digital photography

Don’t buy a Micro 43 lens until you read this – Part 3

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Shot on a GX1 with Olympus 9-18 lens as part of my Cloud Structures project
Shot on a GX1 with Olympus 9-18 lens as part of my Cloud Structures project

In this posting we will look at the lenses falling in the super wide angle category. I define this as being those that are wider than 24mm (full frame equivalent) or 12mm (Micro 43). At the time of writing there are only two zoom lens options which are described below. Headings are links to amazon.co.uk to see the lenses.

Super Wide Angle Zoom

Olympus 9-18mm

If you need a wider angle lens than the 12mm standard zoom you don’t have much choice. It’s either this lens or the Panasonic 7-14mm mentioned below. I own the Olympus 9-18 and really like it. It’s a sharp lens that performs well. At the wider angle end of the zoom range it will distort but the lens retains its sharpness. Some chromatic aberration is apparent but no more than you might expect from such a wide angle.

The lens is very light and small. It also collapses down on itself when not in use. This makes it very easy to carry and suitable for all sorts of camera design. Most importantly you can easily use filters on this lens, something that can be tricky with the Panasonic.

Panasonic 7-14mm

I can’t deny this is a sharper lens than the Olympus and is most certainly pro quality. The downside when compared to the Olympus is that it’s larger and quite a bit heavier although it’s still much smaller and lighter than a DSLR wide angle lens.

Despite its amazing performance, I opted not to buy this lens because of one key problem. The front element of the lens protrudes beyond the front of the lens making it very difficult to attach filters. If you can overcome this limitation and don’t mind that it’s quite a lot more costly than the Olympus then this is a great lens.

Deciding how to edit a photograph

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View from the leading edge at the top of Yewbarrow
View from the leading edge at the top of Yewbarrow

Following my last blog post on the Essential Skills for photography, the question was posed “Where I’m stuck is the step between picking the strongest image and playing with software. How do I decide what to do with it. ” This seemingly simple question is one of the most fundamental in photography and is one that I found myself wrestling with for a number of years. This is how I resolved the for myself. As I am a Landscape Photographer I will speak about scenes but you can apply this approach to most forms of photography.

The key to deciding how to edit an image doesn’t start when you download the image to your computer, it starts much earlier. It even starts before you even lift the camera to take the shot. It actually starts when you spot the opportunity to capture an image. When something catches your eye and you recognise there is a photograph to be taken, at that moment you should be working out what has captured your attention.

Having identified something that is attracting you to a scene you will begin to take photographs. It’s unlikely your first image will be what you wanted (if it is you are either amazingly talented or very lazy) so you need to experiment with angles and composition. As you work with a scene your vision for the image should become stronger. This is the vision that will become so important when you come to edit your image later.

Having a strong vision is the key to understanding how to edit your image.

Having selected the image that you want to work with; the one that best represents your vision, you should ask yourself 2 questions:

  1. What defects is the image suffering from that I need to correct? Perhaps it’s too bright or it looks a little flat. Perhaps it has a lot of dark areas which look ugly and need to be opened up. Spend time looking at the image and identify what you don’t like about it. Defects in the image hide your vision from the viewer.
  2. Now consider your vision and ask how can this image be enhanced to better convey my vision for the photograph? This should take you right back to the reason for taking the picture in the first instance. Why did you take the picture? How can you emphasise this aspect of the image to the viewer?

As you consider these questions, make notes about the changes that you would like to make. Don’t try to get all technical about how you will make the adjustments, just describe the changes. If you want to make some dark areas lighter, write that down. If you want to make the pinks more vibrant and colourful, write it down. If you think the image looks a little hazy and you want to give it more snap, write that down.

Once you have the list of changes you need to write out a plan for the adjustments you will make. Start with the global adjustments and work down to the smaller localised changes. Also try to make the corrections and fixes (question 1) before you make the enhancements (question 2).

I hope I haven’t made this sound easy as it’s not. It takes years of practice to develop your own styles and preferences as well as the skills necessary to be able to make the adjustments. But preserve and improvements will come.

Starting image for the scene above.
Starting image for the scene above.

Essential skills for Photography – Skill 2

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RWhalley_5D_2011_04_IMG_8752

In my last blog I introduced the first skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography. In today’s post I will try to explain another of these skills.

