Friday, May 22, 2020

Gone by lunch-time


Assuming that lunch-time is one o'clock, then Simon Bridges was, indeed, gone by lunch-time. Though, when Don Brash pronounced that famous phrase, he certainly didn't have Simon in mind. Personally, I feel it was the best move. I, and others I know, could not have voted for a National Party with Simon Bridges as its leader. The nation seemed to be of the same opinion if the polls were anything to go by.

Looking from the outside, the problem with Simon was that he appeared to be a 'one-trick pony'. He will blame COVID and Jacinda's wall-to-wall media coverage for his demise, but that was simply the situation that exposed his shortcomings. "My job is to hold the government to account", and other variations on that theme, summed up Simon's self-professed mission. One commentator described him as a "yapping terrier" and that's pretty close.

My impression was of a school-room bully. The guy who, when another pupil gets called to the front, will stick out his foot to trip them up. At times it seemed as if it were the only tool in Simon's repertoire. For a short while there, as head of the COVID committee, it started to appear as if, in the midst of a national crisis, he was taking a more statesman-like role - pulling together for the common good. But, apparently, he couldn't keep it up and quickly reverted to his sniping, nit-picking, bullying tactics. The nation watched it, knew viscerally that they didn't like it, and told the pollsters what they thought.

Yes, Simon, you did need to hold the government to account. But it wasn't your only role, and there are many ways of doing it, aside from looking like the person everyone hated from school. Gone by lunch-time, indeed.

Monday, March 23, 2020

COVID-19 Life (1)


After only two days at alert level 2, the number of NZ infections has now reached 102. Today, the government moved us to alert level 3 and gave notice that we would move to alert level 4 (the highest level) on Wednesday.

At level 4, everyone has to stay at home, all non-essential businesses, schools, and public gatherings are banned and only essential service personnel are allowed to attend their workplace. The level 4 restrictions will be in place for at least four weeks. I believe that the majority of New Zealanders are behind these measures and understand the need for the vast inconvenience that they will cause. Some, of course, take this opportunity to flaunt their stupidity and selfishness by trying to empty supermarket shelves at ten times the usual rate.

I am not sure how I feel about the next four weeks. On the one hand, the thought of being at home for four weeks sounds attractive. On the other, I can’t help but wonder whether, after four weeks of virtual house-arrest, we might all get a little stir-crazy. We are allowed out of the house for exercise, provided that we keep our distance from others, but we are being encouraged not to travel further further than “local”. I guess that a ‘Sunday drive’ isn’t out of the question, provided that we stay in the car and don’t handle a petrol pump.

It is worth remembering though, that shouldering a little inconvenience is nothing compared to the five-year sacrifice made by my parent’s and grandparent’s generations. If I catch myself grumbling at any point, I hope I remember that.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Cosmo at six weeks


My Cosmo Communicator arrived on 18 November 2019 (Indigogo backer #24). It came configured with US keyboard and plug (no NZ/AU plug option). So, a month and a bit later, it’s time for a review.

Out of the box
Straight out of the box, the Cosmo impressed with its feel and build quality. Whereas its predecessor, the Gemini, always seemed a little ‘home-built’ with its squeaky hinge and pop-off panels, the Cosmo looks and feels more solid, with a snappy closing clam-shell and smart-looking front panel. The snappiness continues when it boots into Android Pie; whereas the Gemini always felt a tad hesitant about what it was being asked to do, the Cosmo jumps to attention and just does stuff when asked - due presumably to a better processor and more RAM.

Keyboard
The positive first impressions extend to the Cosmo's main feature - the keyboard, which is now backlit. The keys have shorter travel than the Gemini and don’t have any of the Gemini’s ‘jelly-wobble’ when they are pressed. My typing (two-handed and on a desk) is both faster and more accurate on the Cosmo than the Gemini. Typing long-form articles on the Cosmo is a very doable proposition that, in my view, rivals that of a full-sized laptop.

