Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Improving Your Picture Adventure and Google+ Impacts

I am rapidly becoming a huge Topaz fan.  The latest plugin I have been having a great experience with is  Topaz InFocus and it has really made a difference on the first few shots I used it on.  When I was reviewing photos on Google+ I noticed the best ones always had superior sharpness so I figured I needed to see if something could work magic to de-fuzz HDR a bit.

I found out about Topaz InFocus from Stuck In Customs where Trey Ratcliff was very positive about it's merits, but for me I was plain excited and in fact immediately turned my trial into a paid for download.  Basically it is a sharpening product with a superior set of algorithms vs standard sharpening in Aperture Lightroom etc.  It does not improve every single shot as some come from the camera after a small amount of post as sharp as they will get but when items lend to slight blur - leaves on trees, letters on signs in the distance, small sharp edges (peeling paint etc), HDR processing etc the algorithms noticeably tighten and sharpen to the real Tack Sharp we want in many many causes.

It is highly recommended you use this product sparingly on slightly fuzzed portrait shots or you will trash the effect you had.

I am going to add more to this review with some pictures etc later today or tomorrow but I thought I will at least get my short write out ASAP so all can have a look.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Composition vs Technology

First of all a confession that many of the photography community share and this is zero surprise.  I am a gadget geek.  I would love to have all the latest camera, lens, accessory, software etc etc bits and pieces

However I also know and as I saw someone on Google+ say the other day, "composition trumps resolution" (most of the time).  Clearly there are pretty extreme examples where noise or unintentional lack of focus trashes the image, but in general this is absolutely true.  In fact I posted an image on G+ the other day that shows this little factoid.  I saw this stellar sunrise on my way to work and all I had with me was an iPhone4 and so stopped to take the shot.  The shot was pretty cool and the composition very interesting despite being with an iPhone.  I sure wished I had a DLSR with me though.

Now what is funny is most people who +1'd or commented on Google+ loved the image and only one noted the noise which was very obvious.  I subsequently used a trial version of Topaz DeNoise and it did really improve the picture and pull much of the noise out.  Classic case of technology didn't make the shot but it definitely improved it, but I do agree that the best camera is the best one you actually have with you.

This is the shot with the noise - click to enlarge the image and look at the clouds on the right blown up a bit and you will see the noise

Below is the shot after using Topaz DeNoise - click on the image again and the noise on the right is almost gone

Link to Topaz - coupon code for 15% discount "ABWPHOTOS":
Topaz DeNoise, Click here

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Get A Real Strap

I am always very opinionated on products I use or would like to use so I thought it would be useful to share my thoughts on the Black Rapid RS-7 strap.  The net net of it is I really like this camera strap.  It is not perfect but pretty close to it.

I use Canon cameras and obviously had the base strap for the body but I quickly hated how the camera was either around my neck facing the front when I wanted to use it but then was either in the way when idle or the strap was over my shoulder to the side but was awkward and not convenient to swing up front for shooting.  The other issue was I did not want to hang the camera around my neck with the strap on the body with a large telephoto or zoom lens on the camera for fear of torquing the body.

With the Black Rapid RS-7 the strap is basically slung over your shoulder across your chest and hangs normally to the side when carrying.  When you want to shoot you pull up the camera to your eye and it slides on a swivel and metal guide loop up to you eye and when you put it down it goes back to the side.  With that motion it is really smooth, seamless and fast.  It also looks way cooler than the tourist around the neck Canon, Nikon etc straps.  The strap also has two bumpers to ensure the shoulder pad pulls back to the right place when you lower the camera or the camera stays behind your back when carrying.  Net net this is definitely a huge improvement over the included strap.

Now for the negatives and I only have one.  Changing the camera to a tripod is a pain as you have to remove the body or lens connector to screw back onto the tripod mount.  Back Rapid has a Manfrotto tripod plate adaptor but I am not lucky or wealthy enough to have that tripod so I am still trying to figure out a quick and easy solution there - the solution will likely be save pennies and buy Manfrotto, is my guess.

Here is their link:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Deleting, Phtomatix and what I learned from an ok HDR Effort

Vacations always produce mounds of shots.  For me I find somewhere between 15%-25% that should avoid the trash bin on your computer.  In the past I would keep everything and boy oh boy was there a lot of junk - overexposed, underexposed, missing heads/feet/hands and just plain crappy composition.  Don't get me wrong snaps of random family things I love and want to keep when they are good and not everything has to be a soaring landscape, but I just didn't have what it took to get rid of the junk.  I am getting much better at the purging but I think I still need to be more ruthless with myself.  It also hurts me to delete photos of my kids and close family but I also know longterm nobody wants an out of focus shot of Auntie Bee.

