Friday, April 25, 2008

New Gear - what fun!

Who hates getting new (secondhand) gear? Own up now!

Unfortunately for me, my wallet and wife, I cannot include myself in that group.

I, as I am sure many others, search around on all those forums FM, PassionForPixels, etc. looking at, drooling at and thinking about what peice of new gear to get.
I apologise as this certainly conflicts with an earlier blog I made about getting the newest and latest but I make my excuse as I search hard and long to get the bargins.

"OK, what brought this on" you say?
Below is my latest application for a purchase.
I remember it clearly, like it was yesterday, but it was actually earlier today :)
I have hunted down a nice copy of a Canon 135 f2L. Sweet L lens! Here is an image below (courtesy of the old owner, photoguy).

And before I knew it, I had also bought his 580EX and stofen diffuser. Oops. First thing I thought I should do is warn the other half - very important! Fortunately she had just recently received one of her all-consuming scrapbooking kits so was mild in her response (few, that was close!).

Now for the wait. I am hoping that these new toys, more than anything, will challenge me to try new things. Having two flashes will help me work towards becoming a more versatile strobist and that 135 will allow me to get beautiful bucket boqet nice back lighting stuff

The other thing that brought this about was thinking about optimising my gear, or rather rationalising the gear I have. While searching for anybodies ideas on photography with a 1D mark IIn, I came across this website. It is something that I will be looking into more and I can suggest all photographers do this. Like a spring clean, hopefully I can do it regularly (maybe delay it for the moment :)

Before I go, can I suggest you check out CanonBlogger. He has just added a cool test (found here). Find out how much of a photographer geek you are and check it out (I got 18 out of 20 after two goes - did I write that out loud?).

Anyway, I look forward to getting my parcel in the post and getting down to that rationalisation idea - at least the better half will like having more room for scrapbooking.

Cheers until next time!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

From Digital Negative to Digital Masterpiece?

At the end of the blog, I hope to show you how to turn a good image into a better one. We will start with the one below.

Pets, especially dogs, I find are great to use for shots like this. I have used a wide angle lens, which has made her nose a little larger but those beautiful eyes are a good focal point. Overall, still a bit dull but we will fix that. This shot has been breifly corrected with a one point white balance on the grey of her nose within Camera Raw. No sharpening but minor increase in the exposure. That is the great thing about Camera Raw - really easy to make these changes without detrimental impact on the image file itself. Right - next step: Curves.

With this image, we get all of the points in curves to ensure accurate white balance. In the curves dialogue, use the black selector and pick a black point (I have used under her left ear). Then do the same with the white. If you are having trouble know where is a good black/white point, use the ALT (OPTION on Mac) key and drag the black/white pointer and you will see where the blackest/whitest points are.

Now the grey point is a bit harder to get. If you have a 18% grey card/cloth, it makes it heaps easier. There is another method that I have borrowed from Scott Kelby's book but, to avoid making this blog too long, I will mention it next blog.

Finally, before getting out of the Curves dialogue box, tweak the curve to make a nice S shape to get good contrast. Obviously need to suit the image. Remember, there is no perfect "formulae". I would consider optimising images is more like a recipe - the best cooks know how far they can deviate from the recipe to make it that much better. And don't look at me, I am no chef yet.

For the image above, I have added an adjustment layer for Levels. By adding a layer mask I have been able to just push up the brightness on the eyes and white parts of the nose only. Adjusted using the opacity of the layer.

Finally, we want to get the nice dark edges (particularly good for portraits). There are two ways I know how to do this.

1. Duplicate the background layer and change the blending mode to multiply. Using the rectangular marquee tool, select the whole image. Use Select>Modify>Contract to reduce that by 200 pixels or so (depending on image size). Then use Select>Refine Edge: Radius 1.0, Smooth 3.0, Feather 200 to get the area that will be lighter. Select OK. Ensure that you have the duplicate background layer selected and press Backspace.

2. The other option is to use vignetting. Not as flexible as above but is a fast alternative.

To give you a side by side, here is a cropped version.

So there you have it, a nice way to spruce up the original image. It won't fix every image but may just give some of the better ones enough punch to make them the best few.

Hope you have a great week in the fray!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Bring on the pictures

Finally some more pictures!

Thought I would upload an image I have been working on. I have used HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging. In "english" that means I have taken the best exposures of the same scene and put them together. Some HDR images have 3 or more different exposures, this one only has two. One for the light streaming through on the far side of Kermit's Pool (I think) and the other exposure for everything else.

HDR are really useful in these kind of places or where there is extreme shadow and bright light to capture all of the range (hence high dynamic range). It basicly requires using a program to combine the images and screen out the appropriate areas of brightness/darkness. I have just used a Layer Mask in photoshop to do this.

Anyway, here are the originals:

And the finished product:

I find understanding a little about what you can accomplish in Photoshop allows me to prepare photos as much as possible. This is one example where a VERY sturdy tripod came in handy. Hope you have a great week and get out there and give HDR a go.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Pictures are back!

Looked at the last couple of blogs and thought - there are no pictures.

I know my 1 year old would not be interested! No siree!

So here are a couple. I have been trying to work on my flash and lighting skills so make some comments/suggestions/abuse and I will hopefully be able to improve. Either way, I learn - have you been able to take some photos today?