Flower Fireworks – Happy New Year!

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Most people can look back over the years and identify a time and place at which their lives changed significantly. Whether by accident or design, these are the moments when, because of a readiness within us and collaboration with events occurring around us, we are forced to seriously reappraise ourselves and the conditions under which we live and to make certain choices that will affect the rest of our lives.   – Frederick F. Flack

Thank you all who have visited my blog this past year. Especially, I wish to thank those people who are following this blog and who have provided comments on my posts. I wish for you all, health and happiness. Happy New Year! I have found inspiration in the posts of many of you. 

I cannot remember the last year that I made resolutions. This year, for whatever reason, I have decided that resolutions are appropriate.

Here are my (daily) resolutions:

Learn five things that are totally new to me:

  • a fact or piece of information (ie the pygmy right whale belongs to a species that was thought to have been extinct for millions of years. Not very practical info, but I enjoy being amazed. Science has not even figured out all the data about the animals that are here.)
  • a picture of something that I have never before seen, or at least that I have never seen depicted in that style (Yesterday’s find was Guy Tal’s marvelous landscapes that he has processed as paintings (http://guytal.com/gtp/gallery/index.jsp).
  • listen to a song that I have not heard before (thank you Pandora)
  • do something that extends an ability that I already have (like learning a new technique of photo processing)
  • do something in a way that is not my usual way (such as… I don’t know. This category is going to take some effort)

Give an unexpected gift to someone

Show, through my actions, that I love someone.

Become conscious of at least 20 things for which I am thankful.

Recommit, through actions, to my values and priorities.

Post more often on my blog, not worrying about proper grammar or punctuation.

The photo at the top of this page is a large chrysanthemum, each bloom of which is at least 4-6 inches in diameter. Usually close up photographs have a shallow depth of focus, that is, only a portion of the subject is in focus. This photo is almost entirely in sharp focus, because of using a technique called focus stacking. Multiple images are captured that are exactly the same except for the area in sharp focus. In this case, 41 separate photos were taken, beginning at the closest point of the flowers to the lens and working toward the back of the flowers with the focal plane of each photo being 2 mm deeper than the last. Then all the images were processed with Helicon Focus software (from http://www.heliconsoft.com/heliconfocus.html), which does an unbelievable job. (I highly recommend it both for close up/macro work, and for landscapes.) If you are interested in more information on focus stacking, please check out my first two posts of this blog.

Again, I wish you all a Happy New Year!

I welcome comments and criticisms (mostly comments).

My website for photo enhancing, processing and saving seemingly useless images is NaturePhotoRehab.com

J. Michael Harroun©2013

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Digital Photography: Processing Is Not Cheating

“The important thing is this: to be ready at any moment to sacrifice what you are for what you could become.”   – Charles Dickens

Level of difficulty: beginners

Is image processing cheating? No.

  • Digital images are the result of processing the data generated from millions of red, blue and green pixels in the light sensor. Processing is actually a necessity in order for a digital photo to look realistic. Of course, processing can also be use to create an emotional response in the viewer such as ephemeral, moody, dramatic or old fashioned.
  • Over-processing produces a garish and unnatural appearance causing the viewer to ask “Is that what it really looked like?
  • Correct processing causes the viewer to say “Wow”.
  • Over 99% of all professional’s digital images are processed.

What is image processing?

  • the adjustment/manipulation of the data generated by the digital sensor when it is exposed to light. Some frequently adjusted properites of an image are contrast, color hue, saturation, brightness of highlights, darkness of shadows, white balance, sharpness, etc).
  • Processing is done in-camera immediately after the photo is taken to create jpg images.
  • If you do not direct the adjustments, you will have to accept a lot of guess work by your camera and its image editing software.

There are three main categories of image processing: in camera, raw converter and “post processing”. I will primarily address in-camera and raw converter processing today. Post-processing with full editing software, such as Photoshop will be covered in a future post.

In camera processing:  Within all digital cameras, there is a tiny computer processor. Unless a camera is set to record a “camera raw” file format, this processor modifies/adjusts the data generated by the digital sensor immediately after a photo is taken. If you are recording images in the jpg file format (image file name ends in .jpg), then you are using processed images. Your images are being processed within your camera. This processing is required to create a jpg file format image. If you do not adjust the camera’s default settings for creating a jpg image, then your camera has to make a lot of guesses about the lighting conditions present and about how you want your image to look. If you like the appearance of all your jpg photos already, then there is no reason to make any change. However, if some of your images look dull, flat or washed-out, then you will benefit from learning how to control at least some of your camera’s processing. It’s not as difficult as it sounds.  In fact the first stage is very easy.

