Month: May 2013

My Landmark Image

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My Landmark Image
My Landmark Image

This is an image, a landmark image, that I need to share with you. Now I suspect you are asking yourself what on earth is he talking about. This is a typical, pretty, stock shot but there’s nothing landmark about it. Has he lost the plot and gone off at the deep end.

But stay with me here.

This reason I say this is my landmark image is that it’s made me decide to sell my Canon 5D MkII and all those lovely L series lenses. I will be leaving the ranks of SLR ownership, probably forever.

No, I haven’t had a bang to the head and I’m not taking any medication that carries a warning.

You see, I have been thinking for some time that I don’t use the 5D very much these days; perhaps once every month or two. I actually find myself carrying the GX1 most of the time when I am out, especially if I am walking in the hills. I now find the 5D just too heavy to haul around for 8-12 hours at a time and even suffer from quite a bad neck from how I used to carry it.

These are all reasons that made me question my ownership. The reason I held off selling however is the excellent quality of the images it produces. The images have low noise, very nice tones, good saturation, superb detail and sharpness. Each time I look at one of the 5D images I know why I don’t sell it.

Then came this image. It was shot on an Olympus OMD when I attended an experience day run by Steve Gosling. At the time I didn’t really process any of the images but recently my wife wanted something that could be framed for the wall of the newly decorated spare room. This image fit the bill perfectly (for all you male photographers out there means it was the right colour – no, that isn’t a sexist comment. I still don’t understand this line of reasoning but my wife’s friends do).

I opened the RAW file and processed it in my usual workflow. I was surprised at how nice the colours were and how well the detail had been captured. Then I noticed, this image had been shot at ISO800 – WOW!

Looking further I noticed that some of the lines in the image were bowed and the lens was displaying barrel distortion (corrected above). I thought this was very odd as I had been using my 45mm lens which I thought was superb and virtually distortion free. I checked the camera data in the file and realised the image had actually been shot with the 12-50 kit lens for the OMD and worse still it was wide open at f/4.0. This did however make me realise how good this camera was and that I no longer have a sound argument for keeping my Canon.

Here is an excerpt from the above file at 100% with no sharpening at all; not even capture sharpening.

Sample from the above file at 100%. Click to see the full resolution.
Sample from the above file at 100%. Click to see the full resolution.

Now, to give you the full story. When I printed this image, it was as an A2 print using a 360dpi image. What you are looking at above is a sample from that file. If you printed this at 250dpi (the recommended level for large format printers) you would have a 30″ print. That’s a 30″ print from an ISO800 image shot with a kit lens wide open.

I’m sold and the Canon goes on eBay at the weekend.

New Nik Silver Efex Book Launched

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Cover image for my new Amazon Kindle book
Cover image for my new Amazon Kindle book

I am very pleased to announce that I have just launched my latest book. It’s called how to create “Dramatic Black & White Photography using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2“. It’s priced at just $3.99 or £2.68 and is available from Amazon as a Kindle eBook. Don’t worry if you don’t have a Kindle as Amazon provide free Kindle reader software for the PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone and Android platforms.

If you are not familiar with the Silver Efex Pro software, I have to tell you it’s one of the best Black and White conversion tools on the market today. I won’t say the best as that’s a personal opinion. What I can tell you is that it’s an extremely popular plug-in for editing packages such as Photoshop, Lightroom and Elements, and for very good reasons. It’s a favourite of many professional photographers and will when used correctly produce stunning monochrome conversions from colour images. Unfortunately the software was quite expensive, but all that recently changed when Google purchase Nik software and slashed the price of all the packages.

My new book covers all aspects of the package including both the interface in detail. I explain how the different sliders and tools work and how these can be applied to achieve improved conversions. As will all my books, this one is supported by worked examples, the files for which can be downloaded from the Members Area of my Lenscraft website.

If you use or are thinking of using Nik Silver Efex Pro and want a book to support you, please take a look on Amazon.

Changing My Mind Again

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GX1 infrared converted camera with 14-45mm lens. Conversion to Monochrome in Silver Efex Pro with RAW conversion in PhotoNinja.
GX1 infrared converted camera with 14-45mm lens. Conversion to Monochrome in Silver Efex Pro with RAW conversion in PhotoNinja.