Front Screen
The front screen on the Cosmo is a mixed blessing. It’s handy to be able to make and return calls without opening the Cosmo’s cover but, on the other hand, it represents an additional vulnerability to knocks and bumps, as well as frequent accidental activations in a pocket or bag. There were some advantages to the robust, metal-clad, exterior of the Gemini - mine even has a small dent on the front which the Cosmo may not have taken with such good grace.
In practice, the integration between the front screen and the main device can also be problematic. At times it appears very laggy and there are inconsistencies - for example, the exterior screen can remain stubbornly locked, while the main device is happy to accept a finger-print or a trust-agent to unlock. Another problem is that the external screen remains active to touch even when the main device is open and the front screen is displaying the Planet logo - this can cause problems with unintentional activations when holding the Cosmo in portrait orientation (like a book). I would expect these issues to be addressed by a future firmware update.

By the end of the first month, I was ready to give up on the Cosmo's front screen. I resurrected a three-year-old Samsung Gear S2 Classic watch and found, to my delight, that there were no key functions of the Cosmo's front screen that were not already present on the S2 Classic (and later Samsung watches) - especially accepting and placing calls, responses to texts and receiving notifications - all these can be done without opening the Cosmo (which was the original justification for a front screen). The smartwatch is, in my experience, a more elegant solution than a fixed screen on the front of the Cosmo and it alleviates the Cosmo's propensity to chew through the battery at a voracious rate (see below).  Be aware though, that not all smartwatches can perform all these functions - Samsung have done more than most at enabling responses to texts and calls from the watch.

Battery
Battery life is acceptable but, as others have observed, with such a large 4,200 mAh battery, we might have expected better. With everything switched on (Front processor, wireless, mobile data, Bluetooth, GPS) over the course of a day, my Cosmo consumes an average of about 4.6% battery per hour - that’s an 18 hour day from full to 15%. However, switch off the front processor and that improves to about 3.0% per hour and gives 28 hours of use before you hit 15% - and that’s similar to the Gemini. There is clearly room for improvement here: Over 40% of the battery is being consumed by the phone radio (even in standby) and a further 30%+ by the device being held awake. It seems that Planet has some work to do on battery efficiency - hopefully, we can look forward to some improvement in a future firmware update. In the meantime, Cosmo will get most users through most days.

Camera
The camera takes pictures. For many people, the 24Mp pictures will be good enough. The camera makes a good job of scanning documents and recording mundane events and places - things that I missed with the Gemini. As someone who regularly uses quality camera gear to produce landscapes and nature pictures, the Cosmo's camera was never going to be good enough for my photography needs. Ultimately, the Cosmo camera suffers from aggressive noise reduction and compression that smudges fine detail (like grass and hair) and can make a blotchy mess - even in good lighting. Things improve somewhat if you install something like Open Camera which, in some of its 13Mp modes using the Camera2 API, produces better images than the native app does at 24Mp. Nevertheless, there are numerous small sensor camera modules available on cameras from Canon, Sony and DJI that produce significantly better pictures than the module on the Cosmo and, in this sense, the Cosmo camera can only be considered a disappointment.

Daily use
I run stock Android and have no interest in fiddling around rooting the device or installing various flavours of Linux. My experience is that the Cosmo (and the Gemini before it) make acceptable Android devices but, judging by the comments of other Gemini users, the experience goes downhill fast as soon as you start messing with rooting and multiboot. Tales of unbreakable boot-loops keep me firmly planted in the Android space - life is too short for that sort of hassle.
The extent of my customisation is to replace the stock Cosmo launcher with the Nova launcher which I have used on various devices over the years. It’s clean, very customisable, and I trust it. With Nova installed, the Cosmo seems to run flawlessly, day in and day out. I run my favourite Android apps but do not use Planet’s supplied email, database or notes. In my view, they are just not in the same league as the best Android apps on offer in the Playstore.
Until, the latest firmware update, the Cosmo would randomly flick back to the lock screen when it was being used. The firmware update has fixed this annoyance and, aside from the aforementioned issues with the front screen, I find that there are no significant problems in daily use.

