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.