spend the time and know recipients actually appreciate them. One suggestion is to include astronomical data such as the phases of the moon. Notable dates are another. For personal calendars you could include birthdays ad anniversaries (no excuses!). World Whisky day is nice to know about World Water Day is a more sobering one because many people in the world either don’t have enough or don’t have access to clean water, something we take for granted. Sporting dates are yet another idea although I didn’t include any in my 2021 calendar because of the uncertainty due to the pandemic. Picture captions may or may not be necessary or required, but do consider them. You may not want them if you want to keep a location your secret, but you may want to include the common and scientific names of butterflies.

Finally, it’s your own work, both the design and the images, so include a copyright notice. If you have a website include a link as well as a QR code, not forgetting twitter, Instagram etc. If you’re producing it for an organisation such as a local charity those are important, as are their contact details.


All text and images © Keith Rowley 2021

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dark_lord’s latest blog : raw processing workflow


RAW Processing Workflow

11 Jun 2021 10:18PM  
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Unique : 57

It doesn’t matter if you shoot RAW or jpg you still need to process your images but there is more to consider for RAW. I want to share my workflow which I’ve refined over the years to something that works for me.

The question of workflow was prompted by comments in the ephotozine Critique Gallery. Having a workflow (your ‘method’) should suit your purpose ad be as efficient as you can make it, along with good practise. I’m limiting this blog to straightforward RAW image processing. Creating mono versions, images with particular effects or image from film scans have their own requirements. I’m specifically talking about Canon’s Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software but the same principles apply whether you’re using something like Capture One or Lightroom.

The files are downloaded from the card to a folder on the computer, for example ‘Landscapes 2021’. Navigating to that folder in DPP brings up the files, there’s no import procedure. I go through all the files, deleting those that don’t come up to scratch such as those that are unsharp or someone has their eyes closed. Storage is cheap, but there’s no need to keep stuff you know you won’t ever want to use. Experience tells me what may or may not be useful.

Lens correction data is applied automatically for things like vignetting, chromatic aberration and distortion. Adjustments are made to the Black Point, followed if necessary (and they aren’t always) to the White Point and Mid Point and Shadows. Contrast and Saturation are also adjusted, again if necessary. Colour Balance is adjusted too. All those adjustments are available on the same tab and take less time to do than it takes to read this paragraph. I tend to leave the Noise Reduction at the default as I reckon Canon know the best parameters for each camera and ISO setting. If cropping is required or a horizon needs levelling, I do this now.


The Basic Adjustments tab

Those basic adjustments are often all that’s needed, and don’t take long, becoming second nature. Adjustments can be applied to a batch of images which saves a lot of time. I set the Picture Style to Neutral so I make the choices as to how colours appear, using the adjustments for selective colour channels for saturation and tone. So, for example, I may deepen a blue sky in a more controllable manner (than using an in-camera setting) as you might when using a polarising filter. Boosting red and yellow in autumn scenes is something to consider though I can’t say it’s something I’ve particularly wanted to do.


The Lens Correction tab

Once I’m happy with the changes I create 16 bit tif files. These are the best colour conversions, containing a lot of information. They’re also the best starting point for different versions including mono. It’s worth repeating that for good mono conversions start with the best colour image you can. Even if I want a faded colour or distorted colour (for example cross-processing effects) starting with a good original gives you the most flexibility with regards to adjustments.

I write captions for each image together with a list of keywords. In Lightroom I add these in the relevant fields which become embedded in the converted tif images. When using DPP I copy and paste the information from a text document (spell checking is welcome, especially with my typing!) into Adobe Bridge, where I can apply it to multiple files where appropriate. Captions are so important, and useful. There’s no room for the old excuse of not knowing where a photo was taken or who it is in the image. Crikey, even Windows can reveal a caption in an image file.


Colour Adjustment

Once I’ve created tif files I use the Tools > Batch Rename in Bridge. You can of course set DPP (and Lightroom) to create renamed images. I prefer to leave it until I’ve fully assessed those tifs and decide on keepers. Coming back, say, a day later gives me time to look anew.

How you choose to rename your files is up to. There are numerous ideas around so find one that works works for you. Personally I’ve settled on the format Short Description Year Month File Number so I end up with something like BCLM 2019 May 01. For the hundreds of images I’ve taken at the Black Country Museum they’ll all have a unique name. I could, for example, replace the name of the month with a number so I can arrange them chronologically within a year. However, it’s easy to see at a glance just by reading the file name hat the month is. Many years ago at the start of my career we specified dates with the name of the month in just to be clear as the US and Japan have different ways of setting out dates compared to the UK. The method stuck.