I have written in the past about two things that I would like to give an update on. The first is the software I use to perform Infrared RAW file conversion. The other is my impressions of Photo Ninja. As you will see in a moment the two are now linked.

When I first ha my Panasonic GX1 camera converted to shoot Infrared I had thought that I would be able to shoot images in RAW format and process them in Lightroom or Photoshop. I had read that there was a problem in doing this with Canon and Nikon RAW files as Adobe software rendered the image as shades of red with no other colour present. This prevents you from converting the image using “false colour” (do a search on Google for colour Infrared to see some examples). It also seemed to limit the quality of the image conversions as most of the image data was coming from just the red channel.

I wasn’t however worried by this problem as no one was reporting an issue with Panasonic conversions from Infrared RAW files. Unfortunately I can confirm it is a problem and also conclude that there can’t be many people using infrared converted Panasonic M43 cameras. If you want to know what I am talking about, here is an example of the above image in Lightroom 4.

GX1 Infrared RAW file in Lightroom 4
GX1 Infrared RAW file in Lightroom 4

My initial solution to this issue was to use the SilkyPix software that ships with Panasonic cameras that shoot RAW. This gave good results in managing image colour and allowed me to set a true white point so that images didn’t appear red. Once I had upgraded this (I took advantage of a very cheap special offer) the image quality was OK if not a little too smooth for my liking.

More recently I had some very promising infrared images but felt that none of my RAW converters were doing justice to the levels of detail present. I decided to try out the PhotoNinja software again and the results have convinced me to purchase the full version of the software. Yes it’s expensive but the results are visibly better. This is not just with Infrared images but colour also. Take a look at the comparisons below.

Lightroom conversion at 100% with plenty of sharpening adjustment
Lightroom conversion at 100% with plenty of sharpening adjustment
SilkyPix conversion with some sharpening
Silky Pix conversion with some sharpening
PhotoNinja conversion at 100% with some sharpening
PhotoNinja conversion at 100% with some sharpening

These are conversions from Lightroom, Silky Pix and PhotoNinja, all taken from the same RAW file. I should caveat this a little in that I know exactly what I am doing with Lightroom but am pretty much a novice in using SilkyPix and PhotoNinja. It’s therefore likely that better results can be achieved with both of these. It’s the same story in colour also with the PhotoNinja conversions producing more detail, especially if you sharpen them further post conversion.

Lightroom conversion at 100% with sharpening
Lightroom conversion at 100% with sharpening
PhotoNinja conversion at 100% with some sharpening.
PhotoNinja conversion at 100% with some sharpening.

Wondering why there is no SilkyPix comparison? Well it kept crashing when trying to open the files. I suspect there is a compatibility problem with Windows 8 but I need to do a little more digging. You might also notice the much better colour rendering from the PhotoNinja software which is far closer to the scene as this image was shot about 20 minutes before sunset in direct light.

So, if you are looking for a RAW converter to give the highest level of quality (and don’t mind the price) I would certainly take a look at PhotoNinja.

Free Soft Proofing Article

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The vivid colours of Artists Palette in Death Valley in the late evening sun. If you want to reproduce colours like these in print you will need to do some soft profile to ensure the image looks right. If you don't, it's going to be very hit and miss.
The vivid colours of Artists Palette in Death Valley in the late evening sun. If you want to reproduce colours like these in print you will need to do some soft profile to ensure the image looks right. If you don’t, it’s going to be very hit and miss.

I have just finished and uploaded an article on how to use the Soft Proofing features in Lightroom 4. You can download the article for free from my Lenscraft website by following this link to the Members Area. You will need to log in as a member to gain access but membership is free and you gain access to a lot of other articles and free information. Alternatively you could just wait until the article is publish on ePHOTOzine in the next few weeks.

Enjoy

Finding Your Vision

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This is my vision.
This is my vision.

“Finding Your Vision” is the title of one of the presentations I give from time to time around Camera Clubs and Photographic Societies. This particular presentation is however about 5 years old and with an upcoming presentation in June I need to bring it up to date. The core message of the presentation is however unchanged and states “your performance as a photographer is based on three aspects of photography that are inter-related”.

