Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Observations and 2012 Resolutions

2011 is over at midnight tonight.   It's gone - except for a few moments that I've preserved as photographs.  I looked at a metadata summery of my 2011 images in Lightroom today.  This is what I saw:
1.       I took photographs that ended up in Lightroom on 100 different days.
2.       I took nearly 12,000 images that ended up in Lightroom.
3.       I used my full format 5D Mark II for 1/2 of my photos.
4.       The 24-105 was my most used lens - followed by the 24-70mm.  When I use either zoom, the majority of my shots are at the maximum and minimum zoom.
5.       24mm was my favorite focal length.
6.       My favorite shutter speed was 1/90th of a second, followed by 125th and 180th.
7.       My favorite aperture was f4 followed closely by f2.8.
8.       I used flash 1/3 of the time.
9.       I used ISO 400 the most, followed by ISO 200 and ISO 100.
10.   I shot everything in RAW.

The metadata shows some habits I wasn't aware of.  Since its New Years Eve, I did a little analysis of my 10 observations to see if I need some New Year's resolutions.

1.       My cameras were unused most days.  I need to get out more.
2.       12,000 images seems high.  I may need to cull my images better so that my Lightroom collection is of a higher quality.
3.       The two main reasons that I like the 5d Mark II is weight and full format. 
4.       These lens show up as my favorites for two reasons.  First, I try to keep the 24-105 or 24-70 on my camera as the default lens.  Second, I use these lens to photograph people and fast moving event where I need a variety of focal lengths.  I tend to shoot more uniquely different images at these events, so a smaller percentage of shots are culled.
5.       I'm surprised that 24mm is my favorite focal length.
6.       My favorite shutter speeds are within the range that will sync with my flash.  One of the reasons that I was so disappointed with Canon's new 2012 1DX camera is that it has a lowered flash sync speed - the opposite of what I wanted.
7.       I need to be more conscious of aperture in 2012.  If possible, I should shoot 1/2 stop higher than the maximum aperture of my lens.
8.       I think that my use of flash is increasing.  I plan to put some emphasis on improving those skills in 2012.
9.       Based on tests I recently conducted, I will use ISO 160, 320 and 640 more in 2012.
10.   I intend to keep shooting in RAW instead of JPEG.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Seven Levels of Nature Photography

  1.  I saw a moose but by the time I got my camera out of the case, the moose was gone. 
  2. I photographed a moose.  It's that little grainy dark thing in the center of the photo.       
  3.  I photographed a moose.  Look, you can even see its eyes.
  4. I photographed a moose.  You can see its eyes and it's in an interesting location.
  5. I photographed a moose.  You can see its eyes and it's in an interesting location.  Notice the perfect fur coat and rack it has at this time of year. 
  6.   I photographed  a moose with a perfect fur coat and rack.  It's in an interesting location and it's doing something interesting.
  7. This is the best moose photo I have ever taken.  It's a magnificent specimen in an outstanding location.  It's head to head fighting with another male.  The light is spectacular.
Level 7 is difficult to achieve.  Of course, any amateur may occasionally get lucky and take a level 7 photograph.  The experienced photographer  plans ahead and places himself in a location that has moose, during the best season and at the right time of day.  He recognizes the components of the perfect shot as they begin to appear and captures the moment of maximum impact. 

Later, he is asked how he happened to take the prize winning photo.  "It was dumb luck", he says.  I researched the best time and place to photograph moose.  I got up before the crack of dawn and was in  position before the sun came up.  The setting was spectacular and you can see how beautiful the sunrise was. Wouldn't you know it, the moose never  showed up but I got so involved photographing this mother fox teaching her kit to hunt  that I hardly noticed.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I Broke the Camera

Plenty of people have warned me that I would break my camera if I photograph them.  It has never been a problem until today.  My new soft box and remote camera trigger arrived yesterday.  I decided to try them out on myself. 

