Friday, July 5, 2013

Are you a Bracketeer?

Unless you live on Mars, you will be aware there remains some debate over the ‘HDR thing’, or High Dynamic Range photography. As a simple person I don’t get it. That is taking brackets around a base exposure to ensure that you have extracted the maximum quality of photons from the scene just seems common sense to me.
Of course, bracketing is not the issue; it’s how you manipulate those brackets into a single image, eg grungy-looking vs natural-looking. Let me say up front, I strive to make my images, from brackets or not, look natural, although I am not always aiming to make an image that is an exact replica of the scene.

So why bracket?

For me it comes down to physics and engineering. That is our cameras, no matter how expensive, will not always be able to capture the tonal range of the scene we are observing, ie brights to darks. If you wish to capture such high contrast scenes with the simplest of equipment, I recommend looking at the scene and try and remember it for as long as you can. You don’t need a camera for this approach!

If, on the other hand, you wish to share your made images with others, then taking a set of brackets is the only way, until a 20+ Ev dynamic range camera arrives, that ‘guarantees’ success, albeit with some post processing work in the computer.

As a Canon shooter I have, until I got my 5DIII, been limited to capturing three brackets with my camera’s (G11, S95 or 50D) 3-bracket AEB function. If I needed a wider set of brackets I was forced to manually adjust the AEBs, eg through exposure compensation or some other manual intervention.

However, as a Canon shooter I also have access to two free and simple ‘add-ons’ that allow me to extend my bracketing to any level I need, including scene-informed auto bracketing. For my G11 and S95 I use CHDK ( and for my 50D, and soon my 5DIII, I use Magic Lantern (

I have no hesitation in recommending these two firmware add-ons. Magic Lantern comes with a built in auto-bracketing feature, that will take as many brackets as required, ie you don’t need to specify the number of brackets; and in CHDK, although it doesn’t have an auto-bracketing feature built in, you can write a simple script to achieve this ‘magic’.

With CHDK and ML I could just call it a day. But I like bright shinny things and therefore I also have two additional pieces of technology, which by the way, run on non-Canon cameras. 

My ‘top of the range’ technology is a very robust and powerful ‘gadget’ called Promote Control. The Promote Control plugs into my 50D or 5DIII cameras and essentially acts as a tethered controller, ie it is like a small PC, not much bigger than an iPhone. If you have not heard of the Promote Control, I have placed a link to their site and can recommend it for all your extended control, ie HDR brackets, timelapse and focus stacking etc.

At about the same price as the Promote Control is my CamRanger. I have only just starting using CamRanger and really like it. It operates over a wifi link to my iPod or iPad, and allows me to control my EOS cameras via Live View, ie refocus or take a set of exposure or focus brackets. CamRanger is a relatively new product and I’m sure the manufacturers will be extending its functionality in the future.

Finally, I also have a few control Apps that say they do extended bracketing, but all only do this in bulb mode, hence short exposures, less than say, 1/25 sec, and not accessible, ie you may need to play around with ND filters to get into the accessible bulb range. These iPhone based solutions are much cheaper than the other solutions, and you get what you pay for.

In future posts I intend to cover extended bracketing and HDR processing in more detail. For now, suffice it to say, if you wish to extend your bracketing, ie beyond what Canon, say, gives you, then you need to consider some technology. In my opinion, if you are a Canon user, you should ‘load up’ either CHDK or ML, as it will always be with you. If you are a non-Canon user, or a Canon user who prefers a little bit of hardware in their hands, you can’t go wrong with Promote Control. As I am still evaluating CamRanger I will hold further judgment on this technology until a future post.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Do you value your photography?

Like many photographers I have been following the on-line debate regarding the new Adobe Creative Cloud with much interest.
Until 9 months ago my workflow was limited to Lightroom, which in the latest versions (4 or 5) provides a very powerful non-destructive, post-processing environment.

On top of this I had added in the full Nik Software suite (now an amazing value from Google) as well as OnOne Perfect Suite 7 and Photomatix. On the odd occasion I needed access to layers etc I edited images with Adobe Elements or Serif PhotoPlus. 

In my humble opinion, the above LR-based post processing arrangement still represents a very powerful environment. In other words, about a year ago, I saw no need to spend $700+, or more for the 3D version, on CS6, the latest Photoshop.

Things began to change when Adobe ‘enticed’ me to join the CS fraternity with a 50% discount offer on CS6. Although I hesitated for short period, the ‘deal’ seemed worth it: so I took the bait!

