Month: December 2012

LX5 Settings for Portrait Photography

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I like this image. It has nothing to do with the blog that follows for reasons I will explain.
I like this image. It has nothing to do with the blog that follows for reasons I will explain.

I was reviewing some of the Google searches which people have used to arrive at the Lightweight Photographer blog when I noticed someone searching for LX5 setting to use when shooting portraits. Usually I like to blog about questions which I don’t think are already answered on the site and this is one example. The reason I haven’t addressed this until now is that I don’t take pictures of people so I don’t even have one to illustrate the blog with. I will however take a moment to explain the settings I would use on an LX5 to shoot portraits:

  • I will assume the picture is all about shooting the person and in particular their face.
  • Shoot at mid to long focal lengths so that you can zoom in on the face. Ideally this is 50mm or preferably more if you can. Wider angles tend to distort the subjects face and they really won’t thank you.
  • Set the camera in aperture priority mode as controlling the aperture is more important than the shutter speed – providing your subject can sit or stand still whilst you shoot.
  • The aperture should be wide open at the widest aperture. This will help blur any background in order to focus attention on the sitter.
  • Try to compose the image so that there is minimal background showing around the subject in the frame. Ideally the background should be the same all over to avoid any distraction – unless of course you want to show the subject in a particular setting and the setting is important to the picture.
  • Move in quite close to the subject to help the blur and also to fill the frame with the subject.
  • Place your subject in good light but not direct light. Direct light is harsh and will probably make your subject squint. A good approach if you are indoors would be to stand them next to a window and shoot them so the window it to the side of you. If you are outdoors try standing in the shade of a tree.
  • Set the camera to spot meter from the subject. If you expose for the subject in this way it will underexpose the background and highlight the subject further.
  • Set the camera into spot focus mode and take care to focus on the eyes of the subject. If anything needs to be in focus it’s the eyes.
  • If the subject has a lot of shadows on their face consider using some fill in flash. If you do this check the manual as it’s easy to get the flash too strong.

There is of course more than one way to crack this problem and simply setting the camera to Portrait mode with auto flash will produce a good image. If you still don’t get a good image ask yourself the question, is the problem that the subject is just uncomfortable having their picture taken. It might not be your camera skills that are limiting the results.

My Lightweight Microstock Experiment

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GX1 stock image - Suitable for MicroStock?
GX1 stock image – Suitable for MicroStock?

After my last blog post about my Camera Wish List, it got me thinking that I will probably want to upgrade my trusty LX5 at some point over the next year. There is nothing currently on the market that would make me switch but I suspect there will be over the next 12 months. Why? Well there is something in technology known as Moore’s law which stated simply says computing power doubles every 18 months.

I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your attention but camera is now really mini computers and the rate of improvement has accelerated so that after 3 years I can probably get a model that’s twice as good at the same price. My LX5 will be 3 years old next December and I think there will be something so good launched that I will just have to switch.

My suspicion is that I will need in the region of £500 to upgrade although I should get some of this back for the sale of the LX5. I need a way therefore to create an additional £500 over the next year and that’s where this experiment comes in.

I was looking at my image archive the other day and realised I had some 50,000+ images shot on my lightweight camera gear that are just sitting on my RAID drives, bit doing much. Some of these I use to illustrate my blogs but by far the majority never see the light of day. I actually want to slim down this back catalogue by editing the images to remove the rubbish, refine the ones I like and generate some money with them.

Now I should point out that I already shoot stock for two libraries but this tends to be with my DSLR. All the LX5, R1, GF1, GX1 and Sony NEX-5 images never go to these libraries as they have very clear guidelines over the cameras they accept. Microstock libraries on the other hand are more open minded about the equipment and will accept all of the above if the quality is right.

The problem I have is not in the quality of the images but in the subject matter. The vast majority of my work is landscape and travel based. These are subjects that the Microstock libraries generally don’t want more of as they are not as saleable as the concept images. I am therefore likely to have quite a lot of rejects although I am free to submit the same images across multiple libraries.

So, my plan is to sign up with 5-10 libraries and submit approximately 10-20 images a week from my archive. If 50% of these are accepted then I should achieve 500 images by the end of the year, hopefully generating sufficient to pay for the equipment upgrade. The only problem with my whole approach is that I might get tired of the relentless keywording and editing to generate the 10-20 images a week. Assuming I get the experiment underway I will report back through this blog in the coming months. Don’t be surprised however if I report back that I don’t have the patience or time to do this.