BCLM 2019 May 01

When I create other versions, such as mono and toned images I add a letter suffix, so a mono version in the above example would be BCLM 2019 May 01b, a different conversion or sepia toned version would be BCLM 2019 May 01c, and so on. There are further hierarchical conventions I could use but one letter serves my purposes (life’s too short to go on about them here and anoraks aren’t allowed!). For images uploaded to ephotozine, my website and blog, or use in a calendar, I create separate jpgs, often with a border but also as a record of what I have uploaded, with further letters, Thus we’d have, for example, BCLM 2019 May 01epz so I wouldn’t overwrite a jpg used for, say, uploading to an online print site.


BCLM 2019 May 01a

My workflow may not be perfect for some but as it is I’m comfortable with it and well conversant with the software I use so I get what I want efficiently.

All text and images © Keith Rowley 2021

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dark_lord’s latest blog : a free lens


A Free Lens

2 Jun 2021 3:33PM  
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Unique : 65

I thought that would get your curiosity aroused. Canon had a promotion in the late 1990s where purchasers of photographic gear could claim a free lens. Which one did I go for? And is it still useful?

The exact details are lost in time, at least as far as I’m concerned. I think it involved buying a new camera body. The upshot was that there were several different lenses to choose from. The selection is something else that hasn’t lingered in the memory, and why would it having made my choice.


I went for the EF 24-85 f/3.5-4.5 USM zoom for the wide angle view and the convenient range. Indeed, as a walkabout and travel lens its small size and lightweight were attractive. I even used it with extension tubes (not a first choice and I guess not recommended by Canon) to photograph leaf cutter ants in Costa Rica as I’d prioritised longer lenses for bird and mammal photography. It worked well enough.

The lens had been designed with the smaller format of the then recently introduced APS-C cameras but was also compatible with 35 mm SLRs (what would be referred to today as ‘full frame’ cameras). When more affordable digital cameras entered the market from the early 2000s their sensor size was around the size of the APS-C film camera format. The lens was ideally suited to those smaller cameras in size, weight and focal length range. While newer lenses were available of course, it meant older lenses had a place and were still a valid choice if you’d got one.

With the advent of mirrorless cameras that are smaller it was time to dig out that lens and give it another go. There are some nice lenses for the new cameras. The initial flagship models while being tantalising are, no two ways about it, on the large and heavy side. If absolute weight isn’t an issue, maybe balance when hand-holding could be. With a lens design around 20 years old and the high resolution sensors in modern cameras I wasn’t expecting top notch results. Where weight might be a premium, would the results pass muster to allow consideration of the lens? My first choice as a general lens is my EF 28-70 f/2.8 L, itself getting on a bit but still able to hold its own. The smaller lens has a more useful range. Apart from the smaller aperture at the wide end not allowing as effective differential focus, very good high ISO performance these days means that’s much less of an issue in many situations. Vignetting and distortion aren’t a concern either (not that I recall any significant issues) as they are adjusted either in-camera or in RAW conversion software.


After digging it out of the bag, literally as it’s been living in the bottom compartment of a Billingham 335 along with other bits of gear, it was time to give it a go.

First impressions are good. It balances well on the smaller EOS R. Currently I need three lenses to cover the range of this lens, and going from wide to telephoto takes a bit of readjusting. Results look fine, and given it was designed for APS-C where greater enlargement of a negative for a given print size was required that’s good to see. The coming weeks and months will allow a further and more critical evaluation. Nonetheless, even at this stage I can say it’s a combination I’ll make more use of especially when size and weight are a big consideration.


All text and images © Keith Rowley 2021

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dark_lord’s latest blog : camera size


Camera Size

25 May 2021 5:38PM  
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Unique : 43

The size of popular cameras has varied over the years and continues to do so. You think your Nikon D5 is big? You think your latest Olympus is handy? Sorry to disappoint but you’re in exactly the same position as photographers in previous decades.

My first ‘proper camera’ was a Praktica Super TL3 I had for Christmas 1979. It was a model specific to Dixons (a high street retailer long since gone though its descendent Currys PC World lives on) and cost £80 or thereabouts. It was cheaper than other Praktica models perhaps because of economies of scale for orders to a single retailer (though given the number of similarities to other models I don’t think that could have been a huge factor) and a slightly lower spec (top shutter speed was only 1/500, though in practice you’re not likely to need much more in general photography).
Compared to many Japanese cameras it was a brick. In shape and weight. It was, in many cases, regarded as more refined and a step up from the Zenit range from Russia. Those cameras were even heavier, didn’t have through the lens metering at that time and were built like a tank. But they too got people started off in the world of photography which is a good thing.

While the Zenits were not so user friendly to operate, there was no reason why they couldn’t produce the goods. It’s all down to the user. Perhaps the tank analogy is apt as the T34 from World War II demonstrates. I may be slightly biased by having used the school’s Zenit E for an A Level Physics project. It hadn’t been looked after particularly well, though I think that showed its robustness. There is the story, or is it an urban myth, that a photographer photographing a demonstration used his Zenit to get out of a tricky situation as it was the only protection to hand. The camera came out unscathed.