I chose my office as a location since I spend more time behind a keyboard than behind a camera.    I wanted an environmental portrait instead of just a head and shoulders.

 My Remington sculpture presented a compositional challenge.  I wanted to keep it in focus along with myself.   I wanted the of the viewer to follow it from left to right until it reached my face.  One of the two lights I used is on the sculpture.  I'm lit with a second flash using the soft box.  I had plenty of ambient light coming from the window on the left.  The window light became the fill and the soft box is the main.

I had a few problems with the remote camera trigger.  If the camera was inactive for a while, the trigger didn't work. I'll have to do some research.  The soft box worked fine until I folded it up to put it away.  The metal interior fell apart and cannot be repaired.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Image Noise and ISO Increases Are Not Completely Linear

I have always assumed that the relationship between ISO increases and Noise is linear.  I seldom use the 1/3 f-stop setting on my camera - I just don't have a reason to fine tune down to the 1/3 of a stop.

I spent some time tonight testing the noise levels on my 1D Mark IV and found that noise is linear with an interesting exception.  In the lower ISO range, the noise at 1/3 stop above the normal stop has much more noise.  The noise at the 1/3 stop below the normal stop  has less noise than the normal stop.

The chart below is arranged with blocks in the following order:
10000  12800

The noise in the blocks is highly amplified so that the visual relationships are more apparent.

As a result of this test, I intend to use ISO 160 and 320 more often.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Second Look at Image Sharpness

Yesterday I discussed a test I made to compare image sharpness when using various tripod mounted techniques. I compared 60 images and ranked them by sharpness.  While some were clearly sharper than others, the process became very difficult with many of the images.  But after a couple of hours comparing photos, I knew the best and worst of the five techniques.

This morning, I cleaned up my directories and consolidated the test images.  I usually shoot in RAW so these JPEG files I made for the test were smaller than normal.  Out of curiosity, I sorted the images by size.  To my surprise the five biggest files corresponded to the 5 images I had ranked as sharpest.  The bottom 5 images were also the at the bottom of my list.  In less than a second, Windows 7 had ranked all 60 files by sharpness.

Sorting by size will not normally rank the images by sharpness.  These images were different.  They were all of exactly the same subject and cropped the same.  Shutter speed and aperture were adjusted so every image received the same exposure.  All the images were ISO 100. When the JPEG compression occurred the image should all have been the same size. The reason that they weren't is because the extra detail in the sharpest images could not be compressed as much.  More detail equals larger files.

I Discover That I've Acquired a Bad Habit

I don't have any excuse for not using a tripod.  I knew I should use a tripod. I intended to use a tripod.  I could have sworn that I would use a tripod.  I have a good tripod.  I didn't use a  tripod and my photos still turned out sharp.  As a result, I'm even less likely to use the tripod the next time.

On the internet, anyone can claim to be a genius.  I came across a guy who swears that there are certain shutter speeds that decrease image sharpness even when the camera is mounted on a tripod.  Apparently harmonic vibration varies from camera to camera.  I've observed blurry images taken with a tripod mounted camera. I took the same photo 60 times yesterday in an attempt to see what shutter speed would blur my tripod mounted images.

I wasn't sure how to induce harmonic vibrations, so I tested 5 different methods.  I put the camera on aperture priority and tested each method with shutter speeds that varied from 1/4 second to 4 seconds.  My aperture varied from f2.8 to f11.  With the camera mounted on a tripod, I took the first series using my index finger on the shutter button.  I followed this with a five shot series that had a 2 second delay and another series with a 10 second delay.  I took a series of 5 using a cable release and anther series using a cable release while in LiveView mode.

My 5D Mark II was mounted on a level tripod.  I focused once while in Live View and turned the autofocus off.  I shot at ISO 100 to keep the noise down.  I wanted the only variables in the test to be the shutter speed and aperture.  I normally shoot raw but I did this test in the highest quality JPEG .

