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.
Recently I realised there was a feature I was missing from the Sony NEX camera that I sold last year. This is the sweep panoramic where you simply sweep the camera horizontally or vertically to produce a panoramic when taking the shot. I thought this was a great feature and one that I could have used when shooting the Ribblehead Viaduct in an earlier blog. My friend who had an iPhone with him at the time had this feature and I now discover I have something similar on my Samsung phone.
To be fair, the Sony Sweep Panoramic dealt fine with large detail but if something had lots of small detail like rocks in a landscape, it didn’t always work well (again, covered in an earlier blog). Additionally if you didn’t move smoothly or in a straight line you could get some strange results. It complained when you moved too fast or too slow. Worse still, if the subject or you were moving, well you probably needed to forget it. I’m actually starting to wonder why I miss it so much!
Now, some of the cameras I use also have a Panoramic Assist mode, for example where they show a faint version of the previous picture overlaid on the camera LCD to help you line up. Again this isn’t perfect and I find it slow to use which means it might not be suitable for many situations where you need to act quickly. The only real solution to this is a true panoramic camera such as my Xpan but then I am back to shooting film which I don’t always want to do.
If you are a RAW shooter and you want the best quality possible, you will need to shoot individual images and then stitch them in software. That’s exactly what I did with the image you see above. This is a series of 6 images shot in RAW using a GF1. I shot the images from a moving boat when passing this particular island and the angle of coverage is about 160 degrees. Quite an extreme set of circumstances to shoot panoramic and one where speed was the key.
If you are wondering how I lined up 6 images so quickly (the boat was travelling quite fast), I used the cameras gridlines. On all my cameras I have the gridlines turned on that divide the screen horizontally and vertically into 3rds. I make a mental note as I shoot of where the vertical grid line is on one side so that I can move the camera to align the vertical line on the other side when shooting the next image in the sequence. This ensures I overlap my images about a third which is ideal for putting through stitching software such as Photoshop’s “photomerge” function. The horizontal gridlines also allow me to judge easily if I have moved the camera up or down.
This takes a little bit of practice but shoot around 20 such sequences and you can become incredibly quick. The image above is 10” x 36”, shot in RAW and could be printed at double this size with some interpolation. The stitching is spot on and there were no telltale joins. I could never have achieved this with any other method
Yes you read the title of the blog correctly; there is a weakness with my GX1 and no doubt other Micro 4/3 cameras also. Take a look at the image above to see if you can spot it. I shot this yesterday in the Yorkshire Dales when out photographing waterfalls with a friend. The intention was to visit a few locations starting at Keld which has loads of falls and then work our way south visiting other falls on route. This is one of the best shots of the day with my GX1.
Now the eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed this photograph is not of a Waterfall and that’s because of the weakness I mentioned. I simply couldn’t slow the shutter speed sufficiently to emphasise the movement in the images. Let’s discuss an example.
There was quite a lot of water coming over the falls as it has been wet recently (I’m sure those of you based in the UK will know what I mean) so the speed of the water was quite fast. This is good news for me as it means the shutter speeds are not quite as slow as you might otherwise need. I still however needed to slow the camera down to between 0.3 and 0.8 seconds to create the desired effect.
The base ISO on the GX1 is 160 and there is no way (at least that I can find) to expand this down to perhaps 80 or even 50 (I hope Panasonic are listening because I’m sure they could do this with a firmware upgrade). At the same time I want to shoot with my lenses in their optimal range for sharpness of f/5.6 to f/7.1. When trying to do this however I was finding that even in relatively shaded areas I was just freezing the water.
I did try closing my aperture down to f/13.0 with a couple of ND filters on the front of the lens whilst holding a polarizer in front and it worked to some degree. It still wasn’t great and there was a reflection on the polariser that can be seen on some images.
My 5D MKII on the other hand was set to ISO50 with a lens at f/14.0 and a polarizing filter attached. This was giving me nice long exposures that I could control. Here is an example of one of the shots so at least you can see how nice the locations were.
I think therefore that I need to add a further accessory to the list of essentials for this camera and that is a variable ND screw in filter. Oh, and if you are wondering what the image at the top of the blog is, it’s the Ribblehead Viaduct which carries the rail line.
I don’t normally like carrying too many accessories for my photography because they can be a bit of a double edged sword. On one hand they help you do things that wouldn’t otherwise be possible but on the other they add size, weight and can hinder your work. There are some accessories however that I do consider essential for the LX5:
Screen protector – I don’t think this one takes much explaining other than to say the rear screen can scratch easily. I use a 3 inch thin plastic screen protector that was made for a mobile phone as they are cheap and do a great job.
JJC lens cap – Where the LX5 lens meets the camera body there is a threaded ring. Unscrew this ring and you can screw on the JJC replacement lens cap. The lens cap is never removed but as you switch on the camera the lens extends through the lens cap which splits into three. When the lens retracts the lens cap closes to cover it again. This has protected my lens on countless occasions and also reduces lens cleaning. This is a great accessory for street photography.