My Compact Camera Wish List

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The exceptionally sharp lens of the LX5 captured the detail in this building brilliantly - but I still want more pixels.
The exceptionally sharp lens of the LX5 captured the detail in this building brilliantly – but I still want more pixels. Click the image to see a larger version.

With Christmas approaching my mind has turned to some of the new compact cameras on the market. Why this should happen I don’t exactly know because I remain a huge fan of the LX5. What this has confirmed to me however is that whilst there are some very nice cameras on the market, none make me want to switch from the LX5. I have however been able to compile a shorts wish list of features in my ideal compact camera – I have of course been careful to keep them realistic:

  • 24-140mm high quality lens. The LX5 currently has a 24-90mm equivalent lens which captures detail wonderfully and is very sharp. I would like the same level of performance but extending to 140mm at the long end.
  • Faster maximum aperture. The LX5 offers an f/2.0 aperture at 24mm and f/3.3 at 90mm. The LX7 has improved on this as have other cameras. I would really like a f/1.4 to f/2.2 lens. Actually I really want f/1.4 across the entire zoom range but I think that will be prohibitively expenses so will settle for f/2.2 at the long end.
  • It would be nice to have some high quality lens adapters that extend the wide end of the zoom to 20mm and long end to 200mm. I want high quality adapters that don’t degrade or distort the image and which don’t look like blood has been spilled onto the image because chromatic aberration is so bad.
  • 20Mpixel sensor. The LX5 and LX7 are both 10Mpixel which the Sony RX100 already has 20Mpixels. I think this will soon be the new benchmark for smaller cameras.
  • Optical viewfinder, ideally with electronic information displayed shown.
  • GF1 body in miniature. The GF1 still has to my mind has the best body design of all the Lumix cameras. It might be a little large for a compact but providing the camera fits in my pocket I don’t mind so long as it’s not too small to handle easily when your hands are cold.
  • Great low light performance up to ISO3200. I don’t like to push my LX5 beyond ISO400 and although I have noticed improved performance in the LX7 RAW sample images I have downloaded, it can’t manage clean, crisp shots at anything near to this ISO.
  • Built in ND filter and the ability to attach further filters such as ND graduates.
  • Touch screen. I never thought I would use this but having owned a GX1 for around a year now, I miss the touch screen focussing each time I use another camera. It’s so simple to tap the screen at the point I want to focus and I really think this is an invaluable feature.
  • Ability to create RAW conversion profiles in software and load these to the camera for in camera JPG processing. This should allow a RAW file to be processed on a computer with noise reduction, sharpening and lens calibration and then upload these settings to the camera. The camera would then use these settings to process future images shot at the same ISO when shooting in JPG.
  • All the same great features and functionality as are already in the LX5.

Hopefully someone from Panasonic will read this and plan the features into the LX9. And of course this is only my list; you might have more improvements of your own to add.

I’m Still Obsessing over Print Size & Quality

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Captured on a GX1 with 45mm lens. Sharp edges and lines are loved by image scalling software.
Captured on a GX1 with 45mm lens. Sharp edges and lines are loved by image scalling software.

I have written a few posts now about creating large prints from my LX5 and GX1 cameras. The GX1 has 16Mpixels and produces A3+ prints without any scaling but the LX5 needs enlargement. A3+ is not however my target as I have already proven that can be done without compromise. No, my target s 30” or even 40” prints from these cameras.

When it comes to increasing the size of my images I have always used Genuine Fractals which a few years back became Perfect Resize. It has for a long time been recognised as a market leader but I have come to find its enlargements quite artificial looking. More recently I have tended to use Lightroom for enlargement and found that whilst not as sharp in appearance, the results are not natural.

Quality of enlargement is important to me. I want enlargements that appear detailed, sharp and most of all natural. I suppose you could say they need to be believable enlargements so people comment on the quality of the photography and not the lack of quality in the enlargement.

Over the weekend I became increasingly frustrated by the poor reproduction from Perfect Resize but most of all the long processing time taken to scale the image. A 16bit image from my LX5 took almost 5 minutes to scale to 30” and significantly slowed my computer. Trying to adjust the smoothing, detail and sharpening options was equally frustrating due to slow updating so I went to look for another solution.

There were very few options on the market but I did come across the STOIK smart resizer. This provides a range of scaling options but is very simple to operate, very fast to generate the enlargement and best f all the enlargements appear to be of a very high standard. They are sharp, detailed and very natural despite being significantly larger than the starting image. I did find some limitations such as the TIFF not saving in 16bit but given the quality of the enlargement and the step in my workflow where I enlarge, this is tolerable.

