HDR (Black and White)

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The best thing (for me) that came out of the hdr experiments, was the tonemapping tool in Photomatix. I have created a monochrome preset that seems to work very well for converting raw images to b&w. The shot above is an old one – done with the Rebel something or other in 2004. If I were making corrections in Lightroom, there would be a bunch of gradients, and other techniques for dodge / burning areas.

This comes straight out of the tonemapping program. Yes, you could then use it as a starting point and fine-tune this and that in Lightroom or Photoshop. But essentially, the tonemapping (and I did two prints for customers today using it) gives this excellent control over both overall contrast and tonality, as well as “micro” areas of the image.

You can setup presets to give different effects depending on the source image and what you want to do with it.

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Original “flat” version “zeroed out”

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Default Settings in Tonemap (Photomatix)

Let me try this again because I wasn’t clear about the whole workflow to do this shot.

1. In Lightroom, I have a preset. It sets the curve to linear. It zeros out all the attributes. And it uses the calibration that I like, which is faithful. This produces a very flat image. Next to no contrast. Nothing dropping off the edges of the histogram.

2. Then I created a preset for this type of input image in Tonemapping. It brings up different areas at different contrast levels etc. I call it Monochrome 1. I have two other presets, one for images that are coming in too contrasty, and one for images that are just too flat. But I am not fusing three images together, though the preset will work as well with them. And I am not creating two virtual images. It is one image.

The problem that I have with multiple images is that if anything is moving – tree branches, ducks, etc. the result is not pleasing to me, i.e. not the normal blur you get from using one image. On the other hand – if the initial scene really is contrasty, and nothing much is moving, or your shutter speed is fast enough, then fine – combine them and then tonemap them.

Here are the tonemapping settings for this monochrome image.

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I’m not saying that this will work for all images, or that I will always use it as is, but it is a good start for both my 5d raw images that I want to go to monochrome with, and my 40D and whatever the early Rebel was called. The idea is to try and give the tonemapping program all the data you can. You may be able to make all the changes you need with tonemapping, or it may be an intermediate step and you’ll import it back into Lightroom or Photoshop. But the point is, it surprised me how well the program works for dealing with both flat, and high contrast images. And of course – it’s another reason why you always want to shoot raw if you care about what you’re shooting. It’s just that you never know what piece of software is in the pipeline, or how a new converter may be able to pull more detail from the highlights than your current one.

Anyway, I don’t mean to do a commercial for Photomatix. I haven’t compared it with other programs as it works. And you can download it and like most software try it for free. Tonemapping is just one part of the program. Obviously the main parts are for creating HDR images.

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Got the 5D

The 5d and the 28 f1.8 are mine.  I just picked them up from my friend at Grand Central, and spent about a half hour shooting there at 1600 and f1.8.

Results of 1600 compared to 1600 on 40D – night and day.  1600 is 100% usable.  Will post pictures later.  On my way to do my usual duty – dropping off packages at Fedex.  I’m very happy looking through the viewfinder, and the camera seems quieter than the 40D.  A lower-pitched click.  Smoooth, shutter.  Nice to see things back at full frame, though I had gotten used to the cropped view.

Also nice, my batteries for the 40D work with the 5D as does my cable release.  All in all – a great deal for me.  I even had a chance to stick the camera on a tripod for a few moments at Grand Central at do some hdr.  That classic shot with the windows on the other side always being blown out – should be interesting to see what hdr can do since I have one of the bracketed shots at 1.5 stops under.

We’ll see…

Digital Silver Imaging (continued)

Now that orders are coming in again – I have a few that I’m going to try at DSI.  I spoke this morning with Eric at DSI and it was just a straight foward conversation and what I learned was that they use two common profiles: Adobe98 (which is what I’ve been using for years for b&w) and hmmm PhotoPro?  I forget.  Anyway, the fiber paper is the same Ilford Gallerie Fiber that I was using for years in the darkroom.  Can you imagine that?

I’d better calibrate my screen again – haven’t done it in a few months.  And just as I was speaking – a fourth order came through.  So it’s starting again.  I’m planning to do these orders through DSI, and send a physical proof from the inkjet along as a guide.

WCI would still be necessary for the really big prints – even if this works out (which I expect it will).

Things are turning around.  I found a place RediMat that has 12 x 16 Museum Rag with 12 x 8 openings at a reasonable price, if you buy enough (which I did).

And the next step is to prepare the files for DSI and see how it goes.  As I say, I’m hopeful that this works out.  Since these really are silver gelatin prints – and since that still means something to some collectors – well that may make it easier to sell at the higher prices.  We’ll see; but what I like is: they just do black and white prints (well they do scans and infrared conversions etc.) but basically they are doing b&w.  The idea of combining digital workflow with silver fiber prints – that is something that I thought about a long time ago.  And they are fairly small – again something I like.  Usually customer service is good at this sort of place that is essentially working with artists.

