Monday, December 29, 2014

Revisitng and Re-Developing Old Photos

I'll have to admit, this post was indirectly inspired by my brother and one of his panoramic photos of Crater Lake in Oregon. For Christmas I helped my mom get his photo printed on a 16x48 canvas from Costco and seeing the print really got my wheels turning about some of the panoramic photos I have taken in the past. While I liked the photos in my archives, there were different flaws in them to where I wouldn't be happy with how they would look printed out (tilted horizons or the colors turned out flatter from the camera than how the scene looked in person).

Fast forward a few years and now I have more experience with editing software and I was able to correct the shortcomings of my old photos. Now I can look at the digital image and picture how it would look on a printed canvas and be excited about getting the print made.

For comparison, below are two versions of a panoramic photo taken on New Year's day several years ago at Fort Casey on Whidbey Island. The first photo is the original panorama I had created, followed by the newly re-created and developed version.

Original from 2011, no edits - simply stitched

Fort Casey Sunset Panoramic
Newly re-done image. Re-stitched and further developed

All stitching was done with the Hugin Panorama Photo Stitcher and the image developing was done with The Gimp.

Revisiting older photos is something I would definitely recommend. Looking over older photos with a time removed eye, might just uncover a new favorite. Throw in a sharper skill set for digital developing and you just might find some new shots for your profile.



Monday, December 8, 2014

Renting a Lens with BorrowLenses

There are two major camera gear rental companies in the US, LensRentals and BorrowLenses. They offer high end equipment that might be out of budget for many of us hobbyists, giving us an opportunity to try out the coveted gear or even try something that may be in our price range before purchasing to see first hand how it stacks up.

Knowing about these companies, I have been interested in giving it a shot and renting a lens that would be a step up from the kit lenses that came with my Nikon D5100. Well, as my wife was nearing her due date for our daughter we wanted to do maternity photos but didn't have the extra money for a professional shoot so I had the idea that we could rent the same lens the photographer used to do our son's one year photos (Nikon 50mm f/1.4). After thinking a little more about it I thought we could go with the 50mm f/1.8 instead. Going that route, if we really liked the lens and the results we achieved with it, it would be more feasible for us to save up the $216 the f/1.8 sells for over the $425 price tag of the f/1.4.

We wanted to have the lens through the weekend as well as the coming Tuesday (Veteran's day) that I had off from work so we could take some maternity photos. So on Monday I placed the order with the desired delivery date of Thursday. The seven day rental was $19 plus $24.95 to cover round trip shipping. The lens arrived at a perfect time Thursday morning and came with a lens hood and UV filter as well. When the next Thursday rolled around, thankfully the last FedEx ground pickup time at the local drop FedEx store was 6:00pm, so I wouldn't be frantic trying to get it post marked on time after work.

From start to finish the entire process went off without a hitch and BorrowLenses was easy to work with. A nicely designed site, simple rental procedure and no hassles made the experience a pleasant one and I would not hesitate to recommend their services or rent from them again - especially given that there are plenty more lenses I would love to try out. What I will likely not do again is rent the 50mm f/1.8 simply because a second rental would mean almost half the purchase price of the lens was spent on renting it, which seems a poor financial decision to me.



Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hummingbird on a Cold November Morning

I always enjoy watching (and listening) to the hummingbirds that frequent the feeder we have hanging on our front porch. Their little chirp is a pleasant sound and the hum/whoosh sound of their wings is really enjoyable to hear buzz by you. We recently had a week long cold snap, colder than we usually experience in late November in Western Washington, that froze the feeder contents solid as the temperature dipped into the high teens over night.

On the cold Sunday morning while getting ready for Church and the rest of the day, I noticed one of the resident hummingbirds was frequently perching on one of our hanging baskets waiting for the frozen food to thaw out. I of course thought photo opportunity and hitched up the 55-300mm and waited for him to come by. Once I saw the little bird, I slowly cracked open the front door (with the camera settings all set - zoom, focus etc...) aimed and took a few shots. Below are my favorites: one of him sitting and looking about and one just moments before he flew away.