My Praktica was functional and did the job. A couple of years later I switched to a Pentax ME Super which was lighter and more user friendly to use, together with aperture priority automatic exposure. Did my photography improve? Not because of changing camera. It evolved as I grew. So why the Pentax? It was good value for money around £125 in 1982 and with the attraction of being able to fit existing M42 screw mount lenses via an adaptor. It may be popular these days to use old lenses via adaptors on the latest digital cameras – for those that think it’s a novel idea think again, it’s as old as those lenses you want to use!


There were of course other makes that made a reputation for well built small and lightweight cameras though out of my budget at that time. Olympus was the only other of the ‘Big Five’ manufacturers to do so with their iconic OM-1 and OM-2 models. That’ not to say the other manufacturers didn’t produce smaller cameras, but a Canon AE-1 or Nikon FE were more middleweight than lightweight. Those smaller cameras were perfectly good, as shown by the fact Patrick Lichfield used them for a lot of his work.

So the 1980s trend was for miniaturisation (rather in contrast to the excesses prevalent in the rest of society like permed hair and loadsamoney). The introduction of built in automatic winding of film (quaint levers were out) and the advent of autofocus brought challenge to this compactness. There’s only so far you can go if you have to fit in batteries and a 35 mm cassette.

I found having a battery grip on my EOS 3 and EOS 1N cameras helped the handling when using larger lenses. Lenses with f/2.8 maximum apertures aren’t small. Or light.

A short lived attempt at going smaller resulted in the APS format. It was billed an attempt at making loading film simpler (you couldn’t say 35 mm was difficult) together with a few features such as index prints (which were soon offered for 35 mm anyway). It was really an attempt to boost camera sales. It never challenged the ‘serious’ market and before long was overtaken by the digital market.


Fast forward another decade or two. That APS size resurfaced in the smaller digital sensors and indeed I bought an EOS 300D which was much smaller than my then current EOS 3 film camera even without its battery grip. Moving to the full frame EOS 5D series the cameras became larger again. The current full frame mirrorless EOS R series are smaller and lighter and have good image quality but as the sensor is quite large there is a limit to how small you can physically go. Shades of my Pentax all those years ago.

Olympus (and others) with their smaller micro four thirds format mean even smaller and lighter and something you’d expect with their heritage. The sensor is roughly half the size of a full frame one, and that brings to mind the half-frame film models produced by Olympus.

The EOS 1D series are solidity and weighty, much as the Nikon single digit professional models. Excellent though they are and built to withstand tough professional use, ‘brick’ springs to mind.

Thinking about it, those old Praktica cameras weren’t that big and heavy after all.

All text and images © Keith Rowley 2021

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dark_lord’s latest blog : sharpness, does it matter?


Sharpness, Does It Matter?

7 May 2021 9:14PM  
Views : 65
Unique : 50

Sharp images are what most of us strive for and indeed are encouraged by a variety sources from advertisements of the latest lenses to picture library editors.

On the whole I like to see something sharp in an image as the focal point to draw me in as I explore the image. Not all of an image necessarily needs to be sharp (think differential focusing for example). Unsharp images produced by poor equipment or bad technique are no substitute for carefully considered and crafted soft images (something produced by a Lensbaby for example). Light and composition are still the important elements.


There are times of course when sharpness is a prerequisite. Scientific and technical photography rely on detail and clarity. NASA took the hit on weight by taking medium format cameras to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. Faultless technique and competency with good equipment is necessary. Advertising photography makes use of top quality gear, such as Phase One and Hasselblad cameras. With most advertising being viewed on small screens such as phones ultimate sharpness isn’t of any benefit or great concern except for high end products. A soft and dreamy result may be what a client is looking for and that can be added later (it’s easy to make a soft image from a sharp original than the other way round). For those of a certain age the Cadbury Flake adverts of the 1970s epitomise that look (though for some the chocolate was a secondary attraction!).

Before the internet, photographic magazines would regularly publish lens test results. I guess they still do but I don’t buy them. Amateur Photographer would use the view from their offices in south London, placing one particular building at the centre and edge of the frame and showing enlarged sections of the frames for comparison. There were some truly awful lenses. With many enthusiasts shooting on colour print film and having nothing larger than small prints made I doubt edge softness wasn’t a huge concern. Stopped down somewhat and with solid technique acceptable results were possible with most lenses.

Old lenses (or ‘legacy’ lenses) are enjoying a revival for some of their optical qualities and imperfections as photographers look for something less clinical and more individualistic than the cold and clinical rendition of modern lenses. Landscapes and portraits are ideal subjects for them.