Digital Silver Imaging

Po Boy Inkjet Dryer

As you might have discovered, it’s a good idea to let your fine art inkjet prints dry before they’re stuck in frames.  Depending on the ink / paper combination this can take various times but if you use a paper that takes a while to fully absorb the ink, you’ll end up with vapors being trapped in the frame if you frame them too soon.  In my case, I have two issues, one is that there’s cat hair floating around, and even one hair landing on a print while it’s fresh out of the printer will ruin the print.  Well maybe not always, it depends on where it lands.  If the print (I’m using Epson Exhibition F Gloss paper with K3 inks) is still wet and it lands in a dark area, I have never been able to remove it without pulling up ink at the same time.  If it lands in a very light area, then you’ve got a good chance.

At any rate, the paper is expensive, and it takes a long time to do big prints, and you just don’t want to have to do it all over again.

I divide the process into two parts – drying and curing.

I purchased boxes from Uline which come flat, and fold into 24 x 28 x 4 inches high.  Close and tape one end of the box.  I also bought cardboard pads that are 24 x 30 inches.  This is the size of the largest paper I use.

Since I don’t want to have the prints sitting on cardboard for various reasons – not exactly acid-free, and cardboard isn’t smooth; I also bought a roll of acid-free glassine paper and cut sheets the size of the cardboard sliders that will go into the boxes.  I staple the paper to the cardboard.

After that it’s just a matter of stacking the cardboard boxes somewhere that the cat can’t get to them and tape them all together into one unit.

It’s not perfect because two inches of the print stick out of the box.  On the other hand they get enough air (I happen to have a ceiling fan which helps) and it’s a good way to prevent particles from falling on the paper while it’s still remotely wet.

After two days of drying, I can then cut sheets of the glassine paper to stick between the prints and stack about ten prints in one of the original Epson paper boxes.

The system works pretty well because it’s sort of like sliding pizza into an oven.  The cardboard / glassine board serves to help make sure you don’t bend the big paper while you are placing it (often from a ladder) into the drying boxes, and then later when you are removing the inkjets you just take it out on the cardboard pad with glassine.

It is of course extremely cheap, and even in my tiny apartment, I’ve made two stacks of cartons so far, each six high, and I have space to do another two stacks if I need to.  In other words, with this Po Boy system I can have 24 prints drying at any one time.

Later, when it comes time to shipping, the original Epson box makes a great inner container (it has a cardboard buffer and comes with three sheets of 24 x 30 inch cardboard for the top and bottom.  You then need a larger flat box so that you can wrap the Epson box with bubble wrap and stick it into the outer box.  Pretty sturdy way to get out a bunch of large prints.

Six drying cartons with a few sliders left sticking out. (Beautiful – eh?)

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Canon EOS 7d, 5dII, 50D

First off, thanks to Craig who sent two raw files from the 5DII, one at 800, one at 1600, both excellent photographs in terms of dynamic range in a real-life test.  Although I don’t have the time right now to show the crops.  I viewed his 800 file and my own 40D 800 file (night shot) side by side in Lightroom.  Now I’m not talking about the amount of pixels – that’s for someone else to talk about.  But in terms of overall noise at 800 – the 40D had less (or if not less, more pleasant rendition).  The image that I picked to compare was just a run-of-the-mill night shot at 800 with as always all NR off.  Hmmm… so that flies in the face of just about everything I’ve ever heard.

Now, at 1600 ASA, it’s true that the 40D had more noise in these dark and midtone flat areas, but there were no artifacts.  There were artifacts in the 5D II 1600 shot. And although there was less noise in the 5D shot – it had a look that was less pleasing than what I got with the 40D @ 1600.  Go figure.

Alright – so then I went to dpreview and downloaded two RAW 7D files.  I had to upgrade Lightroom to 2.6 to read the raw 7D files.  The upgrade went fine and I looked at two 1600 ASA RAW files they had for download.  I thought they were both great.  (Okay, subjective).  Definitely less noise than my 40D and completely usable at 1600.

Now at the same time – two projects came along where the client wants large blowups – one at 40 x 60 inches, and one at 35x 50 inches.  Basically, I’ve decided to go for the 7D.  Between the two project they’ll pay for more than half the 7D cost.  And that’s about all I can say about that right now.  True, it doesn’t make sense, unless it has to do with how the Lightroom RAW convertor works – and might be completely different with various raw convertors – but whatever – close enough so that I will continue down the 7D line.  There are other benefits to the 7D in terms of focus etc. but for now I won’t mention them (uhm, I just did).

And that, my friends – is enough info for one post.  Of course you can write about the fact that the full frame has more pixels, or that the pixels are bigger, or whatever – and I realize that but I go by what I see and the 7D stuff at 1600 convinced me.  I’m also, as I said, biased in that I’m not in the mood to get rid of my 30mm f1.4, and maybe you just get used to the look of a certain line of cameras – although when I looked at the RAW files of the 50D I was underwhelmed.

