Tuesday, January 11, 2011

To Move or not to Move... that is the question

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.
What has this got to do with the topic at hand? Well, not much but then neither does the title of “Zen, and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, but a lot of motorcyclists bought that book and try to wade their way through the Philosophy of Quality.

I just always liked that quote and it brings me back to the days 50 years ago when I learned it in High School. Mr Hunter would have been proud of me – I never was able to memorize the weekly poems, but some Shakespeare stuck! (I just spent 30 minutes dredging up his name. Ain’t Google wonderful?).

An aside. Anyone from Mount Royal High reading this? Remember Mr. Hunter? He lost his voice, rumour had it playing football when someone stepped with cleats on his neck. I’ve lost much of my voice due to surgery. I feel a kinship...

So, To Move, or not to Move... I took 140–odd pictures and made them into a video which I posted last time. That was the “Moving” one. Then I thought to try it a different way, and I took all 140 images and combined them — a bit at a time: the resulting file would have been GI-NORMOUS — by loading them into layers in Photoshop, changing the blend mode to “lighten” then dragging them all into one document (Photoshop trivia for those who aren’t adept: click on the image, hold the Shift key down and then drag it: it will align exactly). So here’s the non-moving image:

Too many stars. I reduced the brightness and detail level. A lot. Wow. If I’m going to do this again, I’ll use a shorter exposure, because there are just too many stars. But, kiddies, this is how much the Earth moves in 93 minutes.

People Pictures
I’ve said it many times. I take pictures of rocks and trees. First of all, they don’t move, so I can take my time. I never had a problem getting a tree to sign a model release. If you ask a rock to just undo one more button, it never objects. But most of all, when you show a rock its picture, it NEVER tells you it hates it and not to show it to anyone ever.

I can’t say the same thing about people. Maybe I should shoot more people pictures because it’s more challenging. Anyway, last week, I FINALLY shot a picture of a woman who said she actually LIKED the picture! The ultimate compliment! And she said I could post it here and talk about it. Here it is. Thanks, Rosanne!

Shot with my 24-120mm lens set at 58mm, f/5.6 (that’s about 87mm equivalent in 35mm camera terms. Exactly where portraits are supposed to be best! Just luck...). Lighting courtesy of a Gary Fong diffuser on an SB-600 flash mounted on top of the camera.
OK, rule number one: ALWAYS soften the skin of a woman’s picture. Always. Well except if you’re doing a shot of the “hoe lady” (not what you think! Get your mind out of the gutter! The people on the Lake Erie field trip know what I’m talking about – it was the lady with the hoe who came out to chase us off her property. A really colourful farmer lady who cooperated in the end and let us take her picture! With her hoe!), or a gritty homeless person. Always.

Rule number two: NEVER soften the skin of a man’s picture. Men look best when they are rugged and craggy and weathered and look like they haven’t shaved in a couple of days. Like alligators.

Rule number three: rules are, of course, made to be broken. But for the sake of argument...

A woman who is 40 years old wants to look like she did when she was 25. Well unless she... never mind. So there are dozens and dozens of tools, and plug-ins, and programs, and techniques, and tutorials and... that you can buy, on how to soften skin. Read up on them and try them!

What I did in the above image was to open it in Photoshop and create a duplicate layer which I blurred slightly. I added a layer mask which I filled with black, then went back and painted white on the mask in the areas I wanted to adjust. So eyes and lips and hair and teeth, were all masked with black, which means you don’t see that layer in those areas. The only thing revealed was the skin. I used the wonderful healing brush tool in CS5 to remove some lines and creases and I further painted over some areas, especially under the eyes, that appeared darker than the surrounding skin. Just removing bags under the eyes (you didn’t have bags, Rosanne dear. It was the lighting), takes 10 years off. DAB the healing brush, don’t stroke it. It works better.

