A Short Break

Captured on an infrared converted GX1. Conversion from RAW was in Silkypix Studio 5. Conversion to Black and White using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.
Captured on an infrared converted GX1. Conversion from RAW was in Silkypix Studio 5. Conversion to Black and White using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

It’s been a very busy month and its set to get more hectic for me. I have quite a lot on in the run up to Easter so I am going to take a short break from the blogging for a couple of weeks. Rest assured I will be back soon with new material and lots of opinions about Light Weight Photography.

So you don’t forget me I thought I would leave you with a nice image of an interesting tree shot in Infrared.

Photo Acute Photography Software

GX1 Beach Scene. Nothing to do with the post, I just like the image
GX1 Beach Scene. Nothing to do with the post, I just like the image

Every so often you come across a piece of software that redefines what you accepted as the rules of photography. Something that makes you think how on earth did they do that. Well I may have stumbled across such a software package and it’s called Photo Acute.

In brief this is a software package to blend multiple exposures together but it’s a little different to other packages of this type that I have seen. Yes it does HDR and yes it does focus stacking to achieve greater depth of field. It will remove chromatic aberration and it also does noise removal in a way that differs from standard packages.

What really grabbed my attention however is the way is can multiply the size of your image and pull in new detail by blending together multiple images. This isn’t however simply a resizing of the image, it actually generates additional detail – at least that’s what the blurb on the website says and it does present some strong examples. Interestingly, when I tried it the new image appeared to also be sharper than the original as well as twice the size in both dimensions.

Given the limited pixel count of some great compact cameras e.g. the LX5, this is a great way to enlarge your images.

To make the package work its magic you simply need multiple identical shots of a scene. They can all be the same exposure (unless you are doing HDR) and they can all have the same focus point (unless you are doing focus stacking). With between 2 and 8 images the blending generates a new resized image. The more images you blend the better the results but the longer the processing so try 3-4 images.

I haven’t posted an example here as I don’t have any multiple shot images that are good enough. There is however a free download of the software that you can try out on their website. When I am feeling better and I can get out again I will carry out some experimentation.

The Black art of Colour Management

Sunset images can be particularly challenging to edit and print if you don't have a colour calibrated workflow. Captured on a GX1 and edited with Nik Viveza.
Sunset images can be particularly challenging to edit and print if you don’t have a colour calibrated workflow. Captured on a GX1 and edited with Nik Viveza.

In my last post I discussed some of the choices we photographers now have in choosing paper surfaces for printing. Someone raised a question that I responded to about how to get the colours accurate but I think this subject deserves a more in depth answer; so here is a little more on the subject.

The secret to getting prints to look the way you want them to is all wrapped up in Colour Management. This can be a very simple process but it can quickly become a wide discussion with lots to confuse. I will try to keep this simple and discuss two areas of colour management that are essential to achieving accurate colour (and for that matter black and white) prints. These are:

  1. Screen calibration
  2. Printer calibration

It’s necessary to have an accurately calibrated screen so that you have confidence the colour you see on screen is the colour of the image. This is really vital because you could make your image look great on screen only to find you have compensated for all kinds of colour shifts and contrast problems with your monitor.

There are software solutions that allow you to calibrate your screen visually but these will never be as accurate as a hardware solution that measures the colours on screen, creating a specific profile for your monitor. There are a number of solutions available that will quickly allow you to generate a bespoke profile for your monitor and I suggest you invest in one of these. Its money well spent. Which model you invest in will depend on your budget and the approach you intend to adopt for printing.

When printing, it’s necessary to have your printer calibrated to the specific ink and paper. This allows you to ensure colours and tones are accurately reproduced for a given paper. There are three options here:

  1. Download and install the ICC colour profile for your printer and the paper you will be using. This is good but not as good as having a custom profile created for your printer.
  2. Have a custom profile created using a profiling service. This involves printing out a target image which is then measured to generate a profile. You can then install and use the profile for printing. There are a number of such services advertised in the back of photography magazines. Alternatively if you purchase Permajet or Fotospeed papers, they offer this service for free.
  3. Invest in a hardware solution that allows you to generate your own profile. This is good if you have a lot of profiles you want to create or switch papers often. This is the option I have chosen and have purchased a ColorMunki Photo tool. This allows me to calibrate both my screen and printer. So far the results have been exceptional.

Even if you intend to send your prints away to a printer, it’s still necessary to calibrate your monitor.

When it comes to printing, the printer and paper combination you have selected may not be able to represent accurately the range of colours and tones you see in your image. To compensate for this the printer will adjust the colours so that they fit within the Gamut that the printer can handle. This can affect how some colours appear as well as the contrast level in the image.

