Monday, October 27, 2014


Photography is a marvellous thing. With the right (or wrong) lens you can capture or distort reality. A telephoto lens compresses things and a wide angle lens allows us to exaggerate spatial relationships. Factor in the ability to capture multi-image panos and you can have fun.
On a recent trip to Arizona I was able to ‘play around’ with scale.

The first image illustrates the impact of shooting wide and ensuring a close foreground element. The scale of the nearby dead tree branch draws you to it, before you ‘see’ the scale of the background vista.

The last two images are panos and their scale becomes apparent when you examine the scene and spot the people against the scenery.

There is so much to photography and so little time in which to learn all its nuances.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Just an excuse

Having just purchased a pretty good laptop, this weekend I wanted to get all my photography-based software up and running on it.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I intend to keep the laptop highly biased towards photography, ie I will not overload it with ‘non-photography’ software. Having said that, I think most of us make use of Microsoft Office, but is it an essential piece of software? Having done some research, rather than load up Office, I decided to opt for the WPS suite, that seems to give me the equivalent of Word, Excel and Powerpoint, but for free: This is my first post written in WPS Writer.

In addition to proving out my laptop blogging workflow in this post, I will, hopefully, also answer a Magic Lantern question that some have posed, namely: “ Dual-ISO really worth the bother?”

As a reminder, there are two ML ‘functions’ that make photography on EOS cameras standout from others. The first is a RAW-based Auto Expose To The Right (A-ETTR) exposure setting function. The other, which I believe fits seamless with the A-ETTR function, is Dual-ISO.

As I have posted about these two functions previously, I will not reiterate the basics again. Suffice to say, using an A-ETTR+Dual-ISO workflow will get you the best exposure for post-processing, ie tonal data distribution and dynamic range, ie nearly 15Ev.

So, for the skeptics, and you know who you are, here is what an A-ETTR+Dual-ISO photo shoot looks like. I have chosen the image not because of its composition beauty, but because of the initial shock value of seeing the out of camera RAW in Lightroom.

So here is what LR first presents you with. I have included the LR histogram to further illustrate that, initially, you may think all is lost with this image. The image (screen capture) looks extremely blown out and the LR histogram, pushed all the way to the right, only confirms our worst fears, ie this image is not worth working on.


To the uninitiated, zooming in further confirms our fears, as the image is ‘obviously’ corrupted; as this LR screen image shows. Afterall look at those horrible lines running through the image.

In case you are not aware, what we are actually looking at, in a single image, is in fact two images: one catured at ISO 100 and the other at ISO 800. The lines are the alternating sensor data at those two ISOs.

As I trust the A-ETTR+ Dual-ISO workflow, seeing such an image is of no concern to me, as I know the Dual-ISO plugin ( will process the RAW .CR2 data into a secondary (DNG) negative. The resultant (secondary) DNG negative looks like this before any LR or Photoshop tweaks. Look at the histogram, it is now looking like a perfectly captured ETTR image.

And here is the image after a few basic LR tweaks, including some sharpening.

Bottom line: I maintain that for Canon EOS shooters, the combination of Auto-ETTR and Dual-ISO represents one of the best DSLR enhancements for data capture. This combination of unique (ML) tools provides an 'optimum' data set from which to post process in LR or your favourite post processor.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

No-dal: No Problem

During a recent visit to Taos, New Mexico, I decided on traveling light, with ‘just’ my 5DIII and my ‘go to’ 24-105mm F/4L lens. Having made this decision, I knew I would have to take any panos without the advantage of my (heavy) Nodal Rail or my 24mm TSE. It was also going to have to be handheld, as I even decided to travel without a tripod!
Let me say up front: to capture the best data it is always advisable to use a Nodal Rail set up, which will greatly help the software maximise the final image’s real estate and result in the least distortion. However, I have found that Photoshop-CC’s pano merge, together with its wide angle filter, does the heavily lifting when correcting hand held and thus potentially distorted scenes.