How do I begin processing without being overwhelmed? Do just a little at a time. If possible, take at least 20 minutes every day or two to learn something new about the editing programs that you have (an editing program comes with every digital camera). Then take at least 10 minutes to experiment with one of your images with the information that you learned.

How to begin controlling the in-camera processing?

1) For in-camera processing of jpg images, begin using you camera’s program modes for landscape, portrait, night scenes, etc (Different manufacturers give these different names, but common names are picture styles or creative program modes). They are usually accessed either via a button on the back of the camera or with a wheel that has tiny pictures on it). These will allow you to use presets that your camera came with, so that you do not need to make all the changes by yourself initially.

  • “Standard” (auto) programs are for general use. They usually increase contrast mildly and color vividness (saturation) and sharpness moderately.
  • The landscape setting (usually with a picture of a mountain) will make blues (sky) and greens (grass and tree leaves) more vivid (more saturated), strongly increase sharpness for greater detail and use a small aperture width for maximal depth of focus.
  • Portrait mode will adjust color for better skin tones, add  little or no sharpness (for smooth skin) and use a medium width aperture so that the background is blurred (helping to keep one’s attention on the person).
  • Close up mode (usually with a picture of a flower) increases color saturation, increases sharpness and uses a wide aperture for fast shutter speed and blurring of foreground and background.
  • Other specific program modes or picture styles, such as night scenes or action/sports, make their own distinctive adjustments. Letting your camera know what type of picture you are taking, will help it to produce a more pleasing image.

2)  The reason to take greater control over the in-camera processing is to decrease the amount of guess work that your camera has to do about the style, composition and lighting of the image that you took. Also your camera will not have to guess about your personal preferences for your images (For instance, I like more contrast, saturation and sharpness than average). The goal is to create more realistic or evocative images, although it will allow you to have unusual or weird effects if you choose. Generally we want images that appear realistic to the viewer.

  • White balance: First, I recommend that you learn to set the white balance. I covered this in detail in my last post entitled “Photography: White Balance Essentials”. If you are not familiar with white balance, please check it out.
  • Contrast, saturation and sharpness: Find your camera’s settings for these image characteristics.  Usually they will be in the recording menu or the menu for “functions” or custom picture styles. (Often there is a button on the back of the camera that gets you quickly to these settings.  (Check your camera’s instruction manual).There, you can individually adjust contrast, color saturation, sharpness, color tone and perhaps some additional properties (depending upon your particular camera).  Begin by adjusting just one of these characteristics at a time. (The changes that you will make now will not affect your camera’s settings for the preset picture styles and creative program modes (landscape, portrait, close up, etc that I mentioned with in-camera processing-part 1, above).
  • Setting contrast: Low contrast gives a smooth, delicate, dreamy or flat appearance. High contrast increases depth of field, detail and texture. It also can give a more dramatic appearance to images. Take pictures of the same thing with different settings for contrast. Start with the lowest amount of contrast offered and work up to the maximal setting. Compare the images to see which you like best.  Make a note of it. (The very highest and lowest settings are likely to make it look weird, but sometimes you may want to make your images weird). You probably will like a different amount of contrast for landscapes than for portraits, than for night scenes, etc. You can add that information later. It’s a very good idea to keep a record or journal of the settings that you like. (In the past, whenever I have not written it down immediately, I have forgotten the result and have to do it all again.)
  • Saturation (vividness of colors):  Low saturation tends to give calm, delicate of dreamy feel to the images. Moderate saturation gives vivid colors and a dramatic feeling. High saturation tends to look garish and definitely unnatural. Take a photo of something at each of the settings offered by your camera from the lowest to highest option. Again compare the pictures to see which settings you like best for this particular type of photo and write it down. You can do this with other types of photos later to see whether you like different t settings for them.
  • Sharpening: Generally, low sharpening gives a smooth look to skin in portraits, less apparent texture and depth of field and helps with a calm or delicate feel. High amounts of sharpening bring out texture and depth of field. It is often used for landscapes or images with lots of detail (like leaves of a tree). But high levels of sharpening will ruin most images, so be judicious. High levels of sharpening create lots of artifacts (tiny circles called halos at the edges of things). Halo artifacts give a very unnatural appearance and cannot be removed once a jpg image is recorded. A very common error is to apply too much sharpening.

