Some words about pictures

When I have time I read other photography blogs. Some on a regular basis, others as they randomly appear. Often they are interesting; seeing the process from another point of view and such. Occasionally they are infuriating; seeing people presumably making a living doing something they don’t actually understand how to do. Mostly they are amusing; looking at others’ adventures in Photo Land.

Just this morning I read a well-documented process of producing a colour Infrared photo from three separate black & white film images. I wondered why, at first. After reading it I wondered why even more. Seemed like a lot of work to go through in order to produce an image you could get straight out of a digital camera in one go. If you know what you’re doing.

This hearkens back to the recurring theme of spending endless time messing about with post-processing that is the hobgoblin on digital photography. Yes, you can adjust each and every factor by 0.1 at a time – and never emerge from your digital darkroom again. You really do have to develop (pun intended) a balance between ‘perfection’ and ‘no good’ which comes down to ‘good enough’. It won’t be the same for everyone. Most people, for example, scoff at my “professional snapshots” because they are small, low-res images often made with cheap (by industry standards) cameras. Well too bad; I like them. If I didn’t I would change my ways.

Sometimes I wonder if viewers of my work, particularly other photographers, see the message of composition and framing that goes into the shots I do. Never mind use and control of light. After 50+ years of pushing the button it’s second nature to me, although of course it doesn’t always work out (best thing about digital is you can make mistakes for free).

This is not to say there isn’t a reason to do post-processing, as there often is. For example older digital cameras tend to lose contrast so might need a little +10 in that department to bring them up to snuff. Or perhaps it is your intent to adjust things to produce the result you had in mind to begin with, or the result the image inspires when you see it on the ‘big screen’. And let’s be honest, sometimes the photo needs ‘saving’ because something went desperately wrong when you took it. It happens to all of us.

But what I wonder about is why people take perfectly good pictures and then spend hours ‘tweaking’ settings by tiny amounts expecting to get some sort of eureka moment of perfection. After all, we don’t every one of us see the same photo the same way.

I also wonder why people go about making an image the hard way when the same result is possible with far less effort (especially with digital). Maybe I’m just getting too lazy in my old age.

Anyway it’s foggy and cold this morning so no images will be captured today. Besides I have to get back to work.

One Strange Night. (Infrared image taken with Canon 1Ds & 35mm Super Takumar.)

More landscape trials

Canon 1Ds evaluation continues. First two with the 50mm Super Takumar, second two with the 135mm Vivitar (which is not as sharp but is no slouch either).

Down the lake.
Across the lake.
Neighbors’ cabins.
Del & Diane’s.

Landscape trial

Camera Decision says the Canon 1Ds is no good for landscape photography. Their complaints are a lack of live view and low resolution sensor. Naturally I had to give it a try.

Snow-topped mountains.
Across the lake.
The next point over.
Sunset.

These were all taken with the 40mm EF lens, which is fairly sharp but not as good as the old Takumars.

What I found: There’s dirt on the sensor again! Yes, a higher resolution sensor would enhance landscape scenes and a live view LCD would be helpful for framing/composing. I would not call it a failure, though.

I intend to try some more shots, using the 50mm Super Takumar, when I can get to it. Once again the weather is about to turn on me and I’ve got about one more good day which I will use up getting a little work done around here.

1 Dark sky

Further night experiments with the Canon 1 Dark sky. (Okay, you see what I did there.)

Changes from the last experiment including switching to the 50mm f1.4 Super Takumar lens and reducing exposure time to 10 seconds from 30. Note that you can tell if your exposure time is too long by looking at the stars in the picture close up: they will be elongated by the motion of the planet if the shutter is open too long. As a rule 20 seconds is the maximum to avoid this, but it depends on where you are and what you are trying to achieve. I found the star traces were about 3X as long as they were wide, hence cutting the exposure time to 1/3.