As the proof is in the pudding let’s see how well Photoshop-CC does. I decided to capture six handheld images of the famous San Francisco de Asis Mission Church, which was built between 1772 and 1816, and located on the plaza in Ranchos de Taos. I selected 24mm at F/11, to ensure, the maximum depth of field, took a base A-ETTR exposure with Magic Lantern, and covered myself by capturing the six images in Dual-ISO mode (100/800), which gave be about 14Ev dynamic capture range per image.

Once ingested into LR I first created six 16-bit TIFF files from the Dual-ISO CR2s, carried out base corrections on one image and synced the rest to this ‘master’. Here are the six ‘input’ files prior to merging in Photoshop.

I then exported the images from LR to Photoshop-CC’s merge to pano tool; flattened the resultant pano and opened up the Adaptive Wide Angle filter, where I corrected some of the perspective. I finally used content aware fill to build back in some missing edges and corners, and finally used Silver Efex Pro II to get the look I wanted, around a square format. Here is the resultant 6953x6953 image (as a reduced size JPEG).

I hope you agree that, although I was handholding the six input images, the resultant (square) pano represents a very respectable view of the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church from a 24mm lens. The bottom line for me is: never be afraid to take a pano sequence without a tripod!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Catch Up Time!

September was a particularly busy time from a business and personal perspective and there was little time left for blogging! Nevertheless, despite the lack of postings, things have been going on in the background and I will use this post as a ‘September catch up’.
Until the other week I ‘only’ had an iPad and my main Dell XPS 8500 desktop PC, which I had purchased with photography in mind, ie:

  • Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM) i7
  • Internal Storage: 250Gb SSD + 2Tb HD 
  • Memory: 32Gb 
  • External Drive: Raid 1 @ 4Tb + 4Tb

Then, last week, I treated myself to a Dell XPS-15 laptop, once again spec’ed out for photography, of course, but for an on-the-road mode:
  • Chip set: Intel(R) Core(TM) i7 (Haswell)
  • Internal Storage: 500Gb SSD 
  • External USB Storage: 1Tb 
  • Memory: 16Gb
As usual with such things, my time has mainly been spent transferring over the various plug-ins I have: or to be more correct the various plug-ins I now find myself using! It seems photographers always need to learn from personal experience; hence I have many PS-CC plug-ins that I purchased, but now never use! 

So what do I consider to be my go to Photoshop-CC plug-in set?

Well at the top of the list is the TK-Action set from Tony Kuyper (see ); closely followed by the Nik Suite ( ). I would then throw in a couple specialist plug-ins to complete my go to set-up, ie: Flood by Flaming Pear ( ) and ALCE  ( ) by CS Extensions. That’s it, ‘four of the best’, well at least IMHO.

One thing that some may find interesting is that I have not mentioned any HDR programmes; when a year or so ago I would have been waxing eloquently about bracketing and PhotoMatix etc. The fact is I hardly use HDR processing these days. This is mainly because of: the base capability of my 5DIII; coupled with Magic Lantern A-ETTR and Dual-ISO; and a greater use of PS-CC to ‘get the look’ I’m after. In other words, I tend to take the (RAW) data I need from a single image and use PS-CC layers to make the image. Of course, I’m not saying I will never use exposure bracketing again; but it will tend to be on a limited basis, ie very large dynamic range scenes, ie greater than, say, 14Ev. So, on top of the plug-ins above, I would throw in PhotoMatix, especially as it has a 32-bit LR capability.

September was also when Adobe CC issued another ‘update’ and, although it was not a major release, they did throw in one thing of direct interest to the photographer, albeit buried in Camera Raw. 

Until now, if you used the graduated filter in ACR (or LR), you had no way to recover the negative impact of the filter on foreground areas, eg buildings. In other words, you only wished to impact the sky, but the filter couldn’t differentiate the sky from, say, a church tower sticking up in the sky. ACR now provides a means to mask out an area in the graduated filter, eg a building. At the moment it is only in ACR, eg not LR; but I hope Adobe builds it into the next release of LR as it seems to be a very useful tool.

