Sunday, December 10, 2017

It's a small, small world

A basic tip

I don't usually post photography tips here but I keep seeing the same questions and the same errors time after time, and it's bugging me. So if you're not a photographer, or if you're too advanced for these tips, feel free to skip ahead. I have a few of them I want to share, what better place to do so?


The #1 reason for rejecting photos is that they're out of focus. You can fix a lot of things in post processing, but you can't fix out-of-focus, or "OOF". Unless there's some extraordinary reason to keep an OOF picture it's going to end up in the trash.

The thing(s) you want in focus in your picture have to BE in focus.

Cute pine marten but no way to save this picture. The focus was on the branch above him and he is out of focus. Good thing I got another shot in focus!

Branches in the foreground can be a challenge. Your camera WANTS to focus on them. The other shot is a better composition, but which one would YOU keep?
Your camera is smart. But it can be fooled. Suppose you're shooting two people against a background, but there's a space between them. Unless you're careful, the camera will focus on whatever's in that space, not on the subjects. So how do we solve that? How about locking in the focus on one of the subjects, then moving the camera to recompose the image correctly? What about increasing the depth of field by stopping down the aperture* so that you have a better chance that the subject is in focus?

Your camera has a variety of ways of focusing: manual, continuous, single; you can use one point in your viewfinder or a bunch of them, you can average, you can preset your focus to a specific distance. It can track moving subjects, or not. You can use the shutter release button by pressing it halfway down or you can program a button on the back of the camera for focusing (it's called "Back Button Focusing". Look it up. Google is your friend). The best way to learn how to focus your camera is to RTFM.


Do it. You'll learn something. But that's not enough. It's like learning how to swim by watching YouTube videos. That's great but what you really have to do is jump in the water. Same thing here: Shoot pictures. Lots of pictures. Think about your focus while you're doing that until it becomes part of you.

When you're looking through and vetting your images (throw away the bad ones, folks. Ask yourself, "will I EVER want to look at this image again?), pause on that OOF one and ask yourself, "Why is this OOF? What should I have done differently"? That's how you learn.

* But if you stop down the aperture, either your shutter speed has to decrease or your ISO has to increase, which creates problems with camera shake or added noise. Camera shake is a whole other subject, watch for a future tip. But I will say one thing about using high ISO: you're DEFINITELY going to throw out an OOF picture but the ONLY people who care about noise are other photographers. Get over it.

Do you print your pictures?

If you print yourself, you fall into three categories:

■ You're fussy and you know what you're doing
■ You're not that fussy, you're just happy to see prints
■ You're fussy but you don't have a clue.

If I printed, I would fall into category 3.
I don't print. I send them out. I'm still mostly in category 3.

I'm lucky, I have friends who print and who are in category 1. Occasionally I'll go to Costco or someone like that for "category 2 prints", but if I have prints to sell, I'll go to a professional lab and pay the big bucks. Or call in a favour from one of my really talented friends.

I decided that I wanted some canvas prints, especially from my Newfoundland trip, and there was a vendor offering great "Black Friday" deals so I thought I'd give it a try.

Now I do have a LITTLE knowledge of what it takes to prepare a file for printing. The main thing I learned was this: if I prepare an image so that if it looks onscreen or online like I want the print to look, I'm going to be very disappointed. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, I edit in the ProPhoto colour space because it gives me the biggest gamut of colours to work in. I'm careful to do that in both Lightroom and Photoshop. But I know that when I export an image for printing (or for anything else), it needs to be converted to sRGB and it WILL LOOK DIFFERENT.

Second, I know it is important to calibrate my monitor and I do that with a ColorMunki device regularly. However I'm guilty of the same thing that almost everyone else is, my monitor is too bright. It just looks prettier when you're looking at a picture onscreen. Also when I'm judging images for a competition, or just looking at them online, 90% of them have been edited on someone's monitor which is also too bright and to see what the maker is trying to portray, you need to turn up the brightness. 

You need to turn it WAY DOWN if you want to match what a print is going to look like. For one thing, your monitor creates colour by projecting a mix of red, green and blue light; a print's colour come from light being absorbed by cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks (simplistic, I know), so it's different. You can turn up the brightness on a monitor, but the more ink you add to a print the darker it gets!

as an aside: don't even think about converting your image to CMYK, if that last sentence put that in your mind. The printer takes RGB input and converts it inside the machine to the inks it uses. The only time that's not true is when you're printing on a printing press.
And third, if you want to see onscreen what your print is going to look like, you have to do something called "soft proofing", which is available in both Lightroom and Photoshop. You're telling your computer "show me what my picture is going to look like if it's printed by this specific printer on this specific type of paper". And that's going to be very different from what it looks like normally onscreen.

Some images are tougher than others. Here's an example. On the left is what I wanted my print to look like. It's a screen capture of the image under normal conditions. But I knew it wouldn't, especially after converting to sRGB for the printer. So I turned on soft proofing and I edited the image until it looked right for print. The right image is what it ended up at onscreen with soft proofing turned off. 

You might think it looks pretty good here, but the bright lights are WAY too bright, they have a halo around them they're so bright, the sky is too saturated and the soft nuances of the reflected city lights in the hillside are too strong. You don't want a print to look like that (at least I don't!). It won't: it'll look more like the one on the left.

