Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Story of an Image

This is the first post of a series of posts that try and tell the story of an image. Each post will show the in-camera RAW (JPEG version) and the final image.

Last year I was fortunate enough to travel back home to Albuquerque, from Salt Lake City, with a few business colleagues. This gave the chance to visit some of best National and State Parks in the US. One of the first stops was the Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah, which overlooks of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park.

The park covers 5,362 acres of high desert at an altitude of 5,900 feet. The plateau is surrounded by sheer cliffs 2,000 feet high with only a narrow neck of land 30 yards wide connecting the mesa to the main plateau. Thus it was easy for cowboys to simply fence off this narrow neck, and keep rounded up wild horses from running away.

There are many stories about how this high promontory of land received its name.

According to one legend, the point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top. Cowboys rounded up these horses, herded them across the narrow neck of land and onto the point. The neck, which is only 30-yards-wide, was then fenced off with branches and brush.

This created a natural corral surrounded by precipitous cliffs straight down on all sides, affording no escape. Cowboys then chose the horses they wanted and let the culls or broomtails go free. One time, for some unknown reason, horses were left corralled on the waterless point where they sadly died of thirst within view of the Colorado River, 2,000 feet below.

On this trip I had decided to only use my IR converted Canon 50D, with a 720nm conversion. The base image was taken on a tripod at ISO 100, F/7.1 and at a shutter speed of 1/40 sec as set by Magic Lantern's ETTR exposure option. I tend to not worry too much about white balance, as I’m shooting RAW, but I usually use a custom WB that I have set off of live grass. The base image looked like this:

When processing IR images I tend to favour monochrome processing, when I would make full use of Nik Silver Efex Pro II. On this occasion, however, I decided to use a ‘colour’ processing workflow, which went like this:

  • In LR set up the basic exposure, ie adjust highlights and shadows, set white and black points, and adjust contrast, eg reduce slightly as the white and blacl point adjustments tend to increase contrast;
  • Export to Photoshop and carry out a (red/blue) channel swap. I have two channel swap actions set up, one in RGB space and one in LAB space. On this occasion I chose the LAB route;
  • Keeping in LAB mode, I undertook colour correction and introduced the colour look I wanted using the LAB a and b channels;
  • I then use Tony Kuyper's TK Action panel ( to select various luminosity masks and carry out further adjustments using various adjustment layers, both in RGB and LAB colour spaces;
  • Finally, converting to RGB space, I made use of Nik Color Effects to bring in the look I'm after, once again making use of a TK luminosity mask to limit the effect;
  • BTW I also make full use of Sean Bagshaw's masking the mask technique -;
  • I then imported the image back into LR, where I finished of the look I was after and cropped to a 16:9 framing; ending up with this image:

 And here is another image of Dead Horse Point created using the above workflow:

As can be seen above, the IR converted 50D provides an alternative view of the Colorado River’s red rocks. Creating ‘faux colour’ images, with natural looking skies, is a relatively simple process, thanks to a simple channel swap in Photoshop and the fantastic TK Action Panel. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Four Views of an Urban Icon

During a recent trip to Washington DC I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the Jefferson Memorial with a good friend who lives in DC.

Having seen how other photographers had approached the memorial I was convinced that a ‘Blue Hour’ shoot would be ideal. However, dinner and the DC weather decided otherwise!

Also, nobody had told all the other ‘tourists’ to stay away while I was in town!

I therefore decided to adopt a Long Exposure (Bulb) approach, from 30 to 240+ seconds, to eliminate/reduce the tourists; and see if Photoshop could ‘recover’ a Blur Hour feel.

Wiki tells us that The Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., was dedicated to Thomas Jefferson, (1743–1826), one of the most important of the American "Founding Fathers". He was the main drafter and writer of the "Declaration of Independence", a member of the Continental Congress, Governor of the newly independent Commonwealth of Virginia, an American minister to King Louis XVI and the Kingdom of France, first U.S. Secretary of State under the first President George Washington, the second Vice President of the United States under second President John Adams, and also the third President of the United States, (1801–1809).

Later he also was very proud of being the founder of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, Virginia. The neoclassical Memorial building on the "Tidal Basin" off the Washington Channel of the Potomac River was designed by the architect John Russell Pope and built by the Philadelphia contractor John McShain. Construction of the building began in 1939 and was completed in 1943. The bronze statue of Jefferson was added in 1947.

As I was travelling light, I made full use of my Sony A6000, my favourite wide angle lens, the Rokinon 14mm F/2.8, and, of course, the ND Throttle adapter to cover the LE exposures.

Image 1: The intent here was to capture the memorial reflecting in the Tidal Basin at Blue Hour: the reality was that the Tidal Basin was frozen and we were shooting in very overcast weather way after Blue Hour. Here is the RAW image, showing the frozen Tidal Basin, shot at ISO 100, using the Sony 18-200mm at 94mm, F/8 with a 30 second exposure.

