Since I live and work in Panama City, Panama, I’m very often asked for advice on how to insure getting better travel shots.
1. Make a list of all the subjects to shoot that make up a well-rounded travel story. You will soon see that, although these pictures are obviously “from another land” if you’re not Panamanian, studying this list and the photographs will tell you lots about why you need to prepare thoroughly if you’re going to get the most out of your trip.:
a. Get a travel guide or (much more portable) a picture map for the area(s) you’re going to see. They’ll let you know what you shouldn’t be missing and they’ll be even more helpful after you’ve shot a beautiful image, but don’t know what it is
b. Close-up, Medium, Long Shot of each important venue.
c. Different times of the day can make or break a picture. Check the lighting on the same subject at Dawn, Morning, Late Afternoon, Sunset, and Night. One of these is going to be much more “flattering” to a given subject than the others.
d. Landmarks… There are always certain buildings and structures that are “symbols” of the location you’re visiting, e.g. the Golden Gate Bridge, the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
e. Street characters. You’re least obtrusive camera is usually best because it’s less “intimidating.” Also, getting closer makes us feel more intimate with the subject. Make friends first, tell the subject what you’re up to, and ask permission. If you have any hopes of selling the photo for anything other than editorial purposes, you’ll need a model release, so always have them with you.
f.Kids and pets. Everybody loves them and the more exotic they are, the more fascinating. They also sell very well…but you really need a model release, signed by the parents. In lots of places, a dollar bribe will get you exactly what you want.
g. Signs and Posters and other things that tell you where you were. It’s the easiest way to take notes. Be sure to put that location into the keywords for everything you shot in that locale.
h. Food…especially if it’s typical of the culture or is especially interesting for it’s content and presentation.
i. Street vendors and other “typical citizens”.
j. Store Windows…especially if they are stores that sell cultural art or goods that aren’t typically popular in other locations. This is the window of the Mini-Super that is also my landlord.
k. Costumes. Almost every culture has a costume that you’re unlikely to see anywhere else. Here in Panama, there’s Carnival (2nd largest in the World), the bollera, the Kuna Indian bridal dress. But nearly every place has its “unique outfit”.
l. Performances…especially of the cultural and bohemian music and traditional theater.
m. Street art tells us a lot about an area’s subculture and “bohemian” aspects.
n. Markets. Such as local flea, food, and art markets. This is the Casco Viejo Mercado de Pulgadas (flea market) that happens in the Central Plaza bi-weekly.
o. Events: Parades, Festivities, Celebrations, protests. Sorry, I haven’t been to a Mardi Gras parade yet.
p. Textures, such as the way paint peels off of concrete in certain areas, the bark of exotic trees, the bricks in an ancient street. These can also make excellent backgrounds.
q. Details: Hands and feet, nail polish, tattoos, bugs, jewelry, hairdos, tire tracks. It’s often the details that tell us the most about any photographic assignment, but this is especially true when it comes to travel. It can be the details that make us feel intimate with the subject.
r. Skies. They’re the perfect fix for a flat, white, boring sky. Even if the sky is “okay”, substituting a stunning sky can really “make the picture sing.” You might be asking if I composited the bird into the sky. No, but that is another thing that skies are really good at. And you can always re-size, use curves to increase or decrease contrast, and change the color balance.
s. Shopping Centers: These could be malls, groups of village stores, galleries, and coffee houses.
t.Vehicles and Trasportation: With the World getting smaller by second since the Web lets us all communicate without much in the way of censorship. So little-by-little, the look and feel of transportation gets different. But still, Panama City has Diablo Rojo (Red Devil) buses for another year or two, the States have the Hell’s Angels, much of the Orient have rickshaws
u. Landscapes: Including, of course, cityscapes. From the top of Ancon, you can have it both ways.
v. Nature Details: Making use of natural beauty is one of the most appealing and “collectible” aspects of great travel destinations…even New York City. If you don’t believe it, go to Central Park.
w. Women and fashion. Try to get the fashions and look of the culture your in. Of course, no one photo is going to capture all of that.
x. Sports. Pick the things that are typical of the country and neighborhood. If at all possible, get right in on the sidelines and use a long lens to get yourself in even closer.
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We have all been so “caught up in Photoshop” as the industry-accepted software for serious photographers to the extent that we have come to feel that we “can’t live without it.”
But Lightroom, in it’s latest incarnations, and given the plug-ins that work with it now, can do 90% of the work you need to do in a better and more integrated way. Here’s the “before and after” of a “well-exposed” image after processing it in Lightroom for less than three minutes:
Let me say right now that Photoshop can do certain things that are very important and that we need its power to do those things: Stitched Panomamas, merged series of HDR images, super-picky retouching of the type required for glamour portraiture, product, and food photography, converting a photo to a photopainting, combining vectorgraphics with photos, and 3D manipulation of photos. Lightroom doesn’t have Layers or Layer Blend Modes (but the upcoming Perfect Layers plugin from OnOne…the immediately previous subject of this blog, does and OnOne just announced an update to their Perfect Suite that includes Perfect Layers).
Lightroom can’t change the shape of objects precisely using the Liquify filter or make composite photos. Only Photoshop can warp and distort images or portions thereof with Freeform Transformations, Puppet Warp, the Liquify filter. All that’s a lot. Strictly speaking, you also can’t process HDR in Lightroom, but you can use plug-ins for HDR PhotoStudio, Photomatix Pro, HDR Expose, and HDR Express from within Lightroom and most will do either merged HDR or tonemapping to give a wider dynamic range to the photo. You . see the file in Lightroom’s catalog as soon as it’s done. Here’s the “before and after” of an image tonemapped in HDR Express Pro:
But virtually all of the things that Photoshop can do are what you need to do to a photograph after you’ve narrowed your entire selection down to a chosen few or when you have to combine photographs for which you’ve already done the basic processing and gotten client approval (including those times when you’re the client) for. On top of that, only a “chosen few” of us will ever bother to do those things at all, or…if they need to be done, will send the photo to an expert who specializes in doing that sort of thing.