Not for everyone
Having said all that, the Cosmo, and before it the Gemini, are not for everyone. If you are happy with a slab of plastic and glass for a phone and don’t hanker after a proper keyboard - perhaps because you don't mind carrying a laptop or a Bluetooth appendage - then give the Cosmo a pass. The Cosmo (and before it the Gemini) are aimed at a particular type of user - one who wants a single, pocketable, device for all their day-to-day mobile needs. A device that allows them to phone, message, email, write at length, poke spreadsheets around, listen to a few tunes or watch a movie or two - that's Cosmo.

Think of it like this; If phones were cars, Apple, Samsung and others would make good, solid, daily drivers, but Planet Computers would make something like a Morgan - the Gemini an iconic Morgan 3 wheeler while the Cosmo would be the latest V6 Roadster. Most people wouldn't want a Morgan as a daily driver and most people probably won't want a Cosmo either. But, for those who do… well...nothing is going to put a smile on a driver's face quite as quickly as a drive in a Morgan, or the feel of a real keyboard under your fingers with the Cosmo Communicator. Well done Planet Computers!

Monday, October 28, 2019

Mythology

Just some weekend fun in between mowing the lawns and testing out Topaz's latest tool - "Mask AI". So, take some of those fantastic designs shot at the World of Wearable art (WoW) in Nelson - Apply some masking and some imagination and we have "Mythology":





Topaz Mask AI is easy to use and produces pretty good results without a lot of effort. It's an early release so it's not as quick or stable as it could be, but I am sure that will be fixed with some pretty prompt upgrades.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Customer experience


Four years ago, I bought a car (no, it wasn't a Merc). The experience was a pretty good one, the deal was done and I went away happy. Four years later, I am still happy with that experience and its outcome. So, when it came time to make another car purchase, I returned to the same company, though at a car-yard in the next town over. When I went in, the company had a fair amount of goodwill credit - something I alerted them to so that they would know that I wasn't just there to kick tyres. They checked our history on their computer, understood that we were returning customers, and so the discussions began. Ultimately, I left without a purchase and probably won't be going back.

How did we get to this complete reversal? How did the company squander the goodwill they had created last time around? Three basic things come to mind:

1. Lack of preparation: the manager whom I spoke to on the phone the previous day (and who knew I was coming to look at a specific car) wasn't present nor had he briefed the staff that were on duty the day I arrived. Basically, they weren't ready to sell the car we wanted to buy - no one had thought it through and determined their bottom lines.
2. The staff on duty lacked authority to close a deal at anything other than the advertised sticker price. Faced with a high sticker price and a low-ball trade-in offer, there was no discussion to be had and nowhere left to go but out the door. This wasted my time and theirs.
3. No follow-through. Subsequently, the manager totally failed to pick up on the lost opportunity and to see whether it could be rectified or not. No call-back or follow up.

The company's motto is "home of the good sports". Well, I guess they were all out that day and someone else was house-sitting.

I don't care for myself, I can pick up the sort of car I want anywhere, at any time (and I will). But a part of my day job is considering customer experience and how my organisation can cause customers to come back time and again because they went away having had a good experience. In this case, my poor experience caused me to realise just how much a small slip in standards will impact the way I feel about a company. (Thanks for that - you just became a case study.)

In something as ubiquitous and competitive as car sales, the 'good experience' is one of the easiest differentiators for a company to access and yet some of the stereotypical "used car salesperson" attitudes and approaches are still the norm. Quite frankly, this is dinosaur thinking. Regardless of today's commercial realities and difficulties, good customer experience brings purchasers to your door, but one bad experience and they can be gone forever. Staff need the training to deliver that good experience, not just left to 'mind the yard' while the boss is away.