1. Street Photography Techniques (Summary)

Introduction

If you are a street photographer, you’ll find things to disagree with in this article. I often disagree with my own conclusions. I do concentrate on the current DSLR camera and skip over the Leica M since I figure if you’re a street photographer using the M camera you already have your own techniques down. But if street photography is new for you, and you are wondering about what sort of digital camera has the most useful features, and how to get over your initial fear of taking pictures of strangers in a strange land – then you may find useful techniques, both psychological and technical in this post. But fair warning – a seasoned street photographer will be likely to fall asleep while perusing this post. Someone who is just starting to do street photography may be overwhelmed by the amount information.

STREET PHOTOGRAPHY TECHNIQUES

In this post I try to summarize the tips about street photography in one place.

When you’re getting started the challenge is overcoming the fear of taking pictures of strangers. Since telephoto lenses aren’t normally used in street photography, how can you stand a few feet from your subject, put the camera to your eye, focus, and click the shutter without getting nervous? A good street photographer is not only fearful in the beginning (this is a good sign of being sensitive) but they also don’t want to do anything which will change the how the subject is behaving.
Continue reading 1. Street Photography Techniques (Summary)

Packaging & Matting Prints

Oh, the banality of it all. But this is what goes into packaging one print. One tool, the sock filled with pennies, goes back to my darkroom days. I used it as a weight when I was doing drymounting which I no longer do. And now, 20 years plus later, the same dirty sock with pennies is used to position the print while attaching the adhesive hinges.

The Best and The Worst

The easiest packaging are large unmounted prints. They just go into a tube.

The worst is when someone orders say 5 matted 20 x 24 matted prints. It always ends up being a custom job – where I take a very large box and with a zip knife cut it down to fit the prints, and here some origami comes into play.

But the absolute very worst, the ones I hate the most, an order for 15 matted 5 x 7s. Each print needs to be signed; authenticity cards need to be printed and signed; the print still needs to be carefully matted and signed; as well as signing the mat; but the packaging part isn’t bad.

One more complaint is that I don’t understand why Epson doesn’t make 8 x 10 sized paper rather than 8.5 x 11 paper. What it means is that when I print a 5 x 7, I need to cut each print to 8 x 10 so that it will fit in a regular sized frame. Also, the cardboard comes in 8 x 10 pieces, not 8.5 x 11.

To See Or Not To See

That is the question.

Part I

Washington, DC, Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007.

The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later:
the violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes:
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes:
A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes:
The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

1 hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities. The questions raised: in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made…. How many other things are we missing?

Part II

From The Autobiography of Ansel Adams (paperback edition) page 240

In 1942 Edward [Weston] had an exhibition at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. He could not drive a car, so Virginia and I went to Carmel and drove him to Santa Barbara for the opening. […] On the drive home, we passed a large field, on whose distant edge was an interesting assemblage of weather-beaten planks and posts. I saw it out of the corner of my eye and continued driving. In a few minutes an image of what I had seen disturbed me; I had a growing sense of the importance of a potential photograph.

I said to Edward, “I saw something back there that bugs me. Do you mind if I turn back?”

“Not at all,” he replied, “I think I saw the same thing.”

We retraced more than a mile, parked the car, and carried our cameras across the wide field. The object turned out to be a pigsty with one embarrassed pig. We both made pictures; mine, Boards, Farm near Santa Barbara, is shown here for the first time. I never saw Edward’s results.

This was one of the not too frequent occasions where a transient image makes an impresson on the mind, though the photographer is not aware of it at the time. It seems to digest; the subconscious mind develops the impression into a quasi-visualization, then the conscience moves in and, with insistent pressure, makes the photographer feel quite troubled unless he returns to the source. On every occasion that this has happened to me, the subject was worthy of renewed attention. When I have not returned I am gently haunted with a sense of loss.

Part III

Shooting in the street, this feeling of loss is even more common. But it’s up to the photographer to obey the whispers of his mind. How many times I had passed this dog in the window, thinking that there was a photograph there, but not stopping, until one day the dog put his head through the blinds. Even at that point I continued on my way for a few steps because I was late to meet a friend. But the shot called me back. I walked back a half block angry at myself for missing this amusing scene happy to find that the dog was still in the same position. Click. Closer. Click. Dog begins barking and I continue on my way.

During most of my sessions with beginning students, the most common issue (that I picked up on) is that the students are simply not noticing the potential images that are all around them. Many times I have stopped to take a picture of something, a reflection in puddle, the way leaves have collected on a sewer grating. And just as often passersby stop and watch me, wondering why in the world I would be be bent down in the rain to photograph a puddle.

These same passersby, when I do stop to chat with them about what I’m doing, and show them the image on the back of the camera, immediately get it. It’s one of the things that I try very hard to form into an exercise with students to force them to see what’s around and not to just walk by. How many times have we been walking, talking about some technical camera issue, when I stop to take a picture and then continue on. Again, the beginning student is puzzled. The seasoned photographer just tries to stay out of my way, wait for the moment to pass, and then the conversation continues. It is the single most important skill, this sense of being aware of your relationship to the environment.

Related to this is the idea of watching a scene and imagining what could happen. This is really another step up from simply seeing. Here you are seeing what might be there and that is even more difficult to practice. I can only say that if you are doing something that looks somewhat strange to passersby, you may be on to something; don’t be afraid to look silly.