When you stop to think about it, all of the above operations are things that get done to the photographs after the client has seen them and, on top of that, they are probably done to less than 20% of the photographs that are finally chosen. Lightroom, on the other hand, does two very important things in your workflow that Photoshop doesn’t do at all: Catalogue and manage your images and make it possible to automatically present them to a client as either a contact sheet or slideshow.
Furthermore, these days there’s another very good reason to put Photoshop second: If you only rarely need Photoshop (or any of the other advanced Adobe apps), you can rent them for as long as you need them and that makes it easy to “swap in an out” of all the applications. A “full on” version of Photoshop costs $699, but you can rent it for $49 a month. (I think that’s a brilliant move on Adobe’s part, too, because there are thousands of times when someone who rarely needs the program will need to use it for a while. And if it gets to the point where you would have to pay more to rent it, there’s nothing to stop you from buying it. Meanwhile, with Lightroom coming first, you’re doing your most essential work more efficiently and making more money, so it’s more likely that you’ll be able to buy it. In today’s economy, all that stuff is important!
The Lightroom Catalog lets you keep track of every image you’ve ever taken, records all the camera’s shooting information with each image, let’s you add keywords, titles, captions that will let you find any of your 20,000,000 images or so in a second and, at a click of the mouse, shows you side-by-side comparisons between two frames or to view the image at 100% magnification so that you can perfectly judge grain, motion blur, and focus before deciding whether to keep the image or not. You can even use stars, frame colors, and “pick” designations to decide what to keep and what to throw away (anything at all that you’ll never use or for anyone else to see…a great photographer knows what to throw away). Here’s the Main Catalog window showing some of the thumbnails from one of the shoot. You see that they’re much higher quality than Camera Raw thumbs and by dragging a little slider, you can make them all any size you want:
On top of that, Lightroom does a much more intuitive and highly “automatable” job of making the original frame show what you want to show with maximum dynamic range, perfect color balance, and any number of pre-set styles that can be achieved with the click of a button. And it always does all of this without ever “wrecking” the original image. You always have the option to go right back where you started from. Now it’s true that you can do exactly the same thing in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements if you do it in Camera Raw—except that Camera Raw won’t process TIFF, JPEG, PSD or other non-RAW files non-destructively, while Lightroom will.
The process of processing is super-intuitive, too: You use sliders that immediately preview the results in the selected image(s) as you drag the sliders. You can also correct the overall tonal range by simply dragging a portion of the histogram that’s shown at the top of the sliders. You can even use the same techniques to sharpen and remove noise, do split-toning, correct lens aberrations, and correct perspective as though your camera had a tilt/shift multi-hundred-dollar lens (or two). Then, on top of that, there are really fast tools that let you adjust the exposure, brightness, contrast, saturation, clarity, and sharpness of whatever you “brush” over with a brush of the size and edge softness that you choose for any particular region of the photography. The major difference is that you do it in a much more “readable” interface that gives you a much better idea of picture quality. Lightroom does all this in its Develop Module, shown below:
There are various ways to apply all these adjustments at once to any number of the thumbnails you’ve pre-selected for that purpose, too. Talk about saving time. Think of a portrait assignment, where you have to shoot 40-50 “snaps” of the same person doing nothing more than changing look and expression. You can process every one of those shots perfectly, all at once. You can also reset any of those shots back to the original, should you happen to want to process it differently.
The next thing that happens is that you have to show others (e.g. clients and art directors) the immediate results of what you’ve done so that they have time to fire you and hire someone else unless your photos exceed their expectations (sounds cruel, but that’s pretty much “the real world”. Lightroom not only gives you the processing control, but the ability to instantly “show and impress” with its other three modules: Slideshow, Print, and Web.
A slideshow is a great way to show the client your “picks”, either on a computer screen or attached to an email. You can even add a soundtrack to dramatize it. There are lots of more versatile ways to make a slideshow, but these are saved as either PDFs or Video. The PDFs will usually open as a PDF document and the advantage is that people can just click back and forth between the images. A movie plays without a pause and shows all the timing and dissolves and synchs the soundtrack. You can set up a template that identifies you, shows your copyright, and places the name of each file under the image. I find this last thing a great help because then the viewer can tell you exactly which image is being asked for or commented on. Here’s the way the screen looks:
Putting together a slideshow is really pretty automatic once you’ve read the instructions and set yourself up a template. Then all you have to do is, in the Library Module, select all the images you want to use in the Slideshow. That could be a Collection, which is thumbnails you’ve dragged into a title, or they could just be the highlighted thumbnails in the catalog folder for a given shoot. Then go to the Slide show module, pick your template and choose All Filmstrip Photos or All Selected photos. Click Preview to run the slideshow and set the timing. Then choose Export PDF or Export Video and send or show the result to your client. It rarely takes me more than 5 minutes to put even a fairly complex slide show together.
If you want to go over the images with the client in person, but not on the computer, you can either make printed Contact Sheets or do quick “layouts” of related series of images. To print contact sheets, I use the Page Grid sliders to make the images larger than in the pre-sets and have the program print the filename under each image.
