Thursday, October 28, 2004

Shoot the Moon

Well, last night was the full lunar eclipse. We won't get another one until March 2007. Given this semi-rare opportunity, Wayne and I decided we'd go down to the park where there's a bit less light and see what kind of shots we could come up with. After a rough start trying to figure out why Wayne's camera wouldn't auto focus, we began shooting. I shot with a Canon 75-300 IS lens for most of the night. It was an interesting experience. Once the moon goes red, your shutter speeds jump into the 1 to 4 second range. At that speed, the movement of the moon becomes a real issue. Shots don't come out quite as clear. A faster lense or a camera with more noise free high ISO speeds is a must. Unfortunately I had neither, so I didn't get the shots I hoped for. I really had no idea what shooting an eclipse would be like, and I think I got my expectations a bit too high. As a result, I was quite disappointed with the shots I got, though after looking around they seem very similar to what most everyone else got. Regardless, I wasn't satisfied with how my shots look at full size, and I wasn't about to let 2 hours of shooting go to waste, so I shrunk them down to 25% and made the following composition (click it for a larger view):

I've got about 2.5 years now to get prepared for the next one. Plenty of time to afford a larger, faster lens....or even a telescope. here to read more!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Editing in LAB Color Space (Part I)

On Sunday I was working with Wayne from my Photography class. We were sitting at his computer, sharing our Photoshop techniques with each other. He was going through his process, demonstrating on a sample image, and when he went to sharpen, he switched into LAB color mode, applied unsharp mask, and switched back to RGB. Seemed odd to me, so I pressed for details. He didn't seem exactly sure why to do it, but he had read it in a book and knew it had some sort of advantange.

So I went home and started digging for information on LAB mode. It seems there isn't all that much info on it, and the info available is mostly several years old (almost like it is a technique that was forgotten). However, the available information seemed to indicate that there were advantages in working in LAB mode. LAB mode consists of 3 channels. Instead of 3 color channels (Red Green Blue) like RGB mode, LAB mode consists of a Luminosity channel, which contains the intensity information (brightness/darkness), and two color channels A and B, which contain information on color tinting (Red vs. Green and Blue vs Yellow) but no color intensity information. Because the color information is distinctly separated from the intensity (or luminosity) information, that makes it ideal for making adjustments in which we only want to adjust intensity without introducing any color shifting.

The way unsharp masking works on an image is to increase the apparent contrast at edges. It does this by making the edge of the dark object even darker, and the edge of the light object even lighter. In this process, all we want to adjust is the intensity, not the color, so it made sense that unsharp masking would be an ideal adjustment to be applied to the L channel of a LAB mode image.

I started doing some experiments, and the advantages of LAB sharpening quickly became obvious. In sharpening, you inevitably end up with halos (the halos are what create the appearance of extra sharpness). Unfortunately, in places where you have differing colors you often end up with color tinting in those halos, and that is often very noticable. However, performing the same level of sharpening on the L channel of a LAB mode image results in halos with no color tinting. The images below demonstrate this.

Sharpening Comparison - 1x magnification

Sharpening Comparison - 4x magnification

In the above images, you can see in frames 2 and 3, where the unsharp masking was applied in RGB mode, there is a purple tint to the halo where the white and yellow sections meet. However, in frames 4 and 5, where the same amount of unsharp masking was applied to the L channel of a LAB mode image, you can clearly see that the purple tinting is gone.

There are other advantages to working in LAB mode besides applying unsharp mask. Adjusting levels can often be done better here, its easy to remove purple fringing (chromatic abberation), sometime noise removal is easier, and you can even do some fun special effects. I'll provide some more information and samples in the next couple of days. here to read more!

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Assignment 3 - Maybury State Park

If you've been following along, then before you ask: no, you didn't miss anything. Assignment 2 was simply to shoot something at different depths of field and different shutter speeds to see the effect. We weren't required to turn the assignment in, and it's all stuff I already knew about, so I just skipped it.

As I mentioned in my last entry, assignment 3 was part of our class field trip to Maybury State Park. There are lots of details about the trip in that posting, but now I'd like to share a few of the resulting photos.