I compared the 5 shots taken at each aperture and ranked them one to five.  I loaded five images  as stacks in a single aligned image in Photoshop.  I set my view at 300% and compared the images by clicking layers on and off.  I moved the sharpest images to the top of the stack.  There were images that had nearly identical sharpness but each group had a shot that was clearly the best and the worst of the group.

When I had completed analysis of each group,  I added the numbers for each image by shooting method.  I found that pressing the shutter of a tripod mounted camera with my was clearly a bad idea. (#5)  The best method was using a cable release and Live View (#1), followed by the cable release alone (#2).  The 10 second delay(#3) was followed by the two second delay (#4)

I followed up this test with a second test that used the same methods with IS on.  The results were exactly the same.  I did notice that the longer shutter speeds were somewhat sharper than the slower shutter speeds.  The cable release and Live View were clearly the best.

My best results with and without IS were so good that I nearly failed to compare them.  To my surprise, the five best non-IS images were clearly superior to the best five IS images.

My tests did not find any evidence of harmonic vibrations at certain shutter speeds.  They did show me that I could achieve better results using a tripod than not.  The biggest change that  I will make will be to start using Live View coupled with a cable release when practical.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

ShootsnLeaves Vernazza - October 2011

The three days and nights spent in Vernazza was the high point of my trip to Italy.  This is my favorite photo of the Cinque Terre region.

On the third day of the trip we visited Pompeii and saw how nature completely destroyed a town.  Pompeii was completely buried by volcanic ash and forgotten for hundreds of years.   As we walked through the streets, it was possible to visualize life in the city two thousand years earlier.

We didn't need to use our imagination in Vernazza.  What a conrast to Pompeii!  It is in one of the most remote regions of Italy and doesn't permit most automobile traffic.  It is built on the side of a mountain overlooking the Mediterranean sea.  The people were very friendly.  We ate several great meals in the outdoor restaurant in the bottom right of the photo.  As much as I hated to leave we had to return home the morning after I shot this photo.

Ten days later, Vernazza experienced the full force of nature. The town was hit was a massive flash flood.  The entire bottom portion of the town was buried in mud and rock a story deep.  Every store and restaurant we had visited was completely destroyed.  The entire village had to be evacuated.

I'm sure the people of Vernazza will rebuild and reopen the village.  I'm concerned that some of the village's beauty and charm will be lost in the process.  I may ShootnLeave but this photograph will allow me to ShootnRemember the Vernazza that was.

Squaw Creek - No Eagles Today


I travel to Squaw Creek each fall to photograph Bald Eagles.  The window of opportunity is tied with the arrival and departure of the Snow Geese. The geese don't arrive until it is colder in the north.   As the number of geese increases, juvenile eagles begin to arrive.  The eagle population peaks shortly after the peak of the goose population.  When Squaw Creek freezes over, the geese leave.  The eagles remain until they can no longer find a dead goose to eat.  The Friends of Squaw Creek web site contains a weekly estimate of the number of eagles and Geese.  The most recent count was 227,000 Snow Geese and 57 eagles.

The water at Squaw Creek is extremely shallow.  It can freeze over night if conditions are right.  Yesterday it was 60% frozen.  The water wasn't as deep this year, so the birds were further off. Unlike most visits, I was able to get in as soon as I arrived.  The geese flew off before Sunrise but should be back by evening.  The weather is still too mild to kill geese, so the eagles had to look elsewhere for food.

I photographed geese leaving.  I didn't get close enough with my super-telephotos to photograph an eagle.  The most exciting shot of the day was a single young Tundra Swan that had a companion Mallard.  The orange light from the  rising sun completely saturated the Mallard's orange legs. I also photographed some sparrows back-lit in some weeds.  I was totally frustrated by a handsome buck deer.  My Canon 1D Mark IV would not cooperate with a center focus in the trees so I didn't get a photo.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Digital Asset Management - Moving Images from Camera to PC

The most critical time in digital asset management occurs immediately after the photo is taken.  The camera transfers it from its internal memory to my compact flash card.  If anything interrupts the transfer the image can be corrupted and lost.  