You can have as many rows and columns as you like. You can also make “Picture Packages” that are great for showing a series of images from the shoot as they “tell a story” when published. For those, I usually print both the Title and the serial number under each.
The final module, and one which could be especially interesting if I had a site to put the pages in is the Web module. There all all sorts of templates…and you can download even more from the Internet for free. It takes only minutes to put together a web album, with the images titled and identified, complete with a thumbnail index and larger frame sizes. You can simply FTP it to your site and email anyone who might be interested to have a look at it and make their picks.
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Now you can do most everything you can do with Layers in Photoshop in Photoshop Lightroom. For a lot of people, that may make it practical for Lightroom to be their only image processing software because this program makes it possible to do special effects, film styles, HDR (of a sort, which I’ll explain and describe further on) and other practical things…right inside of Lightroom. You can even make the layers from virtual copies of the same image, and each of those virtual copies can be adjusted using any of Lightroom’s Develop Module features.
The big news about Perfect Layers is that the program gives many photographers one more excuse to do all their processing in Lightroom…at least, before previewing a shoot to a client. Potentially, it can save money and “turnaround” time.
To open Perfect Layers in Lightroom, just choose the images you want to put on separate layers…or choose one image if you’re going to copy it to several layers for different blending effects…then choose File > Plug-in Extras > Perfect Layers. A video tutorial window opens, but you can tell the program not to open it, once you know what to do well enough that it just gets in the way. Here’s what the resulting interface looks like when I’ve loaded the two files that appear in the finished result you see in the illustration following this one:
Perfect Layers is most newsworthy because it makes it possible, during the higher-speed and more intuitive Lightroom workflow, to take advantage of much of what you can do in Photoshop with layers for creating blended, composited, or higher dynamic range photos.
The photo below was made by putting a sky from one Lightroom Catalog folder and a foreground image from another folder (by clicking B in each image to put them both into the same Quick Collection), then going to the Quick Collection, selecting them both, and opening them in Perfect Layers. The photograph is of the new Costa Cintura Theater bordering Panama City’s Casco Viejo (the “old quarter” where I live and work these days), taken on the day before the park opened to the public because I wanted it “finished but unpopulated”. Wouldn’t you know, that was a day when the sky was just one big, flat, white cloud.
So to get the end result I wanted, a sky layer from a different photo was placed on top, then erased using Perfect Layer’s Paint In/Out button with a highly feathered brush, to reveal the park scene. The good news was, there was lots of visible detail in the park itself because there were no harsh shadows to “fix”.
If you shoot group photos, you can get the perfect expression on every face by keeping the group together and taking a shot each time you get a different person’s direct attention. Then just erase all the parts of each layer that don’t contain the face you want that layer to show.
You can simulate HDR photography by creating two interpretations of a single RAW file and then using the layer blend modes to combine them seamlessly. You can get rid of lots of noise in high ISO “after dark” shots by simply stacking the layers and then giving each their own “percentage of opacity.” You can combine textures , backgrounds and photos. The “art portrait” below is composed of two different photos, one of peeling exterior wall paint, the other of a beautiful European model and art director, Elizabeth Rassmussen.
One big advantage of using Perfect Layers over layers in Photoshop is that the interface lets you very quickly mask layers to combine them by “Painting Out” to make part of a layer more transparent. If you make a mistake, all you have to do is click the “Paint In” button, adjust your brush’s size, feathering, and opacity, and paint the original back in. The brush’s opacity is variable, too.
There are also a “Cut Out” and “Resize” tools that make it easy to quickly crop images after you’ve dragged and resized different layers so that the parts you want to include fit. That’s what I did with the layers containing the park and the sky.
For the cat and the dog in the image below I had to erase enough of the layer they were originally in while keeping enough of their grounding shadows that it was easy to blend those and the animal’s silhouettes with the brushes. Very nice, indeed:
I will still find situations in which I want the extra Blend Modes that are included with Photoshop or find that Photoshop’s more sophisticated selection tools make certain operations easier. Truth is, though, you can make lots of dramatically better adjustments than were available with Lightroom alone, and in lots less time than if you had to go to Photoshop to do it. Now that I’ve got this utility, I plan to hang on to it “for dear life.”
Improvements I’m still hoping to see in the final version: In this pre-release, there’s no way to use the Space Bar to move the image around when you’re moving close-up and erasing a layer. I’ve been told that won’t be the case in the final version. Nor are there any Lasso-type selection tools, but I’ve been told there will be more flexible selection tools.
If you put images from two different folders into a collection and then combine layers, it doesn’t save the images in the collection. You have to go to the folder that one of the images has been saved in and then move that image to the collection. I’d like to see that fixed, too.
About the images above: Should you want them for your own collection, they are not yet limited editions. So now’s the time to buy them as a liscence to make just one print…but of any size you like…for a mere $200. It’s a good investment, because once more than 5 sales of a given image are made, they will become limited editions and the price will go up considerably. Typical limited edition 30×40 exhibition prints would be priced at 2-3 thousand dollars when being sold in a prestige gallery. In this instance, you will be paying to have the prints made and mounted as you like. I can send the images directly to the print shop and they will bill and ship to you. It can be any print shop you prefer or you can make and mount them yourself. I’ll send the image to the print shop with the instructions you give me for billing and shipping to you.
Your comments about these blogs are always much appreciated and highly considered. Don’t hesitate to ask any questions you feel may have been left unanswered.