Images recorded in a jpg file format loose data each time they are opened. However images with a tiff file format are stable and do not loose information. It’s best to convert your jpg images to tiff images as soon as they are into your computer. (If you click on the “File” menu  and click “Save as”, you can change the file format to end with the letters .tiff. )

Raw converter processing is primarily for images recorded with a “camera raw” file format (CR2 for Canon, NEF for Nikon and other manufacturers have their own initials for this type of file). “Raw files” contain only the unprocessed data collected from the sensor when it was exposed to light (It is no more complicated than that). The advantage of using raw files are that they are durable. They do not loose information with repeated opening. Any editing changes applied to a raw file can be erased or replaced at any time. The adjustments do not alter the original image file. In this way, raw files are analogous to negatives in the film days of old.

  • All cameras that offer the option of a raw file format come with the software to edit those images (technically called a raw converter). Other programs, such as Photoshop and Photoshop Elements also contain raw converters.
  • Keeping with my recommendation that processing be learned a little at a time, start with adjusting two image characteristics: white balance and sharpness.
  • White balance: Even if you set the white balance prior to taking your photo, the color may not look just right to you when it is opened in the raw converter software. (It’s easiest to fix color if something in your photo is , or at least is supposed to be,  pure white. Find the drop down menu for white balance (usually toward the top of the screen or toolbar) and click on each option successively (sunny, shade, cloudy, etc) to see which gives the correct color. If none of these options gives a good resut, look for the eyedropper (white balance) tool and click on something that is supposed to be white. You may need to click on a couple of different places on the white object to get the best result. If nothing in your image is white, most programs allow you to click on something that is supposed to be neutral gray to determine white balance (It does not have to actually be neutral gray, just something that is supoosed to look newtral gray.
  • Sharpening: All raw images, require some sharpening to look good. This type of sharpening is safe for your image. For good results, try just a small amount of sharpening. If your program offers you a sharpening scale from neg 4 to +4, try +1 or +2. Check your image on the screen at 100% magnification to see if you like the result. If using Photoshop Elements raw converter, get to sharpening by clicking on the little tab with the triangle on it (just above white balance adjustmejnt). Then try amount 25 to 40, radius 1 and detail 25 (for images with lots of detail, like landscapes, movethe  detail slider up to 50). You do not need to do all the sharpening now. More sharpening is usually added later, after further  editing with a full feature program such as Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or Lightroom.  That type of sharpening is destructive and needs to be done as the very last step of processing.
  • Gradually add additional settings after becoming comfortable with these two settings. Adding a little at a time, but frequently is the a great way to learn processing.

Post-processing with full edit software will be covered in a future post.

Comments, suggestions (and criticisms) are welcome.

I am available at NaturePhotoRehab.com where I help people transform their nature images into impressive works of art that they are proud to give as a gift or to hang on their own wall for inspiration. I offer photo retouching, complex processing and enhancements, enlargements, prints (up to 12in x 18in) and framing.

2012©J. Michael Harroun  NaturePhotoRehab.com

 

Photography: Wonderful Confusion

“How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.”  – Niels Bohr

I love  learning new facts about Nature. Obviously it is far to complex to be fully known or understood. In spite of this, I tend to drift into an illusion that all the important scientific facts are already known. Then, something new is discovered.  Recently five  new animal species were  found in  the rainforest of New Guinea. What? All these years of scientists and explorers poking around and researching, and they have not yet found all of the animal species here on earth.? Wow! That’s cool!

Several years ago two new species of  microorganisms were found near the top of a volcano in South America. Their respiration utilizes sulfur. That is unique. The respiration of all other plants and animals involves oxygen, carbon dioxide and water. No one knew that sulfur could be a basic component of respiration. Men have walked on the moon. Lots of facts are known  about black holes and  quarks. Yet we had not known all the types of respiration of earth organisms.  That’s cool!.

My personal  “find” yesterday was something new to me (No, not a new species).  It was a beautiful flower of which  I had never heard (Celosia).  I looked at it admiringly. Is this whole thing a flower? Or is much of it tiny modified leaves? A bracken? Hairs? Modified spines?  Or is it some type of fern?  Oh, wait! Those are the flowers, tiny and few. I still don’t understand what these brilliant spires are. But at least I know where its flowers are. How cool!

