Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Post Processing - Why, What, and How....

Post processing sounds like an ominous phrase to beginners, but don't let it scare you.  It simply means cleaning up or enhancing your photo.  Like most things in life, it may encompass a whole host of additional meanings, but let's just stop there for now!

WHY?  Today's digital cameras have many options and settings.  In years gone by, memory was extremely expensive.  I remember being ecstatic when I was able to buy 1 megabyte of memory for only $100.  But I digress.  Photos can be saved in different formats (RAW, JPEG, BMP).  JPEG is the most commonly used format .  It utilizes complex math to shrink the size of the file.  This allows photography to be something we could afford, allowing us to take more than 10-12 pictures on a memory card.  Of course, there is always a trade-off.  We lose quality when we compress these photos.  Additionally, the sensors in our cameras rely on light to "excite" each pixel.  In low light conditions, they strain very hard to gather every possible photon.  This creates what we call digital noise, and can be compared to the graininess we used to see when shooting very fast film.  Neither one of these conditions are acceptable if we wish to present our best shots for viewing.

WHAT?  In order to clean up these images, we Post Process them.  This means taking the digital image and, using more math, remove the unwanted parts, and clean up or enhance the important information.  We use terms like De-JPEG, Denoise, sharpen, and even brightness and contrast.  Surprisingly enough, these terms are all self explanatory.  De-JPEG is used to TRY to recover the lost information from the process of shrinking the file size.  No matter how good the camera and set-up, we don't always get just the right light or get shadows that really detract from our work,  Using brightness, contrast, and perhaps other available options, we can correct these issues and even enhance things that you may not have even seen.

HOW?  Now that's the real question, isn't it.  I could be myself and simply say play and practice, but that just wouldn't be right.  So let's start by selecting software.  If money is no object, by all means contact Adobe and purchase Photoshop, Lightroom, and/or any combination of packages they offer.  They are the "industry standard" that everyone refers to.  Add to that a couple of thousand hours for classes, practice, and watching YouTube how-to videos to be able to use it.  You won't be sorry.  If it can be done to an image, Adobe can do it!  As an added bonus, many companies offer "Plug-ins" that can do miraculous things!

Working with a "no budget" budget?  From the open-source projects there is the offering of "Gimp".  This full featured package holds much of the power of Photoshop, but is FREE.  The learning curve, however, is also quite similar.  It is powerful, but not recommended for the beginner.

Post Processed, Signed - Silent Escort
Somewhere in between are a whole host of other options.  One that I personally use and recommend is Corel's Paintshop Pro.  The Ultimate package sells for $99, and as recently as last weekend was on sale for $69 (currently $79), and $49 for an upgrade. This should be within striking distance of most photographers, and offers a 64-bit engine for faster work, and will accept most of the third party plug-ins made for Photoshop.

Saint Augustine, Florida Lighthouse
3 photos stitched together
Once you have your software loaded, open a photo and start playing.  First rule, as soon as you open the image, select the FILE menu, and then SAVE AS.  Give your work in progress a unique new name and make sure you know what directory you are in!  This will preserve your original image and all work will now be done on the new file.  This will save a great deal of frustration and expletives as you WILL at some point make a mistake, and then save that mistake, erasing your original, and you will never forgive yourself!  Okay, enough about my personal experiences.

Start simply, make minor adjustment at first.  Use factory defaults to see how they work.  Play, play, and then play some more.  Check out tutorials and YouTube videos.  Remember, most will be written about Photoshop, but the basics will transfer to most of the packages.  Experiment with the order in which you make your adjustments.  You will see that this has a huge impact on the finished product.

In the future, we will explore more about techniques, but for now, just start playing and see what you can do!  I should note that while we do use Photoshop, all of the processing you see on this post was done with Paintshop Pro X-6 without any additional plug-ins.

Thanks for following my posts!  Feel free to comment if you have any questions or thoughts that you would like to have me address.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Binary Beauty

Through the history of photography, technology has always pushed the photographer.  The customer, the public, have always wanted more.  Today, we are always looking for better clarity, more digital resolution, faster shutters and less delay.  Will this ever end?

Monochrome Sailing - Click for high resolution
Most likely not, but that's okay.  As photographers, we always take whatever equipment we have and
try to provide the most beautiful image possible with it.  For many, that means more vivid colors and sharper edges.  In a previous post, I commented about rolling my own.  This comment, contrary to what a few have mentioned to me, was in reference to one of my favorite mode of photography - Black and White.

Backwater Boating - Click for high resolution
In my eyes, the contrast, shading, and shear beauty of well done B&W is every bit as beautiful as the cleanest and brightest color image.  Click on the captions to view my 500px high resolution images.

Whether you're shooting that new 36+Mp camera with the $5000 lens, or you've got that little point and shoot that you picked up for $20, don't overlook that option to shoot in black and white.  I won't bore you with the reason for the better image, just trust me on this one.  You won't be sorry.  

Majestic Oak -Click for high resolution image
And if the image isn't quite as bright or you don't think it has the depth that you see in these images, come back and read my next post.  I'll be discussing relatively inexpensive post processing software and how to get these results.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

All I need is my phone to take pictures!