I format the card at the time I get my equipment ready.  I want the camera I'm using to prepare the card.  If the card formats, I have additional assurance that the card is working properly.

I carry my extra cards in container that holds four and has a hard plastic shell.  Formatted cards are placed with the Logo on top.  As I switch cards, the used cards are placed with the logo down.  

Compact flash cards are very sturdy.  I've heard of cases where they were laundered and dried and still worked.  Their biggest vulnerability is the double row of little holes the bottom edge.  These holes need to mate with a matching set of little wires in the camera.  If you are careless and get a piece of dirt in  one of these holes, you can bend the wire as the card is inserted.  None of your cards will work then until the camera is repaired.  This is why I'm careful to use a case that provides protection and keeps the cards clean.

Have you noticed that your camera doesn't know precisely how may photos remain.  This is because the space a image uses varies.  I seldom delete a photo in the camera. When you delete you free up space for another image.  When the camera tries to put a new image in the space, it often has to put parts of the picture in more than one place.  It handles this task very well but the chances for failure have increased and it takes a little longer to read and write the image.

My Canon cameras can store images in a second directory when certain numbers are reached.  If you use a manual download process, it is easy not to notice a few photos in a second directory.  You may even reuse the card without realizing images are missing.

I use Downloader Pro for my downloads. It removes human error.  It finds all the images.  It renames the photos. It builds a folder and places the images into it.  If I have a .gpx file, it uses it to add GPS information to each photo.  I can even set it up to build a duplicate set of images on a second drive.   I have to admit that I thought this program would be a waste of money before I bought it.  It wasn't.  I'm often pretty tired when I download and Downloader Pro takes human error out of the process.

 I realize that Lightroom has similar functionality.  The problem with using Lightroom is that my images end up in Lightroom.  I want to some sorting and culling before this happens.  I'm used to being able to do this rapidly.  Lightroom does many things well, but if I put a thousand images in, it takes a long time to remove the 900 that I want taken out. 

If you ever have problem downloading images, I've found that the problem is usually in the card reader or the wire that attaches to the PC.  If you can see the image in the camera you have some assurance that the image is actually there.  Try a different reader and even another PC.  If you can't see the image in the camera you have a bigger problem.  Verify that you are looking at the correct card.  It's possible that the camera malfunctioned and never saved the images.  If you, you are out of luck  If the images are on the card, you can download some good software that will attempt to recover the images.  You can usually verify that it will recover your images before you pay for it.  This software also works if you accidently format a card before the images are downloaded.

When my images are downloaded, I leave them on the card until I have two copies of the most important images.  The card is my backup until then.

Finally, what size card do you need. I usually buy the second largest card made.  The biggest card is more expensive.  Some photographers only use smaller card so they don't put too many eggs in one basket. If I'm too concerned about the single basket, I'll use a camera that has a second slot.  Most of the things that cause a card to fail happen when cards are changed.  You can drop the card, lose it or have it stolen.  You can remove the card while the camera is still writing.  You can miss something important when you make the change.  Small cards slow down when they are nearly full. When all is said and done, I think that I have less risk with the larger card.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What Am I Looking At?

Fontenelle Forest has a useful tool for you called   Nature Search.  It is an internet site that shows every living thing that has been identified and photographed in Fontenelle Forest.  It allows a hiker to use their iPhone to look up and identify everything they see in the forest.

 I like it because it doesn't contain life that hasn't been seen in Fontenelle Forest.  You don't have to search through page after page of similar plants and birds.    Nature Search is also useful in most other places in the MidWest region of the United States. 

I have contributed many photos to Nature Search.  There are still many birds and insects that need to be photographed and added.  You can contribute any thing new that you find.

