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.

Exercising the Nikon P610

Every camera needs to be picked up and used now and again. It’s just good practice. In the case of this particular one, it also means I get a selection of good shots without even trying hard. No having to  post-process to make up for bad exposure here! Truly a fine piece of machinery.

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Cloud Stream
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The sunlight is over there
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Raven in the Aspen
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That is Venus
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Raven silhouette
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Frozen in ice

 

Toy Camera

Inspired by Ritchie Roesch’s Digital Holga experiment.

Since my Panasonic Lumix ZS60 takes lousy photos anyway, it’s the perfect choice for turning on the “toy camera filter” and giving it a try. The Canon also has this “feature”, but it’s a bit silly to downgrade the quality of its lenses when the Lumix is pretty fuzzy to begin with. The Lumix results are A-okay, and simply a matter of whether or not the style is to your taste.

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Dreamscape
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Nebulous Moon
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The tall tree
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Distant flight
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This one hardly looks affected
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Marley hurries into Spring

Due to the erratic nature of the Lumix’s exposure control, all of these had to be adjusted a bit post-shoot in order to look ‘right’ – although what ‘right’ is under the circumstances can be debated.

So it’s quite the artistic little camera, but it does bring up a point I often try to make: why spend money to get soft images (as in buying certain low-quality lenses) when you can come by them so easily? Getting a good, sharp, realistic picture is the difficult bit. If your camera can achieve that, changing the look ‘downward’ after shooting is easy. The Lumix, alas, does not manage to make good pictures to begin with. It’s like buying a digital Holga – when you hadn’t intended to.

Two pictures three ways

Once again we are having not-good-for-picture-taking weather, with temperatures so cold the cameras try to reset or shut down completely. Really the best of them are only meant to operate down to -10°C and yesterday it was -18°C. So I’ve been inside thinking about shots and trying some experimental things which may or may not lead to more involved photo shoots. All taken with the Nikon P610.

First we have a picture of the sky where you get to guess which is the original and which were processed:

Next we have the antique inkwell. You get to pick which you like best. They all ‘work’, but I think the original colour version is the best.

Otherwise, I’ve been reading interesting blogs again including one from someone who actually has a new Fujifilm X-Pro3 – and has confirmed my opinion of it: So this happened. Great camera. And a clever bit from Eric L. Woods about being fiscally responsible – and still getting the camera you want (essentially).

Only a couple more posts for the year. Another silly one with silly pictures and a silly one with less silly pictures.

Always have a sense of humour, especially about yourself.

Four views

It hasn’t been good picture-taking weather here lately, so I’ve only just managed to finish this series I started quite some time ago. I wasn’t really sure where it was going or what I would do with it, to tell the truth. It ended up being four random shots from four different cameras. Each has a small story behind it.

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Latest Snow – Kodak P850
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Mr. Downy – Nikon P610
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Fallen Leaf – Canon T100
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Sunrise – Kodak V1003

The first picture, “Latest Snow”, was taken at ISO 80, to fly in the face of the current trend of hyper speed. Also the camera kept freezing because it was -12.

The second, “Mr. Downy”, was shot on a horribly overcast day with the air full of mist which did a real number on the sharpness and exposure. Yet a little post-processing salvaged the image.

The third, “Fallen Leaf”, is the most interesting subject with the way the curled leaf has been caught in a spider’s web. The colour shows how warm our light is at this time of year too.

The fourth image, “Sunrise”, is further testament to how you can take quite decent pictures with an inexpensive camera. Alas I did have to tweak it a bit because the V1003 has lost its ability to render contrast and colour correctly, but the adjustment is still minor.

I’m not sure how many more photos I will take this year. We’re in the stage of Winter where it manages to be miserably cold and also lacking interesting snowfall. Getting out and about will become more difficult, and most of my favourite subjects have gone into hibernation.

I wish I could.

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).

Stars in my eyes

The weather changed from cloudy to clear. This gave me an opportunity of one day to shoot some pictures. Unfortunately it was also the only opportunity I had to get some work done, and work takes precedence over play. I mean photography. Anyway the night was clear and the temperature was falling (from 10 down to -5) so I took advantage of it to shoot some more star shots. I did not do as much as I would have liked because it was cold and without gloves … well it takes several minutes per picture to take these, what with setting up and the long exposure and processing times. I still want to do some 1+ minute shots but they have to wait.

