Moody on Monday

It got cloudy Saturday when I was out working at the cabin. It started raining while I was on my way home. It rained Sunday. Gray days, gray days. No bright and beautiful sunshine to work with, so work with the gray.

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Mt. Timothy
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Canadian Bald Eagle
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The eagle keeps circling
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In the ominous sky
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This is the third time I’ve accidentally created this ‘superimposed’ effect
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Mercury Sea Shipwreck

There’s more work to be done out there. Always more work to be done. But it can wait for a sunny day.

The Ravens

Gray skies and not a lot around to take pictures of … except the ravens. I never thought much about these birds until recently when they’ve become a distraction from the desolation. Here are a few moody shots of the infamous black birds enjoying the sky.

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Technical stuff: Canon T100 w/55-250mm kit lens, fully zoomed most of the time. ISO 200, very gray light (these are actually in colour, believe it or not). Post-shoot processing, specifically white balance adjusting, done where I thought it helped. Some images are full size, some are 640×427 crops out of full size.

The fine details

There are times when colour distracts from the image. When the subject is about shape, form, texture, lines – this is when monochrome works better. Here I present three images shot in colour and desaturated to black & white. These are “100%” views; cropped out of the full-size rendering not shrunk to fit. In fact I’ve gone with 2X the size I normally post in order to make the details more evident. On the other hand there’s only three pictures whereas usually I post six or eight. A bit of a ‘step up’ from my usual “professional snapshot” grade pictures.

The camera used is the amazing Nikon P610.

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PowerShot in black & white

Our ever-unpredictable weather has made photography a gamble lately. One day we have bright sunshine, the next thick overcast. Temperatures go above freezing in the day, then plummet well below at night. Tuesday a big wind blew in and changed the atmosphere from dry and warm to cold and snow and now the sun is out. It’s ridiculous!

Anyway in the past couple of weeks I have been ‘lugging’ the Canon PowerShot A70 around, set to monochrome, in hopes of trying out its in-camera B&W abilities. I would be trying the other settings, but the indicators on the LCD are so small that I can’t make out what they are. This means setting aperture and/or shutter speed is too difficult for me. So right now it will do colour on “Auto” and B&W on “Program” and at that I’m not sure I know what the ‘fine tuning’ is at; I need reading glasses and a magnifier to see the tiny symbols! There are newer versions of this camera which retain the nifty eye-level optical zoom finder but have a larger LCD for seeing the settings (and images). Maybe one day I’ll come across one. Until then …

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Marley, of course

This is a crop from the full-size image, so it isn’t reduced. Not bad for a 3MP camera, eh? I did have to fix the exposure as the gray day was giving very flat light to work with. Still an acceptable “snap shot quality” image.

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Rounds winding down

Taken in a rare moment of actual sunshine, I was surprised that the camera got the exposure right on this one. Considering the shot consists of bright light and deep shadow, the dynamic range is pretty good with just some washout in the highlights. There’s no editing been done to this, just size adjustment.

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Cloudy

Full image reduced in size. You can see the ‘sensor streak’ at the top, although it is less intrusive in monochrome. This is the kind of sky I was dealing with for most of these shots! Here the contrast has been turned up a little as it was just too flat.

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The Red Coach Inn

Monochrome doing the old building a favour, as it looks far worse in colour. Seriously this historic landmark needs millions in renovation and repair, and it is unlikely to get it. One of the few structures in town that isn’t some pre-fab quick-build utilitarian monster. It still isn’t very interesting.

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O Canada!

This would look better in colour. In fact it would look better in ‘red only’ colour, higher resolution, and closer zoom. This is a segment of the full frame. Quite grainy and gray despite contrast tweaking, looking like some ‘pushed’ Tri-X. I don’t like the effect.

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Raven

Cropped out of a full view, not shrunk. Contrast increased slightly to make up for the flat light. This is at full zoom, panning to follow the bird as it flew because the shutter activation on the A70 is slow. Same ‘feel’ as the flag picture, but perhaps it works better here? Perhaps not. This kind of picture is what the Nikon P610 is for: that camera would not give us fuzzy feathers.