Filter Tube – In the previous point I explained how the filter cap could screw to the lens of the camera. The filter tube follows the same approach and screws to the camera with the lens extending inside the tube. The other end of the tube is threaded and can accept a filter ring to which you can then attach filters. For Landscape Photography the ability to attach an filters such as an ND Graduate is essential. The only downside is that you can only attach either the lens cap or the filter tube but not both together.
My final accessory is really optional and is noise reduction software. If you are keeping below ISO400 with the LX5 and not printing larger than A3, you probably don’t need this but as the ISO creeps up it can become essential. Even if you use only low ISO settings you may be a bit of a perfectionist as I am (I often clean images even from my 5D MkII to remove noise because I am that fussy). I actually use 2 software packages for noise reduction at present, Nik Dfine and Topaz DeNoise. DeNoise is probably the best to my mind but you might have your own preference.
On a final point of interest, many photographers would consider the LX5 to be an accessory for their main camera. If you are one of these people think again and try a day out with just the LX5 and a couple of accessories.
Here’s a query that I see with some regularity so I thought it would make a good blog topic. When photographing landscapes the sky is often lighter than the ground and this can cause the land to be either too dark in the final image or the sky is too light. Two common approaches to solve this problem are the Neutral Density graduated (ND Grad) filter and multiple exposures. Which do I recommend?
ND grads are filters that fit to the end of the camera lens and which are dark on one half and clear on the other. The dark part is placed on the lens to darken bright areas such as the sky, so balancing the exposure with the land. This results in a nicely exposed sky and ground, leading to a more pleasing image. I should say that if you want to know more about purchasing these filters, there is a full tutorial on my Lenscraft website at http://www.lenscraft.co.uk/training/160.html.
The approach with multiple exposures is to take as the name suggest multiple images, all identical except that the exposure changes. Typically this involves bracketing the exposure by say 1 stop above and below the correct exposure. The resulting images are then blended together in an image editor to achieve a final image with a balanced exposure. Alternatively you might choose to blend the images together using some form of HDR software.
Before saying which method I prefer I should make it clear that neither approach is perfect and both have advantages and disadvantages. Because of this I actually use both approaches from time to time although I do prefer one over the other.
The problems I see with the ND Grad filter are:
The graduate filters can be a little clumsy to use as you really need a holder and lens adapter to attach them to the camera. They actually add quite a bit of size to the camera, sometimes quite dramatically.
The filters are prone to scratching as they are usually made of optical plastic. If you buy the glass ones they are prone to cracking or breaking, which given their price makes you want to cry.
Although these filters should be neutral they often display a colour cast which is sometimes linked to the lighting and weather conditions. This can result in odd coloured skies even when the filters are neutral.
They can sometimes be difficult to line up so that their effect isn’t obvious. This isn’t so much of a problem with micro 43 cameras which have a small sensor.
The areas of light and dark don’t always line up in a straight line e.g. a tree cuts into the sky and ends up becoming darker because the filter cuts across it.
The Multiple Exposure method also has its difficulties:
The exposures really need to be identical for the best results. This often forces the use of a tripod.
You need to ensure you don’t change the lens focal length or point of focus between shots.
The longer exposure shot in the bracket sequence can sometimes be soft due to camera shake. Another reason to use a tripod.
When using a lightweight camera I don’t like to carry a tripod unless I have to.
Blending takes time and photo editing skills. Often I just can’t be bothered with all the extra work.
On balance and because I come from a film background where I used to shoot slide film, ND Grads are my preferred option. I will however shoot multiple exposures if the situation needs it and I feel the benefits of doing so will outweigh the additional processing time. Overall I would say both methods work and it’s a personal choice you feel happiest with.
I am growing tired of seeing the same advice trotted out time and time again about Landscape Photography. The advice that has me so wound up is that “if you want to get a full depth of field you need to use a very small aperture”. This advice has almost been carved in tablets of stone for all to see. Does it work; yes it does BUT IT ISN’T THE BEST ADVICE.
To me, this advice is almost the lazy way to photograph landscapes. The advice you should be getting is to shoot your landscape with the best aperture (the one that gives you the highest quality image) whilst still giving you the required depth of field. To understand why and why this is so important for Micro 4/3 and compact camera photographers you need to understand a few basics about lenses and depth of field.
Firstly most consumer lenses are designed to achieve their sharpest images and resolve the most detail when the aperture is closed down about 2 stops from wide open. For many lenses this means you will get the best results at around f/8 to f/12. Either side of this range you will find the image just isn’t as sharp and if you stop down the lens to around f/22 you might find all sorts of distortions can kick in. Buy the best lenses you can and you might see some improvement on this.