The equipment here is the Canon T100 with the 28mm f3.5 Super Takumar manual lens. Manual lenses are ideal for star pictures because AF and AE aren’t going to work anyway, so twisting the focusing ring to ‘∞’ and setting the aperture eliminates two operations per shot. Exposure here was ISO 800 (the Canon will handle higher but mostly it just adds noise – more than is worth the stops gained even with noise reduction at full) and 20 seconds, save the last one that was 30 seconds. No post-processing other than shrinking the dimensions.

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I particularly like the little cluster in #3. All of them could do with longer exposure or some processing enhancement, but I wanted to show them as basic as possible. How do they look on your screen? They actually look better on the camera’s LCD than on my laptop! Here’s the final one ‘enhanced’ a bit:

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The added noise problem is an issue, and the only way around it really is a larger sensor which is truly more sensitive to light so that it gets the dim stars without adding in false image. I don’t think I’m going to run out and buy a 24MP camera just to take star pictures with though. Here’s a slightly different type of enhancement on pic #2:

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As you can see the base pictures can be altered in many ways. Desaturating to black & white, for example, would produce a different ‘feel’ altogether:

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There’s no end to the fun you can have!

Are there stars out tonight?

On the few recent clear (and quite cold) nights we’ve had here I took the Canon out to do some star pictures. This camera has some advantages over the Nikon when it comes to shooting in the dark. For one thing it has a shutter time of up to 30 seconds, plus bulb if you want to go longer, which is not dependent on the ISO. It also has a higher ISO rating, but that isn’t particularly important. In short you have more exposure options available.

Another advantage is that the Canon has interchangeable lenses, which is a real blessing. In the dark looking at the sky, autofocus doesn’t work and I for one can’t see well enough to focus manually. The Canon’s kit lenses don’t have markings on them for distance either, so you can’t “set and forget”. However I have some very nice old Pentax Super Takumar lenses which do have distance markings; twist to infinity and you’re done. Since there’s nothing in the foreground in these images depth of field is not a concern, so you can use the lenses wide open (the 50mm is f1.4 for example). The old lenses are also better resolution and higher contrast than the new ones I have. In fact I found the 50mm to be favourite for these shots, the 35mm and 28mm were a bit too wide. I did not get a chance to try the 135mm Vivitar entirely as the first attempt did not go well and then the weather got nasty on me so I couldn’t make changes to the methodology and try again.

One thing was common across all: there was no way I could see to frame the shots, either with the optical eye-level finder or the LCD screen. I literally looked up at the sky, pointed the camera (on tripod of course) in approximately the same direction, and pushed the button. By the way, it helps to use the self-timer on short countdown to eliminate camera wiggle when you do this – although the very long times mean any initial shake has minimal effect and the timer trick works better for slow-speed shooting (1 sec to 1/60) rather than long exposure (over 1 sec).

Now here’s the thing. There are three different ‘realities’ in photographing the stars like this. The first is what you see with your eye. Up here at 3200 feet of elevation when our skies are clear they are very clear and we can see a lot of stars, even if we are freezing while gazing. In fact in daylight our skies are extra blue and the colour temperature needs adjusting to get the white balance right; auto or daylight settings won’t be right.

The second reality is what the camera ‘sees’. Since it can accumulate light over time, which eyes can’t, it can pick up fainter stars that we won’t see. It can also detect near-infrared and ultraviolet to some extent which adds to the starlight potential.

The third ‘reality’ is the unreality of what the camera reproduces. High ISO and long exposure both add noise to the image, making it full of ‘stars’ that aren’t really there but are just in the camera’s ‘imagination’. The Canon has noise reduction settings for both high ISO and long exposure time. I find them not terribly effective, to be honest. They do slow down the image processing time, making for quite a wait before you see what you’ve got. As it was I used ISO 800 as a maximum because I couldn’t stand the extra noise that is generated by the higher sensitivities; not worth it for a couple of extra stops exposure. Even ISO 400 contributes a noticeable amount of noise even with reduction turned on.

But this doesn’t matter! In fact I was not going for pictures representing what the sky looked like to the eye. Instead I wanted images that appear to have been taken with the Hubble Space Telescope of distant galaxies that our eyes will never see. I think the results are not disappointing.

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That last one is, I feel, the best.

How much of it is really stars and how much camera noise? I don’t know. And frankly I don’t care. I like the end results, and that’s what matters.