Thursday, May 31, 2012

Don't delete - ever

Digital photographs are easy to accumulate in vast numbers. Some photographers recommend deleting anything that isn't perfect - as soon as possible, preferably before it leaves the camera. I don't subscribe to that philosophy and keep everything I shoot unless its absolutely awful.

I have a folder structure that allows good stuff to 'bubble' to the surface while all the raw material (usually RAW material) sits in a series of basement folders called 'Originals'. When I need to try out some new software or attempt a new processing approach I dig into my 'Originals' folders to find something to practice on. Case in point is the picture below - what I wanted to try didn't work out but, in the process, I discovered the original reason I took the shot - the light - buried beneath a rather dull and uninteresting set of RAW files.

"Evening light - Canterbury High Country" - camera Nikon D80, 28mm, ISO100, 1/15sec, f11 (9 frames)

So, tonight I feel vindicated and confirmed in my old hoarder ways :-)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Are you in the haystack?

Yesterday I read a plaintive G+ post by +Vivienne Gucwa, lamenting how difficult it was to monetize her photography on line. Her words resonated with me and got me thinking about my own on-line experience and the conclusion I had come to, that the internet was not the best place for a photographer to sell work. (It might be one way for a photographer to sell themselves, but that is a different thing.)

It’s basically very simple – photographers make pictures and pictures are brought by customers. Where are the customers; are they on-line looking for work to buy? Generally, no they are not. Customers are out buying pictures in shops and galleries (I’m not talking about commercial buyers of stock photos here). My own experience is that potential customers may well want to look through your portfolio on line but, unless they have had some prior physical contact with your work they are unlikely to buy there. Pictures are real tangible things, physical size matters (small or large), presentation matters, how it looks in your hand or hung on a wall matters – these things are hard to judge on a computer screen. Some of my best selling pieces, don’t even look like my best work when displayed on a computer. Lastly, even I wouldn’t buy a picture on line without seeing it physically, so why would I expect anyone else to?

I am not a Luddite. My own internet presence includes a personal website, a blog and profiles at redbubble, 500px, Facebook and G+. I invite people to look at my work online but I don't try to sell to them there. My personal portfolio site has this on the front page, “This site is for looking; not buying. Should you have an overwhelming desire to purchase an image, please visit my portfolio at ...

Nearly all my work is sold through a small rural gallery. Maybe I will expand my outlets further down the track but I have been selling cards and framed pictures every month this year from a location that has less than 500 physical visitors per week and displays work by a large number of artists. In the same period I have had one internet sale - because one of my existing ‘fans’ had seen a picture they liked on my Facebook page.

Here's another strange thing; my pictures can be brought on-line as greeting cards for about $2.50 each. I have sold absolutely none through this method. Instead, I buy them myself on-line and sell them through the gallery at $7.00 each. On average I have 2-3 card sales a week; not enough to pay the bills, but it's money for little effort - I just have to keep the shelves stocked - and I am learning what people like and what they don't.

The takeaway for me is that the internet is a great place to showcase what you can do and it’s the best way to get your portfolio ‘out there’ and available to any eyeballs that may want to see it. It’s a great place to share and discuss your work with other photographers; it’s also a great place to spend the time you should be using to make pictures! BUT it’s not a great place to meet real customers and sell your pictures – for that, the old fashioned ways are significantly more successful. As I heard a photographer say once, "Ah, redbubble (or any other large art web site) another haystack to hide your needle in."

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Focus stacking

This last week I have been learning playing around with 'focus stacking'. One of the difficulties when taking closeup or macro photos is the incredibly shallow depth of field; sometimes you may only have a millimetre of the subject in focus at a time -front, sharp; rear blurry. The answer is to take a number of photos focussed on different parts of the subject and then merge them altogether to get one sharp photo.

This is easier said than done. Unlike merging photos for exposure, every time you refocus the shape of the subject changes slightly, so each picture needs to be aligned not only for x and y coordinates but also for depth by adjusting magnification. All tricky stuff for software but the free program "Combine ZP" available from: does the job admirably (though it does take some learning). Here is a dandelion composited from 5 differently focused frames in 'CombineZP':
and this is a 100% crop from right of centre out towards the right edge. Note the very fine detail that 'CombineZP' has been able to maintain:

Although the differently focussed frames can be achieved by adjusting focus on the lens, it is much easier with subjects this size to use a focusing rail which allows sub-mm adjustments. All five frames were shot at ISO 100, with a 70-300 Tamron lens at 185mm and f11 for 0.7 seconds.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Photoshop - $25 - almost

I have been a user of Photoshop Elements since v8 and Photoshop Lightroom since v3; together they make an awesome library, development and post processing combo for photographers. Despite having flirted with CS6 during the beta stage, I always baulked at the exorbitant price premium that Photoshop commanded (see "Photoshop CS6 Beta - first thoughts" and "Photoshop CS6 - second thoughts"). But now I have nearly all the functionality of Photoshop for a mere NZ$25 thanks to two small programs - "TPG Elemental" and "Elements+".