Some may ask what this has to do with photography. For me, photography is about becoming more aware. It is a matter of developing an “in the moment” awareness of, not only the things that I know and expect; but, even more importantly, an openness to the unknown and unexpected. What is even better, I get to touch it with my hand or study it with my eyes and photograph it with my heart. This is great! What a wonderful confusion!

I used to believe that I should know all the answers. Now I am content just to be alert and aware; just to know some of the questions.

I welcome comments and suggestions.

I am available at NaturePhotoRehab.com assisting clients to transform their photos into works of art that they are either proud to give as gifts or to hang on their own wall for inspiration.

Photography – Becoming a Professional

Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn! Look to this Day! For it is Life, the very Life of Life. In its brief course lie all the Verities and Realities of your Existence.  – Kalidasa

A frequent question in photography groups is “What does it take to become a professional photographer?” That is best answered with a question in return. “Do you realize that a professional shoots what is interesting to another person or company, when that person wants it done”? Gone are the days of shooting what interests you, and when you are in the mood.

However, a condensed list of requirements follows:

1) strong marketing skills (and lots of time and energy to utilize them).

2)  Professional equipment (expensive!) and willingness to forgo all of the other things that could have been purchased.

3) Excellent technique (and the time and money necessary to achieve it)

4) Five years, more or less.  However, I do know of an account executive in New York who abruptly quit his job and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico to support himself as a photographer. He does not recommend this approach for most people, although he did succeed.

5) Shoot what you love. Learn to effectively convey your feelings to other people through your images. The owner of a stock photography agency told me that he thinks these are primary keys to success.

Becoming a professional photographer has always been a long and rigorous journey because of the amount of competition.  With the advent of quality, affordable digital camera and lenses, it has become 1,000 times more difficult than it was 20 years ago.

However the principle determinants of financial success remain the same.

1) Frequent attendance of workshops put on by successful professional photographers who are also effective teachers

3) Ongoing mentoring by a successful, established photographer

4) Practice honing one’s skills by shooting and processing . In one survey, the average number of photographs taken and edited per day by the better professionals was 40.

5) Study for development of new skills for both photography its self and for processing.

6) Find a niche. I know of one lady in Taos, New Mexico who has supported herself and her family for years by shooting only cooked food dishes for restaurants, magazines, etc. She has only one camera and only one lens. Her “studio” is her kitchen. A more complex, and probably more practical, niche could be some combination of tilt-shift lenses, focus stacking, high dynamic range (HDR), panoramas, mosaics and composites of photographs and illustrations.

Although 5 years of dedicated work is a rough rule of thumb, the time can be greatly shortened by attending a school such as Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California. At Brooks, a typical single week’s schedule is likely to include 3-5 projects. Each project includes, planning, arranging for props, models, lighting and specialty equipment, shooting, processing, printing and presentation.  It’s rigorous, but upon graduation, many are offered (low-level) jobs.

When starting out, a professional photographer’s jobs are likely to be mundane and income meager. One might be shooting for a seed catalog or for K-mart junk mail or an oil refinery. For many years Ansell Adams supported himself by shooting dams and bridges for a railroad company. Induced Chaos Photography (inducedchaos.com) points out, correctly, that professionals must consistently produce high quality results day in and day out, regardless of how they are feeling or whether they are interested in the subject of the shoot.

Having effective marketing skills is essential for developing an income stream. Many people take classes in marketing. Early in one’s career, it is common to spend more time on marketing than on the photography itself.

Peter Lik is a dramatic example of the importance of marketing. Peter is a self-taught landscape photographer.   He used a panoramic film camera and perfect technique with which he generated wonderful nature photographs. His work was distinctive because film panorama landscapes were rare. Peter was an adventurer and individualist with no interest in marketing. As a result, his income was so low that he lived out of his car for 35 years. Several years ago he teamed up with a high-powered marketing firm. Currently he has over 14 galleries, each selling (huge) framed enlargements for $ 8,000 to $15,000. (His most expensive photograph is a multi-paneled mural the size of a large wall. It sells for $ 50,000. Last year he began a successful reality TV series (The Weather Channel-TWC) entitled From the Edge with Peter Lik. Wow! That demonstrates the power of marketing when your product is high quality.

