Tag Archives: techniques

Backing up

As you may know, I am one of the four people on the planet still using Apple Aperture for processing my photos. Aperture has a feature that lets you create what the developers call a “Vault”. Essentially, it’s a locked down database of your library, including all the information such as ratings, meta data, and processing. The idea is should your main library (or libraries) become corrupted due to disk failure or similar, you can reload your library from the vault.

Which is all fine and dandy. I’ve been maintaining a vault for a couple of years. Since my library contained virtually everything I have shot since I started seriously shooting with digital, it was getting a bit unwieldy, and when it was about to outgrow its current home I made a decision to create a bunch of smaller libraries and to archive the stuff I don’t need to access regularly.

The problem was I couldn’t get Aperture to make new vaults for the new libraries. Whatever the reason for the failures, in the end I gave up and developed a new backup strategy.

Having a pair of almost matched 500GB drives available, I decided to use them as backups for the RAW original image files. I plan to copy new images from the CF cards directly to Drive A, then import them into the relevant Aperture library. At regular intervals, I will use a utility to copy new files to Drive B, which will be pretty much an identical clone of Drive A. One can then be stored off-site. As the archive grows, I’ll acquire new matched drives and continue to archive to them, leaving the old ones in storage.

Now, obviously, I want all my old files on this archive. Which means I have been patiently plodding through my old library exporting originals to Drive A. I am not bothered about saving processed images. Processing originals again is easy: I may even find I process them differently if it happens. What isn’t so easy is taking the photograph again. If you like, I am backing up the negatives for the twenty-odd thousand images I have taken since 2002 or so.

Interestingly, having this opportunity to sift through my back catalogue has made me realise one or two things. First, I’ve got some awesome shots I have forgotten about, which I really ought to revisit at some stage. Second, I keep an awful lot of rubbish images. I think I will be a good deal more choosy about shots in the future, rather than just dump everything from the card into the library.

So, what’s your backup strategy for your digital photography? Do you even have one?

Do You Wear a Camera?

Perhaps the biggest challenge I hear many of our readers talking about when it comes to their photography is that they struggle to find time to practice their photography.

The real problem though is that so many of us don’t have our camera with us when the photographic opportunities present. Instead they sit at home in a little bag that is full of well researched and rarely used gear.

But even when we take our camera with us it often remains in that bag.

I recently was reading Thorsten Overgaard’s site (pictured right) where make the statement that cameras should always ‘wear their camera’. He wrote:

“Things happen when you wear your camera. You get to see things and document them.”

By ‘wearing’ your camera Thorsten advocates actually having out of your bag, over your shoulder, switched on and ready to go at all times.

Getting a little meta, writing a blog post about a blog post about a blog post, but I think the subject here is worth a look.

I used to “wear” my Olympus OM10—it was always nearby wherever I went—and I used to be able cram my Canon EOS 400D with a lens into my handbag, but since moving to a larger body, I only ever carry the PowerShot G9 in my bag.

Why Good Photography Isn’t About the Gear

With the release of the Nikon d800 and the Canon 5d mk3 many people will have no doubt begun checking their bank statements a bit more carefully and thinking about increasing that credit limit by a measly few thousand.

This got me thinking, how many bells and whistles do you actually need to take a great photograph anyway? Too many cameras are now available with enough fancy settings to give the geekiest of technology nerd’s nightmares.

Lets face it, these days 99% of photographs will never see printed paper, ending up on an innumerable amount of social networking sites, converting a large file from a full frame ultra mega pixel machine into web ready kilobytes and a pixelated 72dpi. Shooting poor images wont change from mobile to DSLR, your rubbish (and mine) will just be higher definition.

With this in mind I decided I would go out and shoot some landscapes with my girlfriend’s entry level and well-used Canon 1000d and its bog standard 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens. I figure as long as any camera can go fully manual in ‘M’ mode, I should be able to capture good images without having to resort to using the bell setting or even it’s whistle feature.

It’s nice to have new gear. My “new” camera is now a year old, and will no doubt soon be obsolete when Canon produces the 7D Mk II any day (joke!).

But the pertinent point here is whether new gear makes you a better photographer. Well, does it? Be honest now.

The Problem With Using Filters On Your Camera Lenses « Photofocus

Just like the meme that you should change your oil every 3,000 miles or have your teeth cleaned every six months, the photographic retailers have their own meme going – you should buy a UV filter to protect your lens.