Camera phones are becoming the most popular way of capturing the moment for most people today.  This is primarily because nobody leaves home without their phone.  When we buy a new phone, most of us ask about the camera capabilities as one of the deciding factors in which phone to choose.  "Does it have a flash?"  "How many megapixels?"  These are probably the two most common questions.

Taken with my HTC Inspire (Bellagio Fountains - Las Vegas)
Websites like "Instagram" have been born from the desire to share our photos with the world.  Some phones have been built with a "Facebook" button on them to instantly post the photo to our walls.  Is there no end to all of this?

In short, the answer is no.  As technology continues to evolve, so will the web, our dependency on it, and the equipment we arm ourselves with to "fit in".

Are DSLRs going the way of the dinosaur, like the film cameras before them?  Absolutely not.  While the point and shoot camera that has been the average person's "go to" solution is going to become less and less available, it should be noted that I can (and do) still walk into any WalMart or CVS and buy rolls of film for my "Old faithfuls".  Why am I so sure the DSLR isn't going anywhere?  Optics.

Covered bridge take with LG Optimus Pro-G
Even with a 13Mp camera in my new LG phone, the only way to get closer to the action is just that.  I can not take a picture of a bird in a tree 100' away and expect to get any kind of quality.  Sure, I could buy a special lens and adapter to mount on the back of the phone, but watch me put it in my pocket then!  Everything has it's limits.

There is nothing that can replace a good zoom lens for for the average photographer, and certainly nothing in the immediate future that is going to replace a good piece of glass.  Shooting with a long lens requires a monopod or preferably a tripod, but the quality of the image can not be matched by anything else on the market.

Same bridge taken from same location with Nikon D200 @ just 28mm
When considering a new camera, do your research.  If you are interested in something to carry on you at all times, the certainly make the phone your first area of interest.  In addition, I always have a Canon SX-10 beside me in the car (It has 10Mp, but 20x optical zoom).  A good point and shoot with 10x or better optical zoom can be purchased quite economically that will collapse within themselves to be no larger than a deck of playing cards. 

Of course, the bags in the back seat or trunk hold the "Big guns".  My Nikon family just loves to go out with me for walks.  My normal walk around lens is a Tamron 28-300 due to the flexibility it provides.  There are certainly better lens choices for specific shooting, but this is my preference for that "incredible snapshot".  To paraphrase a credit card commercial, "What's in your bag?"

Julie is on the bridge taking a photo of this bridge on the left.
The picture below is from the same location, shot with
my D200 and 500mm lens. Both shots are straight from the camera.

Try that with your camera phone!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Evolutions in photography

Hello everyone!  Welcome to my first blog!  Today's topic is embracing change.

As an avid photographer since the mid 1970's, I have run the full gamut of converting from life in the days of film and darkrooms to fully embracing the technologies of today.  Now instead of bulk rolling my own, I just let my computer suck up all my images wirelessly, copy them to my network drive, and even make backups in the cloud just to ensure the safety and security of my work.  No tedious hours of developing and printing contact sheets to be viewed under a loupe to decide which are worthy of taking the time to print, let alone the expense and aggravation of getting it "just right".  Now I just open my drive and skim through my images full screen on my computer and click my way through them.
Taken in 2000 with my "NEW" 1 Megapixel HP C200

Take into account the instant gratification that we photographers get of simply dropping the viewfinder from our eye and seeing the results of our shutter release right before us in full color on the back of the camera!   Unless you have taken rolls of film from a shoot, travelled miles to get back home, and then gone through the developing process to discover that something wasn't right along the way, you will never truly imagine the frustration that has been eliminated by having the immediate "Do over" option of lifting the camera back to your eye, making a couple of adjustments, and releasing the shutter again.

"Frozen Blue" taken Jan 2014 - IR photography

In the late 60's, I even tried a little "home film making".  In the 1990's, I began digitizing all of my video from tape and made the move to digital editing, and even making 3-D real-time animations!  Such a fledgling concept at the time with computers that ran a 133Mhz pentium processor at 16 bits, I would literally start processing a 5 minute video and go to bed, hoping that my computer didn't crash overnight, and that by the time I had had my first cup of coffee that my video would be rendered. Today, running 6-core processors at 3GHz, I can't even drink the coffee before it is done.

Prior to my first Digital entries in 2000, my photography was primarily 35mm, and excluding my scuba diving work, done on Minolta cameras.  I still remember the excitement of purchasing my X-700 the week they began importing them to the US.  To be able to meter off the film plane during the shot was unbelievable technology!  To have a Program mode that didn't require me to do anything but focus?  Unheard of!  Having worked with my first Minolta ST-101 for a few years with full manual being the only option, this was heaven sent!  Today, the Minolta name is gone, and I have moved into the world of Nikon DSLR's.  Nature photography and landscapes have always been my favorite subjects, and I hope you will follow my future posts to see the beauty of our world, captured by today's technology, as seen through my eyes!

Thanks for embracing change, and for following my work!