I have to say CS6 allowed me to take my post processing to a higher level, as, although I could do layers in Elements 11, CS6 provide a seamlessly integrated environment with Lightroom and integration with a set of very powerful plug-ins, eg access to the the Nik Software suite, as in Lightroom, but now augmented by being able to brush effects on to a layer in CS6; and use other plug-ins; for example what I believe to be a must have plug-in if you wish to make use of luminosity masks: Tony Kuyper’s TK-Actions (
I was thus a very happy person: then the Creative Cloud news hit the streets.

My immediate reaction was confusion and annoyance. Confusion as I wasn’t initially sure how my recent CS6 purchased fitted into the new Adobe model; and annoyance that Adobe hadn’t been fully open with me. However, I very soon moved into a positive frame and came to the following conclusions:

  • If photography was important to me, and it is, then shelling out just over ‘a buck and a half’ per day, for access to the complete set of Adobe products, seemed a deal. After all I don’t think twice about spending $4 or more on a coffee at Starbucks! 
  • As I now have a 5DMkIII, video was, at some time, going to come into my life, and therefore I needed editing tools to bring out the best of this medium; 
  • Finally, if I ‘just’ stayed with CS6, I would not be able to access some of the newest tools that Adobe was offering, eg shake reduction. I would be frozen at the CS6 version.

On the other hand I also thought that adobe may, albeit slowly, add more and more into Lightroom. So maybe it was best to wait.

Like many I also looked on the web to see what others were thinking; but many appeared, to me, to just be reacting to the $50 per month ‘shock’, which for me was dealt with by rationalizing it down to a ‘buck and a half per day’ and comparing it to other ‘discretionary’ purchases I make every day.

So, I took the plunge and am now enjoying access to the full Adobe Creative Cloud and, bluntly, enjoying it! 

My take away here is that we often tend look at the cost of our ‘photography addiction’ in an reactionary way: “How much!” We have no real way of assessing the value of our purchases, but, like a rabbit caught in the lights of a car, we freeze in our decision making and react to the ‘one off cost’.

Assuming you recognize the photographic value of the Adobe products to support your ‘photography addiction’, I believe Adobe has taken the ‘cost shock’ out of our photographic development and decision making. If you can afford a Starbucks coffee every day, or some other ‘discretionary luxury’, I suggest you can afford an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, either CS-CC on its own at less than a dollar or the full suite at ‘a buck and a half’ a day.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The beginning

Although I am late to blogging, this blog is my humble attempt to bolster the number of active blogs by one!

Let me be clear at the outset, I am mainly going to use this blog for two reasons. First, as part of my own cathartic development process as a photographer, eg following the ‘what you write down you better understand’ philosophy; and secondly as a way of sharing my photographic developments with friends, many of whom, like me, are passionate about photography.

Whether this blog will be worth ‘following’ is not for me to say. Clearly, if you are into photography, especially if you are, like me, trying to develop your craft and artistry, then this blog may be worth looking at, as I intend to post on a broad array of photography subjects, including talking about my mistakes or ‘learning opportunities’!

Also, if you are a Canon shooter, like me, then this blog may hold some value for you, as I have spent, and continue to spend, hours learning the inner ‘secrets’ of photography using Canon’s equipment. By the way, my inventory covers the following systems: G11, S95, 50D and 5DMkIII. And my lenses go from 10mm (for the APS-C 50D only) to 500mm. And, of course, more camera bags than I could usefully use!

As for ‘what turns me on’? I love technology, so I have a lot of ‘stuff, including, from a software perspective, the new Adobe Creative Cloud suite (I originally had CS6). I also have a lot of plug-ins, which I intend to write about in future posts, as we ‘make’ a final image mainly through post processing, especially if we capture in RAW, as I do 100%.

As for photographic style, I really don’t have one (yet), although like many I am drawn to experimenting with capturing high dynamic range (HDR) brackets and seeking a natural look to the resultant image, ie I favour HDR as a tool to grab the ‘best’ photons and not as a ‘style’.

I am still, however, rather like a young child in a toy shop, running in all directions and being diverted by the ‘bright shinny things’ in the store. I still need to focus better (pun intended) my photographic passion: and I hope this blog will help me.

As this is my first post I will bring things to a rather abrupt conclusion, rather than rambling on; although I will say that it is my intention to post on a regular (weekly) basis and, it goes without saying, I welcome feedback.