27 February

Mating Cars and HDR

Poking through the backlog of images sitting on my ‘to do’ drive (as I think of it), I came across some unprocessed images from last year’s trip to southern Alberta. These are from the scrapyard we’re going to visit on the upcoming Badlands, Buicks & Old Buildings workshop August 23 – 26, 2012. It’s pretty exciting to have access to a private junkyard; usually you end up with a backside full of buckshot when you sneak onto private property in Alberta. But, for a fee, the owner has agreed to leave the rifle in the shop! Just kidding; the scrapyard owner is a cool dude and very open to having us tote our cameras through his scrapyard.

Stacked cars at a junkyard, southern Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

I usually hand-blend my multiple exposures, not because of some superiority complex but because for some reason I can’t seem to get great results from HDR software. This is a case where it is definitely ‘me’ and not the software since I do now follow the proper way to expose for HDR outlined by Royce Howland and described by Darwin here. So I tried the same image in Oloneo’s PhotoEngine software (three exposures) and did my usual workflow (but with only two exposures). Here are the results with the PhotoEngine version leading off (both images sharpened the same amount):

Stacked cars in a junkyard, southern Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

And here is my hand-blend:

Stacked cars at a junkyard in southern Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

I think the results are pretty close, but there are some subtle differences in the sky, dark shadows and in the details in the grass. It was a windy day, and the grass in the lower right corner were moving. PhotoEngine does a pretty good job of dealing with this, but there is still something wonky about the details here that would be noticeable at larger print sizes. Neither file was sharpened, by the way.

detail of grass and cars

© Samantha Chrysanthou

 So, what do you think? Which image, HDR or hand-blend, do you prefer and why? In the end, I would probably mix ‘n match parts that I like from both files (which is what many photographers do) although this does increase my processing time. For those participants coming along on this workshop, you may want to think about how you would process your shots from this incredible place. It’s a challenging environment with bright skies and reflective metals. But there are plenty of hidden gems that are definitely worth exploring (especially since we’ve made it ‘safe’ for you to do so!) Watch for some more images over the next couple of weeks as we finally get to processing shots from the places we’ll be visiting on this workshop!

Tail light on red car, southern Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

 

 

17 February

Tilting on Abraham Lake

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of tilt-shift lenses. There are so many advantages to these lenses for outdoor photographers that I couldn’t image photographing without them! Indeed, my landscape photography kit is currently made up of four Canon tilt-shift lenses (17mm, 24mm, 45mm, and 90mm). Last week I was out on Abraham Lake in the Kootenay Plains and I was a tilting and shifting fool using all four lenses equally! To illustrate one of the benefits of tilt (altering the plane of focus) check out the sample photos below:

©Darwin Wiggett

The photo on the right was taken with the Canon 17mm tilt-shift lens at a wide open aperture of f4. The leaf was only inches from the front of the lens. As expected, there is only one, thin slice of focus in the photo (the near foreground). Traditionally, I could use an aperture like f22 to extend the depth-of-field to a wider slice of apparent sharpness but with the leaf this close to the lens and the mountain so far back even at hyperfocal distance there would not be enough depth-of-field to render both the leaf and the mountain sharply.

Enter tilt. With tilt I can simply bend the plane of focus so that it falls on the leaf and the top of the mountain simulataneously — cool eh? Image taking a giant piece of cardbard and laying it with one end touching the leaf and the other end touching the top of the mountain. Everything in the plane of the cardboard will be rendered sharp when the lens is focused on this plane. So in the photo on the right, also shot at f4,  both the leaf and the mountain are sharp because I have tilted the lens so they fall in the same plane of focus. Some things are still out of the plane of focus (like the base of the mountain) but here is where traditional depth-of-field can come in and sharpen up the stuff that does not fall into the plane of the tilt. For the final shot below, I used f11 to give me just the depth-of-field I needed to get the entire scene sharp.

The final photo which was a raw capture was processed using Camera RAW in Photoshop 5.1 and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.0 (to add some contrast and snap — more on how to do this in a future post).