Perched Hummingbird
Perched on a hanging basket, waiting for food to thaw

Hummingbird About to Take Flight
Spreading his wings to take flight

I typically see what looks to be the same bird sitting in nearly the same spot when I get up for work during the week. So hopefully I'll grab a few more shots of him in some different lighting, or even more fun shots of him spreading his wings out.



Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Moon Rise and Other Night Photos

Now that I have a camera where I have full control over the settings, I have been enjoying doing some night photography. Another bonus of exploring night photography in the Pacific Northwest: come winter time its dark at 5:00pm so you are limited to when you can take photos unless your exploring long-exposure night shots!

Tonight I have two photos of the nearly full moon rising over the Skagit Valley the night before the July 12th, 2014 full moon. While I was outside taking the moon photos, I noticed my wife's hanging plant sitting near some of our solar lights that were actually lit. Thought the light patterns and reflections could make an interesting photo(s).

The Nearly Full Moon Rises
The Moon Rises Over the Valley

Nearly Full Moon Rising
The Rising Moon Over the Valley

Solar Light at Night
Solar Light

Solar Light at Night
Solar Light #2

With the sun retreating beyond the horizon sooner and sooner every night, it will be time to explore some more long exposure photography as our daylight hours will be minimal if any once I am off work during the week.



Monday, September 8, 2014

Red Wolves, Bald Eagle and a Shark: Photos from the Point Defiance Zoo

Zoo's make great places to practice photography. The scenery is great and there is a variety of animals, lighting and situations to practice. They also make great family days with small kiddoes. Over Memorial Day weekend this year, my family and I spent an afternoon at the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Washington. And while we had more photos of our son and his cousins, I did manage to get a few good shots of the animals that I have below to share:

Red Wolf
Red Wolf looking on from his resting spot

Red Wolf on the Lookout
Red Wolf Looking on from his perch

Red Wolf Resting
Red Wolf resting, he looks so sad here...

Bald Eagle at the Zoo
A Bald Eagle at the Zoo

Aquarium Shark
One of the Aquarium Sharks

The indoor exhibits can be challenging with low light so don't be afraid to boost the ISO a bit to snag a shot you would otherwise miss. The Photo of the Shark above was taken at ISO3200.



Monday, June 30, 2014

Old Glory's Reflection

One of my favorite places for vacation is my mom's families lake property in Spokane. For the 4th of July one of my aunts put up an American Flag at the end of the dock and it has stayed since. On a warm August morning while on vacation I took this picture of Old Glory's reflection on the glassy water.  This was my favorite of the few I took, with barely any distortion of the reflection and some of the underwater weeds visible in the shot.

Old Glory's Reflection
A Summer Day's Reflection

I tried looking at this image rotated so it would appear that the flag is in a normal orientation, but the effect was almost disorientating and didn't look right to the eyes. Anyway, this was one from the archives and a fitting image with the 4th of July right around the corner!

Have a safe and happy 4th of July everyone.



Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Shutterfly Experience

In today's age of digital photos virtually any digital device manufactured has a camera (or two) built in. Even with the proliferation of digital cameras riding on millions of devices, the reality is that a vast majority of photos are never destined to actually be printed. Of course, many of these photos would likely not even be taken in the first place prior to the rise of the mobile camera, but thats a whole different topic and/or debate.

For those photos that are destined for an existence outside of digital bits, there are plenty of establishments (local and on-line) that compete for your photo printing dollar. Shutterfly being a large and well known one. So how is the Shutterfly experience? Worth the time or not?