Although the PowerShot A70 is a capable performer for such a cheap camera, I don’t think I’ll be keeping it because it’s difficult for me to use it to its full advantage. This is a fault with eyes in their seventh decade, not the camera. I’ll probably donate it back to the thrift store I bought it from.

Colour or not colour; that is the question

It won’t surprise anyone who has read even some of my blogs that I have my own views on whether to shoot colour or monochrome. You may have heard me express the sentiment that I generally shoot colour and then desaturate if I think the image would look better in B&W. It gives more choice, I feel. Other people prefer to shoot monochrome in the camera, and that is their choice. I do it myself occasionally, if I think it’s what the picture calls for. I’d love to be rich enough to have a camera “dedicated” to each, but that’s not very likely to happen.

Let’s face it: if the camera makers made it easier to flip between the two we wouldn’t be having the discussion, because a simple flick of a switch would give us either colour or B&W in a moment. Instead we have to paw through menus and push buttons, which rather spoils the fun. I’d like to see a combined ISO/Colour dial with speeds of 50 (please bring that back; the sun does shine sometimes) to 800 (above that doesn’t gain you much but noise) and half in colour half in B&W or maybe even thirds for high colour and low colour and B&W. I don’t know; if someone pays me to work out the details I will, okay?

Anyway the subject today is how and why I choose between the two. To start with, we have the Work Truck:

For me the colour is a distraction here, mainly because of the background blues competing with the subject which is practically monochrome (sepia) all on its own. In B&W the crazing on the panel is more prominent, and you might notice some of the smaller details of the form (such as how it sags on one side) because you’re not looking at the wide tonal range. I tried this in low saturation colour and didn’t like it. Shifting it to sepia (basically the colour of the dirt on the truck) however, works. Possibly the best version:

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The background colours are no longer a distraction, and the monochrome aspect of the road dirt (the main point of the image) is emphasized. Although you could argue that the colour version puts the road dirt into vivid contrast with the rest of the scene.

Now let’s look at a picture which works either way:

In the colour version we see the nice brass of the candlestick as well as the red and green remains of previous candle wax in the base. The blue background complements all of it, including the shapely shadows. In the monochrome version the image becomes one of shape and texture, of which it has a lot. In fact you could say it’s more poetic as the snuffed candle contrasts with the long shadow of the daylight (side note: this is not early or late light, it’s just the very low sun angle we have at this time of year. It stopped me taking it direct-on because it glared back horribly. “Angle of reflection is equal to angle of incidence.”)  Now here’s two more versions, low colour and “sepia” (actually trying to match the brass tone of the holder), both of which “work” in my opinion:

If someone asked me to pick between the four I’d have a hard time of it. Perhaps I should do a large image with the four versions together, like Warhol? *LOL*

Now a picture which could only be in colour. If this were monochrome it would be gray on gray, as there wouldn’t be enough contrast to show the fine details. This basically is a picture of colour contrast:

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Brush Strokes In The Sky

Finally here’s an image that only works in B&W. I thought this when I planned the shot, and so took it in monochrome to begin with which is unusual for me:

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Lonely Bear

If this were in colour you would see the bright blue of the background cloth, the bright red of the bear’s scarf, and the contrasting browns of the bear itself. All of which would remove the sense of melancholy generated by the image of a teddy bear that’s been left behind for some reason.

We have a mixture of images from the two Kodaks in this series: the P850 is responsible for the candlestick and the bear, the V1003 took the truck and the sky (with some post-shoot help for its failing sensor).

Walkin’ Blues

Woke up this mornin’, feel ’round for my shoes

You know ’bout that baby? Got them ol’ walkin’ blues!

Woke up this mornin’, … an’ feel ’round for my shoes.*

Or “the camera as artist”.

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Four shots taken with four different cameras. Each set to shoot monochrome (not colour desaturated later) and on automatic to let the camera choose exposure. I tried to frame them all as close as possible with their widely different focal lengths, and shoot as quickly as possible to prevent severe light changes (natural lighting). The only processing was reducing image size from native (not the same on any of them) to 640 pixels wide.