TPG Elemental is a Lightroom plugin which links Lightroom to Elements in a very similar way to Lightroom's  built in linking with the full Photoshop CSx application. It allows the user to send images from Lightrrom to Elements for editing, stacking or merging and a number of other functions. It is simple and works as advertised. It is 'donation ware' so send the author whatever you think is appropriate and he will send you a license key to unlock the full functionality of TPG Elemental.

Elements+ is a Photoshop Elements plugin. Photoshop Elements is a stripped down version of the full Photoshop product, only it seems that most of the full product's functionality is still lurking under the hood of Elements. Adobe blocked access through the Elements interface but did not remove the functionality. Elements+ provides it's own interface to the hidden functionality so now, for example, I have access to the color channel functions, can align layers, merge and blend layers and access dozens of other functions previously reserved for the users of the full Photoshop. Elements+ cost NZ$15.

Now, this combination is not perfect and some may find the interface to Elements+ 'odd' - I know I did at first. Not everything in Photoshop is there either but, if Elements on its own is 80% of Photoshop, then these two little apps take that percentage up to about 95% - now that IS worth NZ$25! Which makes paying another NZ$930 for the last 5% even less likely than it used to be.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ben Heine

I came across Ben Heine's work through a Facebook post and a visit to his 500px page. His "Pencil vs Camera" series are really interesting:
But Ben works in quite a few different styles each of which he seems to have mastered in a amazing way. These are a couple of his "Digital Circlism" portraits:

and here is a video of the making of "Elvis":

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Blocked |||

Sometimes I don't want to pick up the camera. It's not that I have 'gone off' photography (not after sixty years!) but inspiration fails me - I can't think of how to move forward. I could just keep taking the same old pictures as yesterday, but I want to grow to progress, and some days I just don't know how. On days like that I fire up Apothysis and make fractals.

I find that there's something therapeutic about fiddling with fractals and, when an image starts to appear on the screen, it's a bit like watching a photographic print emerge in a tray of developer. Yesterday was a fractal day and I developed this picture of a butterfly ...

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Up-size me, please

Today, I have been playing around with some old reject images as test subjects. My issue was, 'how to print at large sizes (say 1m wide) when you only have a camera with a 10Mega-pixel sensor? To print with good quality at 1m width would requires an image about 50Mp in size - larger than the new Nikon D800 and well into the outrageously expensive medium format digital category. However, Mp is a square measure and, while the long edge of my 10Mp sensor is 3,872px, a 50Mp sensor would be about 8,640px - only a 2.2x linear increase.

Conventional wisdom (and my own prior experience) says that you can't increase an image by 220% and get good quality (even using professional re-sizing tools)  but today I tried some other techniques and came up with a solution that provides good sharpness and smooth detail without obvious artifacting. Even with my perfectionist, pixel peeping, ways I would be hard pressed to detect the up-sizing, if I didn't know. Basically, after cleaning the image of any digital noise, a standard "bicubic smoother" upsize, followed by a pass through Topaz 'In focus' and a light touch with Topaz 'Detail', provides a large image file that I am happy to work with.

Of course this web picture is not 1m wide, so you can't see the results, but if you are a Topaz user you can try for yourself and see what results you get. This is not something to be applied at the end of the processing - it is something to do at the start, so that you have a large digital file entering the normal post-processing cycle. done this way, you can still provide some additional output sharpening using whatever tool you prefer at the end.

Anyway, re-sizing aside, this image had quite grown on me by the time I had finished. :-)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Photoshop CS6 - second thoughts

A week or so after downloading the CS6 beta, I could have brought it - I was in love with all the cool things it could do compared to to Photoshop Elements. Fortunately for me and my bank account, CS6 was not yet for sale and I was granted a cooling off period during which sanity prevailed and I uninstalled CS6. I imagine that it felt much like walking away from an affair before anyone really got hurt.

Let me be clear, my digital tools of choice for the last year have been Photoshop Lightroom (now v4) and Photoshop Elements (v10). To move from PSE10 to CS6 would cost well over NZ$930 while Lightroom and Elements together cost me about NZ$400. As I asked in the last post on this subject, were the additional features that CS6 offered over and above PSE10 worth it? No they weren't - at least not to me.

I will miss the 'adaptive wide angle tool' - that was really useful but, that aside, there was really nothing that CS6 brought to the party that I couldn't achieve in PSE10. Perhaps PSE10 isn't so polished and CS6 is definitely quicker at many tasks, but my photography is not of the mass production type (think weddings) that could benefit from the smoother CS6 workflow. Most of my time is spent deciding how to process an individual picture, not applying the actual modifications. Add to that the fact that Lightroom provides all the RAW processing abilities from CS5/6's Camera RAW (but packaged better) and it was clear that CS6 could add very little to my current post processing setup.

So that was it; CS6 is in the past, even before its arrival, and I am more convinced than ever that Lightroom and Elements make an awesome tool set for non-commercial photographers.