Now reduce the opacity of the new layer, the one with the adjustments. This is important. If you take the imperfections out completely, you’ll end up with an image that looks like a Playboy centerfold. OK, ok, I know what you’re thinking... but they have ZERO imperfections. They are goddesses. They aren’t REAL. I deliberately left a slightly darker area on Rosanne’s right cheek. It added character and dimension to her face. Look on either side of her mouth, on the right side of her neck. The shadow under her lower lip.

Create another duplicate layer. This time do the opposite – reveal the things that should be sharp and crisp: Eyes. Hair. Teeth. Lips. On this layer, use sharpening, saturation, levels to enhance these features. Most important is the eyes. If you can, go in and paint catchlights and on the opposite side of the iris from the catchlight, a soft light, low-opacity stroke which makes the eye 3-dimensional and a bit moist. Reduce the saturation and increase the brightness on the teeth. But not too much – nobody has fluorescent white teeth (I’m reminded of a Friends episode where Ross overdid the whitening). Go in with a fine brush on a large blowup of the image and get rid of that little piece of lettuce or that area of plaque. Again judiciously use the opacity slider.

Before leaving Photoshop, I created another layer and applied a motion blur to it. I had asked Rosanne to ‘flip’ her hair for me which she obligingly did a few times until I was in sync and could shoot at the right instant. I used a motion blur roughly at the same angle that her hair was flowing. Then I added a layer mask and blocked out her face so that only the areas I wanted were blurred. Use a really soft brush at low opacity on the mask to blend the areas so there’s no obvious transition. By the way, I also added a highlight in her hair, but I ended up cropping most of it out.

OK, back to Lightroom. I reduced the clarity slider a little on the whole image in Lightroom. I wanted even more softness, more luminous glow. Then I used the adjustment brush and redid much of the same softening and sharpening that I had done in Photoshop. The tools in Lightroom are much more subtle.

Now frame the image. The Rule of Thirds says not to put her right in the middle of the picture. I wanted the flowing hair going off to the left of the image, but if I put her way over on the right, she would appear to be moving out of the frame and so would your eyes. Now the cropping of this image was accidental. I happened to click to blow it up to look at something and eureka! This exact framing appeared on the monitor when I blew it up. I loved it, so I copied it. Cropping off the forehead moved her eyes away from dead centre, let me show more of her neck and just a hint of her diamond (!) necklace. I rotated it, too, to an interesting angle.

OK, now read this: Everything I said up to now was complete and utter bullshit (pardon the expression). I am NOT a portrait photographer. I am NOT an artist. Anyone reading this who knows ANYTHING about portrait photography was probably muttering to his or herself, “this guy is full of crap. He doesn’t know what he’s doing”. All true.

Do you like the picture? I don’t care. I like the picture. And more importantly, ROSANNE likes the picture. I just kept painting, kept going, until I liked it. All I did in the paragraphs above, was to describe some of the tools I used to do it. I made a beautiful woman even more beautiful, and that’s what matters.

Rosanne lives half a world away. Maybe I’ll have another chance to photograph her one day. I’ll ask her just to undo one more button, and see what she says!

PS: there’s another took I DID NOT use on this image: liquefy. You can slim someone, move a jawline, enhance a cleavage, make a gluteus not so maximus... try it – it’s fun!

Another NAPP advantage
I found another area on the NAPP site that I’m enjoying: the member forums. But you need to be a member. There are forums for Photoshop, for Lightroom, for Photography, for Graphic Design...there’s even a place where you can upload images and have people comment on them. People ask for advice and opinions and get wonderful answers from real experts (and sometimes from hackers like me). If you want to join NAPP, click on the link on the right side of the page so that I get my ‘brownie points’. Besides you get 10 issues of Photoshop User magazine with your membership. I get something significant out of each and every issue.

That’s it for today, kiddies! Watch for a new look in my Blog, I’m planning to try something out, to focus a bit more on learning topics. Coming soon to a computer near you!


Saturday, January 08, 2011

This is TOTALLY cool...