The solution to this problem is to use soft proofing for your images. Photoshop, Lightroom 4 and other packages will support soft proofing. This involves selecting the profile you are going to use to print your image and then the software tries to represent the image on the screen as it will ultimately appear on paper. There are lots of solutions here so your best option is to look up how to perform soft proofing for your chosen package. I would even recommend you soft proof your image when sending them off to a third party printer.

So, in summary:

  1. Profile your monitor and set it to use the customer ICC profile (most calibration units do this step automatically for you).
  2. Print using a profile generated specifically for your printer and paper combination. You should then use this profile when printing so you will need to print from an ICC aware application such as Photoshop or Lightroom. I use a package called QImage for reasons I won’t go into here other than to say it makes the job easy.
  3. Check your image using soft proofing before you printing to see if you want to make any further adjustments before you print.

Follow these steps and you will end up with accurate colours and tones in your prints.

Printer Paper Choice

Urban abstract shot on an LX5 and converted to B&W using Nik Silver Efex Pro. I love printing images like this but paper choice is critical to creating a great impact.
Urban abstract shot on an LX5 and converted to B&W using Nik Silver Efex Pro. I love printing images like this but paper choice is critical to creating a great impact.

If I go back about 10-15 years, photographers regularly had prints made and shared these with other photographers so that work could be discussed. The film you shot would also determine how you shared your work. If you shot B&W or Colour print film you might have small 7×5 prints made when your films were developed and perhaps you would have an enlargement made of anything that really impressed you. If you developed your own film (usually black and white) and had access to a dark room, you might make your own enlargements. In rare cases you might also have access to equipment to make your own colour enlargements. Finally, if you shot slide film you either looked at the slides on a lightbox or projected your slides. Having a print made from a slide was rare and expensive with few labs offering this service.

Then the inkjet printer came onto the scene and the quality and ease with which a print could be produced improved. This was further fuelled by a switch to digital by many photographers and now we most photographers could make A4 and often A3 prints. Strangely, despite this ease, many photographers seem to have dropped printing in recent years in favour of sharing their work on the Internet. To me, this is a real shame because something is lost from the creative process when you don’t make a physical print of your work. This is not because there is an extra creative step in the printing but because printing helps you really appreciate an image as often leads you to refine and improve it further.

When you hold an A4 or A3 print of your work you tend to assess it differently to how it is viewed on the screen. Part of this comes down to paper choice which can have a huge impact on the end result. For a start there are different paper surfaces such as Matt, Gloss, Lustre, Perl, Silk etc. Then there is the base for the paper as well as the colour of the print surface. There are so many creative choices that you can waste a huge amount of time and money searching for papers that suit the style of your work and your creative desire.

Unfortunately you don’t really appreciate all the different subtleties of the different papers until you print a lot. By this time you might have purchased lots of different papers only to find out that you don’t like them or that they can’t produce the depth of image that you desire. I know this because I have shelves full of different types of paper. Some of these were relatively cheap and almost without exception the cheap papers don’t give a feeling of depth to the printed image. Instead the image seems to just sit as a flat image on the surface of the paper. If I compare this with one of my favourite papers (Ilford Fibre Gold), the images seem to have a depth to them that would allow you to almost reach into the image with your arm; they feel almost three dimensional.

If I were to generalise, the papers from the main well known manufacturers (Canson, Hanimuhle, Ilford, Permajet, Fotospeed) seem to produce this feeling of depth. Many of these manufacturers produce standard photo papers and fine art papers and it is the fine art papers that tend to produce the better results. It’s then a matter of choosing a surface that suits your intention. I personally like the Fibre Based papers (they feel like a traditional dark room paper) with a silk semi-gloss finish and a neutral to warm tone base colour.

Of all the papers I have used, the Ilford Gold and Permajet Fibre Based Photo Art Perl 290 papers are my favourites by far. They are superb for both colour and black and white and suit all types of images.

Very recently Permajet released a new paper type called Titanium. This is a Metallic paper surface which is similar to the Kodak Metallic paper offered by some photo labs. I find this very interesting as I haven’t seen a Metallic paper for Inkjet printing before. Having used metallic paper with lab prints in the past I know that it will produce very vivid colours and deep Black and Whites. Place prints made with this type of paper in sunlight and they come to life in a way that other papers can’t. I was very keen therefore to try out some of this paper but the results are a little mixed.

The surface and colour are what could only be described as metallic in appearance. The colour is therefore quite a departure from what I usually work with and I can’t make up my mind it I like it or not. The colour prints are quite good but the paper seems to open up the shadows a little more than I would have liked and the colour intensity therefore suffers a little. I think this paper has a huge dynamic range and would suite colour HDR images quite well. In terms of black and white I can only describe the performance as superb. The images look as though they are standing off the paper. This again is quite different from my other papers where the image seems to go into the paper to give depth.