User experience is typical of on-line sites that offer uploading for prints: logically organized to get where you want to be. When you log in, your dashboard/control panel/home page (or whatever else you prefer to label it) will show you a brief over-view of all your saved work (photo albums, projects etc...) and a place to view your account and order settings. In addition to photo albums and projects such as baby books and greeting cards, Shutterfly offers a Share Site option where you can configure a personal site (within their templates of course) where you can share your photo albums and projects so family members (or say, family members of a little league team if one was created for the team) can view and order photos you have uploaded and projects you have created within Shutterfly. I think this is a pretty nice option, though admittedly I have not done more than simply create one.

To date we have claimed our 50 free print promotion given when you first create an account, created a free baby book (received from registering at target for baby gifts I believe) and created a birth announcement card with pictures of our first born son. The quality is what you would expect from a commercial printing outfit (great quality, no complaints!) and the shipping is reasonably priced and arrives in an acceptable time frame.

The best part of the whole Shutterfly experience is the vast amount of promotions and discounts (provided you don't mind regular Shutterfly e-mails in your in-box). They even start you off with 50 free prints when you first register and fairly frequently I have seen other free print promotional e-mails, in addition to 40% (or better) promotional e-mails. Predictably, many promotions show up in time for yearly events such as Mother's & Father's day.

When it comes to full priced items and typical prints, the shipping costs are going to put your total out of pocket costs higher than a local photo lab (such as Costco). But when you get a batch of free prints or a discount such as a free 8x8 photo book, your total costs come in at a more competitive price with the local lab and may actually total in a little less expensive (and you don't have to go pick them up).

Shutterfly is definitely worth a look when your looking for photo prints or other projects. Sure there may be some downsides to an on-line, non local outfit, but overall it is not a bad option.



Monday, April 21, 2014

Converting an Image to Black and White with Darktable

When converting an image to black and white, there are different ways to go about it with different programs. From a basic desaturate command to a more involved process where you are manipulating multiple channels to adjust the final look. In this post we will be exploring two different ways to convert an image to black and white with Darktable.

First step after importing our image into Darktable is to make our adjustments as if we were developing the image in color (noise reduction, white balance etc...) Below is a screen shot of my initial development and and the adjustments used (sharpen and base curve are automatically applied upon import).

Imported and Developed as if for a color image final

Next, we will use the monochrome module in Darktable to do our first conversion. For this module, simply drag the circle around the color pallet until you have the desired look. You can also make the target circle smaller or larger (using the mouse wheel or two finger scrolling on a laptop track pad) which will change the final look of the image. Below is my screen shot of my monochrome conversion with this module (I had shrunk the circle slightly and moved it away from center).

Monochrome module settings

Now for the channel mixer module, which is my preference and that in my opinion,  is the option with the best results.  With the channel mixer selected, we will choose gray as the destination and then simply adjust the three (red, green & blue) channels till we have our desired results. In the screen shot below, you can see the values for my adjustments.

Channel Mixer module settings
Now that we have gone through the steps taken, below I have the resulting images for viewing and comparison. First the photo converted using the monochrome module followed by the channel mixer module.

Monocrome Conversion #1 with Darktable
Monochrome Module conversion

Monocrome Conversion #2 with Darktable
Channel Mixer Conversion

Your thoughts? Do you have a favorite way to convert to black and white or other methods that have great results not discussed here?



Sunday, April 20, 2014

He is Risen!

Spring is the time of new life, and with today being Easter Sunday we get to celebrate the Eternal New Life God has given us through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If you do not know Him, may His Grace find you this during this Easter Celebration. And if you do know Him, may his love and grace be ever more present in your life today and always.



Monday, March 31, 2014

The Downtown Burlington Artwalk 2014

Spring is officially under way and April is upon us and in the Skagit Valley April means the annual Tulip Festival. The Festival includes many art exhibits in the mix of official events for the month. This year for the Downtown Burlington Art Walk, I will have two of my photos framed and displayed at the Spruced-Up Thrift Shop for the duration of this festival as a participant in this year's event.