To learn more about processing raw photos, be sure to check out our talk tomorrow (Feb. 18, 2012) on raw vs JPEG. And to learn more about using Tilt and Shift (which can be tricky!), be sure to sign up  for our talk on that subject March 10, 2012.

©Darwin Wiggett - The finished image of Abraham Lake

15 February

Playing on Valentine’s Day with the Fuji x10 and the Panasonic GX1

Samantha had some really great surprises for me on Valentine’s Day. From a Valentine’s Treasure Hunt to a fantastic dinner at our favorite restaurant, Farm it was a great day! Thanks, Sam!

But one of Sam’s suggested Valentine’s activities really threw me for a loop. She asked that we head over to The Camera Store and borrow a couple of cameras to play with while we walked around downtown Calgary. Now, you gotta realize, Sam is not much of a camera gear junkie. She only cares if a camera works for her needs and is not impressed by spec listings or fancy bells and whistles. So of course I  was wondering: why the heck would she want to go out and play with new gear (on a date day, of all things)? She didn’t seem feverish, so we set out; and of course I was happy to play with the goodies even if I could not figure out her newfound interest in the lastest batch of cameras.

©Darwin Wiggett - Kissing Shadows (Panasonic GX1)

Turns out Sam is on the hunt for a functional ‘travel’ camera that she can take with her anywhere (we are headed to Iceland in June and a pocketable camera would be great to have).  So, for Sam, the perfect ‘travel’ camera would be small, light, easy to use but give quality files that are still usable for publication. The latest round of point-n-shoot and ILC (interchangeable lens compact) cameras had her thinking that there may finally be a perfect walk-about camera for her in the future. Sam was less enamored by our previous point-n-shoot digital camera, the Canon G11, than I was mostly because its back panel was polluted with buttons and dials that made holding the camera almost impossible without accidently pressing something you didn’t mean to press! Plus the files were quite decent but not overly great.

We asked the good folks at The Camera Store which cameras they would recommend as a candidate for Sam’s “Perfect Travel Camera” and they came up with two contenders, the Fuji x10 and the Panasonic GX1.

Please not that what follows is not a review but simply our first impressions of two cameras we played with for two hours. In the end, what we both were interested in was if either of these cameras was worthy of serious consideration as an ‘oopoomoo’ travel camera.

The Fuji x10

$598 at The Camera Store, 12MP digital point-n-shoot, 2/3rds inch CMOS sensor, 28-112mm f2.0/2.8 lens, manual zoom, 2.8 inch LCD, HD Video, optical Viewfinder, raw file format, extensive manual control. For a full review check out Ron Martinsen’s Photography Blog where Ron dubbed it the best point-n-shoot of 2011. Also be sure to check out  the entertaining video review done by The Camera Store on this camera.

Fuji x10

The Panasonic Gx1

$687 at The Camera Store (lens extra), 16 MP ILC camera with micro 4/3rds size Live MOS sensor, raw capability, micro four thirds lens mount, HD video, 3.0 inch touch-enabled LCD. We used it with the 14-140mm lens. For a full review check out  Photography Blog. For another thorough look, check out The Camera Store Video review of the Gx1.

Panasonic GX1

Well, what did we think of each of these two possible ‘perfect’ travel cameras?

Samantha on the Fuji x10:

I found the Fuji to be a cute, retro-looking little camera (hey, fashion counts!). The camera’s styling is reminiscent of something from the early 70’s — Darwin you remember that decade well, right? The camera was small and light and quiet (cool for street shooting). It was very easy to use; much easier than our old Canon G11. But there were a couple of things I didn’t like. First, the LCD was cluttered with shooting information which makes it hard to judge your composition. Sure you could turn off the display information, but to toggle it on and off was a bit of a pain because I  had to cycle through several buttons to get to a clean display — too time consuming for point-n-shoots which I hope to be quick and easy to use.