Communication and Vision

Vision is about understanding what we have seen that inspired us to want to take a picture. Once we understand this we can begin to think about how we want to represent this to others. This recognition is something that we need do this at the point we take the picture. If we don’t we will probably find later that we just didn’t quite capture the image right.

When we notice an opportunity and decide to take a picture, we may not make the best capture on the first effort. To know we have achieved the best result we need to take time (where possible) to explore a scene or subject. This is not just to check things such as composition and technical image quality but also to ensure our vision comes through as strongly. If you are not clear about what our vision is, how do we expect others to understand and appreciate your work.

The same argument also applies to being able to select the strongest image that best represents our vision. And when we come to work on our best image we need to understand how we want the finished image to appear. How should it look in order to best represent our vision. We need a clear image before we start to work on any adjustments.

The reason I included communication under this heading is that our image or images need to communicate our vision. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that our photograph is our medium of communication but our vision is our message. The clearer our vision, the stronger and communication, the better people will hear us.

I will introduce another essential skill tomorrow.

Essential skills for Photography – Skill 1

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RWhalley_5D_2011_04_IMG_8628

Someone recently asked me what I thought were the best skills to develop in order to improve their photography. The question is an interesting one as the answer depends on your current level of skill. Despite this I thought I would have a crack at documenting six skills that I think are pretty much essential if you want to produce great photography.

As I’m going to share my thoughts with a little explanation, or you might wonder why I have made the choices I have, I thought I would turn this into a short series of mini blog posts. As you read these you may agree or disagree with my ideas. If you have any strong feelings about a particular post please do comment as I’m really interested to hear the views of others.

So here we go…

Inspiration and Opportunity

This is the ability to tune into your inspiration and recognise the opportunities for great photography. As we go through each day we are presented with almost limitless opportunities to take great photographs. If those don’t register with us we never bother to capture the picture.

Even when we do recognise the opportunity, with so many how do we know which ones to pursue? Each time we pause to capture a photograph there is an opportunity cost to our work in that we have less time to pursue other opportunities. We therefore need to do more than just recognise the opportunities; we need to be able to distinguish a good opportunity from a great one. This requires us to have the confidence in our ability to make the decision of how best to invest our time.

One tool that can help is to understand our inspiration. What is it that we want to take pictures of? What are the specialist areas of our photographic interest? If we understand this and concentrate our efforts pursuing these, it will pay dividends. Let’s not wander aimlessly through our days snapping random photographs. Let’s be led by our inspiration to create great work.

I will introduce another skill tomorrow.

Beautiful Evening Light in Whitby

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Whitby Pier at sunset. Canon 5D MKII, 24-105mm Lens.
Whitby Pier at sunset. Canon 5D MKII, 24-105mm Lens.

I don’t know about you but my photo storage is a bit of a mess. I do like to keep each shoot in a separate dated folder and then import these to Lightroom. But sometimes something goes wrong. A few months back I suffered a Lightroom Catalogue crash and I lost a lot of work. I thought I had recovered everything but it turns out that I hadn’t.

Today I found some folders that I hadn’t re-imported so I had a quick look through the images. Here’s one that I like and thought I would share. It’s a sunset shot taken at Whitby, North Yorkshire in April last year. There wasn’t very much cloud in the sky but the atmosphere picked up the colours from the sun quite well. The low sun has also coloured the pier quite nicely with the low light levels allowed me to use a slow shutter speed (with the help of a Neutral Density filter).

I love looking through old images that I had forgotten about.

Friday image No.030

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Olympus EM5 with Panasonic 45-150mm lens.
Olympus EM5 with Panasonic 45-150mm lens.

Sometimes I’m guilty of trying to create images with too much drama. I need to remind myself that simple can be beautiful and not every image needs a sunset.

The was shot in the early afternoon, just off the point at the Lizard in Cornwall. Please don’t ask where the pink atmospherics came from, I have no idea. But I’m very pleased they are there. I now want another holiday.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Another Example of False Infrared Colour

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GX1 Infrared image converted with a red blue channel swap to create a false colour
GX1 Infrared image converted with a red blue channel swap to create a false colour

In my last post I shared an example of the false infrared colour technique and explained how it was achieved. I also confessed that in general I don’t like the effect, although in some cases it does work well. I thought it would be good to share another example that I think works reasonably well (although not as well as the previous post)  although I will admit that I still prefer the traditional black and white conversion.