I use a 5 star system plus in camera and here are my better but not optimal steps.
1) Delete in camera pure junk as even the LCD will show these
2) I try to give a Star rating to all remaining when I import.  Anything that has crap composition or really out of focus or was a pure mistake gets a 1 star.  2 stars go to so so composition but soft focus or really soft but not terrible focus.  3 stars is basically any picture that is ok or better but has an obvious flaw - composition somewhat out but cropping may help or it is slightly soft.  4 and 5 stars are used on good to great pictures with 5 being wow I nailed that.  I also group any HDR brackets so I don't accidentally throw them away as who knows when I will visit those.
3) I delete all the 1 stars at this point
4) I post process all the 5 stars and many of the 4 stars - this is where I have 15-25% left adding up these groups
5) I review the 3 stars for any that maybe salvaged and if possible work it and upgrade to a 4 star, plus make sure the brackets are marked to save
6) Delete the 2 star and remaining 3 star photos

My HDR adventure. I love HDR and use Photomatix now which is awesome due to it's speed, controls and super ease of use, but I do not "HDR" everything I shoot.  I have seen many an HDR that causes me to go wow that is incredible.  I have also seen a few that are not my taste, but oh well everyone has their opinion and just because I don't like it doesn't mean others don't.  On the shot captured in this blog post I am very satisfied with it for one of my early efforts.  The is my mother's lakehouse and it is clearly in the woods so it is super hard to get a shot of it in the summer as it is so dark and then when you expose the cottage the trees and sky are way blown out - trust me I have tried.  A split ND also doesn't really help much as due to the trees mixing with the sky so to speak.  Anyway I have been reading and reading the various tutorials on HDR and recently acquired Photmatix Pro after reading various recommendations on different products.  My first effort with other HDR S/W was marginal at best, but then I moved onto Photomatix, tried again and stuck closer to Trey Ratcliff's setting initial recommendations before deviating on my own and then it started to really come together but some of the sky and trees above the cottage still looked a bit muddy.  I took the additional plunge and went into a layered editor added one of the brackets as a layer masked it and then painted through to one of the bracket shots and low and behold it worked - that was a first and almost an aha moment for me as Photomatix plus the layered editor was a huge winning combination.

I will be putting up a more detailed Photomatix review next week or two as I have processed a half dozen more shots and have more to do over the next couple of weeks as well

Friday, August 19, 2011

Wow what a difference 8 months makes

Ok I am now going to try and really use my blog or at least occasionally

First a confession I am a recovering Point and Shoot guy.  I have alway loved taking pictures, but have never owned my own SLR/DSLR.  We always had point and shoots and I filled the memory cards with shots all the time. My wife has had film SLRs and DSLRs and she was alway pretty good at composition, but I sucked and I always left it on the green fully auto square.  She occasionally ventured to Aperture or Shutter Priority but also mostly fully auto or fully auto no flash (the black square).

What I really started to notice is that many times the DSLR images looked dull and flat and the point of shoots of the same thing were better.  Then I downloaded the Stuck in Customs iPhone app and it caused me to look at the Stuck In Customs website and I saw HDR and thought wow that is unreal.  So March of this year (2011) I literally decided to take the plunge and really learn our (sorry my wife's Canon T1i) DSLR and leave the all auto world and start shooting exclusively in RAW.  I had zero idea of what I was doing and reading the basic manual was pretty much useless as it had zero real explanation just simple this does this but not why or how or context and my pictures got worse, but nonetheless I was all the more intrigued.  I then bought DSLR for Dummies and yes I was a dummy so needed it.  I read it cover to cover and started to slowly figure out a lot.

I took the camera and the DSLR for Dummies book with me on a trip to Spain and finally things started to make sense and I was starting to understand why my shots really were not very good at all.  Then I started to get a wee bit better and then when I started to use Aperture to post process, I finally saw my DSLR pictures beat out my Point and Shoot efforts.

So today, my wife wants her camera back and I really want to get a full frame body of my own so that is on the horizon.  The net of the journey so far is I still am very very average at best, but much better than I was.  I also now at least can see what I like and some ways to produce that plus I now see how much more exciting stuff there is to learn.

The shot above is of my son sticking his feet int he rushing water at Ragged Falls near Huntsville, Ontario Canada.  I just love the colors from his shirt to the rocks to even the black of the water.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Waiting © Alastair Westgarth

Delayed In Newark nothing to do but shoot