In the days of film you could choose to develop your monochrome film with ‘Acutance’ developers. What they did was increase the edge contrast between dark and light tones which gives the impression of greater sharpness. Useful with technical and architectural photography for example. There was no equivalent for colour film.

For any image that’s digitised (so that includes scans from film and print originals) there are various methods of sharpening an image. They all have their merits. The ‘Unsharp Mask’ which seems inappropriately named does in fact have its origins in the darkroom. An unsharp copy of a negative would be sandwiched with the original negative when producing a print. The result would be an apparent increase in sharpness. All to do with edge contrast. And the ‘Unsharp Mask’ tool does just that, increasing edge sharpness. Details stand out more clearly.

With this increased control over sharpness there is the spectre of over-sharpening. I think spectre is a good description as the result of over-sharpening is the stuff of nightmares and something you don’t want to see. Images take on a wiry look with halos around the edges of subjects. It’s often seen in poorly taken (or heavily cropped) images that someone has tried to rescue. Even a soft image looks better than on over-sharpened one.


So in most cases sharpness is an important consideration. What about those situations where nothing is sharp? Or at least critically sharp? There are some very successful images that fit this description and I don’t profess to be able to do such things well though I keep trying.

ICM (in-camera movement) where the camera is deliberately moved during the exposure produces impressionistic images. I do find it works better if you are sharply focussed on the subject to start with so there is some structure to the streaks and patterns.

Lensbaby lenses produce dreamy and blurry images and even the ‘sweet spot’ maybe isn’t crisp. But that’s to miss the point, it’s not about the ultimate detail.

Panning with moving subjects is used to obtain a sharp subject against a blurred background to give the impression of speed. If you take the shutter speed even slower you’ll come to a point where even the subject isn’t sharp but you can still end up with something that embodies the atmosphere.


It may seem counter intuitive, or even perverse, that a sharply focused, or at least as accurately focused as you can, will result in a better soft image than an image that’s unsharp to start with.

All text and images © Keith Rowley 2021

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dark_lord’s latest blog : photography in the rain


Photography in the Rain

28 Apr 2021 6:13PM  
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Why would you pack your camera away at the first hint of a few drops of water falling from the sky? Soft light, glistening surfaces and reflections to name a few of the opportunities you’d be missing out on.

Photography is an all weather pursuit. If it isn’t so for you then it should be. Earlier I blogged about low light photography under the heading ‘Poor Light?’. Rainy conditions are part of the low light scene and more likely to make people put the camera away than low light levels. It’s like saying ‘I only photograph landscapes in the mountains’. You’re missing out on a chunk of photo opportunities.

Rain leaves attractive droplets on many subjects. The soft overcast conditions re ideal for capturing all the details. Shooting just after a shower will give you good images without getting wet, or at least too wet.


Papua New Guinea impatiens

There are times when you have no choice but to shoot in the rain. I guess you do have another choice and that’s to go home but in that case you need to consider a different hobby. Unless you’re a cricket photographer. Talking of sport and outdoor events, the action usually carries on in the wet. And the action can come in buckets (well it is raining!).


Michael Schumacher at Donington

For a great example I’ll take you back to the 1993 European Grand Prix at Donington Park in Leicestershire. The morning was dull to start with, followed by drizzle and then heavy rain for the race. You would be sinking a dozen centimetres into the mud if you wanted to walk anywhere. Alain Prost found it difficult. The group of German fans in front of me went quietly home when Michael Schumacher (der Regenmeister, inappropriately on this occasion) spun out. Ayrton Senna drove round as if it were dry. To get back to the photography, there was plenty of action to capture with cars struggling for grip and plumes of spray shooting up behind the cars. That shows action, so much more than a frozen subject on a sunny track that just looks as if the car is parked. Attending a BTCC race there later in the year was also in wet conditions. Donington is well known for its rain.


A round of the BTCC at Donington

There’s the usual concern, understandable and rightly so, of keeping the camera dry, or at least protected from the worst of the wet. A little drizzle or few spots of rain won’t be a problem. I hae a waterproof coat that’s roomy enough to put my camera under if necessary. Sports photographers have been known to use a chamois leather over their gear. I use a microfibre cloth to wipe down equipment, and to clean the lens and I’m careful to avoid getting any grit on the cloth. Rain on the camera isn’t so troublesome as rain on the front of the lens as that does affect the image. Simply using a lens hood (they’re not just for sunny days) will keep the front element reasonably clear in most situations.


Protective measures at Cosford Air Show

Outdoor shoots with models can be interesting in the wet. Having back-up plans and contingencies is good practice. Even if it doesn’t rain you’ll have those alternatives if you need further ideas.

So next time it rains get the camera out.


Dani with an umbrella

All text and images © Keith Rowley 2021

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