Thursday, July 21, 2011

On my way to PA with my camera...

Heading to PA today for the yearly trip to the lake. Every year I do some photography up there. I did the whole lake photo thing, and have shot enough sunsets.. so the last few years I have tried to do different things. Last year I did a lot of macro stuff with a lens I rented. This year I am going to put in a good solid effort on some star trail photos. I tried it last year, but I was woefully unprepared.

Last time I mainly did long exposures.. which came out OK except for the massive amounts of noise in the images. Even with a 5DmkII you get massive noise with a 15 min exposure.. I believe my problem was that I didn't have long exposure noise reduction enabled. That should have helped. I am going to try that again with it enabled this year.. but also going to try to use the stacking technique. This involves shooting many frames at much shorter exposures.. and then stacking them into one in post processing. Never did it before (other then with HDR) so it will be interesting. Wish I was bringing my PC with me so I could actually see on the spot how things are going to look.. but that's kinda unrealistic. (all the more reason for my next computer to be a laptop.. but that is at least 2 years out)

Weather reports are favorable (unlike last year).. moon phase is workable (not full at least).. so hopefully everything will work out. :)

I'll post some results and a blog if I get something useful.. if I don't mention it again then it is because I screwed everything up. LOL

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fireworks 101...

So in typical fashion I am posting a "how to shoot fireworks" blog a few days after the 4th of July... pretty useful right?!?! LOL
Sorry about that.. I just don't think of these things until after the fact.

My approach to fireworks is similar to waterfalls... and that is to use longer exposures to capture the motion of the subject. With a waterfall you will see a nice sheet of water as opposed to water droplets frozen in mid air (although those shots are also nice too when zoomed in real close to capture all the details... its just a stylistic choice). With fireworks you will see a bright light trail, and hopefully multiple complementary bursts which create a nice composite image.

My go-to exposure setting is M 1", f16, ISO 200. With that you get a nearly black sky, and capture a nice trail. I have used 1/2" as well with the appropriate change in f-stop. Tripods are mandatory obviously, as well as a wired remote release. I normally set it up with a wide focal length pointed at the scene of action. I always end up cropping things down (22MP FF to work with anyway...) so it don't matter too much to compose it perfectly then and there. One other thing to do is pre-focus the camera and then once set, switch the lens to manual. This will avoid those silly delays with the camera re-focusing (if it even can given there will be very little contrast to use). If your camera has it definitely turn on the long exposure noise reduction. With Canon this will effectively double your shot to shot delay but at 1" that matters little.. (now when I am doing night photography with a 2 stop ND filter and use 15 minute exposures... yeah then it matters much LOL). I have no idea if Nikon offers this feature or what it does..

So once all that is ready you just sit and wait.. I try to time my first shots with the launch of the rockets. Remember the camera will capture 1 seconds worth of action each time.. After the first shot i just bang away on the shutter button and hope for the best... you end up with a ton of throw-aways but it's effective.

Post processing wise there isn't much to do. Raise the saturation just a bit, and slightly raise the black point to really make that color pop.. add some sharpening (but not tooo much), and a bit of clarity. Crop it down the way you want to present it and then you are good to go. Obviously I am shooting in RAW mode here (and you should be too), and using ACR to process (ditto).

You can see some of my work from a few days ago on my new Fireworks gallery

..just one more thing on color calibration.

As I was re-reading my last blog post on color calibration I realized I had forgotten one more point to make..

After you have established solid color management in your digital darkroom you will be able to process your images and print what you see on the screen.. basically if your output is prints, and only prints, then you are all set...

However... most (nearly all) digital photographers these days don't just make prints.. the most widely used way to display your work is using online galleries on web sites. Now from what we learned last time we know that the standard web browser does not support color management.. also 99.9999% of your viewers will not have calibrated monitors.. So all these people viewing your work will not really be looking at faithful representations of the original image...

There isn't much you can do. It is just a fact of life with digital display. You have no idea if people will see your work on a full blown digital monitor or a cell phone. You just have no control over it. The best approach is to always double check your digital galleries on different types of set ups. This is a lot like what (at least used to be) done in music studios where the final mix of a song was previewed on different types of speakers, stereos, and even Walkmans to make sure that the average listener (who wouldn't be using $1000 studio monitors) was going to hear what the artist intended even if all they had was a cheep set of headphones. Quite a lot of techniques with notch filters, eq-ing, etc were developed to create a mix which would work on most situations.

In this case view your gallery on a few different "average" computers, on a cell phone, and maybe even an apple Ipad.. make sure that in each case the images (while still not being faithfully reproduced) at least come close to what you intended. If, for example, you have a very high key image make sure that enough highlight detail is preserved on these setups so the user doesn't just see a totally blown out image. If not then you may want to consider creating a new version of the image tailored for online display.

When working with clients who see their proofs on a web gallery it is critical to inform them of this dilemma. Forget about filling them in on the finer details.. most people don't get it nor do they want to know. Just a statement like:
"Due to the irregularities in computer displays and how they are configured the images you see on the screen will not faithfully show how the final printed product will look. In nearly all cases the prints will look substantially better."
And then let them figure it out from there...

I find with most clients they get the point right away... and after they see just one example they no longer even care about it..