In conclusion, the best advice for the budding professional photographer is “Follow your heart, but don’t give up your day job”.

I hope this will be helpful to someone. I welcome comments, criticism and suggestions for future blog topics.

I am available at NaturePhotoRehab.com assisting clients in transforming their nature photos into works of art that they are proud to give as gifts or to hang on their own wall for inspiration.

©2012 J. Michael Harroun  NaturePhotoRehab.com

Expanded depth of focus: Philosophy

dahl red c stamens cropped shp copyrt“Keep close to Nature’s heart. Break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. ” John Muir

One limitation of film photography is that only a portion of the subject or scene is precisely in focus. One of the marvels of digital photography is its ability to allow portions of multiple images to composite into a final image that is more fully in focus and more life-like. Expanded depth of focus is such a technique. After taking multiple similar images with the depth of focus being the only variable, only the precisely focused portions of each photo are combined into a final image in which everything, or at least as much as is wanted, is crisply in focus.

My blog post from July 16 is an introduction to this technique. Here, I describe the some of the attitudes and states of mind that I have found highly effective for happiness and success with this type of photography. I welcome others comments, suggestions and additional thoughts.

Appreciating the moment is, for me, the key to happiness with all of my photography. I usually hurry around oblivious to the details of the miraculous nature around me. Photography not only allows, but requires, me to slow down and pay attention to the details of my surroundings. The more aware I am of the sun, breeze, colors, textures, shapes, sounds and smells around me, the more I feel  alive and connected  to  the magic that is nature.  Having achieved that feeling of fulfillment, getting usable results from my shoot is just like the sprinkles on the frosting of the cake. I’m serious about this. One day I spent 2 ½ hours shooting multiple series of freshly cut hibiscus. I realized that I may not have waited long enough for the pistils and stamens to have fully regained their original shape. I knew that any further change of shape during the shooting of each series would produce enough change of position on the sensor to render it unusable for a composite. However, I was feeling alive and connected to my surroundings. I ended up throwing out 150 frames, having only the last series usable. But I truly felt only happiness and satisfaction regarding my morning’s shooting experience.

 The two goals: When I begin each shoot, I have only two goals in mind. The first is not to damage any of my equipment. The second is to be alert and aware of the incredible intricacy that is nature. 

 Mountain climber’s deliberateness:  When moving around the camera, tripod, focusing rail and lens, it is easy to bump one of these. This is particularly likely when unlocking, adjusting and relocking the focusing rail or when leaning forward-looking for small movement of the subject due to wind. It is easy to bump some part of the equipment. A light bump may move the tripod imperceptibly, but enough to change the position of your subject on the sensor, making the remainder of the series unusable. Also, when manipulating the focusing rail, I often simultaneously support the camera with my other hand, particularly when the focusing rail is extended or when the camera is in a vertical position. If I touch the lens’s focusing ring/collar even lightly, the focus of the remainder of the series is likely to be way off. To avoid trouble, movements must be thoughtful and deliberate. I have a picture in my mind of a mountain or rock climber, half way up a steep granite cliff. On a single outing, the climber makes thousands of decisions regarding hand or foot placement or weight shifts.  It takes only one mistake out of the thousands of decisions to produce a slip, a slide or even a serious fall. The climber must be continually alert, thoughtful and deliberate in order to succeed. Similarly, it takes only one large mistake out of hundreds of decisions to render a set of images unusable for a successful composite. (Luckily, however, few people have sustained serious injury as a result of a mistake while shooting images for expanded depth of focus.)  I call this mountain climbers deliberateness. It has decreased my errors greatly.

 Patience is crucial, particularly for outdoor shooting. It’s possible for the smallest movement of air to move some part of a. This can also occur indoors due to air circulation and ventilation ducts. If I’m impatient and accept frames that might have movement, I usually end up without enough good frames for a good composite. I must be willing to wait until I’m certain that there is no movement of the subject or anything touching any portion of the support of the subject. Here I am referring to movement of a nearby flower, leaf or stem which is in contact with my flower, its leaf or stem. This can mean, at times, taking 35 min to shoot 45 frames. If I take of shot that I think might have had movement, I delete that frame and . It’s not worth the risk of sacrificing the whole series.   

