Monday, December 27, 2010

Sunlight and extreme panoramas

The photo above is an extreme panorama, it is stitched together from 9 portrait mode images of the Golden Gate Bridge.  This is the cropped version, and the actual image is 19,600 pixels wide. If I zoom in, I can actually read the speed limit signs, not well but I can. I don't know whether that actually qualifies as an extreme panorama in other peoples minds or not, but it is certainly larger than I have played with before.

The reason I took this photo was two-fold, I was wondering if I could actually see the shadow of the earth cross the Golden Gate Bridge.  Unfortunately, the horizon had clouds so the terminator line wasn't as clear as I had hoped.  This is the last series I took where the sunlight was actually shining on the bridge. 20 seconds later it was gone.

I might mention that processing this image took all of the memory in my computer and then some.  My machine isn't big, It only has 3 gig of memory available, and 4 cores. I am now running Windows 7 64-bit.  The upgrade was interesting, I lost the use of several devices. Apparently the 64-bit windows does not support Adaptec SCSI cards, which I have to use the Polaroid Sprintscan 4000 slide scanner.  Thankfully Linux comes to the rescue. I wasn't able to save my Wacom Intuos serial tablet, but I did get a new Wacom Bamboo tablet for Christmas.  It seems very nice, and for me easier to use.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tight quarters

When I was at AirVenture in July, I attended a seminar by Paul Bowen, a fantastic aerial photographer.  His work shows years of dedication and a tremendous artistic skill.

When I was offered the chance to fly along with some friends during a formation practice flight, taking photographs, I jumped at the chance. While they were doing their preflight, I gathered a minimal set of gear.

I considered using a polarizing filter, but I was going to be in the right seat of an Vans RV-7, and the polarizing filter would cause some problems with the curved canopy.  The photo above is an RV-7 we would be flying with.

I ended up just taking the Canon 7d and the Tamron 18-250mm zoom.  I was concerned about the lighting and depth of field, so I set the camera on manual mode with auto-ISO.  I have used this same technique at airshows with success in the past. I told the pilots that I was only along for the ride, and would be making no requests regarding where the flights were, or what I would want them to do.  Instead I just depended on knowing what the pilots would be doing and working with the knowledge to get some hopefully interesting photos.

The sky was mostly overcast with some open sky, but completely flyable. The lighting was a little bland, but I figured the experience would certainly be worth it.

Turns out that the major problem I had was moving around in the cockpit enough to take the photos. The plane I was in was lead most of the time, so of the time I was shooting behind me at about 4-o'clock. The cramped quarters and the4-point harness, along with the close proximity of a scratch-able canopy meant I had to work to frame the photos.  I also gave up shooting normally, and used my pinkie finger to actually take the photo.

The other problem I ran into was I set the aperture too high.  The photos were taken at f.22, which could have been dropped.  I was originally concerned about depth of field with a long lens, but as it turns out I was shooting wide-angle mostly.  By using a larger aperture, I could have used a lower ISO setting, which would have kept the noise from being so high.  Not bad, but noticeable if you look.  Even with the noise, since I was doing very little cropping, each of these photos could be blown up to poster size with very few problems.

This was an interesting opportunity, and one I hope to repeat.  All of the photos can be seen at my image web site

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Had gone to shoot birds...

But the fog came in.  I was traveling light so I had only brought my Canon 100-400 mm lens, and didn't have anything shorter.  So, I started playing with the fog depth, where the fog would change how it affects the image as you get further away.  In this particular case, the fog also changed thickness even from left to right.  It was moving slowly in bunches, causing some interesting patterns.

I chose to use the image stabilization, even though I was only shooting at 100mm  1/320 second.  Should have brought the tripod along, but oh well.

What I found interesting was the patterns in the fog, combined with the reddish tree against the green. I could have increased the saturation to bring out some of the colors, but that would have decreased the affect of the fog on the scene. It's certainly interesting to try and balance out the muting of the fog with the color in the landscape.

This was take at North Lake, Golden Gate Park.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

time lapse photography.

I just had to share this, something I've always wanted to play with.  Photography gives you a chance to play with time, outside of human perception.  Fast, slow, time-lapse.

Kudos to Simon Christen for this.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

compact cameras

I was in Mendocino, and I recently got into the habit of bringing my Olympus FE-46 around, even if I am carrying my Canon camera around. Especially when I have the 100-400 mm zoom on the Canon, having the small camera as a wide-angle backup is very nice. This particular camera has the capability of adjusting the exposure of the image, which is what I had to do to get the image to the right.  I knocked the exposure down by 1.3 stops so that the sky had some color in it.