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Winter Branches (Fuji x10)

Speaking of buttons and such, most functions are quite accessible, but I found the thumb wheel placement to be awkward. In order to use the buttons on the top of the camera, like the function button, I had to shift the camera to my left hand (where there is no grip) so that I could free my right hand to work the multiple buttons and thumb wheel on the right. I always felt like the camera was going to slip out of my hands! For me, the thumb wheel was too far down from the top of camera for me to manipulate all the controls on the right-hand side without changing my grip to my left hand.  Maybe it’s just my teeny thumbs.  Also, while the viewfinder was very bright, it only covered about 85% of the view and of course suffers from parallax when shooting close-ups.

Fuji x10 Back - too cluttered with little space to hang onto the camera

Finally, I found it weird that the camera only goes up to 1/1000s shutter speed when the lens is wide open (e.g. f2.0/f2.8) but will go to 1/4000s when the lens is used at apertures like f8. This little idiosyncracy caused me to overexpose some bright sunny photos when shooting with the lens wide open:

At f4, the camera's fastest shutter speed is 1/1250s causing sunny day shots to overexpose even at ISO 100!

Darwin on the Fuji x10:

Well of course I liked this little camera a lot (geek likes new toys!). I loved how it had a manual zoom mechanism instead of the step power zoom that the Canon G11 had (boy, I hated that). I also liked the fast, sharp lens and fast auto-focus. However, speaking of focus, without the camera manual I was stumped on how to manually move the focus point to one of the 48 focus points available. After they showed me how at The Camera Store, moving the focus point was a little easier than on the Canon G11 (but not much). But it was not initially obvious to me how to get the focus point to move!

I found the layout of the camera to be intuitive and easy to figure out. The LCD is bright and beautiful. I did not have as much problem with the back panel as I did with the Canon G11 because there is a tad more space back there than on Canon’s G-series cameras but I still wish for more hand-holding real estate!

The raw files produced by the Fuji X10 were of similar quality IMO as the Canon G11/G12; decent but not earth-shattering (but about what I would expect from a good point-n-shoot). Overall, for handling I really do think this is a better camera than the G11/G12 but I did miss the tilt-swivel LCD that the Canon models have! In the end, if offered an x10 or a Canon G11/G12, I would probably take… hmmmm, better camera controls (x10) or LCD (G11/G12). Tough one (I want both in one camera!)

©Darwin Wiggett - high Rise (Fuji x10)

Samantha on the Panasonic GX1

Comparing these two cameras is like comparing lions with kittens: they are very different beasts. The Panasonic is like a big point-n-shot with interchangeable lenses. With the lens we had on the camera (the 14-140) it was almost as big as a dSLR (like our Canon Rebel). This is definitely not a camera I would carry in my purse (unless I had one of Panasonic’s little lenses to go on this camera (like the 14-42mm lens that often comes as a kit lens with the camera). Even then this camera would have some heft hanging around your neck. If I am going to take a bigger camera out on travels then I might as well take my Nikon dSLR and get the all benefits of my APS sized sensor and the great controls of my dSLR!

Having grumped about that, there were many things I liked about the Panasonic GX1. It focuses fast and fits well in the hand with a comfortable grip.  Also, the function buttons make it easy to customize for quick use, and the files were much better than what we got from the Fuji x10 (but they are not as good as what I get from my Nikon D300s).

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Going Up? (Panasonic GX1)

Darwin on the Panasonic GX1

Cool camera. Of course I like it! I like all cameras but this one felt great to handle, was super easy to figure out, had nice files and was much smaller than my big Canon EOS-1ds Mark III dSLR. Heck, for me, this is a great walk-around camera. I like the easy menu system and how it can be customized, and I love the touch screen feature especially for setting a focus point in the photo. Wow! (But it does not work great with mitts on!). I did find the focus confirmation beep to be super loud though!