I tried something new. I was watching some time lapse videos and thought it might be fun to try! It was.
Here you go:

( I just previewed it and it worked. Click the icon that looks like this under the image. Hit "esc" to get back again after)

See where it says "360p" to the left of that icon? If you click that, and you have a decent high speed connection, you can choose "1080p" for high resolution video when you're in full-screen mode. I just tried it and it looks a lot better.
I uploaded it to YouTube if you want to look at it separately. It's here. It’s kinda noisy at that size, though.

Here's a link to the opening image by itself if you want a look at it.

Speaking of “noisy”, what do you think of the audio? I recorded that on my piano keyboard using the cheap boom mike from my headset lying on top of the keyboard, so it doesn’t do it justice. I wanted to do more but I only have 10 fingers!

OK, for photographers and wannabe time-lapse shooters, here’s how I did it. It’s not that hard, and the whole thing (not including the actual picture taking) took about an hour to produce, then I played with it for a few more hours (especially trying to figure out how to make the sound track work!).

Lots of thinking and prep work, though. Here goes.

1. How long do you want to make your timelapse? I figured about 15 seconds. I played with different frame rates and came up with: you need at least 10 frames per second to make it smooth. Hence 15 seconds, 10 frames per second, wait a sec, let me get my calculator: oh yeah: 150 frames. 150 exposures. Wanna shoot in RAW? Go for it. What for? I did jpeg fine, I don’t think I needed even that.

2. Stars don’t put out a lot of light. Well unless the star in question is our own sun, and you’re only 93,000,000 miles away from it. So I tried and I tried and I really wanted to use lower settings but folks, the setting you need is: ISO 3200 (yes...), 30 seconds, wide open (in my case, f/4). Even then, I had to bump up the exposure a full stop.

At that high a sensitivity, ANY terrestrial light will be too bright. The trees in the shot were indirectly lit by reflected light from the Red Umbrella Inn, not even pointed at it. The yellow sky is from the [sarcasm mode] really bright illumination [end sarcasm] from the town of Carnarvon which is about 4 km North of here and boasts a population of about 300. You can’t even see this light with the naked eye but a shutter open for 30 seconds with that kind of ISO can see it no problem.

3. Setting it up is tricky. Now if you have a Canon camera, I can’t help you, you have to figure it out for yourself. But if you have a Nikon, especially a D300, listen carefully. Nikon SCREWED THIS UP.

I wanted 150 image, 30 seconds long, over about 2 hours. So I did some arithmetic and came up with an interval between shots of 48 seconds (go get your calculator and figure it out for yourself). Now if each exposure is 30 seconds, then that means the time between shots is 18 seconds. I wondered if the camera timed from the START of each exposure to the START of the next one... nah, that would be too easy. I tested it. I set it up to do 10 exposures of 10 seconds each with 5 seconds between them (the interval timer is on the ‘shooting menu’, at the very bottom. It’s a pain to use because you need to either choose a start time, or if you start right away, it means NOW, not after you get the camera settled on the tripod...). Anyway, in my test, I only ended up with 3 or 4 exposures, not the 10 I was expecting.

Afterthought: let me try to explain this better. In the instruction book for the D300, Nikon says, "Note that the camera will not be able to take photographs at the specified interval if it is shorter than the shutter speed or the time required to record images". What does that mean? If you're trying to take 30 second exposures less than 30 seconds apart (plus a little, to allow the camera time to digest the image), it gets confused and doesn't know what to do.

But if you want your video to COVER the time period with no gaps, you need to keep the time between images as short as possible. Why do you want to do that? To smooth things out. Clouds, airplanes, if you're lucky, meteorites... so you need a workaround.

Here it is. This is NOT intuitive:

figure out THE TOTAL TIME OF YOUR TIME LAPSE. In my case, 120 minutes, or 7200 seconds.

• The camera will allow you to set up to 999 exposures. Divide 7200 seconds by 999 and you get 7.2 seconds per exposure (I rounded it up to 8 seconds).