I'm not picking on this company especially - they just happen to have made themselves my experience - but there are plenty of second-hand car dealers that embrase the stereotypical used car salesperson meme. There are also quite a few general retailers that don't understand the impact of poor customer experience on their bottom line. I remember a low-price Australian retailer arriving in town several years ago - I brought a vacuum cleaner from them (at the right price) and have never been back since - simply because the experience of actually making the purchase was so awful. They are still there, shouting at their customers, I am not.

Customer experience matters - and if you have managed to create a good experience, then please don't throw it away on the back of a bad one. Just saying.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

At last, the perfect camera!

Well, no, actually; we all know there is no such thing, right?

Despite what might be suggested by camera manufacturers, reviewers and even photographers, every camera is a package of many compromises. Even money can't buy you a perfect camera (sorry Leica) because many of those compromises concern the laws of physics and the limitations of manufacturing processes. And let's not even start on the fact that your 'perfect' might not be the same as my 'perfect'.

Nevertheless, as photographers, many of us seem compelled to get as close to gear perfection as we possibly can. Perhaps, we think, it is our inferior gear that is holding our photography back? But what if it's not; what if it is our obsession with near-perfect gear that is distracting us from focusing on the very things that would improve our photography?
Muria Falls: Sony RX100 m3: 1/640 sec @ f5.6 ISO 125
I'm a couple of months into an experiment. I want to know what will happen if I leave my backpack of expensive DSLR kit at home and downsize my gear to the fixed lens, point-and-shoot category. Am I crazy? Probably. But there is a method in my madness - I want to travel lighter and spend less time wrangling gear and more time making pictures. Part of my problem too, is that I am both a visible light and an infrared photographer, something that adds an additional complication to my gear-carrying needs.
Nelson Cathedral organ pipes: Sony RX100 m3: 1/30 sec @ f1.8 ISO 320
So, instead of a backpack full of DSLR gear and lenses, I have narrowed it down to three small point-and-shoot cameras: one with a 1" sensor (but limited 'reach'), another camera with a 600mm equivalent lens for nature shots, and another camera set up for infrared work. They all fit into a small shoulder bag with plenty of room to spare. On a recent trip, I found it so much easier to whip out the appropriate camera than to fuss around with DSLR bodies and lenses. I took more pictures, worried less about what gear to use and didn't miss the backpack (or the shot).
Tui: Canon SX620 HS: 1/125 sec @ f6.3 ISO 125
Downsizing from a full-frame DSLR would have been unthinkable a few years ago but the quality improvement in cameras and, importantly, post-processing software, makes it possible to produce DSLR-like quality from much smaller sensors. From a quality perspective, I would be confident putting the pictures from any of my three point-and-shoot cameras alongside my DSLR pictures in a photo book or even at larger sizes on a wall.
Nelson Cathedral: Canon Elph 180: Infrared 720nm, 1/200 sec @ f3.2 ISO 100