Although an interesting look, this image shows that the moon is a lot brighter than the stars.
I question the value of getting up at 11:00 PM to make photos like this.
It’s easier to do this in Winter around here, when the sun sets by 6:00 PM.
Despite very good noise reduction, some of the ‘stars’ are still actually noise.
This one I’m sure you’ll recognize.
The two moons of my world.

One of the hindrances of this experiment is the small (64MB) CF card I have: half a dozen pictures and the card is full! I’m shooting at Hi-res JPEG of course because I’m after pinpoints of light. I hate to think what RAW would allow me. Probably three pics. Fortunately the 8GB CF card I ordered has arrived, which will allow me to take more shots all at once with varied settings to see what ones work best. Providing I can convince myself to get up in the dark again.

Infrared roses

A little tweaking of the Canon 1Ds set-up for infrared. First, I swapped the 50mm f1.4 Super Takumar for the 35mm f2 because it has not IR ‘hot spot’. Second, I adjusted the exposure a bit which allowed me to get a more accurate white balance shot and thus better final results. Third, I increased the resolution setting to maximum for JPEG as the shots tend to be fuzzy anyhow. Fourth, I experimented with post-processing techniques to get a consistent plan for realizing the results I wanted.

When it comes down to it, you can produce a huge range of unusual colouration from infrared filtering. It’s mainly a matter of what sort of crazy results you want. Knowing when to stop adjusting is at least as much of an issue as knowing what to adjust.

Ranch house
Shed shot
Dramatic view
I don’t usually take pictures of people, but this old guy is interesting.

The last two images are the least processed and the most processed ones. Camera settings: ISO 400, f11, 8 second exposure. Really it could stand another 1/2 stop in initial exposure (using a 720nm filter). Also, the long exposure times mean the balance between aperture and shutter speed (also ISO) are not as even a trade-off as they are with normal photography. There is a lot of experimentation and guesswork involved, no matter how much you shoot.

Frankly a display of many IR shots gets boring quickly; I can’t see the point in doing a whole portfolio of them or limiting yourself to just the one style of photography. But putting one in every once-in-a-while will really liven up a showing and make people stop and wonder.

Bad craziness

Initial experiments with infrared using the Canon 1Ds.

Pic #1
Pic #2
Pic #3
Pic #4
Pic #5
Pic #6
Pic #7
Pic #8

Some notes: this camera seems to be more sensitive to IR than it’s T100 sibling. I have used a variety of processes here to bring out the images, mostly having to do with exposure compensation and sharpening. I can see where some adjustments are needed, for example I was using ISO 1250 (max on the 1Ds) and it is grainy. Most of the images were at f16 to avoid focusing issues. I can see where lower ISO and longer exposure time would be advantageous. Also I am not satisfied with the initial WB setting as the exposure for that is off. Images were taken without a tripod, using fence posts and rails instead. You can see this lens (the 50mm Super Takumar) has a ‘hot spot’ for sure.

Unfortunately I have to start all over because of the limited space on my only CF card. I will keep experimenting until I get results I want, even though my aim for this camera is not IR photography.

One scene seen six ways

Manual images are fine, but sometimes need some post-processing to make them just right. Or maybe not.

The original. Underexposed, moody. Or is that ‘muddy’?
Automatic equalization applied in GIMP. Better exposure, odd colours.
Auto white balance correction applied in GIMP. Most people would say this is ‘right’.
Exposure corrected using brightness and contrast controls in GIMP. This is the most accurate to life.
Getting artistic: white balance correction with colours “toned down” by ‘fading’.
When all else fails try turning the colour off. Or even if the colour is good it doesn’t hurt to see what the monochrome version looks like.

Mini Manual Manual

Being basically lazy, I rely heavily on automatic settings. Hey, I paid for ’em so I’m gonna use ’em right? Besides which my eyesight isn’t that great so autofocus is a must.

Except when I’m using classic lenses, which don’t hook up to today’s automation technology.

It is then that I fall back on 50+ years of being behind a camera (any one of hundreds), and go “full manual”. This means “pre-setting” everything, and then hoping for the best. If you can judge the light and the distances it usually works (we didn’t always have light meters and rangefinders, you know). Here’s how to do it, in as brief a lesson as I can manage.