I entered two, an 11x14 print of my Honeybee and Hibiscus Flower photo and a cropped 8x10 of one of the photos I took of a Northern Goshawk. The Hawk photo won an Honorable Mention award in the photography category for the juried contest portion of the Art Walk.

If you are around Downtown Burlington during the month of April, you'll have to stop by and see my photos. They'll be placed on Tuesday by the end of the day and ready for viewing.



Thursday, March 13, 2014

Photos of Local Trumpeter Swans

Here in the Skagit Valley we are blessed to have large groups of Trumpeter Swans that winter in the fields every year. These beautiful birds are the largest of waterfowl and typically range between 54 and 65 inches in length. Living in the valley, I am blessed to see the wintering swans in local fields on any given drive away from home. Most of the time I don't have my camera, but one day fairly recently my lovely bride gave me a call to let me know the Swans were in a field close by and could make a good photo opportunity.  The two photos below are my favorites of the few I took on a quick photo trip.

Trumpeter Swan Stretching His Wings
Trumpeter Swan Stretching His Wings

A Group of Trumpeter Swans
A Group of Trumpeter Swans

I still want to get some more photos of the birds before they leave the valley for the season, especially a few photos of them coming in for a landing - or even taking off.



Monday, March 10, 2014

ISO and Exposure

Of the three components of exposure (Shutter Speed, Aperture & ISO), ISO is the one that feels the most ambiguous. Shutter Speed is the easiest to understand: how long the shutter is actually open. And even though the math used to figure out the f number to describe the aperture is beyond most of us, the concept of smaller number equals a bigger opening and double the amount of light let in makes enough sense to grasp.

ISO on the other hand describes how sensitive the camera's sensor is to the light that it is exposed to. Uh, say what? With no other real explanation of how this works we are simply left with the information that each value doubles (higher value) or halves (lower value) the sensitivity.

So to get a good visual of how the ISO setting effects the final image, I set my camera on manual (after meeting on Program AE) and took a series of photos at the same Shutter Speed/Aperture combination and simply changed the ISO after each shot. I had originally metered the scene @ ISO 400 so there was room on either side to see the differences. Below is a composite with all six of the images (sized down to fit in one image) set in two rows to see how the exposure changes with just the ISO being different.

1/5 second @ f/8

Looking back, I wish I would have taken one more on ISO 6400 to see the difference next to  ISO 3200. But with the ISO 3200 image already starting to overexpose I decided not too.



Thursday, February 27, 2014

I'm A Photographer And My Own Worst Critic

Perhaps it is the perfectionist side of me or the technical nature of my mind, or perhaps it is just something any artistic individual experiences: a critical mind when reviewing ones own work. It can be so easy to pick apart our photographs and dismiss the image (either partially or fully) based on something minor, when many others would look at the photo and think it is a great shot.

Now, I had created a second Flickr account to use for photos set up for this blog. Photos I would put there would typically be set ups used to illustrate a blog post (such as the look at Darktable's profiled denoise option) and probably not be ones I wanted in my main Photostream that I considered my better photos.

Well, I took a photo of a Giant Pacific Octopus taken at the Seattle Aquarium and used it as a visual comparing the final results of a Darktable Developed RAW file next to a camera JPG developed in the GIMP program. I had nit-picked this photo because of the reflections in the glass that I didn't care for (my wife on the other hand thinks this is a cool photo) and dismissed it as not a Flickr Portfolio image. So instead, I chose to use it for the aforementioned RAW/JPG comparison article. For reference, the Darktable edited photo is displayed below:

Giant Pacific Octopus - Darktable Edit

Well, fast forward a bit and in a about a month and a half after posting it to Flickr and having it in my blog (the blog post has only a few views), the image above was added as a favorite once and has more views than any of my other photos. Maybe the Creative Commons license I assigned to it has something to do with the views, as other images posted with Creative Commons licenses have gained many more views than some of my favorite work (and the CC licensed photos are just boring comparison photos of toddler toys!). Or perhaps not, I will have no way of really knowing. Either way, I missed the boat there as that could have been plenty of views directed at my "Portfolio Pictures."