About the cameras

The Sony RX100 m3: I have had this camera for over four years and still can't see anything in the market which can replace it for my needs. It wasn't a cheap camera but the quality of output is excellent and it can be used in anything from manual mode right through to fully automatic. It shoots RAW but, in my view, Sony have really nailed it with the automated JPG modes on this camera - all these shots were from in-camera JPGs.
World of WareableArts: Sony RX100 m3: 1/30 sec @ f2.8 ISO 800
The Canon SX620 HS: Some people will slate this camera for being a bland automatic with no manual control. It's smaller than the Sony and with its 24-600mm (35mm equivalent) focal length it is a dream at getting the fleeting nature shot. Like Sony, Canon has also mastered the art of in-camera JPGs, making this an ideal shirt-pocket camera for every-day use.
Weka and chick: Canon SX620 HS: 1/500 sec @ f5.6 ISO 200
The Canon Elph 180: The little Elph is the cheapest camera that Canon makes. This also makes it an ideal candidate for tearing apart for an infrared conversion. Like the other two cameras, it has a 20Mp sensor and produces some lovely detailed pictures in good light (which infrared usually is). It has a zoomy lever thingy and a shutter button - not much else. It does the business.
Kaiteriteri: Canon Elph 180: Infrared 720nm, 1/60 sec @ f3.5 ISO  100
Each of these pictures was taken during a recent four-day trip to Nelson. I took about 240 photographs and made about 90 'keepers' (37% - a very good ratio for me). These aren't the best shots, but they are representative of what each camera produced in differing photography styles. Last time I went away with the DSLR gear, I took 380 shots and produced 55 'keepers' (14% - much closer to my expected average). On that basis, I have produced twice as many keepers using my three small cameras than I did with the DSLR gear.
Busker, Motueka market: Sony RX100 m3: 1/125 sec @ f4 ISO 125
I've still got the DSLR gear, but it's on notice - at the moment I'm doing better and having more fun with my point-and-shoot cameras.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

IR Chrome

Time-ball station, Lyttelton Harbour
My latest camera arrived in the post the other day. It's a Canon Elph, converted to full-spectrum infrared and fitted with the latest IR Chrome filter from KolariVision. I might talk about the Elph later, for now, this is about the IR Chrome filter.

The IR Chrome filter was designed to replicate the look of Kodak's Aerochrome film from the days when we all shot film. Aerochrome is now history and I never got to use it, so I don't know how well this filter matches the original film look. What I do know, after only a short acquaintance, is that it produces some stunning results.

Pearson Park, Oxford
What the IR Chrome filter does, is capture quite natural colours in everything that doesn't reflect infrared wavelengths. Anything reflecting infrared (grass, trees, etc.) is produced in brilliant red tones. Seeing everything that should be green, represented in red, can be a bit disconcerting at first but somehow the simple green/red swap doesn't seem as confronting as some other false-colour infrared representations.

It's important to get a good white balance set in the camera and this filter white balances to a very high Kelvin - something north of 50,000K (normal daylight photography is around 6,000K). Fortunately, the Elph can handle this but, if you shoot RAW, your RAW converter may not - mine tops out at 50,000K but many won't go beyond 25,000K and that's just not enough for the look you see here.

Provided that the camera can set an appropriate white balance, then the JPG files from the camera will have the correct white balance baked in and that is what I have been using for these shots - until I resolve the RAW processing issue.

Sumner Beach looking towards Cave Rock
It's not all brilliant reds, sometimes it just pink; like these tiny black muscles clinging to the rocks but reflecting infrared, and the trees and bushes - too distant to make a bold statement. It's a strange world that this IR Chrome filer portrays, but one worth exploring and full of new compositional opportunities for the photographer to learn.

Sumner looking towards the Southern Alps

Monday, July 22, 2019

IR 720nm processing using LAB

A long post for the brave souls of the Infrared Photography Group ...

720nm infra-red (IR) photography sometimes gets a bad wrap. On the one hand, it gets accused of being colourless by those who are looking for false colour IR and, on the other hand, for not being sufficiently contrasty by those looking for black and white IR at the 850nm end.

720nm is often considered the standard infra-red filter - it lets through almost no radiation in the visible spectrum and is the lowest value filter that might be considered 'pure IR' (or, to be more accurate, Near Infra-Red or NIR). Filters at 590nm let in IR and some visible light (which is why it is usually thought of as more colourfull), while filters around 850nm are more aggressively IR, allowing only radiation from 850 (right up to around 1000+nm where most camera sensors stop recording) and gives contrasty black and white images. The 720nm filter, therefore, occupies a middle ground between colourful and contrasty while apparently excelling at neither.

But the 720nm filter can produce spectacular colour and deep, contrasty, black and white without going to the expense and inconvenience of carrying a range of filters for other purposes. The secret (if secret it is) is in the post-processing of the 720nm files - particularly in the use of the LAB colour space.