Which do you think gives the best rendering?

Of course I could take any one of them and tweak the contrast, brightness, et cetera – but that isn’t the point of the exercise. I think one of the major failings of digital photography is too much reliance on processing and not enough concentrating on getting it right out of the camera. The manufacturers don’t help there, with the way they design the controls and bury things in menus. As it was none of these cameras has a simple switch for going between colour and monochrome; it’s in the menus for all of them. I understand Fuji makes several models with such a ‘film switch’ but they are pricey beyond reason for me.

Here’s what happens when you get “artsy” with it:

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Lithography version

*”Walkin’ Blues” by Son House circa 1930.

 

Photos without a $5,000 camera

The following images were taken with a Kodak V1003 that I got essentially for free as it was part of my Dad’s estate. It was one of the few things I brought back with me. I saved it because I had used it there and liked the way it worked, even if the handling is clumsy. Unfortunately the screen is fading and so is the sensor. The processing time has increased noticeably, and sometimes the display is awash with pink. I know one day it will quit working altogether, but until then I will use it.

It’s only 10 MP with a meager 3X zoom (36-108mm) and is lacking many of the features so common on even smart phone cameras these days, such as image stabilizing. In reality most of those ‘features’ are irrelevant, especially if you are a good photographer. Am I a good photographer? Look at the photos and tell me.

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Retired
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I post-shoot processed these a bit to compensate for the failing sensor’s colour rendition and the difficulty the camera now has with unusual lighting situations. This amounted to basically three steps: white balance adjustment, desaturation, and contrast tweaking. I went with B&W not only to side-step the colour problems but also because it concentrates the image on the subject rather than “colour clutter”. Shape, form, and texture in monochrome.

As for what will happen when the camera finally fails completely, I don’t know. Having a slip-in-your-pocket unit that you can carry anywhere all the time is a great asset. But there are few like this anymore. Most of them have more megapixels and more features and more functions. And certainly higher price tags.

Pseudo-Panatomic-X

Kodak’s venerable black & white films were Panatomic-X with an ASA of 50, Plus-X with an ASA of 100, and Tri-X with an ASA of 400. Yes, they all started with lower exposure indexes, but those were the speeds they ended up at and thus the ones most people would be familiar with. You can probably see the relationships in the names: add one stop to Panatomic and you get Plus, add three stops and you get Tri.

There are many people experimenting with Tri-X simulations in the digital world today. There are even ‘filters’ built-in to some software to give your images that Tri-X look with a click of a button. There seems to be an obsession these days with ‘high speed’ exposure indexes, as digital cameras go up to ISO 6400 or more. That’s +6 stops from ‘normal’ daylight speed. Where are you planning on shooting? In the bottom of a mine shaft? Of course use of such high numbers then gives you the opportunity to complain about (and try and remove) the ‘noise’, which is the digital equivalent of film’s grain. In my day we tried to avoid that.

Here’s me, the old contrarian, complaining about the opposite; cameras’ minimum ISO setting seems to be 100. This is fine, but just as higher speeds have advantages so do lower speeds. You may find that hard to fathom because the problems of lower speeds are what drive us to use higher ones. Yet neutral density filters sell. Everything is a compromise. Just be thankful you aren’t using glass wet plates, okay?

So why would we want lower speeds? Not just for blurring motion or limiting depth of field (I will die before I use that stupid ‘b’ word). Just as high speed gives you more contrast, low speed gives you more range. In black & white we’re talking about defined gray tones. Think of it like this: let’s say Plus-X gives you ‘X’ (I wonder where I got that algebraic variable from, eh?) tones. Tri-X gives you less than ‘X’ tones, and Panatomic-X gives you more than ‘X’ tones. It’s like having more colours on your palette – only they’re all gray.