Rather than me trying to display lots of enlargements here (but there is one below) I would encourage you to download the Demo version (it’s a free 15 day trial with the save function disabled) and try it on your own images. And in case you were wondering, I did pay for the full version in the end and the saved images live up to the preview.

Sample from the image above resized to produce a 40" print. This excert is a view on screen at 50% which approximates to what my prints look like. Not this hasn't been sharpened.
Sample from the image above resized to produce a 40″ print. This excert is a view on screen at 50% which approximates to what my prints look like. No this hasn’t been sharpened.

 

What if you don’t shoot RAW

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Harsh processing on LX5 images can highlight problems with noise and sharpness if you don't take steps to address these.
Harsh processing on LX5 images can highlight problems with noise and sharpness if you don’t take steps to address these.

If you look back over my posts you will find quite a lot of comments about the need to shoot in RAW format and how I use RAW all the time. I have however been reminded by a couple of readers that not everyone does or even wants to shoot in RAW. So what should they do?

I have lots of concerns and reasons why I don’t shoot in JPG but one of the main reasons is the lack of post processing control. This is especially true of Noise Reduction and Sharpening which are applied to JPG’s in camera and which are key to determining the sharpness and detail in the finished image. If you are an LX5 and/or GX1 users I can tell you how to address this and my advice will probably apply to other cameras in the Panasonic Range as well as possibly other manufacturers.

There are two basic problems to my mind with the JPG’s from the LX5 and GX1 (and also the GF1 if I remember correctly). They have too much noise reduction and too little sharpening. If I had to shoot JPG I would be turning off noise reduction and sharpening in camera. I would then apply noise reduction as a separate step once I had the JPG on my computer before I did any image manipulation. I would then sharpen the final image to a level at which I am happy. Working in this way will help preserve your images and minimise loss of detail.

The way to switch off the noise and sharpening is through the Film Mode in the LX5. This is found in the Menu under the Record settings and is on the first page. Here you have the option to configure a new Custom film setting for which you can specify Contrast, Sharpening, Saturation and Noise Reduction. The GX1 is very similar to this.

If you want to shoot JPG but want to achieve sharp details, check your camera manual and give this approach a try.

My GX1 Lightweight Trip

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Formby captured on a GX1 with Olympus 9-18 lens at 9mm. The conversion to B&W was made using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2
Formby captured on a GX1 with Olympus 9-18 lens at 9mm. The conversion to B&W was made using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2

I was going to use today’s post to tell you a little more about how I used the Topaz Detail 2 software to emphasise the detail in my LX5 images to produce enlargements. On Friday however I attended a Topaz webinar about Detail 3 which is due for release shortly. Detail 3 seems to be a big leap forward on Detail 2 (which is already very good) so I will wait until I have the new software to explain more. Instead I want to share some information about a trip out yesterday.

These days my opportunities to shoot tend to be when I am out in the landscape walking so my main camera for this is the GX1. Every month or two however I have the opportunity to get out with other photographers and spend a day or two just photographing. For these trips I tend to supplement my usual GX1 and LX5 cameras with a 5D MKII. I do like to use this camera and the results are superb. The downside is that it’s heavy and walking around with two full camera systems on your back for a long period of time is hard work.

For this weekend’s trip I decided I would only take the GX1 and LX5 with me together with some ND graduated filters (“P” sized HiTech) and a lightweight Velbon tripod (that I discussed a few posts back). The GX1 was a replacement for my 5D and the LX5 was a sort of point and shoot experimental camera with which to explore ideas.  The GX1 and 3 lenses weighs less than the 5D body but the big surprise was how much I used the LX5; I literally couldn’t put it down.

What a joy it was packing such a limited amount of equipment. There was far less than usual and everything I needed fitted in a small Low Pro slingshot bag. This allowed me to walk around all day on the beach, easily access my equipment and not need to put the bag down on the sand. In the past this has been a problem with the bag ending up with sand in it, not to mention the neck pain due to hanging a heavy camera round it.

In the end I enjoyed the photography much more than usual as I was free to more around with ease due to the small camera size. I felt very fresh through the day so was more prepared to put up with the very cold conditions. I was also able to shoot quite late into the day without the need for my tripod. I was even shooting handheld with the LX5 well after the sun had set (not that you could see the sun yesterday afternoon) but I will speak about that another day.

Lightweight only days are definitely going to be a feature of my future trips and I’m now wondering if it’s worth retiring the 5D.