For me, this is a bridge camera: better than any point-n-shoot I have tried but smaller than dSLR’s (even smaller than my Canon Rebel). If I wanted a higher end travel camera this might be it. Still… I would prefer a more pocketable camera. I want it all — bigger sensor and small camera. This one was close but not enough for me to spend money on it.

©Darwin Wiggett - Slushy Calgary Street (Panasonic GX1)

Conclusion

Well is Sam (or even me) going to buy one of theses cameras for travel photography? The answer is nope. And the reason why has less to do with these cameras as it has to do with us:  we are really looking for that teeny camera that will be easy to use but produce high quality files. Are we too picky? Perhaps. Although the advances being made with cameras  make us hopeful that our dream point-n-shoot is just around the corner! In the meantime Sam is left without her ‘perfect’ camera. I guess this means I get to play with more goodies in the future!

©Darwin Wiggett -Snow Bench (Panasonic GX1)

 

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Divine Wall (Fuji x10)

 

1 February

Talyn Stone Model Shoot with Dave Brosha

On January 28, 2012 Dave Brosha and a few of our photography friends went out on a windy Alberta day to make some environmental portraits of Talyn Stone. Wayne Simpson led the charge by making some Gothic-themed photos of Talyn along a line of silhouetted trees on a country road. While Wayne was shooting, the wind was totally epic and Peter Carroll and Samantha had to put some backbone into keeping Wayne’s light from blowing into Saskatchewan!

Once Wayne was ‘winded’, Dave took over. I’m sure purely for safety purposes only, he asked Talyn to go without clothes — you don’t want buttons and buckles and such banging about in the wind injuring people. Right Dave?

Peter Carroll continued photographing Talyn in the trees but he went for a softer, more romantic look. Samantha was up next creating some of her trademark ‘small person in the big landscape’ images. Branimir Gjetvaj documented the whole adventure and I ended the session doing fisheye portraits of Talyn on a lonely, dead end road.

Check out the video below for all our adventures and the finished images. If you want to see the video larger go to the oopoomoo TV video channel.

©Samantha Chrysanthou

Peter Carroll gives Wayne Simpson a ‘hand’ while Dave Brosha assists with the light.

©Samantha Chrysanthou

I show Talyn how it’s done. She never ended up using this pose. I wonder why?

 

12 January

Interview with Environmental Portrait Master Dave Brosha

We are thrilled to have Yellowknife photographer Dave Brosha coming to the Calgary, Alberta area on January 28th to give a talk for photographers entitled Mastering  Environmental Light. The talk will be held in Cochrane (just west of Calgary) from 2-4 pm on Jan. 28, 2012. We think it is much better to have the talk in small-town Cochrane rather than downtown Calgary because this way you get free parking (and when was the last time you had cheap parking in downtown Calgary!) Plus we’re just a short jaunt out of Calgary and we are minutes away from Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park for those wanting to do an outing before or after Dave’s talk.

Dave will discuss how he gets his signature location portraits. Anyone who is interested should sign up soon; we only have room for 40 people. In advance of his talk we asked Dave a few questions:

©Dave Brosha

oopoomoo – You have the rare ability to capture both story and technical perfection in your location portraits. Many professional photographers are good at technique but few capture story and mood. Any tips on how you get those great moments in your work?

Dave – I think the key is not to get so hung up on the technical that you fail to make a connection with your subject, work with them, and really… just let your creativity bubble.  Ultimately, your subject doesn’t really care if your light is diffused by a softbox, double-diffused, camera right or left, table-topped, or from a planet far, far away.  They are there to work with you, and if you’re fumbling with light and settings too long, you’ll lose them.  Aside from that, you mention “story and mood”.  That’s very important to me; once I have my technical figured out (and this is where practice makes perfect, and makes you quick), it’s “play” time.  Shoot and shoot and shoot.  Try different angles, different expressions.  Don’t be afraid to work with your subject; to ask them for suggestions.  Some of my best images have been out of suggestions from my talent/subject.

©Dave Brosha

oopoomoo – When we see any image you made we immediately know it to be a Dave Brosha photo; you have a signature style. Any advice for photographers on developing their own voice?