This example is a little more stylised than the previous image and was created by first converting the image to colour before applying a Fuji Provia Slide Film simulation in Exposure 6. This was then further edited with a boost to the Vibrancy slider and a negative Clarity to give the soft effect. My reasoning for these adjustments was to prepare the image for conversion to black and white but I found I quite liked the colour image.

When converting the images with the Channel Mixer it can seem a bit hit and miss. It appears to help if you have both sky and foliage in the image. With a Red/Blue channel swap such as shown here the sky will turn blue and the foliage will go red. Most other areas (in landscapes) tend not to be affected.

You can improve the results by picking a white balance point during RAW conversion which causes the foliage to take on a blue tint. Typically this will leave the sky with some red tint and when the channel swap is made with the channel mixer the red tint in the sky turns blue and the blue tint of the foliage turns red.

Also try to avoid images which have been shot in the shade (such as tree lined country lanes) as you won’t get such a good effect. You really need direct and strong sun to make this work well.

Hope this helps anyone who is also struggling with Infrared false colour.

Infrared conversion from my GX1 Infrared camera
Infrared conversion from my GX1 Infrared camera

False Colour Conversion in Infrared Photography

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False colour infrared using Infrared converted Panasonic GX1
False colour infrared using Infrared converted Panasonic GX1

Before I get into the details of this post I need to point out that I’m not a fan of the false colour effect in infrared. That said I do quite like the look of the image above. I realise this is a personal choice and you may or may not like the effect. Despite not liking this effect (other than the odd image) I continue to use the technique as I find it often helps in the conversions to black and white. The increased colour seems to make it easier to separate objects in black and white .

The starting point for the conversion is an infrared image that has been correctly white balanced. You can see the starting point below.

Correct white balance
Correct white balance

As I have mentioned previously in this blog, getting the white balance correct in Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW can be problematic. Here is an example of the image as seen in Lightroom despite using the correct custom white balance.

How Lightroom sees the custom white balance
How Lightroom sees the custom white balance

I have now found out how to correct this and will post something separately on the subject.

Once you have your image white balanced, take it into Photoshop. Here we will do something called a channel swap between the red and blue channels using the Channel Mixer. You can see a screenshot of the channel mixer below.

Channel Mixer in Photoshop
Channel Mixer in Photoshop

In case you are wondering there isn’t a cannel mixer in Lightroom or Elements.

First select the Red channel in the channel mixer. You will notice the red slider is at 100% and the other two sliders are at 0%. Change these sliders so that the blue channel is at 100% and the others are at 0%.

Now repeat this process selecting the blue channel. This time set the blue slider to 0% and the red slider to 100%. The channel swap is now complete and you will see an effect similar to that above.

You can also swap any two channels and are not restricted to the red and blue. The red and blue channels tend to produce the best results though.

Now as I mentioned at the start of this post, I use this technique to support conversion to black and white. With that in mind, here is the final image back and white image. Let me know which image you prefer.

Final infrared conversion
Final infrared conversion

Using Camera Colour Profiles with Lightroom and Camera RAW

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Panasonic GM1 shot processed using custom camera profile - the colours are more realistic and vivid
Panasonic GM1 shot processed using custom camera profile – the colours are more realistic and vivid

Readers of this blog and my website will know that I am a fan of the Xrite Color Checker tool. This can be used to create colour profiles for your digital camera and they can make a big improvement to the colours in your images. My own experience has been that without exception they are an improvement on those Adobe ships with its software.

Whilst the camera profiles are great, installing and using them can seem a bit daunting at first. Here then is my guide to downloading and using Camera Colour Profiles with Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW.

What are Camera Colour Profiles

These are information files that allow Lightroom and Camera RAW to translate a camera’s RAW file data into colours correctly. Without these profile you might find that lovely shade of Red coming out as Purple in your images.

Where Can I Find Colour Profiles

The easiest way (although some people might argue) is to buy the Xrite Colour Passport Checker. Unfortunately that cost money and not everyone wants to take the risk that it will improve the conversion of their RAW files. If you belong to a camera club or photographic society, it might make a sensible group purchase.