Would I recommend this paper?

Probably if you need the specific look it produces. I don’t think it’s a general, “suites everything” type of paper and therefore it won’t be replacing my Permajet Perl (which is my main paper of choice). I do however think it is worth experimenting with if you are a keen printer and want something a little different.

I hope you have found this little diversion into the world of printing interesting and that if you don’t already produce prints are encouraged to do so. We need to share our work as physical images not just as photons radiating from a screen.

Technology Marches On

Captured on a GF1 with 14-45 lens. Colour and saturation adjustment in Nik Viveza followed by B&W conversion in Nik Silver Efex Pro.
Captured on a GF1 with 14-45 lens. Colour and saturation adjustment in Nik Viveza followed by B&W conversion in Nik Silver Efex Pro.

Yesterday, for some reason I was looking back at some images I shot a year ago in Norway, including the one shown above. At the time my lightweight travel camera was a Panasonic GF1 which soon after I upgraded to a GX1. At the time I was very happy with this camera and the quality of images I could capture but as soon as I had upgraded to the GX1 I literally forgot about my GF1 and image back catalogue. It’s almost as though I had written off the images despite having captured some great shots.

Comparing the quality of the GX1 with the GF1, the GX1 images are larger by about 4Mpixels and have lower noise at all ISO levels. Other than this there is nothing at all wrong with the GF1 images and they look really nice printed large. Is this really the basis for an upgrade? I am now asking myself why did I “write off” this camera – I think it must have been some subliminal mind trick from my daughter who was the beneficiary of the GF1.

Interestingly, I recently purchased a Sony RX100 as my pocket camera. This has around twice the pixel count when compared with my LX5 that it was intended to replace and has great low light and noise performance. Bearing in mind the GF1 to GX1 upgrade, I am now asking myself if this was a good move. Sure the RX100 is a great camera but then the LX5 is incredible and large detailed prints are also easily achievable. Further, I love using the LX5 in a way that is hard for the RX100 (actually any camera) to compete with. I suspect this is why I have hung on to the LX5 and am unlikely to sell it.

Now given all my waffling above, the question I want to answer is how long should we been keeping a camera? At what point should we look to upgrade? Does anyone have a view?

Lensmate Adapter for Sony RX100

I'm finally able to use ND Grads with my Sony RX100
I’m finally able to use ND Grads with my Sony RX100

Looking back a couple of months when I first purchased my Sony RX100 I said that I needed some form of adapter in order to use ND Graduate filters with this camera. As most of my work is shot in the landscape, ND graduate filters are an essential accessory for me and I just can’t work without them.

If I compare my LX5 I have an adapter tube that I can screw onto a threaded ring at the base of the lens. The RX100 however has nothing like this which is why after some searching I found the Lensmate solution. I have to admit that this is not a cheap solution and having incurred £12.50 in duty charges when it was shipment into the UK, it borders on being extortionate.

Well the adapter has arrived and it looks like just a couple of small pieces of metal and plastic. Basically there is a ring that sticks to the front of the lens using 3M double sided adhesive tape. Once in place there is a second threaded adapter that mounts onto the ring and clicks into place. This allows you to easily remove any filters with a small 90 degree twist of the adapter.

Now I have to admit that I was a little worried sticking a ring to the front of my new camera. I thought that it looks fiddly and troublesome to mount correctly. The kit does however come with a simple tool that aligns the ring e3xactly. There is a supporting video on the website and having watched this it took me less than 1 minute to attach the adapter and it was perfect first time.

So despite my complaints over price this is a very good design that works very well indeed. I have used the adapter out in the field and it’s perfect. It’s also very light and small enough so that the camera still fits inside the Sony case. If you need a filter adapter for an RX100 then this is worth looking at but beware the price is high.

LX5 Book Launched

LX5 Worked Example from my book
LX5 Worked Example from my book

After my previous post, I am no longer feeling sorry for myself and am well on the road to recovery. In fact I am feeling quite satisfied as I have finally completed my book “The Panasonic LX5: How to Achieve Exceptional Image Quality” which has been on the go since November last year.

As the title suggests then book is about how to create exceptional image quality with the LX5. It is supported by a worked example turning a standard LX5 image into a highly detailed 30” print. If you are a member of my Lenscraft web site you can download the full resolution 30” image for a closer look. The only rule is that you can’t sell it, change it or pass it off as your own work.

If you want to find out more about the book you can find the details here.

Hopefully normal blogging resumes from next week.