Mostly as an exercise in further exploring digital photography for myself, I set out to try and simulate Tri-X and Panatomic-X. The first was easy to achieve, and every bit as disappointing as the original film. Frankly I never liked using Tri-X because it was grainy and contrasty. It’s not my style. I’m really a boring, Kodacolor kind of guy. Nevertheless, this was an experiment for science!

There are two steps to it: determining what the difference is between how the camera shoots and how the film looks, then finding a way to make the camera output look like the film. It’s not as easy as it sounds: merely changing the camera setting to monochrome doesn’t work as it relies on what the manufacturer thinks is the right tonal quality and gradations. Slipping on a neutral density 2 filter to knock the ISO down to 50 doesn’t solve the problem either; it just lowers the EV. In fact, even in combination it comes up lacking. Why? Because your camera is biased about colours.

Black & white film (aside from specialty films) is made to be fairly even in its sensitivity to all of the visible spectrum. It doesn’t necessarily achieve this, and under certain lighting circumstances some adjustment is needed to render an image that is satisfactorily normal. If you’re familiar with shooting B&W you’re probably familiar with adding a K2 (yellow) filter to heighten contrast of the sky. In this case the bias in the camera’s sensor has to be overcome in a like manner.

I found my cameras all lean towards green. In converting the colour images to B&W (my preferred method – you’ll see why later) the various colours become gray tones based on luminosity or lightness or a combination of the two. If a colour does not reflect ‘equally’ it will slide into an incorrect tonal range depending on what conversion method is employed. Thus a colour may become lighter or darker gray than it should be. Admittedly this will not be noticed by most people, and probably doesn’t really matter. So long as you like the end result, it’s fine.

In my preliminary testing of that which I knew would happen, I shot the back end of my Xterra next to grass so I had red tail lights and green foliage to look at. Sure enough, changing to monochrome produced different results with different methods. All would have been acceptable by the end user, except where the ‘end user’ is me trying to simulate wide-tone Panatomic-X film. So it was time to apply some thinking, and some filtration.

Knowing which process turns which colour which way is a good place to start. My finding was: Lightness makes red tail lights lighter, green grass darker, yellow flowers darker; Luminosity makes red tail lights darker, green grass lighter, yellow flowers lighter. The second key to the puzzle was knowing the camera favours green. So we have to make the red tones lighter and use the luminosity function in order to get the most accurate conversion.

Enter the orange filter. Fortunately this is not a true ‘Wratten 21’ orange as that would be too extreme I think. Just enough to shift the colour, and incidentally require 1 more stop of EV – effectively lowering the ISO to 50. (The Wratten 21 would be 2 stops.)

I have to say I spent some time adjusting the camera’s “picture type” settings as well, to see if that would help. Subtle 1 step changes didn’t really show at all – or at least I couldn’t see them. I went with as ‘neutral’ as the settings could be, with an increase in sharpness to help the definition. I also reduced the MP to 4.5 for shooting, with a further reduction for Internet display. Yes, I realize this alters what you see. So does your screen and your eyes. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it’s right.

First, the picture as-shot. It’s a kind of snap-shot thing because I wanted to get a lot of variety in the composition; it helps with determining the quality of the final result as well as aiding the computer in doing the conversion (the more monochromatic the original, the more inaccurate the change to B&W).

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Next, the black-and-white version. True blacks, true whites, and many gray tones in between:

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Last, the colour-corrected version. This is why I like shooting in colour all the time; if this had been monochrome but would have looked better as colour, it would be lost. As it is the filter correction for B&W is subtle enough to be eliminated and deliver an acceptable quality colour rendition as well:

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Perhaps a tad magenta. That could be fixed if I wanted to spend the time working on it.

Here’s a more dramatic series, same processing order. You can see what I mean about what happens when starting with a fairly monochromatic image.

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Anyway, I plan to shoot some more like this and some starting with monochrome but ‘slowed down’ with a neutral density filter to see how that compares. It may be just as good, or better, or worse.

I also plan to try simulations of Kodachrome and Ektachrome once I’ve worked out the initial settings. But probably not Agfachrome with its muddy “European” colours. 😀