Sigh…

While I am sure many of you – maybe even most of you – have fallen for this, it’s not necessary. In this post I’ll give you my opinion as to why you don’t need such a filter and further, discuss a few pitfalls of filters in general.

Let’s work backwards. Filters in general cause several problems. They may induce flare, either the visible kind that results in small starbursts of light appearing on your image, or the more insidious kind – light refraction, which ends up reducing image contrast. These problems are caused by light leaks between the filter and lens, and the inner reflective surfaces of the filters themselves, as well as a few optical phenomena, the discussion of which would be beyond the scope of a simple blog post.

Scott Bourne at Photofocus hits the nail on the head again. I always fell for this, until a couple of years ago when I decided I couldn’t afford the really expensive UV filters, read about a bit and decided they simply weren’t worth the effort anyway.

One lens I own still has a UV filter—the Sigma 10–20mm. I’m not sure why, to be honest.

LNER K2 2-6-0 No 1742

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I think I’ve found my favourite model photography lens. It’s the 35mm ƒ/2.0 EF lens from Canon. On my APS-C EOS 7D, it gives a view similar to a 55mm lens.

I like it because it’s got just the right amount of angle of view, and will focus down to about 20cm. Such a focus point means I can be quite close to a model and it’ll remain sharp. The above shot was at ƒ/22 for 2 seconds.

The model is an LNER K2 2-6-0, and it’s been finished by its builder Jonathan Bushell in a dirty, hard-worked finish typical of the period around the end of World War 2. The model uses DCC, with sound, and added features like working reversing lever and brakes. Jonathan stole the first prize in the modelling competition at the annual Gauge O Guild Guildex convention this year, so congratulations to him!

Exposing For Monochrome « Photofocus

The latitude (the ability to over or underexpose) a photograph is greatest with color negative film. Slide film has the least amount of latitude, especially overexposure. Correct exposure is more critical for digital capture than film because digital sensors respond more like a hybrid of the two different kinds of film: Over exposure wipes out image data but the underexposure side of digital capture has more latitude. The downside of underexposure is the inevitable creation of digital noise, what you might see in a photograph that appears to be digital “grain.” As in all forms of photography, the secret to maximize digital image quality is to properly expose the image.

As I’m currently choosing to shoot in monochrome with my EOS 7D, this is a very handy reminder of how to get the best. Go ahead and read the original at Photofocus. I promise it won’t take you long at all.

Tethered Shooting

Generally, the fastest way to get images from the Canon EOS 7D is a case of popping the CF card out of the camera and into a reader attached to my Mac, then getting Aperture to copy the files into its library. If most of my photography has been out in the field it’s the only sensible method of downloading, especially if there are several cards involved.

Sometimes I find myself working in a studio environment, where seeing the results without recourse to pixel-peeping on the camera’s LCD would be beneficial. If I’m doing some model or macro work, where focus can be quite critical, or if I’ve got a bunch of products I need to shoot where the lighting and framing is all but identical, tethered or remote shooting — where the camera is connected to and controlled by software on a computer — is the way to go.

Canon ships a bunch of software* with their DSLRs, including a utility that lets you set up and control the camera from the computer screen. Combine this with the camera’s Live View feature, where the viewfinder mirror is locked up so you see exactly what the sensor is seeing, and you can perform critical focus and framing while seeing everything as large as your computer’s screen will allow.

Canon’s software hasn’t really been designed with a third party application in mind. I’ve used Digital Photo Professional (Canon’s RAW image management and editing suite) in the past, but let’s just say I was only too happy to move to something better when I could.

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The ‘Studio’ setup. Black card forms the backdrop, with battery LED lamps to fill in, helped by a reflector on the right which is bouncing the desk lamp light into the scene.

I’ve been an Aperture user for some years now. Apple’s flagship image management and editing software has always supported camera tethering of some sort, but my previous DSLR was not supported. My current camera, the EOS 7D, is supported by Aperture 3. Keen to cut out the comprehensive but rather clumsy Canon control software, I tried it out.

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With the camera on and connected, choose Tether > Start Session… to begin using Aperture’s tethering controls.

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You are asked to choose some basic settings before you begin…

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…and here’s your control panel. A button to capture the image, and a button to stop the session. Any camera settings must be performed on the camera itself. Aperture tethering is simply a way of downloading the images directly from the camera.