If, as a photographer, you believe that captures 'straight out of camera' (SOOC) are something to be sought after, or your post-processing is limited to Lightroom, then this approach will not be for you. But if, like me, you have struggled to get the results you want from 720nm IR captures, then you might want to give the LAB colour space a try.

About the LAB. 
LAB is a colour space, just like RGB or CMYK are colour spaces. They are each different ways of expressing the data that makes up an image.

RGB says, let's make three channels, one for red, one for green and one for blue. In the red channel, we will define how bright the red is for each area of the picture, and we will do the same for the green and blue channels. When we overlay the three channels we will get a coloured picture. RBG is like having three transparencies (red, green and blue) that you lay on top of one another to make a full-colour image.

CMYK is similar but is mainly used for printing. It defines the amount of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black needed to make the image colours (rather like mixing paints). Your printer may well contain ink for each of these 'colours' which it adds to the paper to make the image. Commercial printers may well ask for print jobs to be defined in the CMYK colour space so that they print as intended.

LAB is somewhat different. Like RGB, it also contains three channels -  L, A and B.  The 'L' channel is for Lightness or brightness - it contains data detailing how light or dark an area of the picture should be. The 'A' channel contains data about the balance between magenta and green in each area (all magenta, all green or a mix of the two) and the 'B' channel about the balance between blue and yellow. The main advantage of LAB is that you can manipulate brightness quite separately from colour or colour separately from brightness - this is what makes it so valuable for IR processing.

Programs like Photoshop allow you to choose which colour space you want to work in. You simply ask Photoshop to convert the document into a different colour space. Affinity Photo, however, works differently; it allows you to use an alternative colour space for a specific adjustment which makes using LAB so much easier. For example, both the Levels and Curves adjustments in Affinity Photo, have drop-down boxes allowing the user to choose between making the adjustment in RGB, CMYK or LAB. Nevertheless, if you are a Photoshop user, you can still make use of this technique in Photoshop, you just need to convert the whole document to LAB (and back again afterwards). What you can't do is work in Lightroom, which doesn't support LAB at all (at least, not when I was using it!).

Let's get started
There's processing to be done before you get to the LAB but, for the purposes of this demonstration, I will assume that you have an image that is properly white balanced, cleaned up and ready to go. I'm going to use Affinity Photo, but you should be able to follow along in your image editor of choice provided it supports the LAB colour space. If you have a well white-balanced 720nm image, the colours should appear something like this:
 

This is typical of a 720nm image - pale blue foliage with amber coloured sky and fairly flat. If your picture is all red and magenta, then you have a white balance problem that needs to be fixed before you proceed.

After loading the image into Affinity Photo. I choose a Levels adjustment layer:

Into the LAB
In the drop-down that currently says RGB, I choose LAB.

And in the drop-down that currently says "Master", there are three entries that interest us - Lightness, AOpponent and BOpponent. Lightness controls the brightness of the picture, the AOpponent the balance between green and magenta and the BOpponent the balance between blue and yellow.

Starting with the Lightness: the graph shows the amount of the picture which is dark (on the left) and bright (on the right). You can see that the graph extends nearly all the way to the left side, indicating that there are some good dark values in the image. However, at the bright end. the graph peters out well before the right-hand side, indicating that there are not many very bright values. To compensate, we will slide the White level slider down to about 85% so that it is nearly touching the rightmost edge of the curve.

This brightens the highlights and brings more contrast to the image. If the image is still either too bright or too dark we can use the Gama slider to adjust it to taste.

Now the real fun begins. In the dropdown that currently says "Lightness" go and have a look at the graph for both the AOpponent and BOpponent. They will look very different from the Lightness graph - just a few peaks in the middle and nothing at the sides. The BOpponent will normally be a little fatter than the AOpponent, but not by much.