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Generic hot shoe adapters may work to fire a generic third-party (and 1/3d the price) flash, but may not connect to all the Sony hot shoe “fingers” to let it know that there’s a flash attached. NOTE: (I haven’t been able to try the adapter from Sony because it costs $150. If you have any experience with it, let me know and I’ll update this post accordingly)
So if you’re using a generic adapter and shooting in low light and want the exposure to come mainly from the flash, you’re not going to be able to see anything of significance in the viewfinder and you won’t be able to focus except manually. That’s because the flash synch speed is 1/160th second and your desired apterture will probably be something like f/8.0. You can “cheat” to some degree by using a slower shutter speed, but you’re likely to get blurred images from anything that’s moving quickly in the background.
The image below was shot at 1/10th second so that I could see what was going on in the viewfinder. It worked wonders for this shot because the background was blurred while the dancer was pretty well frozen by the flash. You could do that with any camera, though, and it’s far better to be able to preview what you’re going to shoot when you’re shooting it. Of course, you can do that if you’re willing to spend a few hundred bucks on a Sony flash unit. I’ve also heard that there’s a Sony-compatible third-party flash…but haven’t been able to get my hands on one.
If you have an SLR you can use as a second body, that will work just fine for doing your evening flash shot because you’re not forced to shoot in live view mode. If that second body is the just-announced Sony DSLR 580 (at very nearly the same price), you could use it in non-live view mode and the mirror would let you see the subject. Although it’s a bit larger and can only shoot 7 frames per second instead of 10, it also “cures” another minor problem that the SLT translucent mirrors can cause with the 16MP resolution (very high resolution for an APS-C size sensor): occasional and somewhat unpredictable traces of color fringing in the highlight areas (rare, but there sooner-or-later). The other “cool” thing about the DSLR 580 is that it has most all of the best SLT extra features: multiple frame noise correction, full HD movie making, swing panoramas, high ISO noise reduction by merging multiple frames in camera) HDR in-camera merging of bracketed frames (though why Sony limits their bracketing to +/- 2/3 stop is a total mystery to me and I pray (but don’t know) that could be fixed with a firmware update…or one from a third party. The HDR merges have to be shot as a sequence, so you can’t get the full 1-2 f-stop difference that usually works most effectively for HDRs when you’re shooting hand-held.
Another “downside” that I’ve learned the hard way, though, is that the automatic multi-frame merging used for HDR, noise reduction, and panoramas convert the file to JPG, and the sweep panoramas to 1080 MP high. If you merge single frames in Photoshop, they’re the same pixel height as your camera’s native resolution.
Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE my SLT 55 and can’t wait to see the next generation. I’ve been hearing some fascinating rumors and am told that we should know by mid-Summer. But there are always trade-offs in this industry and I feel it’s very helpful to know what those are. That’s why I prefer having several brands of cameras to just one. But I’m also not saying that that’s what everyone needs to do.
In closing, I want to tell you that one of my big reasons for loving Sony’s camera’s is their use of in-body image stabilization because it’s there, no matter what lens you use. The shot below was taken hand-held (tripods attract too much attention in high crime areas) at 1/20th second using the Sony 50mm f/1.4 prime.
I really appreciate any feedback and comments on these blogs and don’t hesitate to link your friends to this site if they want to learn more about digital photography or to get a look at some of my latest images.
Speaking of my latest images, I’ve had lots of folks telling me lately that they can’t afford the $500-$3,000 price of the limited editions that has to be enforced once the image is shown in a gallery. So if you happen to come across an image in one of these blogs that you’d like to add to your own collection, I’ll make the first 5 sales at $200 each…not including the cost of printing and framing. That can be done at any website of your choice or here in Panama City at GammaPrint. Let me know where you want it done or ask me for advice. I’ll send the file to the printer ready to print at the resolution required for the size print you want. That printer will be given your address so that the image can be sent directly to you. Just send me an email with your name, address, and billing information (credit card or PayPal). Let me know if you want overnight shipping or ground.
You can do the above from any website that contains my images, as well as from any of these blogs. At the moment, none of the limited edition images are on these sites…but should they appear there, you’ll see them listed that way or they’ll be removed from the site.
I also send “newsletters” to my friends, associates, and fans that often include a slideshow that’s representative of something I’ve been shooting lately. The same deal as above applies to those newsletters.
Thanks for your visit. You’re much appreciated and I hope you’ve found it helpful.
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At the moment, the Sony SLT-A series of cameras, so far, two models called the A33 and the A55 (which won Popular Photography magazine’s Camera of the Year award), has so many powerful features that make it more possible than ever to see and photograph the world in fresh ways…so much so that my A55 has inspired me to write a whole series of Pictures of the Moment based on what this camera (and this camera alone when you combine them all) can do. But these blogs aren’t just for owners of a particular camera, but for anyone who wants to stretch their minds while discovering what new and amazing capabilities are on their way to us.
This POM is a “quick list” of some the features that make it so special and some pictures that give you an idea of what I’m talking about. But don’t let the technical names scare you. They’re just the easiest way to organize the articles. It’s what they can do and what you might want to find a way to make your own camera “see” the same things:
* The technology that really sets this camera “apart from the crowd” is that it’s reflex mirror doesn’t flip! Because the mirror doesn’t move (a third of the light is reflected into the electronic viewfinders, while 70% gets through to the sensor, you can shoot sequences of images at 10 frames per second (something that only a few cameras in the $4,000 range have accomplished so far. Also, focus is very fast, so its easier to keep moving subjects in focus while shooting movies and while shooting at higher frame rates. You can also lock focus on a particular object to make it stay in focus even if the subject moves to different positions in the frame while shooting! (Great feature for making movies). The new rash of cameras that have both interchangeable lenses and some form of live view and some of the newest “point and shoots” are about as close as you can get to having this feature, but mirrors that move don’t let you see live view in the viewfinder and can’t focus as fast because they have to use a contrast method of focusing that takes the camera longer to make the calculations for.