The first thing we were required to shoot was a general area that included a clearing and a group of trees. The clearing seemed like the obvious thing to shoot, and I knew everyone would do it, so that's why I chose NOT to shoot the clearing. Instead, I went to some of the surrounding brush and found some interesting macro possibilities, so I took out my Sigma 70-300 lens, switched it to macro mode, and took the following shot:

Not the greatest shot. The poor lighting mean I had to deal with high ISOs and slow shutter speeds. I should have bumped the ISO up a few more stops (to 1600) when I took this shot, but I wasn't paying attention to my shutter speed and didn't notice how far it dropped. As a result, 1/80 second handheld on a 300mm focal length (480mm with the 1.6x crop) didn't make for the sharpest picture.

After that, Instead of shooting a picture OF the trees he pointed to (which I was sure everyone would do), I went INTO the trees. A few decent subjects in there to shoot, but I thought the best was this little bridge:

There are a few things I like about this pictures. The way the bridge leads to the path (which is covered by leaves...maybe I should have brushed the path semi clear of leaves). The 2 trees that frame the bridge. The way the one tree is crooked at the bottom, causing it to angle into the corner, and how the angled section is parallel to the bridge. It all comes together kind of nicely.

Our next subject was a particular tree we had to shoot. We could shoot it from near or far, alone or with other trees, close up, the leaves on the ground under it, or whatever we wanted. I ended up with 2 shots I liked of the tree.

In this first one, besides the rich color, I like the silhouette of the tree with all the little bumps sticking out where each branch is (or was).

In this second shot, I like the way the tree trunk leads from the corner (where it is nicely defined) on into the center (where it fades into obscurity behind the colored leaves). I also like how a few of the branches form a sort of reverse L shape.

After that, we were allowed to wander and shoot whatever we chose. I have several other shots I liked. Here's one of the ones I think came out nice.

Two things about this shot. 1) Yes, I staged this shot. I picked up some leaves from the trail 10 minutes earlier intending to do something like this. 2) Yes, if I was going to go to the effort of staging it, I could have at least removed that stray leaf from the top left. I missed it at the time...such is the story of the life of the photographer. Stray leaf aside, I like the way you can see some other fallen leaves under water, dull and covered in a layer of silt. It kind of emphasizes the story of the leaves. In the final throws of life, they blaze such a beautiful color only to fall from their glory, destined to become the decaying muck in the lake bed.

Anyway, the rest of my favorite shots from the field trip are all in my gallery here: here to read more!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Weather, Photography Class, and What I Take for Granted

The weather has been pretty bad for the last week and a half. When it hasn't been raining, it's been cold and cloudy. As a result, I haven't been out doing much shooting, thus I haven't updated here in a week. I don't mean for this blog to disappear so quickly. I've just been using the lousy photography weather as a perfect time to get caught up on a bunch of other stuff. In fact, I'm a little behind on my photography too. I've got some raw files I need to process from my lighthouse trip on October 10th. You catch up on one thing while falling behind on another. That's life!

Last night was week 3 of my photography class. Instead of a normal class, we took a field trip to nearby Maybury State Park. The instructor told us he was going to point out a few subjects that were required shooting (to see how different people shoot the same subject). The first place he pointed out was near the parking lot...a little field with a bunch of trees, a clearing with some picnic tables, and some logs from a campfire. He said there was a picture somewhere in there and we had to find it. And with that he set off down the trail towards the lake, with everyone following...except Wayne (who I met on the first day of class) and myself. We instantly made a break for that field, found our pictures without the distraction of the other students, and explored the surrounding area for about 30 minutes. We then decided to play catchup and started following along where the class had gone. We found a few shots, and JUST missed a woodpecker (we spotted it as soon as I took my zoom lens off, and it flew away just as I had gotten the lens back on and remove the cap). We then caught up with Melanie, who had dropped behind the group to take some photos on her own. She showed us the other subject we were required to shoot (a particular tree). The three of us then took our time wandering the trails, looking for the pictures we figured the others had missed. I'm sure we found a few. Wayne decided to head back, and Melanie and I continued on around the lake. It was getting dark, so we didn't get that many more pictures.