Nature Search is is found at:  Nature Search

Winter Wildlife

White Breasted Nuthatch


My Digital Asset Management- The DAM PC

Three regions of the DAM PC are used for different aspects of image management?

1.       The first area is used for the downloading, naming, and storing Raw image files.  This area preserves the time, gas and money invested in making the images and initial quality control.  It contains about 90% of the original images.  I name this location SRAW because it contains Raw images stored sequentially.

2.       The second area is used for the cataloging, key wording and enhancement of Raw image files.  Ths area preserves the decisions made in image selection and enhancement.  Unlike the SRAW area, this area only retains quality images that are unique in the context of my entire body of work.   Less than 10% of original images end up here and they may still be reevaluated and deleted later.  I name this area ALLPIX.

3.       The third area is used to turn Raw image files into a product.  It stores copies of Raw image files that are enhanced , refined and enhanced with a specific purpose in mind.  HDR images are assembled here.  Panoramas are merged here.  Photo books are assembled here.  Time lapse video is generated here.  JPEGs are loaded to the internet from here.  I call this location PROJECT

On my PC these locations are on separate hard drives.  Images are never moved from one location to another - they are only copied.   I don't want to ever accidently delete the only copy I have of an important image.

A single raw file can reside in all three locations.  If I lose the ALLPIX drive, I still have every image on the SRAW drive.  If I lose the SRAW drive, I still have the most valuable images on the ALLPIX drive.  If I lose the PROJECT drive,  I still have the raw images on the SRAW drive.   

This redundancy is a form of backup but it is no substitute for actual backup of each drive.  My backup strategy will be discussed in another blog entry.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Digital Asset Management - DAM Filenames

DAM Film
When I used film, I never had two identical negatives with the same name.  I stored the negatives grouped by the roll and by the session.  I put a date and title on the outside envelope and stuck them in a box.  When the box was full, I got another box.  I haven't looked at them for at least 10 years.  I have thousands of negatives in boxes.  I have stacks of negatives.
The problem with boxes of negatives was that you had to depend on memory to find specific images.  Contact sheets were good in theory, I have even more negatives that were never printed.    I had prints made of many negatives.  All of these prints are in other groups of boxes.  I have stacks of prints.
When I purchased my first PC - an Apple II+ - I created a database of negatives.  It included descriptions and the location of negatives.  This system worked as long as every negative was filed properly.  If a negative was misfiled it was nearly impossible to locate.

My first digital images were JPEGs.  They were numbered in the camera.  I put them in digital folders.  The PC showed thumbnails.  I thought this was the perfect solution until the numbers started to repeat.  Image 928.jpg was easy to find.  Three different Image 928.jpgs were a problem. 
When I used image processing software, I ended up with more Image 928s.  I changed some to Tiff, I made versions of various sizes and quality.  I could end up with dozens of Image 928.
My Inner Hoarder was another problem.  I made backups of images and stored them in other locations.  I couldn't  discard an image until I verified that it was saved somewhere else.  I had a bigger problem than ever.  An image could be stored in multiple places, with multiple names and other images could have the very same name.

DAM Names
I needed file name to be unique to an image.
I needed to be able to change a  renamed file back to the original name.
I needed to keep files in the correct sequence.
The DAM names that I use now work pretty well.  With few exceptions, I shoot everything in RAW.  This means that any JPEGs on my system are copies - not originals and can be discarded if needed.
I let the files name themselves using information that is internal.  The name begins with YYMMDD.  The date is followed by the time in a HHMMSS format.  I have multiple cameras.  As long as the cameras are all set to the correct time, these names will sort themselves into the correct sequence in a directory.

DAM Problems
This system worked at first but a problem developed when I purchased a camera that could take multiple shots in a second.  I needed to assign a sequence to these - like 110604_082333_01.CR2  If the file was ever renamed, I could rebuild the name up to the sequence but I could not automatically determine if it was the second or third shot within a single second.
A second problem was that the names were not friendly.   110604_082333_01.CR2 wasn't a name that people wanted to use when asking for a copy of a photo.