So are you your own worst critic too?



Monday, February 24, 2014

White Balance and a Photo's Final Look

White balance can have a subtle or even dramatic effect on the overall look and feel of a photograph. With modern digital camera's often all that is needed to improve the look of a photo is a slight adjustment to the color balance or white balance (which was the subject of one of my previous posts).

When we are talking about more than a subtle adjustments the difference can be more dramatic and the image takes on a whole different mood and feel. Take the image below, taken for a Digital Photography School assignment (Simple Things: Umbrella). This was a long exposure that has a unique look as a result of the ambient light being a street light (the umbrella itself is white and green).

Umbrella at Night

Now we look at the second edit below where the white balance was adjusted below 4000k (where the original was around 5700k). The yellow cast is nearly vanished, the sky a dark blue instead of black and the white in the umbrella looks white.

Umbrella At Night

Just one of the ways an images over all look and feel can be altered with a single change during post processing. Each of the above files were edited from the same RAW file with Darktable.



Monday, February 17, 2014

Rabbit Hunting with a Northern Goshawk

I haven't had any opportunities to photograph any of the local Hawk's as I usually see them perched on light poles or telephone wires while driving (usually on the freeway). That changed recently when I was able to join a friend on a rabbit hunt with his Northern Goshawk. I have always liked the birds and wanted to get some good photos of them as they are beautiful birds far away and even more so up close.

It was a great time and a good opportunity to work on my wild life/avian photography without the worry of only getting one shot of a Hawk in action before watching the bird fly away from the range of my equipment. Armed with my 55-300mm lens I was able to capture some good photos of the Hawk, unfortunately all but one of the shots taken of the bird in flight turned out blurry.

We also didn't have any luck on the rabbit hunt.  The Hawk did take off to chase after some small birds - which was quite cool to see just how fast the bird is - but didn't catch anything this time out.

Northern Goshawk on the Hunt
The Northern Goshawk Perched and on the Hunt

Northern Goshawk Taking Flight
The Northern Goshawk Taking Flight

Northern Goshawk Perched in a Blackberry Bramble
Perched in the Blackberry Brambles

Next time I will have an idea on what to expect, and leave the camera on single servo AF instead of continuous. The focus with continuous-servo didn't seem to be the best when the hawk was sitting still and with how close we were to the bird it was not practical to try and track and focus on him in flight.



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sailboat Reflections

As much as I like my D5100 and the quality photographs it produces, it's not something I bring with me everywhere a photo opportunity could potentially arise. Such was the scenario Saturday while my family and I were spending some time in Anacortes on a nice sunny winter day. We decided to bring our old compact Canon so we would have a camera and not have to worry about the Nikon.

While walking around by the Marina, I took a couple quick shots of the sailboats sitting in the still, glass smooth water. Below is one of the shots I took.

The reflection is so near perfect that I had viewed this image on the camera's LCD upside down and was thinking to myself that something didn't look right before I realized I was viewing it flipped.



Thursday, January 23, 2014

Planning Lunar, Astronomical or Scenic Photos with the Lunar Phase Andoid App

When I was finally able to purchase a DSLR, one of the first photos I wanted to take was one of a full (or nearly full) moon. It was a type of photography that was not doable with my point and shoots and one I wanted to try for myself.

I have on a few occasions taken the time to set up and take some photos of the moon and you can see some of my results in my Shooting the Moon post and again on my post titled Shooting the Daylight Moon. All of my lunar photo sessions have been spur of the moment type scenarios where the conditions are favorable and I grab my gear and go take my photos. Planning a lunar photo shoot is next on my list as I have in mind what I anticipate to be a good location for a full moon rising picture.