By the time we got back around to the front, Melanie needed to get some pictures of that first clearing, but by this time it was dark. Even though we were asked to refrain from shooting with flash, it was so dark there wasn't a lot of choice, so Melanie started shooting away. Meanwhile I set up my tripod and started taking long exposure shots, thinking nothing much of it. Then she started asking questions about what I was doing and how I was doing it. It was then that I realized how I take the things I know for granted. So I started showing her how to do long exposures at night. We took some shots at the longest exposure (30 seconds) and the largest aperture her lens could handle. I then looked at the histogram and, once again without thinking, started rattling off "well, your about 3 to 3.5 stops underexposed, so we'll need to use a bulb for about 4 minutes". Of course, she had no idea what I was talking about, so I had to explain how the histogram works, and how that ties in to exposure stops and calculating shutter times.

So I learned a few things on this trip. First of all, I take a lot of things for granted, and maybe I'm not really fascinated by some things I should be. It might be useful to stop and take a closer look at exactly what I've been doing. Maybe theres some fun to be had in there and I'm just overlooking it because it seems mundane. Another lesson I learned is to get out and start shooting different stuff at random more often. I knew what was at this park from going there several years ago, and I thought it was kinda plain...nothing much worth shooting. However, once I got into there, I started looking at that place from a photographic perspective and realized just how many things are there to shoot. I guess I've gotten into the habit of looking for those grandiose shots and forgot that there's a lot of beauty in the simple things we might overlook. Finally, and perhaps the most important lesson (thought that last one was good) is to not let the weather get me down. Go out and shoot anyway. I've been looking at trees which could use nice lighting and landscapes which could use blue or partially cloudy skies. I couldn't get what I wanted so I stayed home and did other things. If I would just get out more, I'm sure I'll find plenty of things to shoot. Despite the ugly skies and dimming light, I got quite a few good shots. Sure, there were some colorful trees reflecting off the water that would have looked better with a nice sky and some golden hour glow, but there were plenty of good shots that didn't involve any sky, and others where the sky didn't matter at all.

I'll be posting some pictures here in the next few days once I get around to processing them (need to get caught up on my other pics first). here to read more!

Monday, October 11, 2004

Assignment 1 - About Myself

I started my photography class last week, and our first assignment (due tomorrow) is to take a few photos that tell something about myself, but to take them in a way that is different than we would have taken them before.

My first photo is a shot of my pool table. It's something my wife and I like to play, though I should probably be better considering I own a table. What is different about this shot is that I'm used to photographing things as I find them...animals, architecture, landscapes, etc. Setting up a staged shot is not something I've done before (other than maybe putting a flower in a vase). I tried doing an action shot, with balls rolling around with motion blur. However I quickly discovered I could not get the shot I wanted to create due to technical limitations (I don't have a flash that supports 2nd curtain synch). So instead I created more of a still-life type of shot. It took a lot of work to get it the way I envisioned it. After fussing with the arrangement of items for quite a bit, my bigger concern became the lighting. My basement isn't exactly the ideal lighting studio. I tried with the regular basement lights on or the pool tables lights on, but I realized the glare was very distracting. Next I set up a photography lighting rack (old equipment...I think it belonged to my grandpa). That gave me an illumination that I really liked much better, but even worse glare. Next I used some black posterboard to construct a shade that I placed between the scene and the lights. That got rid of the glare problem, but then I could very visibly see the light reflecting off of the ceiling rafters. To solve that, I began stapling white blankets to the ceiling in various ways (across the ceiling, hanging down like a curtain, etc). Eventually I found something I liked, and there was just one thing more to decide: aperture. After extensive debate over how sharp or blurred to make the background, I finally settled on my final shot. Click on the image for a larger version of it:

For my second photo, I went to take a new perspective on my passion: lighthouses. I've shot lighthouses in just about every manner conceivable. I've shot from high and low, near and far, down the pier, across the water, from a boat, straight up the tower, straight down from the top, from the light room, and even through the windows and portholes. However, in thinking over things, the one thing I realized I haven't done is put my lighthouses in any context. So I decided to show the lighthouse with the boats they are meant to guide, and thus I took another trip back to Lake Michigan on Sunday. I started at Muskegon and worked my way down to St. Joseph. I shot many boats passing by several different lighthouses (five, to be precise). I saw ships as big as a passenger ferry that runs clear across to Wisconsin. However, the best shot I found was this mini sailboat (if you even want to call it a boat) with a colorful sail drifting past the Holland Lighthouse. I thought the colorful sail made it a nice shot, but I also think it's size gives some type of context for the purpose of the lights. In modern times, large boats are guided by sonar and GPS navigation. The idea of a lighthouse is pretty much unnecessary for those boats these days. In this age, I thought that a lighthouse might be most useful as a guiding light for tiny boats like this one...ones that aren't loaded up with modern navigation equipment. Once again, click the image for a larger version:

For my growing collection, I also got several other photos of this and 4 other lighthouses. It was a nice weekend, without a cloud in the sky (except maybe a few way off on the horizon to the north). Actually, the truth is, it was probably too nice. Without a cloud in the sky and the sun drifting further to the South these days, it made for a bit of a challenging day shooting these lighthouse, many of which contain white sections (which reflect like crazy and overexpose the shots)...not to mention the reflections off the water. Not a bad day, but definitely not my best photo trip. here to read more!

Friday, October 08, 2004

The Elusive Internet-Predator-Turned-Private-Investigator

My question on Wednesday about the ethics of posting photos of children online generated a LOT more debate than I expected. Among the people who felt it was wrong, almost all of them had one concern on their mind: You never know if a child predator will find the picture and then hurt that child.

Now, I made it absolutely clear that I was speaking of photos with no identifying information (no names or locations), yet that wasn't enough to alleviate their fears. To me, that seems to be about the most irrational point of view you can have. Why would anyone think that a child predator would go to all the trouble and expense of tracking down a child they found online (when the only info they have to start with is the name of the photographer) when they could just as easily grab at random one of the many unsupervised kids you see every day? Isn't this just another case of "Internet Paranoia"? Sure lots of bad things happen to kids on the internet, but these are kids who provided personal information to the predator (either through web pages, or more commonly through chat rooms). You don't hear the same type of fear about having pictures of kids in newspapers, yet when you apply it to the internet suddently it become very scare for some unknown reason. To me, that just doesn't add up.

Another interesting point brought up in defense of posting photos was the possibility for the photos to do good. What if that child had been abducted and the parents found a photo of their missing child online. While neither scenario seems very likely to me, I have to believe that the potential for good is at least as great as the potential for bad.

All ethical questions aside, there is a weekend coming up and I'm not sure what I'm going to go shoot. I'd like to go hit some lighthouses again, but I don't know which ones. There is a lighthouse festival going on near Alpena. I've already hit most of those in the area, but it might be interesting to re-shoot them with better weather (it was overcast last time I was there). Yet I'd still prefer to get new ones. Not quite sure what to do! here to read more!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Capture the Moment...but what about permission?

So yesterday was my first photography class. Seems like it might end up being a worthwhile class. First, digital cameras are allowed, so that means no need to confiscate my wife's Canon Rebel Ti for 8 weeks. Second, although we will obviously be getting a bit technical in the next class or two, we are going to focus mainly on technique and creativity. So the first class mainly consisted of introduction, and us going through a list of 15 "rules" (be ready, rule of thirds, get close, etc), along with some samples demonstrating the different rules. Mostly stuff I already know, but it was a good reminder because I often don't practice them (in the heat of the moment, it's hard to keep cool and think carefully about your shot).

So anyway, today I was at an event taking some pictures when I started thinking about the rules. One of the rules was "capture the moment", and that got me thinking. The moment wasn't about the event itself, but about the children watching the event. So with that in mind, I started shooting the kids...capturing the moment. When I got home and started looking at the pictures I found I had some great ones there, but I got to thinking...what about permission?

When is it necessary to get permission? These kids were in a public place, so certainly there is nothing illegal or unethical about taking their picture. However, what about posting them to my online photo gallery? I feel it is well within my rights to do so, but in an attempt to be sensitive to parents concerns about the dangers of the internet (sexual predators and all) what is the ethical thing to do? Ask permission (when I legally don't need it) and risk them saying no? Just go ahead without asking their permission?