It was, frankly, a bit of a disappointment. True, the 7D can be linked to Aperture. But that’s about it. You have some control over the EXIF or IPTC data embedded with the image, there’s a button that lets you fire the camera’s shutter and it does download the resulting image directly into your Aperture project, but for everything else you have to work on the camera itself. There’s not even a way to preview the shot, or activate the autofocus, or change the other parameters on the camera, as far as I can tell. Compare this with the complete remote control of the camera—save zooming in and out or moving the tripod—which is available if you use the EOS Utility.

The task, then, is to work with the Canon software to set up and control the camera, but make sure the images are downloaded into Aperture, neatly sidestepping the rather clunky Digital Photo Professional. Ideally, this should happen automatically, so I can concentrate on the work at hand, but still be able to review images if I need to.

Step forward a handy little free script, built using Apple’s Automator scripting package. Called Aperture Hot Folder, it’s a tiny application that monitors the folder where the EOS Utility is downloading images from your camera, and tells Aperture to import them. Easy.

Aperture Hot Folder is free, which is even better. (It’s for Mac OS X only. I’m sure there are similar things available for Windows and Linux, and Adobe Lightroom, too.)

So, here’s my workflow. Firstly, I set up the camera and connect it to the Mac with the USB cable. Once Aperture is running, and I’ve set up a project for the shots I’m taking, I launch Aperture Hot Folder and step through the instruction screens.

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The first screen explains what the script does, and what to do next.

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Select a folder on the hard drive to watch and click Choose.

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Aperture Hot Folder then asks you to choose an Aperture project to which it should import the images that arrive in the watched folder selected in the previous step. If your Aperture library is large, with lots of projects, this list will be very long!

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Next, you’re asked whether the imported images should be referenced (Aperture-speak for leaving them where they are in the hard drive) or imported into Aperture’s managed library. I choose the latter because I like to work with a managed library and not worry about where originals are.

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Finally, a confirmation screen and instructions on how to stop the script running when you’re done.

With the camera connected, switched on and mode dial set to manual, the next application in the sequence is EOS Utility so we can control the camera.

EOS Utility itself initially shows a main screen where you can choose various functions. It’s a launch pad that gets you into a variety of software for downloading images from the camera, setting the downloads folder and all that kind of thing. 

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The part I’m interested in, though, is Camera Settings/Remote Shooting. Clicking this launches the control panel proper.

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I’m not going into detail with this control panel. As you can see, it’s pretty comprehensive, with plenty of data showing how the camera is set up, battery condition and other information. The round button near the top right is the shutter release button. Before I start, I click the tiny folder icon below the shutter to select the destination folder being watched by Aperture Hot Folder.

From the control panel I can literally control every parameter of the camera, short of physically moving it on the tripod to frame my subjects. With the camera set to manual (M), I can set shutter speed, aperture, ISO, colour balance, file format, etc, by clicking on the relevant element and using the left and right cursor keys to change them incrementally. Remote control also works for aperture and shutter priority, but for full control manual is preferred.

From the menu buttons below the data panel I can pop up the camera’s built-in flash (where I can also control flash exposure levels) and, with the Live View shoot… button, crucially kicking the 7D into Live View shooting mode. 

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Once in Live View mode, rather than peering at the image on the camera’s LCD, I see it in a larger window on my computer screen. I see exactly what the sensor is seeing. In this new window, I can turn on grid overlays, move the focus block about and set the colour balance to my liking. I can even turn on selective focus and exposure points. Almost every part of the camera’s operation can be controlled from my computer. If the lens is set to autofocus, pressing the shutter release button focuses the lens before the shot is taken—though this is a little hit and miss. If the focus misfires, the resulting shot will still be taken, which is why I prefer to work with manual focus for tethered shooting.

Ae_point

For critical focus, I click the zoom magnifier below the main image or double-click the white rectangle in the image. This area can be dragged around the screen, and once clicked opens an enlargement window zoomed into the defined area. 

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I can drag the image about for a better view, and zoom to 200% to allow really fine manual focus if desired. Closing this window returns me to the main window, although most of the settings are available in both windows. If I have chosen a small aperture, I can also turn on depth of field preview to see how it will appear in the final shot. There is also a mode where the Remote Live View Window will simulate the exposure settings to give me a better feel for the final image. 

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Depth of Field preview off. The lens aperture is wide open, allowing critical focus.

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Depth of Field preview on. This shows me how the image will appear with the aperture set to ƒ/16. The software brightens the image artificially, unlike when you squint through the viewfinder when pressing the DoF preview button on the camera itself!