*The pellicle mirror (shown above) makes it possible to have constant, high-resolution, 100% Live View in both the electronic viewfinder and on the LCD…so both show you a perfect preview of the results of your settings before the shutter clicks. If you don’t like what you see, just change the settings until you do…and then take the picture. To some extent, that’s a feature available on all cameras that have an actual live view of what the sensor sees. Again, that’s the case with many interchangeable lens cameras that have some form of live view. DSLRs, and many others, though, don’t give you an electronic viewfinder that makes it possible to see the image clearly when shooting in bright, ambient light.
*Uses all the A-series lenses made for Sony and Minolta DSLRs. There are roughly 90 of them currently available, including many bearing the Carl Zeiss label, and most 3rd party established lens manufacturers. Because many of these lenses have been around for a while (even pre DSLR), there’s a good chance of finding used ones at very reasonable prices on Craig’s List or eBay, too. Now, it’s true that Nikon and Canon each have a couple of hundred lens choices available, but frankly, I think 90 is plenty to choose from and there will be many, many more in the future thanks to this system’s “rush to popularity.”
*The LCD swings up and down 160° and left and right 270°, and both it and the electronic viewfinder show a 100% field of view, so there’s hardly any angle and distance at which you can hold the camera without seeing exactly what’s in the frame. And because it’s live view, you see exactly the exposure you’ll get before you get it when you half-depress the shutter button. I can’t tell you how much time that’s saved me and how much it’s increased my percentage of “keepers.” This LCD also gives you a way above average image…even in fairly bright light because it’s backlit and very high resolution (1.2 million pixels!)
Here’s a shot that required very little perspective correction because I was able to hold the camera as high as my arms could reach and still see the contents of the LCD perfectly clearly. I was also standing on a wood box that had no room for a tripod. I did use the Photoshop Free Transform command a bit, but didn’t have to re-compose the picture much at all.
*The camera body is very lightweight and compact, but amazingly sturdy all the same. It’s 20% lighter and smaller than any of Sony’s already notably small DSLRs! Why does that matter? Because a smaller, lighter, camera is simply less burdensome and, therefore, makes it much more likely that you’ll have it (or even of couple of them) along with you when the time comes for that shot you wished you’d taken.
I tripped and fell while I was shooting the birds you see in the creek below…and the camera flew out of my hands and (thank goodness…cause it didn’t fall into the water) hit a rock about 20’ below. There’s not a scratch on it and it’s been working perfectly ever since…though I don’t recommend that procedure and am not guaranteeing that you’d be so lucky. TIP: Always keep your camera strap around your neck!
*Very high-speed sequence shooting (up to 10 frames per second!)…although there’s a “catch”: each time the shutter snaps, you see where the subject was in the frame before the shot you just recorded. So, although you can catch exactly “the moment,” it takes some practice “panning ahead” to keep the subject in anything like the same position in the frame. But the camera does have a 7 fps option that does let you see each frame as it’s shot. That’s also the max speed for the A33, but that’s still quite fast.
The series below gives you some idea of how well 10 fps lets you capture the exact moment:
The ability to shoot sequences at very high speeds also means that things such as hand-held panoramas and bracketed sequences that will be merged into HDR are much less likely to be blurred because of either camera or subject movement. More about that in a minute.
*The ability to shoot a panorama, left right up or down, just by pressing the shutter button and panning the camera in the direction the on-screen arrows tell you to. All stitching and anti-ghosting processing is done in camera. You don’t need a tripod most of the time and there can be some action in the scene, but it takes some practice to learn what those tolerances are…and some “mistakes” can even be fixed in post with tricks like Photoshop CS5’s In Context fill…or the Clone Stamp. These panoramas can even be shot in three dimensions!
*The ability to shoot at very high ISOs with virtually no noise by automatically shooting a sequence and combining the images so that there is no pixelation. You can do this handheld, the subjects can be moving, and there’s still no blurring! Look at this nighttime interior shot:
The picture above was shot at night…not Sunset…and the escalators were moving and I had no tripod. The lights that you see were the ambient lighting!
*The ability to create HDR images from a bracketed series or single-image “tonemap” in camera, so that even subjects of very high contrast show everything from the brightest of the darkest details. The camera does this either by shooting several shots at different exposures and then automatically merging them in camera, or by letting you choose from 1-5 different in-camera levels of tonemapping (I wish you could shoot a sequence of all 5 of these…are you listening Sony?). It’s amazing how well this works most of the time.
While we’re on the topic, though, there needs to be settings that allow bracketing at 1-2 stops apart.
More about in-camera tone-mapping: You are given up to 5 different levels of dynamic range. The camera then internally “tonemaps” the exposure of a single RAW file…so you also get an image that contains an amazing range of tonal information. And then you have a tonemapped image with another 4 stops of tonal information to adjust in your RAW processing software! Something that Sony doesn’t really talk about much is the fact that these images can get even more dramatic when you control the further tone-mapping of these already rich images in post. The example below was shot in level 5 DRO (Dynamic Range Optimization) and then tone-mapped in Photoshop CS5. Here are the two pictures side-by-side:
So now you’re going to see a “rash” of Pictures of the Moment blogs, most of which will be created with this camera in combination with other equipment and software that are made even more powerful in combination with this camera’s set of features. For instance, I haven’t even touched on the automatic level indicator, the built-in GPS, the outstanding movie-making abilities or the fantastic scene modes..Two other things I haven’t even touched yet: Face detection and the smile shutter. I’ll have to do something about that right away. Maybe combine that with a little more on Portraiture Pro and background substitution in an upcoming piece.