Remember that the AOpponent controls the green and magenta colours - green to the left and magenta to the right. The fact that the graph is all in the middle tells us that there aren't many pure green or pure magenta. colours in the picture - most colours are a mixture of the two and sit in the middle. The same is true of the BOpponent which is a mixture of blue (on the left) and yellow (on the right). The graph is fatter but, still, there are no pure blue or pure yellow colours - just mixtures of the two. This ties up with our observation of the original picture which has some obvious pale blues with amber in the sky.

Let's start with the BOpponent. The labels on the sliders still say "Black level" and "White level" but, in the case of the BOpponent what they really mean is "Blue level" and "Yellow level". Slide the Black level slider up to nearly touch the curve and the White level slider down to nearly touch the curve on the other side.

 Looks pretty garish eh? But don't worry it will get worse yet! Make a note of the BL and WL setting (44% and 57%) and switch to the AOpponent. Now enter the same values for BL and WL. We could have used different numbers for the AOpponent, squeezing them in a bit tighter, but using the same numbers tends to keep a better balance between green-magenta and blue-yellow. You can tweak and experiment later if you like.

At this point, the picture is probably screaming in pain, and so it should, because we have just pushed the colour contrast almost to the limit. Don't worry, we will dial it back later but this is the point to talk about the next trick - blue sky and yellow foliage. This is a similar effect to channel swapping in RGB (though not identical).

To achieve a LAB swap, simply exchange the values for the BL and WL sliders in both the AOpponent and BOpponent - essentially you are reversing the colour curve and, if you want, you can do it for both or for either of the Opponents. For now, let's do it for both. So, the BL becomes 57% and the WL becomes 44%. on both the AOpponent and the BOpponent Your picture should now look something like this:

Dialling back the colour
If you thought that your 720nm problem was lack of colour, you now need to work on dialling it back and achieving a better balance. This is the role of the Gama slider and the black and white output sliders. In the Opponent channels, the gama slider controls the balance between the two colours in the opponent - green-magenta for the AOpponent and blue-yellow for the BOpponent. While the output level sliders control the amount of each colour. If you were to move both the output sliders to 50%, those two colours would disappear and would become greys.

I find it best to start with the BOpponent as it usually has more colour to work with than the AOpponent. Then switch back and forth between the two until you get a result that you can work with. I ended up here:

As with any radical colour manipulation, you need to watch out for image noise. IR images are frequently noisy anyway, so it's important to keep on top of the noise as it occurs. Usually, I will denoise the input file prior to using the LAB process and will probably denoise again when colour manipulation is complete.

The LAB process is just the foundation and I usually build on this with HSL adjustments and other filters. In this case, I chose to take the image in this direction (including cropping):

Note that this has all been done with global adjustments. There has been no hand selection of colours for differing parts of the image and no masking of effects - just overall image adjustments.

Black and white
So, what about the 720nm for black and white work? Well, a good black and white image often starts as a good colour image. So, based on the work already done, there are two approaches. First, you can take the final image above through any standard black and white conversion processes to provide the desired  gradation:

This is pure greyscale, though you could add any black and white toning approach you prefer for your monochrome images.  A second black and white approach is to go back to the LAB adjustment and move the black and white output sliders very close to the 50% value. By playing around you can generate a monochrome picture with just a tiny hint of colouration which can be a very effective alternative to standard black and white toning.

The 'Aerochrome' look
Because it is all the rage at the moment, I spent a few minutes looking at whether something close to the Aerochrome look can be generated from a 720nm filter. Using the original image, a LAB and two HSL adjustment layers later, we arrived here:

It's not perfect and I did have to paint out some colour from the stonework, but it can be done and it is another demonstration that the 720nm filter coupled with LAB and HSL adjustments can produce some impressive results.

Which version  (if any) of this image you prefer is down to personal preference, but the route to each of these images has started from a 720nm capture using simple LAB  and HSL colour space adjustments. I hope that I have demonstrated that a lot of different looks can be achieved with that humble 720nm IR filter and that all is not lost if you don't happen to have a 590nm, 850nm or IR Chrome filter for your new wide-angle lens.