Dave – First of all, wow, thank you.  It’s funny, I think my style developed out of my love of landscape photography (which I considered myself first and foremost for years).  I always had a love of “The Environment”, whether that be windswept tundra or dramatic lines of a building with great architecture.  Either way, it was stuff I wanted to incorporate into my images of people.  Although I have a studio, my passion is photographing people in other natural and man-made environments.  So that’s a big part of my style, I think.  The other would be when I took it upon myself to learn and then introducing lighting to the mix.  People may not know this, but I would say 90% of my studio or small flash-lit portraits are made with one light source, and very simple techniques that I use again and again.

©Dave Brosha

oopoomoo – Living in the north gives you access to many unique opportunities but it can also be a struggle because the number of clients are small. How have you grown your business in a city (Yellowknife) with a relatively small population?

Dave –  I had a fear for a long time of plunging into the full-time world for just that reason (the relative smallness of Yellowknife).  Before I opened my studio I can remember two or three of the other photographers in town telling me that I was nuts:  that there would never be enough business to support a studio.  Luckily I had a gut that told me that it could happen, and a fantastic, supportive wife who basically forced me to follow my dream.  I think the business reason why it’s “worked” is that I haven’t been afraid to try, well, everything.  Portraiture, studio work, wedding, underground mining, aerials, headshots, various corporate shoots, advertising, magazine, creative, newborn, maternity, fashion, model, and so on.  This place is too small to really specialize, so I had the unique opportunity to photograph basically everything and everything.  And what a way to test and grow your skillset in a short time:  shoot lots and shoot very diverse.

©Dave Brosha

Aside from that, word-of-mouth is gold.  Each and every person I photograph is more than just a client that pays your bills.  This is very important for all photographers to understand.  I  subscribe 100% to the belief that if you are good to people, they will be good to you.  Care about what you do. Care about doing a good job for the people who have put their trust in you.  When people have criticism, accept it and work with the client to make it right, rather than getting defensive and potentially ruining a relationship.   While this is true everywhere, it’s especially true in a small market.

©Dave Brosha

oopoomoo – Most working commercial photographers have little opportunity to leave their local community, yet you seem to be able to make several major travel photography trips a year. What is the secret to affordable travel photography?

Dave –  Honestly, I have no idea how these things happen (the continued work/travel), but they just keep happening.  I’m looking for a major piece of wood to knock upon right now.  Last year I found photography work in five countries and all across Canada and I would say, again, that word-of-mouth was key. Don’t under-estimate the power of your local clients and contacts to lead to jobs beyond your immediate vicinity.  That, and putting yourself out there as a photographer that is willing to travel through your website and the work that you show.  I picked up a great three-day job in Alaska last year because a company had Googled “underground mining photography” and I think some of my stuff came up in the results.  They liked it, picked up the phone, 10 days later I was on Prince of Wales Island.  If I had been afraid of marketing myself online, that wouldn’t have happened.

©Dave Brosha

oopoomoo – You are coming to give a seminar here in Cochrane on January 28, 2012. What can we expect to learn during your session?

Dave – Our afternoon will be a fun, fast, and furious look at the world of assessing your surroundings and choosing the right approach for lighting and photographing your subject within these surroundings.   While we’ll cover some of the technical essentials (i.e. camera settings) and gear (i.e. different light-shaping modifiers), this will more be about how we can balance ambient and artificial lighting while – most importantly – working with your subject to make a memorable image.  We’ll look at some of the differences between “small” (i.e. flash) and “big” (studio) lighting, look at the differences of quality and shape of light using different pieces of gear, and demonstrate on a (hopefully willing) model.

Bottom line, it will be about making environmental portraits that “pop”.

oopoomoo – Thanks for bringing your expertise to Cochrane, Dave! We look forward to your talk.

For those photographers interested in learning how Dave makes these great images just click here to sing up.

©Dave Brosha


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