If you're going to print at a pro lab, they should be able to send you the ICC profile of the printer and paper combinations they're using. Pop those into Photoshop or Lightroom and soft-proof to them and your prints should come out as expected.

The resulting print turned out excellent. I had this printed on canvas and I didn't have the ICC profile, but I figured that using the profile for the Epson 7900 on matte paper, I would get close. It looks almost exactly like the image at left (in hindsight, a little dark, still). Some images are more difficult than others. I know that the blacks are really going to fill in and the colours are going to be much less saturated.

I now have 6 large format canvas prints ready to hang on my walls. And two others hanging on other peoples' walls that I've sold. I also had two others: they helped me heat my house by burning them in the fireplace. Literally.

Here are a few. The two landscapes at the bottom are 20x30. The piping plover is 16x24

This abstract is called  "Sunset on Lake Superior". It's 24x36

These canvas prints are all available for purchase. They're all digitally signed and will be marked as "Artist's Proof"s to distinguish them from any limited edition prints which may follow. Contact me.

I will have more prints made. There's something about seeing your work on something other than a computer screen. Even though I still have about 30 or 40 printed images left over from a show I did a few years ago, but new stuff comes up. I do not plan to start printing myself because it's a ton of work to get it right, and a good printer (say Epson 7900) is about $5000. You can get away with a lot less if all you want to print is 4x6's or run-of-the-mill 8x10's but I know I wouldn't be satisfied.

Lens sold

Almost every wildlife picture I've shot in the past year or so has been with my

Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens

which I have just sold (I first started writing this a few days ago at which point it was "for sale").

"Why?", you might ask. Well, because I'm ready to step up to the AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED lens which, new, would be almost 8x the price, and weighs twice as much. I've been very satisfied with the Tamron but it's time. By the way, if you have one of those for sale, let's talk.

It took some practice to learn to use this lens effectively. Especially if you put it on a crop sensor body (did I say it has a Nikon mount? It has a Nikon mount!), where it's effective focal length is about 1000 mm. At about 68 oz, you can actually handhold this lens but you have to watch your shutter speed if you do.

So I've probably shot about 10,000 images with this lens (and kept half of them!). I had the firmware updated at Tamron last year, and I added a LensCoat neoprene cover to protect it and make it less visible when shooting birds. The lens is in great shape; there are some 'brassing' marks on the lens mounting foot, and no scratches on any of the glass. Somewhere, I have the box and all the goodies that came in it with the lens.

(I told you I wrote this when it was still for sale!)

Here's a link to a quick web gallery of sample images shot with this lens. All of them were at the maximum focal length of 600mm. Click on any image to blow it up.

Contact me if have or you know anyone who has that Nikon 200-400. Or a 400mmf/2.8 prime!

A couple more from 'Gales'

I forgot to post a couple of pictures in the last blog, so I thought I'd add them in here. Neither one is from Wawa, both were taken on the drive up.

I shot this along Hwy 141 in Lake Rosseau on the way up to Wawa. Spectacular rockface. 

When I stopped in the Soo for a day on the way up, there was continuous heavy rain and strong winds.  This is what it was like in downtown Sault Ste. Marie that day 

GALES 2018 dates have been announced! Mark your calendars.
This year, the primary instructor will be Ben Eby. If everything goes well, I plan to be there too, to help out.

We're just starting work on the event and the web links, etc. If you want to be kept up to date as it develops, CLICK HERE.

There's also a Facebook group called "Gales of November". Up to now it's been restricted to people who were participating in the workshop but we've decided to open it up to people who are interested in perhaps joining us next October. It's a place to see pictures from previous years, see discussions and comments, ask questions, and so on.
It's a closed group: only people who are members can see the content. But if you're interested, if there's a possibility you might attend, by all means, join the group. Just search for "Gales of November" on FB and you'll find us!


I'm thinking about going back to Newfoundland this summer and about guiding some photographers and artists to some outstanding spots. I'm thinking about providing accommodations and finding local experts to help out. I'm thinking that it should not cost $4000 to participate.

If this interests you at all, please send me an email or contact me privately. This is really preliminary, but I need to find out how much interest is out there.


It's time for some pictures.

After procrastinating for a long time, I finally got around to buying Helicon Focus Pro software. It's primarily intended for focus stacking when you're shooting macro. I've recently seen some awesome insect photos and needless to say, if you want to shoot snowflakes properly, you have to focus stack. 

Since I bought it, I haven't found even ONE insect to shoot. Dead or alive. It's just not the right time of year. So to test the software, I had to find a variety of other subjects to shoot. I set up my light tent and got to work.

I went outside and found some little berries. This was my very first effort.

Then there were some water drops, on a pebbled plastic surface

Here's a closeup of a dead leaf

My diamond ring... I did add a little post-processing to this one in Topaz.

Here's another leaf, with a drop of water on it. Learning, learning!

So I need to find some insects to shoot. And snowflakes! The challenge is that I have to be tethered to my laptop, so I have to figure out the logistics of doing that out in the cold. Watch this space!

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