The point is not so much to sell you on this particular camera though, but to get you excited about the revolutionary possibilities for digital photography that are “up-and-coming.” I don’t think for a moment that other camera makers aren’t going to compete.
If you want a more complete and very quick run-down, copy the following links into your browser:
If you want to read two really comprehensive reviews, check out www.dpreview.com and http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/sony-a55-preview.shtml
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The instant I saw Rachel Hackshaw sitting in everybody’s favorite coffee house in the Casco Viejo neighborhood of Panama City (where I happen to do a lot of these blogs) I knew she’d be a great model to shoot for stock agencies. Though her face is just covered with pimples and freckles, that’s just not what people notice about her. It’s that she’s just beautiful, full of energy, and just loves being expressive as a means of communication. I knew she’d be more than worth every pennies worth of time it would take to retouch out all those pimples. Here’s the unretouched photograph:
One of the reasons that I wasn’t that worried about how much time I’d have to put in to “fixing her skin” was that I’ve worked with an amazing Photoshop plug-in, Anthropic’s Portrait Professional, that does an amazing job of doing most of the work for you. It “coaches” you through placing a series of control points so that the program can know the shape and angle of the face and what portions of the image need a lot of surface smoothing and what portions (such as hair and eyelashes) want to be razor-sharp. Then you click a button and wait for about a minute. Then you can still make various parts of the face smoother or more detailed (some people prize their freckles, for instance), either by dragging sliders or by brushin over specific areas with a “Magic Brush”.
Here’s the end result of about three minute’s work. Retouching almost the entire shoot so that I could capitalize on her endless variety of expressions should be well worth the time once the 97 chosen pictures get to the stock agencies.
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I’ve found it’s a good idea, as you’re wandering through life with your camera, to shoot all manner of things that might be useful to put into another photograph. I also collect skies and backgrounds. All of those “elements” may be useful to lots of photographers and illustrators, so they can sell very well through stock agencies or to companies that want to put them onto a collection of such items. I like making money when it’s least expected.
CS5 has greatly improved the ability to remove a subject from its background, but there are some subjects in which the colors and shades of what you want to keep are so close to those in the area you want to “erase” that you just end up with “smudges” that you have to hand-retouch the mask that you can make from that selection. Sometimes that’s just plain impractical for the amount of time that takes.
So I’ve been testing some Photoshop plug-ins that do a better job, once you’ve watched their video tutorial a few times and “fiddled” with them enough to get an instinctive feel for how to use them.
My favorite of all of these is Topaz Re-Mask because it gives you a multiplicity of quick and easy tools, it quickly becomes “intuitive,” and, so far, I’ve had no problem with removing shots like this from backgrounds that have way too many similar colors and shades. You just “paint” the area around the subject in which there’s a transition of colors and shades between what you want to throw away and what you want to keep. You have several ways of telling the program what you want to keep and what you want to throw away. You can just click on colors with the Keep or Cut brush, brush on the transition around the edges of the object, then click the Compute button to get a very close to perfect result if you’ve taken the shot against a clean, contrasting background.
In “real life” without a controlled solid background of a contrasting color and control over the lighting, it’s not that simple. Just look at this shot of the cat. People love cats so much and there are so many cats in my neighborhood that I shoot one everytime I see one. But I don’t want to spend a lifetime knocking them all out. Same goes for models with flying hair or motorcycle helmets with a plastic face protector.
It may look like the cat’s a much different color than the background, but there are lots of those same shades in the pebbles that surround her. In fact, there are so many colors in the background that are similar to the colors in the cat that, even when you fill the whole cat as “keep” and everything outside the transition area (which has to be fairly wide because of all the stray hairs and whiskers), you get a fair amount of smudging along the edges. That’s been an even worse problem with the other programs I’ve tried. That can always be “fixed” by putting a contrasting layer beneath the “knockout” layer and then carefully erasing what you don’t want. Trouble is, that can take hours.
What’s really cool about Topaz Re-Mask 3 is that you can click the mask or keep buttons to see what’s been done with those edges, select the clean brush, zoom in on the edge, and then just click or draw on anything that looks like a “smudge”. You can easily Undo if you don’t like the result and you can keep clicking (or dragging) if you want a better cleanup. Here’s the result of about 10 minutes worth of extra “clicking.” See?:
Another challenge is mechanical objects because they have lots of geometric edges. Take this motorcycle, for instance:
Fortunately, Re-Mask 3 lets you draw straight lines just like Photoshop does: click with the Brush tool (in this instance the Keep brush), press Shift and Click at where you want the line to end. Most all of the transitional lines could then be drawn very quickly, so Topaz came very close to “getting it right” as soon as I fill the outside and inside Cut areas by clicking on them and then clicking the Compose button. Cleanup was even easier.
I thought it would be fun to combine the cat and the motorcycle, so I looked through my files for a background that I thought would make the whole thing an eye-catching combination. When I found the shot of the Casco Viejo beach at low-tide, it seemed a natural. I just opened the file while the two knockouts were open, Cut and Pasted them into the beach scene, and then selected each of their layers and used Photoshop’s Free Transform command to scale them to fit into each other and into the background image the way that I liked them. Then I used the Burn tool to put a shadow under the cat to “ground” her and the duplicated the motorcycle layer, free transformed it to upside down, adjusted it to being totally black, blurred it like a shadow and reduced the layer transparency to make it look like a shadow.