Hurrying usually wastes my time. Although I get quicker results, often these results are unusable for successful composites.  

 Start small and gradually enlarge your subject.  I started with and recommend using smallish subjects initially. For instance, a pansy, rose bud or small geranium is going to be less complicated and, initially, more likely to succeed than a large iris or rhododendron.

 Start too close and end to deep. In order not to accidentally miss the point of closest focus, I recommend starting with an initial frame which has its focus 1-3 focal increments closer to you than the subject.Although not as important to the success of the composite, I also recommend going deeper than the deepest area of focus that you want. It’s always better to take some unnecessary shots, than to come away with 90% of a great series. Since you are there and all set up, this takes only a little time. I consider it cheap insurance.   

  My website for nature image retouching, processing, enlargements and framing is NaturePhotoRehab.com. I specialize in transforming people’s dull and listless images into dramatic works of art that a person is proud to hang on their wall or give as a gift.

 I hope that some of this has been useful to someone. I welcome individual comments and questions.

Expanded depth of focus: Trouble Shooting

sml purp pr c grn (c)“Let the beauty we love become the good we do.”  -Rumi

This is the second in a series of blogs about the photographic technique called expanded depth of focus. For this, multiple digital photos are  taken of the same subject, all identical expect for the area of sharp focus. Then, by computer processing,all the different areas of crisp focus are combined into a single image which is entirely in focus. This allows images to appear more life-like. It is one of the marvals of digital photography that cannot be duplicated with film images.

If you are unfamiliar with this photographic technique, but somewhat interested, please check out my blog post from July 16, which is an introduction to the topic. If you are knowledgeable about this topic, but have no interest in trouble shooting yet, please go to my next post entitled “Philosophy”.

Now I will address the individual who has tried this photographic technique  unsuccessfully. I am referring to those who are saying, “I did everything right, so what went wrong?”  

Being aware: Fully 95% of my unusable series are due to an error of mine that I did not recognize at the time. I overlooked a problem that, if recognized, could have been corrected at the time it occurred. I know this, because as I get more experience and become more aware, I get a much greater percentage of excellent results.

I will be assuming that you used the proper equipment and technique as briefly noted in my post of July 19 (Table of Contents). Some, not all, of my assumptions are that you:

  • used a camera with enough megapixels and file size and file format to give sharp focus for the amount of enlargement required for your computer screen and your planned print size.
  • utilized a lossless file format. Raw images are best.
  • used a focusing rail
  • used mirror lock-up mode for DSLR’s
  • used a shutter release cord or remote control if mirror lock-up is needed
  • used small enough increments between focal planes that the areas of sharp focus overlap. This is critically important, because areas of focus must overlap. Thus the increment of advancement of the focusing rail between frames would be, at most, 1/3 of the lens’s depth for that distance from the subject. Specificly, if a  macro lens is 10 inches from the subject, the depth of sharp focus may be only 3 millimeters (about 1/8 inch) deep. Therefore the increment of advancement of the focusing rail will need to be no greater than 1 millimeter (1/24 inch). However when 3 feet from the subject, this same lens may exhibit a depth of field of 48 mm (2 inches). In this case the correct increment would be, at most, 16mm (0.7 in). To determine your lens’s characterist, take an image of a ruler end on. Take images at the lens’s closest focal distance, then double the distance and double it again. The measurements do not need to be precise. On your computer, evaluate how many sixteenths of an inch are in crisp focus. one third of that distance is the largerst increment between frames that will give good results.
  • been meticulous to avoid any movement of the subject by air movement or change in the shape of the flower due to heat change.
  • used editing software that allowed you to compare and confirm focus and location precisely among frames
  • used sophisticated software for generating your composite
  • were knowledgeable and adept in the use of your software

  Trouble shooting is an expansive topic. Here I will cover only some of the more sneaky problems.

 Tripod

  • Tripod feet can settle into soft ground or leaves, changing the camera position.
  • If tripod was bumped, it may not have returned exactly to its original position.
  • If all of the tripod leg locks/collars was not fully tightened. A leg can shorten, changing the camera position.
  • If the tripod legs were not splayed all the way to their stop, they can spread causing a change in camera position. This is most often a problem when shooting from a low enough angle that the legs needed to be spread wider than usual.If your camera position is low enough to the ground, the center post can touch the ground, allowing the tripod to  rock.