When I’m happy, I can click the faux shutter button on the control panel, or the real thing on the camera or remote release, and my image is captured and downloaded to the watched folder. I can, of course, check it for focus and colour balance without leaving the Canon software suite if I wish. I’m going to do my reviewing in Aperture, so I will have to wait for a few seconds.

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EOS Utility downloads the captured image from the camera to the watched folder.

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The original downloaded images remain in the watched folder, so they’ve been copied into Aperture’s library rather than moved.

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The captured image appears in Aperture where I can review and work on it.

Once the image has been downloaded to the watched folder, Aperture Hot Folder notices the new arrival and pokes Aperture in the ribs. The new image is imported as a copy to Aperture—leaving the original capture in the hot folder for later disposal, just as when downloading from a CF card—and after a short pause I can study the image in greater detail in my preferred image management software.

While Aperture Hot Folder and Aperture are sorting themselves out, I can carry on and capture further images. Each will be dutifully imported into Aperture while I work. If not seamless, at least it lets me avoid the step of importing the images to Aperture later. Theoretically, I could be capturing the shots on my laptop, controlling the camera settings, while the images are downloaded and then perhaps copied across a network to an assistant working in Aperture who can then process the shots. The potential for a busy studio workflow is there.

I should also add that the EOS Utility and Remote Live View Window let you record video as well as stills. Ideal for the director who simply must see everything as it’s being filmed. I plan to use this feature soon for a short video I have in mind.

It’s definitely not a perfect solution, but it allows me to use the full control Canon provides while still working in my preferred RAW management software. Aperture’s tethered shooting mode comes up a long way short.

 

 

 

*The full list of software Canon provides is Digital Photo Professional (management and RAW editing), EOS Utility (download and camera control), Picture Style Editor (allows the user to edit and create new picture styles which can be uploaded to the camera), PhotoStitch (for creating panoramic images for multiple shots) and PhotoStitch Viewer (to view the resulting panoramas), and CameraWindow (I have no idea what this is for: when you launch it, it launches EOS Utility for you…).

 

 

 

Gloster Gladiator I | Flickr – Photo Sharing!

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I spent an hour or two playing about with posing a couple of my aircraft models on some grass mat. I used the Canon PowerShot G9 for simplicity, though I did set it to manual, smallest aperture and macro.

Sadly, the mat is a quite fluorescent under light in the workshop, and despite setting the camera’s white balance to match it all looked too bright. I wasted a bit of time faffing in Aperture to try and balance things, but ended up converting to greyscale. To get a bit more of a period feel, I could add some grain, but I’m reasonably happy with the results.

Diffraction Limited Photography: Pixel Size, Aperture and Airy Disks

Diffraction is an optical effect which can limit the total resolution of your photography– no matter how many megapixels your camera may have.  Ordinarily light travels in straight lines through uniform air, however it begins to disperse or “diffract” when squeezed through a small hole (such as your camera’s aperture).  This effect is normally negligible, but increases for very small apertures.  Since photographers pursuing better sharpness use smaller apertures to achieve a greater depth of field, at some aperture the softening effects of diffraction offset any gain in sharpness due to better depth of field.  When this occurs your camera optics are said to have become diffraction limited.  Knowing this limit can help you to avoid any subsequent softening, and the unnecessarily long exposure time or high ISO speed required for such a small aperture.

Although quite technical, this page does help to explain the phenomenon of “circles of confusion”. The lens diffraction problem is something that does affect scale model photographers, because we tend to use the smallest apertures we can reasonably get away with.

The effect in my photos is to give a soft focus effect to objects in the distance. I don’t actually mind it, because it does – to my mind – at a level of haze that is seen in real life.

A way to overcome the problem in small scale work would to use focus stacking, where several images are taken focused at different points, and then combined using software later.

Grain | Flickr – Photo Sharing!

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I’ve been keeping a local crop field under watch. I want to capture the various stages of growth over the summer. I got the early growth a while ago, and today I checked out where the field had got to. I scoped the site out before midday, but the sun was really in the wrong place. I planned for the return visit this evening.

I don’t know anything about growing wheat, so I’m guessing when I say this field is probably a few weeks from harvest. I set up with the tripod low, and played about with the shallow focus. I learned that I should really wear socks and proper footwear, because something took offence and had a nibble of my heel!

It was worth it, though. I shall try and get back in a week or so.