Here’s the result:
By the way, if you have photographs that need some professional retouching, drop me an email describing what you want done and with the picture attached so I can see it. I will write you back (or call, if you like). Also, you will soon be able to find all of these Pictures of the Moment at www.fineartamerica.com in Ken Milburn’s gallery…as well as many other that I’ve taken. If you live in the States, rest assured that the images will be professionally printed on archival media and you will have several options for sizing, framing, and price. If you live outside the country, where you’ll have to pay for extra shipping, let me know and see the order and I’ll pay the extra for out-of-country shipping via Pay Pal.
Your Questions and comments are always way welcome. Also, let me know if you want to be notified when the pictures are up at FAA.
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Here, to celebrate the gallery opening of an exhibit at a local art gatllery, appropriately named Bamboo Gallery, is this week’s Picture of the Moment. The picture has nothing at all to do with the details of nature as they’re depicted in the exhibit. But if you’re in Panama City, Panama in the Casco Viejo area, just go to the Bamboo Gallery. It’s next door to Galleria Indigina on Calle 1a at the very end of Avenida A, just before you get to the Bovedas tourist walk. The exhibit is called “The Details of Nature” and has nothing to do with this post.
The “picture of the moment” that is the subject of this post was taken during a break when I was ..While I was putting together the exhibit I was taking a break during a sudden burst of sunshine to do some necessary shopping in the next door neighborhood called Santana. While I was in the super, there was a sudden, huge cloudburst. It’s been raining so hard off and on for the past couple of weeks that they’ve had to close the Canal twice because the flooding was so severe that they couldn’t control the water in the locks. It also made putting the exhibit together quite an adventure. On my way back home, and approaching the oldest “soda” in Panama City, the rain stopped, the Sun was just setting, and the streets were covered with running water just as all the lights came on.
Thank heavens I now always have a 10MP camera that shoot RAW in my pocket. It’s the Canon s90 that I bought just one week before the s95 came out. It’s amazing, with a sensor that’s much larger than that in most compacts, in-lens image stabilization and f/2 lens and a sensor that’s significantly faster than that in most compacts. So it has a big advantage in that it can shoot pro-quality images that have lots of adjustment latitude and, even wide-open, the sensor that’s still relatively small compared to that in the typical DSLR APS-C size, means that the focal length of the lens makes for nearly infinite depth-of-field–even with the lens wide-open. Here’s the original shot, straight out of the camera. Note that there’s not a speck of noise grain and no motion blur despite a 1/25th second shutter speed at ISO 200.
Even though amazed by it’s quality, I really wanted to look a bit more like a night shot. So I darkened Lightroom 3.3’s Exposure slider, then made slight adjustments with the Recovery (for more highlight detail) slider, the Fill Light slider (for more shadow detail), and then made it “pop” a bit more with the Clarity and Vibrance sliders. I liked result (seen below) a lot and really didn’t feel the need to do anything more to it. I’ll be using that version for purposes that reaquire a photograph, rather than a painting. Here’s that version:
But I’m currently working up a collection of images that I’m going to research printing at very reasonable rates in either Columbia or San Salvador that can be sold as post-cards, small posters, and (eventually) calendars and (so far, at least) I’m turning them into digital photographs that look like paintings. I thought this photograph might just be an ideal candidate.
There are more ways than squirrels have babies to turn a digital image into something that looks hand-painted. Photoshop has filters (which only work in 8-bit mode. If you use the Artistic, Brush Strokes and Sketch filters you get an automatic effect and you can even use the filter gallery to mixseveral of these effects. Photoshop CS5 also has extensive new features that make it easier and more realistic than ever to make “natural media” looking brush strokes. When you get into doing that, BTW, using a pressure sensitive pen tablet (e.g. Wacom’s varied line) will make doing the work much easier and faster.
One tool that does work in 16-bit mode, does the job just as quickly, and that I really like is the Topaz plug-in filter called Simplify. Simplify gives you a dozen different painting styles that you can create at the click of a button. But WAIT! That’s only the barest beginning. There are then 12 artistic styles to choose from and each of those can be modified by three different panels that control Simplify, Adjust, and Edges. On top of that, like all the Topaz filters, you can just click on the “I Feel Lucky” button and stop when you see something that bowls you over. So, here’s what I ended up with that took me a bit less than a minute:
I then thought I could still get a bit more detail by just lowering the opacity of the layer to let some of the original image show through. You can get even more “effects” by playing with the layer blend modes, but I liked what I had. So here’s how it ended up:
One very helpful thing about turning photos into paintings is that you can create an illustration in which none of the people are recognizable, so you don’t have to worry about model releases, which would be near impossible to get in a “shoot from the hip” street scene like this one.
I’ve also been experimenting with Corel’s new Paint It program and getting some very nice results that we’ll talk about in the next POM. If you want to take this even further, you can use all the other programs, paste the results into the same Photoshop file as layers and use Photoshop’s masking, layer blend modes, and natural media brushes to produce just about any result imaginable. You don’t have to be a formally trained painter to be able to do it, either.
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Knockouts can be very important because they’re excellent material for stock photos and because they can add interest to a photo or it’s compositon. See Flutterby on Leaves.
It can be tricky to get a good knockout because doing so often means selecting “transitional edges.” Photoshop CS5 is exceptionally good at this, as long as there’s enough contrast between what you want to knock out and its background.