 Camera

If the camera is not fully tightened to the focusing rail, it can slightly twist/torque. This is most likely when shooting in a vertical orientation. That happened to me this morning. I noticed & corrected before any harm had occurred.

Tripod head and focusing rail.

Similarly, if either of these is not firmly secured, they can twist/torque, shifting the position of the camera

Aperture

If the aperture was more than 1 stop away from f/8, the sharpness will be less than the camera /lens is capable of producing. For most lenses, f/8 usually provides the best combination of sharpness & depth of focus. I know that landscape depth of field is considered best at f/16 or a smaller diameter. This does not apply here. I will go into detail about this in 2-3 more blogs from now entitled “Aperture”.

Exposure problems

1) Viewfinder of a DSLR camera, if not covered/capped, will let in light that changes the exposure. This is particularly a problem when direct sunlight falls on the viewfinder.

2) Focusing rail, if not locked with fine/precise lock at each incremental focal distance will change subject location too much. Additionally, if focusing rail was not firmly tightened onto the tripod head, it can twist causing movement of the subject

3)Soft, unsharp images

  • File size too small. In the shooting menu, set file size to the biggest numbers that is offered.
  • Too little data or date loss. This is a problem with jpg images. Shooting in RAW format is recommended for many reasons.
  • Stray light: There may have been bright light impinging upon the lens at a sharp angle.  A lens hood prevents most of this. Check with the company that made your lens for the specific one to use. Some cannot be used for macro work because they cast a shadow upon your subject. A polarizing filter is highly recommended when shooting outdoors and when shooting shiny, wet or alive objects indoors. Besides enhancing colors and decreasing reflections, it usually blocks stray light and can take the place of a lens hood. However, I shoot outdoors with reflectors producing very bright light impinging upon the surface of the polarizing filter from multiple directions. For these conditions, I think that a lens hood and a polarizing filter give the best results. Besides enhancing colors and decreasing reflections, it often can take the place of a lens hood. However, I shoot outdoors with reflectors producing  bright light coming from many directions. I find that a lens hood and a polarizing filter seem to give the best results.

 Lens

  •  Lens distortion is particularly a problem when your subject enlarged or “bloomed” out near the edge of the frame.  That presents bizarre data from this area to your stacking software. However, the central portion of the frames will probably give good results. Some editing software can remove lens distortion. I have experience only with Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software. It will remove the distortion of some Canon lenses, but it’s time consuming and this does not guarantee that it will give good stacking results.
  • Focusing ring/collar was touched when reaching for the camera or focusing rail. This can happen even when there’s no noticeable movement of the focusing collar. I have to be careful about this because I steady the camera with my left hand while changing the position of the focusing rail with my right hand.

Subject moved

  • Change of support structure: If a flower is getting even the slightest support from one of its petals or leaves (or a petal, leaf or stem of an adjacent flower) any subtle change of its shape can allow a shift in your subject’s position.  This is more likely if there is an intermittent breeze or if I potted plant has recently been moved.
  • Similarly, if a petal, leaf or stem of your subject flower is in contact with petal, leaf or stem of an adjacent flower, then any movement from a breeze can move your subject flower. If there are lots of leaves touching, movement of any portion of the plant can move your subject. To prevent this, wait until there is no movement of any part of the entire plant before shooting. The more complex the interactions among the plant parts and the stronger the wind, the more likely it is that your subject will not return fully to its original position. Although this is true, I shoot outdoors all the time and find this problem to be rare unless the intermittent wind is quite strong.
  • Flowers frequently change shape during a shoot if they were freshly cut or if they were recently moved from shade to direct sun or vice versa. I find this less of a problem if a cut flower has only the bottom ½ inch of the stem in the water.

Because there are so many possible problems, I recommend shooting two series of everything when beginning to get experience with this technique. Start the set up for the second series of images from the very beginning, just as though it was the first series.

I hope this has been useful information for someone. You are welcome to ask me about particular issues that you would like help with.

If anyone would like assistance with processing of their photos, please check out my web site at NaturePhotoRehab.com

Expanded depth of focus photography: “Table of Contents”

Lg purp pr shp (c)“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”   Vincent van Gogh

This is my second blog post regarding the expanded depth of field/focus photographic technique. If you are unfamiliar with this technique, please check out my post from July 16, 2012 entitled Expanded depth of field / focus stacking: Introduction. This current installment is an brief overview of the subject, essentially providing a “Table of Contents” for the remainder of this series.