I also ran across a book which sounds interesting, Confessions of a Compact Camera Shooter.In it, Rick Sammon talks about using a compact camera to get interesting shots. If you have followed Dewitt Jones in Outdoor Photographer, he has also been playing around with these small cameras as well.  At least I think it was him, I'm going on memory now.  

I highly recommend that you pick up one of these little cameras, try to get one that will allow exposure adjustment, it helps a lot in getting good shots.  They're light, and very versatile when those shots crop up.  And the required tripod can be very light.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Manual mode with auto-ISO

It actually works fairly well... I spent a week at AirVenture learning about new airplanes, light sport aircraft, and doing a lot of photography.  I took over 3400 photos, and have to now sort them.

I ended up using the manual mode of the camera with auto-iso in raw mode the last day I was there.  I did most of my ground to air shooting that day.  While you have to be careful to watch the exposure in case you over expose (my usual problem) having the Canon 7D handle the ISO worked surprising well. 

And the reason?  When you take photos of aircraft, you want to have the shutter speed slow enough so that the prop is not stopped still. That gives you a sense of motion.  For a slight blur, you can go as high as 1/800 of a second. I tend to shoot someplace around 1/400 of a second.  A tripod works well, or an image-stabilized lens. Since I have never been very good at panning with a tripod, I use the 100-400 IS lens from Canon. I suppose a gimble head would work well.

If you want to have the full arc of the prop, you need to drop down to 1/80 or less when the engine is at full RPM. Needless to say, 1/80 is very slow for a 400 mm lens. The P-51 shot was taken at 300 mm, 1/80 second, f.16, iso 100.  Handheld but braced.

If you want to practice this, see if you can attend a seminar by one of the professionals. I went to listen to Paul Bowen, a very entertaining and enlightening speaker.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

telephotos and fog

You'll find multiple articles saying that given a set of criteria, telephoto lenses do not compress objects, that they react the same as wide-angle lenses.  And that is true.

However, one of the ways I think about lenses is that the view-angle is narrower for a telephoto lens than for a wide angle lens.  For a 250 mm lens (as was used for the photo of the bridge), the angle is fairly small.  People interpret the size based of an object partially based on how much of the image the object takes up.

Normally, a 55 mm lens (for 35mm film cameras) is around what the eye sees.  When we look at an image taken with a 250 mm lens, the difference in how much an object takes up changes.  Because we know how big the bridge is, we interpret the pelicans as proportionally larger when in fact they are just closer.

The one thing that cannot be changed is atmospheric changes due to distance.  A 250 mm lens will still have as much atmosphere (fog in this case) between it and the bridge as a 55 mm lens.  That helps provide context to the sizes, making us know that the pelicans are much closer to us than the bridge.  It's also one of the reasons that photos of the astronauts in space look so strange, we lose some context.

All of this is good to know, but the real goal is to take good photos. Just as a warning, although the Canon 7d allows you to manually set the aperture and shutter speed while it handles the ISO (in auto mode) for perfect exposure, it won't let you under or over-expose it by using the dial.  It will let you bracket though.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

8 fps

These three images are taken from a sequence I took with the new Canon 7D.  There are 7 totals images, all taken within 1 second showing the redtail hawk launching off of the lamp post.

One of the problems I had with my old camera (a Canon Digital Rebel XT) was getting exposure right.  You could tell the camera to be in all-manual mode, shutter preferred mode, or aperture preferred mode.  The ISO was only set by hand.

On occasion I wanted an additional auto-adjustment.  The Canon 7D also has an auto ISO adjustment which is very close.  I set the shutter speed and aperture, and the camera figures out the ISO needed to get the shot.  Given the wide range of ISO (100- 6400) that allows for a very broad range of exposure. This particular series was ISO 640, which would be very noisy on the Rebel XT but quite reasonable here.

Especially if you use a technique I read about (sorry, I can't remember where) where you stack multiple layers of images and average across the layers.  I haven't had a chance to play with this yet, but it looks really intriguing.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Patient subjects

 It's good to have a patient subject, and thankfully my cat is a fairly patient subject. This image was taken about 6 inches from her nose, taken with a 28-105 mm lens at about 65 mm, with 34 mm of extension tubes on the front.

The exposure was f.25 (yes, 25) at 1/80 second.  There were two flashes, one on camera and one off camera.  There is no cropping of this image, so the actual image is 5100 x 3400 pixels. It was taken with the Canon 7d.

I was basically playing around with one of their toys for macro photography, and noticed that she was resting peacefully on a lap, so I brought the camera in close.  I was able to shoot some of her eye, but it was this nose that caught my interest.  Her fur is black, white and orange, and there is just a touch of orange in this shot.