An alternative approach is to search on the Internet to see if you can find someone who is selling or giving away (who would be that daft) a profile for your camera. To be honest, this is a bit of a long shot and very few people seem to publish these profiles.

The final alternative is to download the free profiles I created (did I say who would be that daft) from my Lenscraft website . Currently available profiles are Panasonic LX5, Sony RX100, Sony RX10, Panasonic GX1, Olympus EM5 and Panasonic GM1. As and when I change my cameras I will be adding to the available profiles.

How do I install the profiles

Each software application that can use colour profiles is likely to have its own locations from which to access these and probably also use different approaches to installing the profiles. Whilst you can install the files by simply copying them to the correct folder, finding the folder can sometimes be a little tricky. You will need to find the “Adobe\Camera RAW” folder which is where these profiles should be saved, to make them available in Lightroom and Camera RAW.

On my Windows 8 PC the folder location is

C:\Users\rnwhalley\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\CameraRaw\CameraProfiles

Something similar will no doubt exist on the Mac.

Xrite also produce a rather neat solution which is the “DNG Profile Manager”. The tool is available for download at Xrite website

http://xritephoto.com/ph_product_overview.aspx?ID=1257&Action=Support&SoftwareID=1345

Once the tool is installed, run it and select “File | Open DNG Profile Folder”. This will open the location where the colour profiles are to be copied to. When you have copied the colour profiles to this folder they are installed and will be available in Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW.

How can I use these profiles

In Lightroom you need to open the Develop Module so that you can change the development settings for your images. In the Develop module you will find the different development options down the right side of the screen. At the bottom of these is the “Camera Calibration” tab.

ScreenHunter_1206 Aug. 03 20.36

Notice near to the top of this section is a drop down list called “Profile”. By default this is set to “Adobe Standard” but click on it and you will reveal other profiles for your camera. The profiles are sensitive to the RAW file format so only those compatible with the RAW file will be displayed.

In the following shot you can see the “Olympus E-M5″ bespoke profile I created being selected.

ScreenHunter_1207 Aug. 03 20.39

In Adobe Camera RAW the Camera Calibration tab is also on the right side of the screen. It can be selected by clicking on the icon of the camera as shown below. There is then a drop down list of the installed “Camera Profiles”.

ScreenHunter_1208 Aug. 03 20.40

But I can’t see a Colour Profile

If everything has gone well you should be able to use the newly installed profiles but there may be occasions when you can’t see your profile. Here are a few of the possible problems:

  • The RAW file you are processing came from a different camera to the profile. For example if you are processing a RAW file from a Canon 5D MKII, you wouldn’t see a profile for the Olympus EM5 in the drop down list. You only see those profiles that are compatible with the type of RAW file you are processing.
  • You installed your camera profiles correctly but it may be that you did this when Camera RAW or Lightroom were open. Until you restart the software the new profiles won’t be visible/available.
  • You may not be processing a RAW file but a TIFF or JPG image file. Under these circumstances you won’t see the camera profile in the Calibration tab. Instead you will probably see the word “Embedded” as shown below.

ScreenHunter_1209 Aug. 03 20.48

I hope this helps all the Lightroom and Camera RAW users out there.

 

Friday image No.028

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Lloyds Building, London, Captured on an Olympus OMD EM5 with Olympus 9-18mm lens. Conversion to black and white using Alien Skin Exposure 6.
Lloyds Building, London, Captured on an Olympus OMD EM5 with Olympus 9-18mm lens. Conversion to black and white using Alien Skin Exposure 6.

Some of you might recall that a month or so back I asked people to recommend their favourite image enhancement filters. I love playing around to explore new software and was interested in film emulators. One thing led to another and I ended up trying then buying Alien Skin Exposure 6. I don’t know why I haven’t bothered with this software before but I love it. I will go into the reason why some other time, but I also discovered some great tools (not Alien Skin) for pulling more detail out of my Infrared images which, I will share this in another post.

For now, here is the latest Friday image. I shot this on my trip to London back in April. This is landmark Lloyds Building which I used to pass almost daily when I worked in London. Back then I never paid any attention to it but now I think it’s iconic. In case you’re wondering the conversion to black and white was done in Alien Skin Exposure 6, using one of the Infrared Presets which was then tweaked a little.

Have a great weekend everyone.