Recently I have found a great Android App to assist in the planning of any photographs involving the sun, moon or lack of either: The Lunar Phase app developed by AndScaloid. The app is packed with every stitch of information you could possibly need or want to know about the moon. Starting with the obvious: the moon's phase, we'll also know rising and setting times, its age, illumination and if its ascending or descending (among other information available). You can also choose to display information for the sun (rise, set, civil dawn, civil dusk and more). The rise and set times will come in very handy for planning a sun/moon rise/set photo, as will the calendar to view when the next full moon happens to be. Or on the other hand, you can see when the new moon is if the goal is a night sky photo with no moon visible.

You can also add a bookmark for your location and you will get two arc's drawn on a Google Maps view depicting the path of the moon and sun, complete with graphics of each when they are in view. You will need to get a latitude and longitude coordinate for this feature though, but that is easily attained on Google maps by right clicking on the location and selecting the "What's here?" option. Just make sure you set your time zone in your bookmark or you may be wondering why it always defaults to the time in New York.

All in all this is a great app that I would definitely recommend if your looking for something to help plan out any photos that involve the sun, moon or night sky in anyway.



Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Developed RAW vs Developed JPG

When it comes to the RAW vs JPG debate, You don't have to look very hard on-line to find ample amounts of writing espousing the benefits of one format or the other and why you should or shouldn't shoot exclusively with either one. And despite what the title of this post may imply, I will not be debating the merits of either format but rather providing a visual example of one image edited with both formats as a starting point. Both the RAW and JPG file formats have their inherent advantages and disadvantages, but that's another post.

The photo below of a Giant Pacific Octopus was taken on a recent trip to the Seattle Aquarium. The photo was taken on RAW+JPG @ ISO 3200, with the RAW file then developed in Darktable and the JPG file in the GIMP.

Camera JPG

Darktable Edit

Gimp Edit

Of the two developed files, I think the Darktable version is closer to what the scene looked like. But then again, I don't recall exactly as I spent about as much time watching the Octopus as it took to take that photo. Chasing my highly active and very excited 16 month old son left little time to focus on taking anything more than the passing snapshot. On the other hand, in this case I like how the GIMP edited photo turned out a little better, the slight color differences change the mood and feel of the photo. I also could have explored more of the editing options in Darktable to get a similar look, but this was a fairly straight forward, minimally adjusted image for this comparison.



Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Darktable's Profiled Noise Reduction

If you are working with JPG files from your camera, you will not need to be too concerned about noise reduction unless you are shooting at a high ISO as the JPG compression algorithm of your camera will apply some form of noise reduction, even if set to off.

RAW files on the other hand will naturally not have any in-camera noise reduction applied and it will be up to you to determine if and how much will be applied during post production. You will likely be able to notice noise even at and ISO as low as 200 when viewing your RAW files at 100%. If not removed, that noise will be present in the exported JPG as well.

When working with Darktable, there has been a profiled noise reduction option since version 1.2. As the name implies, the Profiled Denoise option is based on unique camera model/ISO combinations to optimize the noise reduction while retaining image quality. From working with my RAW files I have found this to be a fantastic option that works very well and it is usually the first edit I apply to any of my images.

For comparison, here is a series of 100% crops taken at ISO 200, 800, 1600, 3200 & 6400 with the Darktable edited photo on top, and the straight off the camera photos on the bottom. The color difference is simply the difference between the standard setting on my Nikon D5100 and the RAW image after Darktable applies it's built in base curve. The Profiled Denoise was set to the default value on all images except for the ISO6400 shot, which was changed to patch size 3, strength 3.

For reference and more in depth comparision, you can see all the full resolution shots at this Flickr Set.

I have found working at ISO400 gives me a good balance between low initial noise, quicker shutter speeds and very little detail loss from the denoise algorithm. Below is a good example of a developed photo taken at ISO 400: My Father-in-law's 1964 Impala SS.