• THAT’S WHAT YOU SET. Don’t worry, you won’t get 999 images. What’s going to happen is the camera is going to run the program for 7200 seconds (OK, 8000 seconds if you rounded up) and then it’s going to stop, unless it runs out of battery first. Every 8 seconds, it’s going to try to take a picture, but since the shutter is already open for 30 seconds, it won’t do anything until 8 seconds after the shutter closes, then it’s going to say, “OK, time for another shot!”. So you’ll get one click every 38 seconds, or 210 pictures over that period of time.

• Unless it runs out of batteries. In my case, it did after 93 minutes, so I only got 146 pictures.

Afterthought: I forgot to tell you to turn off the LCD display as well. That's "Image Review" in the Playback menu. Why? To conserve battery.

This is silly. You should be able to set your interval timer to say, “I want one picture every x seconds. That only works when the actual exposure is short, not 30 seconds long. I’m going to try to discuss this with Nikon, when I have time.

4. Find a good spot for the camera, pointing at a nice clear area of sky and be sure to include some earthly objects in the picture, or it’ll be totally boring. Check YouTube, you’ll see what I mean. But whatever object(s) are in the picture, remember they are getting exposed at 30sec/f4/ISO3200 so they’re going to be blown out if there’s any light on them whatever.

I debated long and hard and decided that I wanted a better view than from my property. So I took a chance, got my wooly sheepskin coat on, and took the camera out onto the ice on the lake and put it in a deeply shadowed spot about 100m out from shore where nobody would see it and perhaps swipe it. Because once I set it up, I went in the house for 2 hours and let it do its thing by itself.

I chose my 12mm lens because I wanted the whole sky if I could get it. I prefocused it to infinity, set the camera on manual 30 seconds, AND I TURNED OFF THE LONG EXPOSURE NOISE REDUCTION OPTION IN THE CAMERA. Otherwise it would sit there for 30 seconds after each shot doing a compensation image. By the way, I wanted the minimum time between shots to make it smoother.

(BTW, next time I might try my 50mm f/1.8. I haven't used that lens much. That should actually give me two full stops more light, so I can perhaps reduce the time and the ISO both. A 30 second exposure at 50mm is going to show star trails, though. I'll try it.)

Once I put the camera in place, I did a manual exposure so I could look at the composition (couldn’t really see anything through the viewfinder). Then I set the interval timer to “Start Now/8 seconds/999 exposures”, stuck it quick on the tripod and clicked “OK” to make it go.

Afterthought: a couple of other warnings from Nikon (in the manual. RTFM. Google that acronym if you don't know what it means).
  • The interval timer only works in "S", "CL" or "CH" mode. Not LiveView, selftimer, etc
  • It's pretty obvious that shutter speed can't be "bulb"
  • It won't take a picture if it's trying to autofocus and can't. So pre-focus and turn the focusing to manual.
  • Cover the viewfinder to prevent light from coming in the back and fogging the image. Normally your eye is there... you got a little thingy with your camera for that — betcha don't know where it is! Duct tape.*

1. I imported the images into a fresh folder in Lightroom.

2. I tweaked one image. The trees were too bright, so I used the Adjustment brush to dodge the tree and the lower sky, while adjusting the exposure and contrast and clarity, etc to maximize the number of visible stars and keeping the sky dark.

3. I copied the settings, then selected all the other images and clicked “sync settings” to make them all the same.

4. I did a virtual copy of the first slide, then used the lens correction distortion thing to do that cool pincushion shape thing, and opened it in Photoshop. I did the text, then saved 4 versions of it so I could flow the intro the easy way.

5. I exported all the images to a fresh folder, reducing them to 1280x1024 at 72 dpi.

1. I don’t have movie editing software. Well, I don’t have anything except Microsoft’s Movie Maker which comes with Windows 7. So that’s what I used.

2. I imported all the images, set the first 4 for longer times (like a few seconds each), then set the 140 time lapse images to 0.1 seconds each (10 frames/second).

3. I recorded the audio as described above, then I had to mess around to convert it to MP3 because I don’t have audio editing software either. Another freeware program I found on the web.