I posed this question for discussion online here: here to read more!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Equipment List

Updated: Dec 26, 2005

Camera Bodies
Canon Digital Rebel

Canon 18-55mm EF-S Kit Lens
Canon 50mm f/1.8 Lens
Sigma 70-300mm APO Super Macro II Lens
Sigm 12-24mm EX Lens
Pro-Optics Extenstion Tubes (13mm, 21mm, 31mm)

Flash & Flash Accessories
Sigma EF-500 DG Super
Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce C
LumiQuest Promax System (80-20 Bounce + 3 Reflector Inserts + Diffuser)
Better Beamer FX-2

Hoya UV Filter(2x58mm, 1x52mm)
Hoya SMC Polarizing Filter(58mm)
Hoya ND8 Neutral Density Filter(58mm)
Cokin P-Series Adapter and Kit (58mm)
Cokin P120, P121L, P121M, and P121S Grad ND Filters
Cokin P197 Sunset Filter
Cokin P164 Circular Polarizer
2 Adorama P-Series Filter Pouches

512MB Sandisk Extreme Compact Flash
512MB Sandisk Compact Flash
256MB Sandisk Compact Flash
X-Drive with 20GB Hard Drive

Tamrac Expedition 7 with the following accessories
Accessory Pouch (for flash)
Large Lens Case
Water Bottle + Bottle Holder
4 Pocket Memory Card/Battery Holder
Cinch Straps
Against the Elements CL200 (Brown)
Quantaray Sport/Adventure Series Large (Black)

Velbon T-3500 Tripod
Plamp + 1 foot Plamp Extention
Mini Tripod
Lens Pen
Sensor Swipe, Pec Pads, and Eclipe Fluid
1 Canon BP-511 1100mAh Battery
2 Generic BP-511 1400mAh Batteries
Homemade Shutter Release Cable

"Understanding Exposure" by Bryan Peterson
"Learning to See Creatively" by Bryan Peterson
"Night Photography" by Andrew Sanderson here to read more!

Let Me Introduce Myself....

This is my first entry into my new blog about photography. In fact this is my very first blog (though I did "blog" years ago before it was called "blogging"). I'll just start off today by explaining a bit about myself.

I first got into photography about 13 years ago. My brother had a Pentax P-30 (or something like that) and a few lenses. I used to borrow his camera quite a bit. I'd take it on vacations and to parks around town, shoot portraits for friends, shoot lightning in my front yard or from the roof of my house (but only when it was at a safe distance). I did the usual experiments (tyring B&W or slide film, play with lighting, multiple exposures, etc). My favorite part of photography, however, was photographing landscapes when we drove from Detroit to Seattle. That's the part that really got me hooked onto photography. At one point I had some really nice pictures and was contemplating selling prints at art fairs and stuff like that. Then about 6 to 8 years ago, other events in life caused me to gradually move away from photography (and then suddenly forget about it all together). I started to take interest again last year, and this year for the first time I bought my own camera.

My goal this time it to take the hobby I've had off an on for all these years and turn it into a (secondary) profession. At the present time, I'm doing a lot of traveling, taking pictures and building a collection of quality images. Within the next 6 months, I hope to be selling photographs at art fairs. Tonight, I start my very first photography class. It's an intro level class, so I might already be beyond the technical scope of the class, but my hope is to both meet other photographers and to have the assignments push me to shoot things I normally wouldn't bother to shoot. Maybe I'll develop more of a taste for shooting studio portraits or product shots. Who knows? The point is to just see where it takes me.

Not related to photography: I'm 29, married, 3 cats, no kids, 3 bedroom house, 2001 Blazer, 6 brothers and 1 sister, work as a programmer at a university, bachelors degree in computer science, play drums, video games, write/sell computer software and video games for fun and profit, enjoy board games, roller coasters, bowling, pool (billiards and swimming), mini golf, and often wonder just how long I can go on in one sentence. That just about sums it up.

I'll post my equipment list next. Heres a few links for examples of my photography:
My current digital photography
Film photography from years ago here to read more!