Anyway.. that just about sums up what I want to say about color calibration and management at the moment.. if anyone wants more details just fire off a message to me.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Color calibration FTW

So today's blog topic is a very important one covering one of the critical things you need to understand when setting up your own digital darkroom... Color Calibration.

So what is it?

Well here is the deal... take a picture, and then send it to a decent photo lab to make a print of it... then open that same picture on your computer in the windows photo viewer... then compare... what do you see?

The photos look different. The colors are not quite the same. The tone is just totally off, and it may be brighter or darker then you saw on the screen.

So what is the problem here?

Well there are several.... First the problem lies with your output.. You see your monitor/computer just isn't out of the box going to know how to display the colors as they are supposed to look (As compared to the standard).

(Note: your image file is made up of pixels.. each of which has four values.. Red, Green, Blue, and Luminosity. RGB tell the computer what the color is, and luminosity gives the brightness...)

So for a particular RGB (Red, Green, Blue) value the actual color displayed is not going to match the standard as to what that color is supposed to look like. There will be error due to the design of the screen, and due to tolerances within that particular one (because after all unless you buy a very expensive monitor designed for graphic work they just kinda slap em together). Also most monitors are setup (With their on board controls) to be optimal for business or video games. Typically they have cold color tones and lots of contrast. This pumps up the brightness and makes the black deep.. but it kills all the highlight details and makes skin look colorless. The resultant display may be "pleasing" to your eyes and good for viewing a PowerPoint presentation, playing a game, or watching YouTube videos... but the images won't be faithful to their source data.

Another problem is with the software you use to display the photo. Every image has a color space associated with it. The color space defines what a particular RGB value is supposed to look like. There are several, but the one most often used by digital photographers is sRGB. Only software that has built in color management can read the image data and interpret it against the color space and then display the colors correctly. Otherwise the colors will (Again) be off.

The only software that I know of that has built in color management is Adobe Photoshop, and Lightroom. Other adobe products probably have it.. as well as other professional (or serious amateur) level software. However your standard windows photo viewer will not, and your Internet Explorer (or Firefox) will not either.

Obviously.. if you fall into one or both of the two issues above you won't be able to process your images properly for print. Without a true display of how the image will look on paper you can't possibly adjust the exposure, color saturation, and etc. Anything you do will be a shot in the dark. So if you are in this situation it is imperative you take action to establish a better "digital darkroom" for your work.

Calibrate your Monitor
FIRST... you need to calibrate your monitor/computer. This is easier then it sounds.. but does require a small investment in a calibration tool. DO NOT go by any of those tutorials that tell you how to do it with your eye... its not worth the time.. The tool will be some software, and then a colorometer which attaches to your monitor screen or hangs in front of it. The software will display RGB values and grey scale values and the meter will read them. The software will compare the measured output with what it is supposed to be.. and then generate a color profile for your computer/monitor. The profile tells your video card how to adjust the display output so that the RGB values more closely match the standard.

One of the best bang/buck monitor calibration tools is the Spyder tool from ColorVision. I use the Spyder2, and I believe they have the 3rd version out now. There are other tools which some say are "better" but they cost quite a bit more.

Use the right software..
Now.. the second problem.. software. Obviously this is simple.. you need to use software that supports color management. Adobe products do so that is a start. I am a big advocate of photographers using Lightroom (or Photoshop) so if you are doing that then you are already all set. If you are not using Adobe then investigate if your current chosen software does support color space.. if it does not then it is time to switch.

Just remember.. that even if you calibrate your monitor you MUST be using a color managed photo viewer see the image correctly. One without the other won't cut it. Yes.. you may be a little better off with a calibrated monitor alone... but not good enough for editing (maybe display.. not editing for print).

One additional thing to keep in mind... yes printers get calibrated too. :) Actually the combination of Printer, chemicals or ink, and paper get calibrated and output adjusted so that the resultant prints meet the standards. A good lab will do that periodically, and it MUST be done for every combination of ink and paper used.. Normally a printer comes out of the box with drivers and software calibrated for the OEM paper and ink. So if you buy a canon printer and use canon photo paper with canon ink you are nearly good to go. However if you use Costco paper the calibration will not hold. The same is true for labs that use photographic paper printers.

If you use a good lab like Mpix, or even Costco, they normally will calibrate their systems as part of regular maintenance. Your local drug store probably won't.

One final bit of info: most good labs will provide you a color profile for their printers. These are similar to the profile you make for your monitor except it is for the printer. What can you do with it? Well if you are using Photoshop you can install that profile and use it for soft proofing. Even if you calibrate the printer there will be some limitations. Some colors will just look a little different because of the nature of the paper. One example I know of is that Kodak Endura paper (as good as it is..) will display bright reds more subdued. What the soft proofing will show you is how the image on your screen will look once printed on the printer.

So when you have your monitor calibrated.. your color managed Photoshop.. AND a profile for the output printer.. you will have a true digital darkroom where you can preview exactly what you will get as physical output.

Is that the only calibration with digital photography? No of course not. Cameras, for one get calibrated for better raw file processing. Lens/body combinations can get focus calibrations done so that the auto focus is more spot on. Each improves your work just a bit more.

My above explanation is pretty simplified and thus I omitted a lot of the technical jargon and theory (etc).. there are plenty of resources out there on the net if you want to know more on these topics.. however the above is the practical info you need.