4. I merged the music in Movie Maker, played with it a bit, then saved the baby.

I think it took me longer to write this than to do it. I know it looks complicated, but if you think it through, it’s not that tough. Was it worth it? Will I do it again? You betcha. Will I do it better? You betcha! Not bad for a first attempt, though, huh?

I’ll leave you with a link to the videos I saw that started the whole thing: by a fellow named Dan Heller, out in California. Mine doesn’t look as good as his, of course, but I’m going to keep trying! Here’s the link: http://www.danheller.com/star-trails.html. Check it out — absolutely stunning pictures!

Afterthought: Don't forget to turn all those camera settings back to normal when you're done. LCD display, ISO, autofocus, exposure mode, long exposure noise reduction, etc.
* Duct Tape. In Canada, there are two ways to fix things.
  • if it moves and it's not supposed to, "DUCT TAPE".
  • if it doesn't move and it's supposed to: "WD-40".
Compliments of Red Green.


Monday, January 03, 2011

Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow

OK, I admit it. There isn’t any yellow snow, but I’m using catchy headlines to grab your attention! A shameless attempt to lure you into visiting this blog. Hope you don’t catch on too soon!

As I said in the last post, I was rambling on too long to include a bunch of other topics and images that I had set aside to add to the blog. So I thought I’d do a little catch-up here.

New Car
Remember I said I was getting a new car? I did. A couple of days before Christmas, I picked up my 2011 Subaru Forester. I bought it because (a) my 2003 VW Passat was aging with 210,000 km on it and things were starting to break and cost me money, (b) I felt the need for all-wheel drive up here in snow country and (c) I wanted the extra carrying capacity. Minden Subaru cut me a great deal on a lease, so without further ado, here it is:

Mountain Stream
On December 24th, I decided to go for a drive. First destination was the secret site where the locals go to fill up their water jugs with crystal clear spring water. I only learned about this spot a few weeks ago (thanks, Mike!). I don’t know the history of it, but someone obviously built a stone structure and directed the stream through a hose.

Here I am filling up a water jug at the secret stream.

Can’t you just taste the fresh, clear water when you look at this shot?
This is a really small crop out of a bigger image.
I’ll go back and do it again full frame.

Frozen Waterfall
I continued driving and as I left Haliburton, I remembered that Brian, a photographer I met on the trip to Lake Superior, had told me about a waterfall off the Gelert Road, called “Ritchie Falls”. I thought I’d try to find it, and I did! Here’s an image:

The surface of the waterfall was all frozen but the water was flowing underneath. I took a slow exposure (2 seconds) to smooth the water. It was already very dark, so I wasn’t able to capture the other neat thing going on – in the water pool there were dinner-plate size ice floes milling around in the current. I still don’t know how to photograph them effectively.

Waiting for Hard Water
The Red Umbrella Inn dragged its ice fishing huts out of the parking lot and placed them on the ice in the shallows near shore. The ice further out, where they’ll eventually end up is still much too thin to support them, so they staged them here, ready to go. I was out for a late afternoon walk and caught this image at sunset

This is an HDR created with Photomatix Pro. I couldn’t decide which of two compositions I preferred. The other one shows more foreground but this one feels right. I printed it as a 20x30 poster and it looks awesome!

on Thursday, most of the ice huts had been hauled out to the deep water on the lakes. But New Year’s eve and New Year’s Day were exceedingly warm, and the ice surface was suddenly liquid, not solid. I imagined them sinking into the water but I guess the ice was thick enough. On Saturday, I caught this shot of a guy standing out in the pouring rain. Hope he caught something! Next time maybe he'll pay the rental fee for a hut!

It froze again on Sunday. I started to walk out a bit to get some pictures but the surface of the ice was like a perfect, Zamboni-ed skating rink. Incredibly slippery. I chose not to go out too far, and I saved the camera when I didn’t fall down! Pulled a muscle doing it, though. The things we do...

Well that was it for 2010, here comes a whole new baby year. We’ll see y’all in 2011!