I was running an errand yesterday and happened past a large marketplace that a whole herd of turkey vultures was exploiting. So I could get up fairly close to them. I thought the one below would make a good knockout. Besides, I liked the diagogal line that the crack in the pavement gave to the composition of the unmolested version of the photo. Here you go:
First, in Photoshop I took out all the little white “specs” that showed up when I opened the LR adjusted image in Photoshop. I also bumped up Fill and increased contrast. Then I cropped the image so that it would be more interestingly composed, according to the Rule of Thirds because I thought I might want to use this image as it was. After I cropped, since I’d shot this on my Canon s90 compact, I thought there might be some noise and grain, so I got rid of as much of that as possible using Lightrom 3’s Detail panel. Here’s the end result of the Lightroom adjustments.
I wanted to compare the result I got with the onOne MaskPro 4.1 plug-in with the result I could get in Photoshop by using the Refine Edges/Mask procedure. To do this, I “cheated” a bit by copying the main image layer and then using the Adjustment > Curves command to lighten the concrete and darken the bird, so that it would be easier for Photoshop to find the transitional edges more accurately
Then I simply used the Quick Select Tool and “edited” that selection more accurately with the Magnetic Lasso tool in additive or subtractive mode. Then, to get the reflective and translucent edges of the dark feather, I click the Mask icon and the used the Refine Mask command. When I was happy with the selection I got, I simply dragged the layer mask to the layer below, that contained the original image adjustments so that I’d be able see all the detail within the body. Then I trashed the more contrasty layer that I used to make the mask. I also added a new white layer below the layer that contained the image above. Here’s the result of masking the image in Photoshop CS5:
This is really not bad and if you have the patience, you can retouch the mask or the photo to make it even better. But:
I also just got a review copy of onOne Software’s Mask Pro 4.1. It lets you create either a mask or a selection. Creating a mask will eliminate the original background, so it’s a shortcut to making a knockout. If you want to keep the original background so that you can adjust and change it, you just use the Selection version. You can still copy the contents of that selection to another layer and save that as a knockout.
Now, I have to tell you that Mask Pro 4.1 is a knock-out powerhouse. I don’t have the room or the time in this particular blog to give you a full-on and accurate evaluation of the program, but I will say that I got a cleaner selection of the bird than I did in Phtoshop using only the Keep and Drop brushes to specifiy which colors stayed in and then used a single tool to click on the image. Then only fine-tuning I then had to do to get the image below was to erase some “specks” from outside the bird that were the same colors of gray in the pavement as in the “Keep” colors. I also used the clone stamp with the original image underneath to bring back in some of the white areas in the buzzard…especially beak and toes. Here’s the result I got from putting that background into another image.
I will soon post another, more complete evaluation of Mask Pro 4.1, and I’ll show you what it can do to select transparent objects and to make very quick and accurate selections of objects deliberately shot for that purpose under controlled conditions and using solid blue or green “knockout backgrounds.” If you want to know more before I get to that, there are a lot of excellent motion tutorials on the onOne Software site: www.ononesoftware.com
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This lady was carrying her giant dogie around inside the Office Depot store and I asked if she mind if I took some shots. All I had was my compact camera, so it was impossible, even shooting wide-open, to get a shallow enough in-camera depth-of-field to isolate her from her surroundings. Here’s the original “untouched” shot:
I always start my processing in Lightroom because it’s much more intuitive and automated when it comes to making sure I have the dynamic range, sharpness, and noise information in the image the way I want it before “fine-tuning” in Photoshop or another image processing program. The composition was a bit too centered because I was in a hurry to “catch the moment” and the doggie didn’t want to stay still for even a split second.
Also, I had to keep moving around because I wanted to have as much contrast in the background as possible, knowing that I’d want to “defocus” it in the digital darkroom. So I first used the cropping tool to get the composition closer to obeying the “rule of thirds” and to eliminate some of the excess background. It also “got rid” of the distracting advertising poster on the left. I “locked” the Crop tool’s padlock icon so that the image proportion would stay the same.
Next, I took advantage of Lightroom’s fantastic ability to maximize the “look” of the basic image…especially if you’ve shot in RAW (which I always do). Then I followed my usual “workflow” for making LR adjustments: Opened the shadows with the Fill Light slider, moved the Recovery slider to retain as much highlight detail as possible, and adjusted the Black slider just enough to make the details “pop.” I then made very slight adjustments in Brightness and Contrast. Finally, I used the Local Area adjustment brush to brighten and add contrast to the dog’s eye and nose. Here’s the result of all that:
It was obvious to me that I wanted to “de-focus” the background. So I first took advantage of Photoshop CS5’s amazing Refine Edge/Refine Mask dialog after using the Quick Select tool to make a selection that included just the lady and the dog.
I’ll do a separate tutorial on just that operation in a future blog, but as you can see, it works very well and it took me only about three minutes to perfectly select all the edges including the stray hairs. Here’s the result against a plain white background so that you can see just how effective it really was:
I’d just received a review copy of onOne software’s CS5-compatible filters and wanted to try the effectiveness of the Focal Point 2 filter. I must say that it’s very versatile and even allows you to impose a vignette, make the out-of-focus area include forground and background, control the number of blades and shape of the diaphragm, and use “draggable” arrows to control everything interactively. The selection I made for the knockout image above was used to separate the lady and the dog from the out-of-focus effects I wanted to create with Focal Point 2. I’ll be covering Focal Point 2 in more detail in another blog that’s a separate review, but I think you’ll find what it did here impressive.
Unlike most Picture of the Moment images, this one’s not for sale. I hope you’re dying to decorate your home and office with my photos…especially those you learned something from, but you’ll get plenty of opportunities in the future. Meanwhile, your comments are very highly appreciated and will help others to learn at the same time.
See you next Sunday. This past weekend I was off on a 3-day visa turnaround to Costa Rica.
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