Wednesday, June 26, 2019

A new Publisher in town


 
Affinity Publisher has now hit the streets and joins Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer to provide a complete creative solution for artists, designers and publishers. With the arrival of Publisher, the Affinity suite now provides a solution that rivals (and in some areas, surpasses) the Adobe Creative Cloud at a fraction of Adobe's cost.

Having worked in software development for a large part of my career, I'm more often than not disappointed by the quality of new software. In the rush to completion, things like usability, reliability and functionality often suffer, sometimes irredeemably. It is, therefore, a cause for some celebration when a new piece of software is delivered that lives up to its pre-release hype and, in most respects, approaches some sort of perfection. Such a piece of software is Affinity Publisher.

In my day-to-day working life, I use Adobe's InDesign for publication. It's become an old 'friend' (in the sort of way that a prison cell-mate might be considered a 'friend'*). I use InDesign to produce large documents that average around 100 pages, sometimes 200+ pages, have multiple sections, a variety of created and imported content types, and are revised frequently prior to publication as print and interactive PDFs. This is not lightweight use.

Though I had been involved in the Affinity Publisher beta programme for about six months, the beta had lacked some of the features I frequently use in InDesign and so I had never pushed it in the same way that I push InDesign. That changed when the final completed version was released and I recreated one of my larger documents in Affinity Publisher. This is not a review as such. but this is what I discovered:

  1. There was nothing that I do in InDesign that I couldn't also do in Affinity Publisher. I might have to do it differently, but it could all be done.
  2. Affinity Publisher needs learning. Many of InDesign's features work differently in Affinity. I don't think any were worse (just different). 
  3. Affinity's free video tutorials are pretty comprehensive and made learning easy.
  4. Overall, I felt I was more productive at some of the tasks I need to do in Publisher (e.g. managing imported PDF files and managing a document with multiple sections).
  5. Affinity Publisher provided rock-solid reliability on my Windows 10 desktop (Mac and iPad versions are also available).
  6. The integration between Publisher, Photo and Designer was first-class and exceed anything Adobe offers (Photo and Designer features are available from within Publisher without leaving the Publisher application).
  7. A perpetual license for all three Affinity products (Publisher, Photo and Designer) costs less than four months subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud.
  8. Affinity Publisher is the sort of friend that might neet you at the gate when you finally get out.*

Affinity has the capability to go head-to-head with Adobe, especially if you don't need access to other tools in the Adobe Creative Cloud, like Premiere or After Effects. But, if you or your team are focussed on the main tools for raster graphics, vector design and publishing, then you may find the Affinity suite a much better fit. Find out more at: https://affinity.serif.com/en-us/

* No direct personal experience - just second-hand reports :-)

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Walk in the Gorge

I love this time of year, and I love this place; just before the Ashely completes it's dash through the hills and starts to spill out on to the plains.

It's ten-thirty when I start my walk and the sun still hasn't crested the sides of the gorge. A muted light filters through the Autumn leaves and a carpet of orange covers the path - still wet from last night's rain. The bell-birds chime heralding the coming sun and I head on up, hoping to meet the sun coming down.

Those extraverted poplars have already stripped off. While others, more bashful, are still slowly undressing. Across the river the modest evergreens watch on; shocked perhaps by this display of deciduous daring.


Further up I find the sun shamelessly playing among the leaves like a five-year-old in gumboots. I busy myself looking and composing, carefully capturing the light before it moves on. Only later wondering why I didn't pause to let my boots kick through the pile of leaves; to wind back the clock sixty-five years ...

... But I think I know why; alone here with only the sun, the birds, the half-naked trees, there's a quiet magic in the air, crackling like static, demanding that the spell not be broken. There is nothing I can add to this. It is gift.