I had to hand-focus it because of the extension tubes, but the small f stop helped keep everything in focus. Even with that, her cheek was out of focus.  If I had focused a little further back, I probably could have helped. Of course, all of this was shot on a tripod, something I need to carry around much more often.

Right now I am wondering what this would look like at 3 feet across.  Sometimes I like to take the context out of the image, and I like this image because it provides just enough context. 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Story telling

Not that I am good at story telling, I did like this photo as it encompasses the life of a berry (or several).  From the new bud, to the pollination of the flower, the death of the flower, and the emerging berries, it's all in a little tiny 5 square inches of the world.

This also is the first time I was able to play around with the Canon 7d.  Very nice camera, handles auto-focusing very well.  However, I still need to carry a tripod for shooting with the 400 mm lens.  A monopod is good, but not great.  This photo was actually taken with the Manfroto 676B monopod and Manfrotto 3229 Swivel Tilt Head with Quick Release head, a good combination for the heavier Canon 100-400 mm lens.  Though this particular shot was taken with the Tamron 18-250 mm zoom lens

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Inexpensive Remote flash

Picked up a Cowboy Studio remote flash trigger to play around with. Compared to some they are much less expensive. The only problem I can see is that I have to figure out the guide number and f-stop accordingly. There is no TTL information passed across the wireless link.

I have a speedlite 420 EX, which claims to have a guide number of 42 (meters based) according to the manual. A guide number is used to determine the f-stop used to take the picture. So a guide number of 42 tells you that at 10 meters away, at ISO 100, you would use f 4.2 (42 / 10). At 3 meters away (around 10 feet) you would use f 14. If you were shooting at ISO 200, twice as fast as ISO 100, you should double the f stop. The distance is from the flash to the subject, not the camera to the subject.

Now the 420 EX will zoom based on the lens length when it is attached to my camera. It defaults to 35 mm, which has a guide number of 31. That 42 before was when it was in the telephoto mode of 105 mm. Since none of the TTL information is available at the flash, then I should use a guide number of 31.

All this sounds complex, but basically just take the guide number and divide by the distance and that gives you the f-stop at ISO 100. Or, since I now deal with digital, I can take a picture, see how it looks and adjust accordingly. All of this guide number division was much more important to calculate when shooting with film. Now with digital, you have instant feedback.

And the reason for all of this? Hopefully more macro photography work. Of course, when working with bees, you usually only get one chance so figure out the correct f-stop.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Panning as an art

Panning with a subject is one of those things that requires a lot of practice. It's not too hard when it's an airplane or something large that is moving across the sky in a fairly even manner. It's a completely different thing when it's a bird close to the water. Large things just don't move as erratically as larger, more massive things.

The basic idea is to rotate your body to keep the subject in the frame, while keeping the composition. Then by using a slower shutter speed you can get a nice artistically blurred background. If you can do this while it's on a monopod or tripod, so much the better. The Canon 100-400 IS lens actually has a special anti-shake mode for doing panning. I'm not sure it works if you shoot portrait mode.

The photo to the right was taken at Golden Gate Park, there is a lake north of Martin Luther King Drive and west of 25th. It's also where I took the photo of the goose.

These mallards are in full breeding colors, and are amazing to observe. However, if you try to take a photo of one, they can be difficult to track across the sky. This shot was taken with the 100-400 mm zoom at 400 mm, 1/250 th of a second, f.11. They can fly very erratically, dodging around things and generally making it difficult to pan with them.

An admission on my part, if I don't know how something works on my camera, I tend not to use it. It took me quite a while to start using the ISO as an adjustable parameter for every shot. I think that the auto-focus mode where it pays attention to the 7 sensors in the viewfinder might help for this type of shot. I'll have to give it a try in slightly more controlled experiment.

What modes do people use for auto-focus when shooting moving objects?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

New camera bag

Someone at work is selling a Crumpler 6 Million Dollar Home bag which seems like a very nice bag. He let me borrow it for the weekend and I went wandering around Golden Gate park with all of my camera gear. It handles the Canon Digital Rebel XT, the Tamron 18-250mm zoom, the 100-400 IS lens, the 1.4 teleconverter, and the Canon Speedlight 420 I own. I carried the Bogen tripod on my shoulder, I don't think anyone should think about packing that into a bag.

It's nice, but I am a bit afraid of out-growing it too soon. I like the side-carry, though it is more difficult on my shoulder than the backpack I currently use. But, it takes quite a bit of time to get a lens out of the backpack as compared to the Crumpler.