September was also the start of my Camera Club’s year and thus the first monthly competition and the theme for September was ‘Street Photography’. This is the first year where I am in the ‘top’ grouping (AA) of three classes, ie B(eginner), A and AA.

The rules of our Club’s monthly competition are that you can submit two images (one digital and one print) into the themed or open category. Like many clubs the judges use a CIT framework to judge the images: Composition (5), Impact (5) and Technical (5), ie a maximum score of 15. Here are my two submissions for September; which gained me a third place (with a CIT score of 13) for my “Music: The Cloak of Invisibility” and a second place (with a CIT score of 14, the same as the first placed) for my “Urban Slot Canyon”.

Another catch up event was the Inter-Club Summer Competition that I ran for our New Mexico club, with a UK club from the South of England. This was the first time our NM club had undertaken such an event, which was run over the summer ‘recess’ and was fully digital, thanks to Dropbox! 

The competition resulted in two Judges (one British and one American) judging a randomly mingled set of 72 (36 + 36) UK and US images in a single fully open category, and assessed using the CIT approach. The result was a near dead heat, with the US club slightly ahead, by a couple of points. What was of interest to me was to see if there was a cultural bias in the two judges’ scores. By just eye-balling the results, ie not using any fancy statistics, I would say the differences between the two judges simply reflected personal taste, rather than there being a strong cultural bias. I think all agreed it was an interesting event and one that I hope my NM Club will repeat (the UK club had done this before).

Earlier in the year I had left eye surgery for macular puckering; which went well, but was guaranteed to trigger cataracts. Luckily my right eye is my dominant one! So last week I underwent cataract surgery and, I have to say, I was impressed. The actual surgery was about 10 mins; no knife was used, ie ‘just’ ultrasonics (phacoemulsification), and I had no stitches. The world is suddenly brighter and clearer again!

As a post-surgery treat, we visited Taos last weekend as it was hosting the annual Wool Festival, which, although was interesting, formed the backdrop for the visit for me, as I really wanted to visit the Taos Pueblo. 

Wiki tells us that Taos Pueblo (or Pueblo de Taos) is an ancient pueblo belonging to a Tiwa-speaking Native American tribe of Pueblo people. It is approximately 1000 years old and lies about 1 mile (1.6 km) north of the modern city of Taos in New Mexico. The pueblos are considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States and there are many all over NM. The Taos Pueblo has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Taos Pueblo is a member of the Eight Northern Pueblos, whose people speak two variants of the Tanoan language. The Taos community is known for being one of the most private, secretive, and conservative pueblos. A reservation of 95,000 acres (384 km²) is attached to the pueblo, and about 4,500 people live in this area.

I always have mixed feeling about visiting such places: at one level enjoying the experience of visiting communities that are anachronistic to my modern eye; but also feeling I’m interloping in their personal lives. I have to say at Taos these feelings went away, as the Taos Pueblo is clearly run as a business. For those that have never been there, here are a few snaps from the Taos visit:

Finally, what about Magic Lantern? Well things have got a little complicated over at ML. 

First, there were some bad feelings created by someone introducing a more commercial flavour into some of the ML post processing developments. Thus, we have not had an update from some time; although Alex and others are still working in the background and getting ready for another (nightly) release. Secondly, the ML gurus, especially the video side of ML, have linked up with an open camera development called Apertus: .

I was tempted to ‘donate’ to the Apertus development, but felt it was a little too biased towards a ‘videographers’ needs. Time will tell, but the Apertus developments look interesting and offer us a potential insight into the future, ie more open-source hardware developments, into which ML-like functionality can be introduced – without the limitations imposed by major camera manufacturers. Watch this space as they say!

Enough of the catch up: I hope to get back into my more usual flow soon and, as always, welcome feedback on this blog.