1). Set ISO. The only rule for this is that higher numbers mean more noise, the digital equivalent of grain. Otherwise it’s a matter of choosing your favourite film speed, or in this case as close as possible. I’m picking on the Pentax K100DS for this experiment, and it only goes down to 200. Ordinarily I’d use 100.

ISO set to 200 because there is no 100 on the camera.

2). Set shutter speed. There are two rules-of-thumb about this. The first is the “exposure rule”, wherein shutter is set to “1/ISO” or as close as possible. In this case 1/250. The second is the “image stabilizer rule” wherein the shutter is set to “1/focal length” (or higher) to minimize blur problems with long focal length lenses. Since I’m using the Pentax Super Takumar 35mm f2, this isn’t an issue. Thus we go back to rule #1. Now if you plan on shooting things in motion, the high speed shutter rules apply and you may have to go even higher than you would ordinarily as it’s all relative. This means you might crank the ISO up another stop or two as well. Remember that 1 stop increase in ISO is double the current number, and for these APS-C cameras 800 is about the upper limit for acceptable results regardless of what they can be set to. (Me thumbing my nose at manufacturers’ ridiculous claims.)

Camera on ‘M’, shutter at 1/250.

3). Set lens. This is the big one. This is where the trickery comes into play. That ‘trickery’ is depth-of-field, which enables sharp (or sharp-ish) imagery before and beyond the actual focal point. So we start by closing the aperture as much as possible, which on this lens is f16. Yes I know it’s all the rage to shoot wide open all the time these days. That’s just so much dingo’s kidneys. This full manual trick will not work at maximum aperture because there’s almost no depth-of-field available – we’re looking for exactly the opposite of the blurred background effect that’s so popular today it has become a cliché. The second half of this part is setting the focus to where infinity is at one edge of the D-O-F scale for the aperture. On this lens that’s about 8′ (2.5M), giving a range of sharpness from around 4.5′ (1.4M) to infinity.

Setting aperture and focal point to give maximum range of sharpness.

Now we can take pictures. These are corrected for exposure (under-exposed is your friend for digital; over-exposed is just an uncorrectable loss), white balance (including in this case negating the thorium yellowing of the lens glass), and then reduced to ‘Internet size’.

Bleak tree. I finally got all the crud off the sensor!
Eight feet from the Whale, the actual focus point.
Closest focus possible. Image is sharp!
Not framed: I just held the camera up to the roof and pushed the button. You can see the range of sharpness here.
Close up and cropped in, Marley’s image is sharp.

A couple of notes: bright light is your friend for this procedure. There was some variable cloudiness that effected the available light on these pictures. I did not change the settings, I just compensated in post-processing (sometimes as much as 2 stops). You can adjust the aperture in the field if you want to, but remember it will alter the depth-of-field and you may lose sharpness where you want it. Longer focal length lenses have less D-O-F for a given aperture and don’t work as well with this trick. Also if you want to focus closer you can, but you have to remember to switch back when you return to scenic shooting.

Some people may think this is a silly thing to do, as it basically turns an expensive DSLR into a box camera. But frankly I have no sharper modern lenses than these old Takumars, and some that are much worse. Other people may be a bit miffed to find they don’t need all the fine complexity of the modern digital camera to turn out halfway-decent photos. And didn’t I myself once say I paid for those auto functions so they better work? Yet here I am not using them. Sometimes, at least.

BONUS SECTION!

I said I’d compare the Pentax K100DS 6MP to the Canon T100 18MP (both APS-C size sensors), and here are those shots:

Barn shot #1
Barn shot #2

Taken with the same ISO, the same exposure, the same focus, in fact with the same lens (the 35mm f2 Super Takumar) switched from one body to the other. Slight adjustment to white balance for each to rectify exposure but nothing else. Both shrunk from their native size to “Internet size”, with no cropping. Go ahead: try and figure out which picture came from which camera.