Experience is the best teacher.  Don’t expect to achieve your signature magazine cover shot on the first day. (Although it could happen)

Attitude: If I’m irritable or angry, I usually made mistakes that worsen my mood. Some days it’s better to just do the laundry.

Mountain climber’s state of mind:  I try to maintain an attitude that I call the mountain climber’s state of mind. A mountain or rock climber might make one or two thousand decisions regarding placement of the hands and feet and shifts of weight during a climb. It takes only one mistake out of the thousands to produce a slip, a slide or even a fall that can ruin that entire climbing experience. Similarly, it takes only one mistake out of hundreds of decisions to render a set of images unusable for a successful composite.  Remembering the mountain climber causes me to work very deliberately, move a little slower than usual and maintain awareness of the moment. This produces far fewer mistakes and many more inspiring results than I used to get. Luckily, however, few people have sustained serious injury as a result of a mistake while shooting images for expanded depth of field processing.

Being thorough: The goal is not to create some tack sharp images. The goal is to get at least one entire, coordinated series of tack sharp images with minimal change of position on the sensor. If a few are blurry and unusable, it could render the whole set useless. By remaining aware, mistakes or even possible mistakes can be recognized when they occur. Then the potentially bad image can be deleted and re-shot.

1. Equipment:

  • Camera with manual focus and manual exposure. If your camera has a movable mirror, it’s essential that you have & use the mirror lock-up option. Apart from these details, your camera does not need to be particularly sophisticated.
  • Sturdy tripod with feet on a solid surface
  • Focusing rail: This is essential for close up & macro.
  • Cable shutter release (or remote): This is essential
  • Loupe for screen is useful for outdoor work, but not essential. Hoodman brand has a good one, but expensive.
  • Cover/cap for viewfinder unless your viewfinder is actually a tiny video display.
  • Battery(s) fully charged
  • Memory card(s) with plenty of capacity for data

2. Frame your subject in the viewfinder or screen knowing that it will become larger on your sensor at the deeper focal planes than at the initial, close focal planes. This is called “blooming”.

3. Initial focus is crucial. I use a card held immediately in front of the closest point of focus. I use auto focus limited to only the center focusing point and immediately switch the lens back to manual focus. My eyes are not good enough to achieve good focus directly through the viewfinder or on the screen, even when the camera presents a magnified image. For this technique to succeed, your camera/lens combination must be exact and precise consistently. However, people with eyes better than mine can get good results obtaining initial focus entirely via manual focus.

4. Exposure: use manual exposure. Use the aperture that gives the best combination of sharp and depth of field, f/8 for most lenses.

5. Check viewfinder or screen again for subject placement & focus

6. Begin shooting, but remain alert. Whenever I get into a mechanical mode of thinking ( move the rail & shoot ,then move the rail & shoot, then move the rail & shoot), I usually miss something important and end up with a useless batch of images

7. Move focusing rail in equal and very small increments if you want detail in things as small as spines, hairs or pollen. It’s necessary for the areas in focus to overlap between images to get good results. The depth of focus of any one frame depends on your specific lens and its distance from the subject. However it’s not unusual to have just a couple of millimeters, perhaps 1/16 of an inch in crisp focus in any one frame. I usually use increments of 1-4 mm (1/32 – 1/8 inch). The closer the subject is to your lens, the smaller the increment needs to be. Begin at closest point of your subject and move the focal plane gradually toward the deepest part of it. Another advantage is that the smaller increments of change of focal plane between images, the better the chance that you can have a couple of flawed images that you can throw out and still have a successful composite in the end.

8. Lock the focusing rail at each new location to prevent rail sag during extension.

9. Processing

  • Edit
  • RAW processing
  • Converting to tiff
  • Software: I love Helicon Focus 5.2. Its available at HeliconSoft.com. However I understand there are other good programs available. 
  • Review, retouch

10. ENJOY. You’ve accomplished something that was impossible up until about 10 years ago.

I hope that this will be a help to someone. I welcome comments and criticism.

Through my website at NaturePhotoRehab.com I assist people to transform their photos into impressive works of art that they are proud to give as gifts or to hamg them on their own wall. I provide photo retouching, complex processing and enhancements, prints, enlargements and framing.

©J. Michael Harroun 2012