Now the thing with Micro 4/3 cameras is they seem to hit their best performance when stopped down just a little bit and the best way to understand this is by testing your own lenses. I haven’t done extensive testing but with my 14-45mm lens, I tend to shoot landscapes at between f/5.6 and f/7.1 for the 14mm end of the zoom range. I have found that if I stop down to f/8 or beyond then it’s not quite as sharp.
So you know the aperture range where your lens performs best, how do you ensure there is sufficient depth of field? The answer is by selecting the correct point of focus first and then selecting the correct aperture in this range. This is probably best explained with an example.
Suppose you find a nice landscape scene and there is a lovely rock that you want to place in the foreground. You compose the shot with your camera mounted on your tripod at just below eye height and the rock is about 5 feet from where you are stood. The distance from your camera to the rock is probably going to be about 7 feet. If I consult my depth of field chart (it’s actually an app on my phone) I find that focussing on the rock with my lens set to 14mm (on the GX1) the widest aperture that allows me to achieve infinite depth of field is f/6.3 – yes you read that right. The nearest point to me that is in focus is actually only 3.4 feet away.
Taking a more extreme example lets lower our tripod and move in close to the rock so that it looms large in our viewfinder. Unfortunately the 14mm lens isn’t wide enough so we move the Olympus 9-18mm set to 10mm. This is the equivalent of a 20mm lens on a full frame camera. Having moved in close we find our point of focus on the rock is just 4 feet from the camera. Looking at my depth of field app I find that I can achieve infinite depth of field at just f/5.6 and the closest point in focus is just 1.9 feet from the camera. At this aperture my lens is going to be performing at its sharpest and resolve the maximum amount of detail. The images produced will be substantially better than if I had used a small aperture such as f/16. Just for fun I thought I would check the aperture I needed with my 5D and its f/11.
Do you think you think you have been selecting the best aperture for your work?
If you are a new visitor to this blog then you might have the impression that I am a black and white photographer – not so. What I find however is that I am producing more and more black and white work recently. The reason being is that I think the black and white images shot on my GX1 look great; better than those shot on my Canon 5D or even those shot with true black and white film (which by the way I still use). I have thought a lot about why this is and I believe it is linked to the sensors used in the Micro 4/3 range of cameras.
All cameras produce a pattern of noise in the images they produce. Colour noise looks ugly and is best removed but the luminance noise can be used to your advantage in black and white pictures. Usually you don’t notice this noise but under strong processing it starts to become more visible especially if you are looking on a screen with the image viewed at 100%. With my Canon 5D the noise pattern is very regular, quite light and to be honest looks ugly when enhanced. With the micro 4/3 cameras however this luminance noise is a little stronger and the pattern more appealing. When the images are converted to black and white the noise appears almost like the grain structure in film. The benefit of having this fine structure in your images is not to make it feel like film but to enhance areas of detail so images appear more detailed than perhaps they are. When output to paper the prints definitely have an extra snap to them.
Here then is my workflow for making the most of the micro 4/3 characteristics when producing black and white images:
Shoot in RAW. This gives you the control over how much noise is removed. If you shoot using the in-camera black and white mode you will end up with JPGs which will have had varying degrees of noise reduction applied before you start to work on them. You don’t want this.
Because you are shooting in RAW you will need to convert the image to a TIFF file. I use Lightroom to do this and I apply sufficient Colour Noise reduction to remove all the visible colour noise. With Luminance noise however I set the reduction to 0 so that nothing is removed. I also avoid converting the image to B&W until later in the workflow for reasons I will come to.
Once I have my colour TIFF image I examine it to see if I want to perform any selective luminance noise reduction. I will usually leave all the noise in areas of texture such as grass and rocks but remove noise from areas of clear blue sky. Personally I like to leave some luminance noise in white clouds as it helps me emphasise the clouds later.
I use two tools for noise reduction; Nik Define and Topaz DeNoise. The Nik product is quite subtle and has some great selection tools to control where the noise reduction is applied. The Topaz product is noise reduction on steroids. It can be extremely aggressive but it’s also brilliant. If I want to remove strong noise from the image, this is the tool.
Once I have my “clean” colour image I will convert it to Black and White using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. I do have other black and white converters but what I like about the Nik tool is that I have a “Structure” and “Fine Structure” slider. The effect of using these is that it enhances the Luminance noise so it becomes much more visible and starts to take on the appearance of grain. I should also warn you to take care with this step as once you have enhanced the noise there is no easy way back. Running noise reduction on the finished image won’t have much if any effect.
Now what I can’t show you here is the effect of this workflow on the finished print so you will have to take my word or try it for yourself. This really does enhance the print giving it that something extra, improving the perception of detail and sharpness. You can get some idea of how the screen image will look as a print by viewing your image at 50% resolution from about 12 inches away (a general rule of thumb).
If you have a micro 4/3 camera I hope this has inspired you to give my method a go and I am as always happy to answer any questions.