The three aspects that I am referring to are:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Vision
  3. Skills

Your weakest area will be the one that limits your performance. Unfortunately as photographers we tend to focus (no pun intended) on the third one; skills.

Now let me take a moment to define Inspiration and Vision as these are often confused so I need to make my definitions nice and clear.

Inspiration is the motivation you have to pick up a camera and take a picture. What is it that inspires you to do this? Why do you take pictures? Is it a feeling or is it that you are trying to achieve something? And keep in mind that not all subjects inspire everyone to the same level. I am very motivated by capturing wide open outdoor spaces. Still life photography, action photography and quite a few others don’t inspire me so my performance will always be second rate with these subjects.

This is actually the reason for the image above which I will be incorporating into my new presentation. This is typically a scene that inspires me to reach for my camera.

Vision is effectively how you imagine the scene when you come to photograph it and this will cause you to answer questions such as how should I frame the subject, what mood do I want to convey etc. Other aspects of vision include imagining how you want the finished image to look once it has been processed without worrying how to process it. Vision is linked to inspiration as if you are not inspired by a subject you won’t spend the time to develop your vision of the scene.

Returning to the image above, here is the starting image. Hardly exciting but to me it was. I know it was because I took around 100 images trying to catch the right moment. You see I had a vision of the finished image.

Starting image
Starting image

When I decided to take this image I did so because I was inspired by the location. I then had to decide how I wanted to capture and represent it i.e. develop my vision. When I came to actually process it I refined my vision further.

Examine the image and I hope you will see that I like reflections, clouds and other aspects of the outdoors. I also hope you can see that my vision is about trying to simplify the elements of the scene. I like order, balance and symmetry which is why I have placed the horizon in the centre of the frame and tried to emphasise the reflections of the clouds. I have also tried to compose the clouds so that they are balanced on the left and right of the frame with the water movement emphasised in the centre. The colours in the scene were too intense so I switched to black and white which also helped me emphasise the elements in the frame. I could have pushed this emphasis further but this again is not my vision. I like the processing to appear more believable even though they are quite a departure from reality.

The final element of my trio is skill. If you don’t have the skills to capture and post process your then you will struggle to realise it. We have all had times where we have an idea for an image but it never looks quite how we want it to. This is because we don’t have the skills yet to achieve our vision or perhaps we didn’t slow down sufficiently to employ our skills fully.

Next time you are wondering how to improve your photography come back to these three points:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Vision
  3. Skills

Find your weakness and develop it.

Seeing in the Shadows

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GX1 Infrared image using 14-45mm lens and converted with PhotoNinja and Silver Efex Pro.
GX1 Infrared image using 14-45mm lens and converted with PhotoNinja and Silver Efex Pro.

My infrared converted GX1 continues to draw me in and has become somewhat addictive. I often see comments from people saying getting an old camera converted is making good use of it. If you have an old camera and are considering getting it converted I would however suggest thinking twice. Not because it’s addictive and will move you away from standard photography, but because I don’t think old cameras are really that usable when converted. I have three reasons for this:

  1. Shooting infrared becomes much easier when you are able to see the IR results in live view, something that a lot of older cameras don’t have. Trying to compose an image through a viewfinder often leaves too much to luck as you attempt to maximize the IR effect. Live view is a real bonus in this respect and I would consider it almost essential for IR work.
  2. The sensor quality of the older cameras is not really great for IR. Most of the data in an IR image is captured in the red channel with the other channels being interpolated from this by the camera and RAW converter. This means your image quality can be much lower than expected so using an old low resolution sensor can lead to disappointing results.
  3. Simply using an old camera can be frustrating. It’s quite amazing how much the technology has moved on in the past 5 years and how much you will miss some of the features you now consider standard.

The purpose of this post however is to share the image above of Whitby Abby and mention a strange effect I have noticed. When shooting Infrared I find I can often use the camera handheld when a traditional camera would struggle with low light levels as was the case with the image above. The other thing I have noticed is that there is less contrast in shadows and this allows the Infrared camera to reveal more detail. Certainly in the image above a standard GX1 would have shown dark shadows and bright highlights. With the image above I actually needed to boost the contrast as the shadows were too light.

I don’t know if this information will be useful to anyone but I thought it worthwhile sharing in case.