I welcome any suggestions.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Breeding season

It's breeding season for the birds. A quick walk around Lake Merced in California had lots of interesting opportunities. The Hummingbirds are out and fending off intruders to their territory.

When shooting this image of the Great Blue against the sky, I knew that the sky would fool the meter quite a bit, so I adjust the metering to be +1 stop. Since I was shooting in aperture preferred mode, that meant that the shutter speed was cut down by 1/2. This shot was f.8.0, iso 800, 1/2000 second at 400mm on the Digital Rebel XT. The lens was the 100-400mm IS Zoom from Canon. In Raw mode of course.

There is a little cropping, and some adjustment of exposure (Fill Light in Adobe Lightroom 2).

The camera was set up for AI Servo and spot metering.

One of the things I discovered is that I need to work on my panning. As long as the object is fairly large in the frame I don't have a problem (for example airplanes at an air show) but I was not able to keep the spot on this bird very well.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

San Francisco light

There is a certain quality of light in San Francisco, and I am sure it is other places as well. It's that light that cuts through the fog, or in the case at the moment, under it. I think it allows a little more time for that golden hour, because the sunlight reflects off the bottom of the stratus layer and warms things up a bit.

It's an odd city, you have the actual city itself, with the high-rises, crime, shopping centers, street people. All of that is in one section, mostly. Then you have the suburbs, or everything West of 19th ave, which is where I currently live. And then you have the nature areas, Golden Gate Park (where this cormorant was resting), the area around the Legion of Honor, and the newly reintroduced wetlands at Crissy Field. All of these areas are great for bird watching. On the way to do some photography today, I was able to watch a red-tailed hawk grab something for dinner and fly off with it.
Even in the suburbs, you can see a red-tailed hawk perched on a telephone wire. This one was a few houses down from me, I was able to get my 100-400 mm zoom and take a fair number of shots without him (or her) paying a lot of attention to me.
The crows and blackbirds were distracting him.
And yet, I dislike the bitter wind that comes in off the Pacific Ocean at an average speed of 12 miles per hour in April. That's average, and there is nothing between the water and you. The houses act like a wind-tunnel, making it seem much higher.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

How much camera do you need?

I used to work in the Film and Digital Media Department at U.C. Santa Cruz. When I was there, I would often have discussions with students and faculty on how much of a camera was needed to actually learn photography. My contention was that the principles are the same whether you are using high-definition cameras or standard-definition. A good film/video/photo doesn't necessarily require a high-end camera. Needless to say, they were not convinced. Many of the students believed that by using a high-definition camera, their films would be better. I argued that a good script, dialog, and plot were much more important. But, I'm an engineer, they are artists, and I no longer work there.

The photo shown (large version) was taken when I was driving home from work (I work as a computer engineer at Industrial Light and Magic) and was taken with a camera I carry around with me all the time. It is an Olympus FE-46 that I bought with some extra credit card points. It's basically the equivalent of a cell phone camera to me. But it does have several features that I count on:

  • Settable ISO so I can control the grain
  • Exposure compensation of + or - two stops
  • 5x optical zoom
  • 12 Mega pixels (which is nice but not really required)
Given the above, I can control the shutter speed (aperture on these cameras doesn't really count for much), the exposure from normal, and composition, three things that are critical to taking good photographs.

It would be nice to have bracketing as well, that way when the light is changing fast I can take several shots for HDR work, given it only takes JPEG images.

The fact that it is small, and I can easily carry it everywhere makes it a great camera. It will nor replace my SLR. But it does meet the requirement I recommend, buy a camera that you will use.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Seahorse exhibit

At the Monterey Bay Aquarium is an exhibit, "The Secret Lives of Seahorses". Just on its own it is a great exhibit. However, with a reasonable camera you can also practice some interesting photography.

I spent a fair portion putting the lens hood on my 18-250 mm Tamron zoom up to the plexiglass (the lens hood is a softish plastic) and letting the camera focus for me. That removed most of the reflections I would get and allowed me to shoot at around 1/30 second. Because I was using the plexiglass as a brace, the low speed wasn't a problem.

While it was rainy and windy most days, the day we were down there was nice, picturesque clouds and only some wind. I highly recommend going to a local zoo or aquarium, put a good 4+ gig card in the camera, play, and be prepared to throw some of the photos away. It's a great way to learn what you can do with your camera.

I know this sounds like a no-brainer (or at least it does to me), but sometimes I have to remind myself to just have fun. It is a hobby after all. I stopped one hobby (computer programming) because I do it for a living. Best to keep other hobbies just that.