DAM Solutions
I ended up making a compromise.    I used the sequential number given by the camera in the file name.  IMG_0928 was renamed to 110604_082333_0928.CR2.  If someone wanted a print of the images I took on June 4 2011, they could ask for the last 4 digits (0928).  Even if I used multiple cameras, the numbers are not likely to overlap.
I store my images in folders in year month and date order.  110604_082333_0928.CR2 in the 110604 folder.  That folder in the 06-June folder.  The 06-June folder is in the 2011 folder.  This is a consistent and repeatable way to name images and a consistent way to store them. 
The end result is similar to my 2002 negative filing system - all the images are stored in sequential order.  I had trouble finding anything in my negative files but it works for digital.  The reason is LIGHTROOM.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

11/11/11 A Special Walk in the Woods

When you haven't seen an old friend for months, you may be shocked to see how much they have changed.  I've photographed Fontenelle Forest hundreds of times.  Today I visited without my camera.  I was shocked to see how my old friend has aged.

My favorite places to photograph had been under water and off-limits  for over 6 months.  The water is now gone and work has begun to rebuild the trails.

Some animals have returned.  I saw raccoon and deer tracks in the mud.  I saw a couple of birds but the plants that would normally have provided their food were killed by the flood. The ground is littered with fallen trees.   I don't know how many of the standing trees are still alive. The smaller forest and marsh land plants are gone - mud is everywhere.

Fall is nearly over and the winter will be severe.  Any plants and animals that survived the flooding will be tested by the worst weather that Nebraska is capable of sending their way.

Today was especially symbolic because it is Veterans Day and soon will be the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  A navy without battleships was unthinkable.  A forest without trees and plants is heartbreaking.  When you look over the devastation, you remember what was and it is hard to visualize a happy future.  

I love to photograph this area because it is a transition between wetlands and forest.  It is an area that has experienced change before.  It was visited by Lewis and Clark.  It was home to the first trading post in Nebraska.  It was on the route of Mormons traveling west.   I will have my camera the next time I visit.  It will be exciting to record the return of plant and animal life.

Has My Photography Improved After Ten Years of Digital?

  1. Digital has raised the bar - I'm no longer as good as I thought I was.  Most of my pre-digital images would be mediocre today.  I expect more from myself and my equipment. 
  2.  Digital has changed my peer group.  I have world wide access to the best photographers and their ideas.  I can share knowledge, research locations  and learn new techniques without leaving my house. 
  3. Digital has redistributed my costs.  They used to claim that film was the cheapest photography purchase.   It  wasn't true than, but it is now.  I spend much more on equipment and much less on individual sessions.
  4.  Digital has redistributed my time.  Post Processing now takes a significant amount of time. I spend more time processing than I do shooting.  The results are better than anything I was able to accomplish in the darkroom. 
  5.  Digital has improved my exposures.  Under and over exposure was a challenge in the pre-digital world.  It was possible to ruin an entire days work with a simple exposure problem and not find out about it until it was processed.  Today I can use the histogram, blinkies, and the on camera screen to verify exposures in real time.
  6.   Digital has opened up the night.  I can change ISO to take shots that were impossible before.  In addition,  auto focus, image stabilization  and fast lenses are now available.
  7.  Digital has built-in documentation that allows me to remember ISO, shutter speed, aperture, time of day and even location.
  8.  Digital has expanded my photographic horizons with multiple image techniques.  I can make panoramas.  I can increase the dynamic range.  I can create time lapse video.
  9.  Digital has decimated the percentage of shots I actually use.  I may take  240 images today on a job that I could have put on a 24 exposure roll in the film days.  But, the spectacular shot that I would have had on film may  now be surrounded by several shots with subtle but improved differences.   
  10.  Digital has allowed me to share my memories with my family and friends.  I have over 30,000 images online.  I have created slide shows set to music and published dozens of photo  books.