Post processing involved first correcting for white balance and basic exposure in Lightroom. After exporting to Photoshop, I adjusted the image size aspect ratio to accommodate the reflection, fixed the sky, adjusted the look of the image using a few adjustment layers and Camera Raw, before exporting to the Flood plugin ( to counter the frozen Tidal Basin. I then finished the image off using TK-Actions and ALCE ( ; before returning to Lightroom for final tweaking.

Image 2: The intent here was to show the Memorial and Jefferson statue from the ‘front’. The main challenge was accounting for the various tourists, so I decided on a 200 second exposure at F/8, using my Rokinon on the ND Throttle.

Post processing was similar to the first image, with the addition of using PTLens (, but I wanted to go for a slightly ‘higher key’ view of the Memorial,

Image 3: The intent here was to create a square framing with a slight split tone effect. Once again I used a long exposure of 240 seconds to get rid of the tourists. The JPEG of the RAW image dramatically shows why looking at a JPEG on the camera underestimates the exposure. I deliberately used ETTR-based exposures, via the camera’s JPEG histogram, knowing that in post, the RAW would provide suitable ‘insurance’. Many will, I’m sure, be ‘shocked’ by the ‘overexposured’ look of the base image.

Post processing, once again, was similar to the above, less the sky and the flood effect!

Image 4: My vision for the final image was to get Jefferson book-ended between some of the most famous words in the world. As there were no tourists I decided on an ISO 100, 25 second exposure at F/11.

Post processing was relatively simple, although I attempted to ‘recover’ a Blue Hour look, as I did with the other images above.

Bottom line: In this post I have tried to bring together a few things: Photoshop can help you ‘time shift’, ie recover some semblance of Blue Hour; there are some really good plugins that can help with reflections, I use Flood; finally, it is worth exploring different looks, ie don’t make every image from a shoot ‘look the same’, eg explore spilt toning.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Repurposing and the A6000

In previous posts I have discussed how the mirrorless format gives the DSLR shooter a chance to make good use of Canon (or Nikon) lenses, via the use of an adapter. But there is more ‘repurposing’ that can be done.

Although A6000 comes with a puny on-camera flash, it also has a Sony multi-interface hot shoe. However, when you first try to use this with, say, your Canon external flash (a 580 EXII in my case) nothing happens: the Canon flash will not fire.

A quick internet search leads to the solution. Sony, in their wisdom, put paint over the hot shoe, but only on the black A6000. This paint layer stops the non-Sony external flash from grounding/earthing. The solution, simply remove the paint:

Once the hot shoe establishes a good earth with the Canon (or Nikon) external flash (or a radio trigger) you can use your DLSR flashes with the A6000, abeit only in manual mode. Here’s the proof; a snap I just took at taken at 1/160s using the 580 EXII mounted to the A6000.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Doing it in the RAW

I'm As photographers we know the importance of a RAW-based workflow, that is keeping RAW data as long as possible and using a non-destructive processing in Photoshop, eg adjustment layers vs adjustments.

Also, if you are like me and sometimes need to handle 100s or even a 1000 or so images from a photo shoot, then you also need to ‘worry’ about data management and data processing workflow.

Without any additional help the simple way to handle large numbers of images, on CF or SD cards, is to ingest them straight into Lightroom and adopt one of two, extreme, strategies.

Strategy 1 is to ingest everything, irrespective of the image quality, whereas strategy 2 is to use LR to cull (delete) those images that are not worthy of saving for further processing.

Although there is a move these days to strategy 1, as the cost of data storage becomes ever lower; if one has the time, strategy 2 is ‘obviously’ preferred.

Lightroom does a pretty good job of allowing you to trawl through your ingested folder of images and delete the ones you deem unacceptable. So why not simply use a LR-only based workflow?

Although LR is pretty good, often we seek out additional criterion to decide if it’s worth keeping an image. For example, if you were shooting with an ETTR exposure, your LR preview will look blown out and the LR histogram will be bunched up on the right. Or, maybe you were focusing on a critical element of your scene and need to be assured you nailed the focus. 

You could spend time evaluating every image in LR, but this defeats the objective of seeking out a ‘fast’ ingestion workflow.

Also, if you are a RAW shooter, and if you’re not you should be, there are other problems you face once you get your images into the PC (and for me that means a Windows 7 or 8 based environment). As you ‘develop’ your images in your digital ‘darkroom’, ie Photoshop, you will likely create intermediate .psd files, where you store your post processing work, eg layers etc, which can be viewed in LR, but not, and here’s the rub, on your desktop.

Because of the above issues, a group of specialist tools have been created to help the photographer, particularly during the ingestion phase, ie the (discretionary) phase that sits between the image capture and the LR/PS ‘development’ phase of your workflow; for example the $150 Photo Mechanic (

But what about the photographer who maybe needs to watch the pennies: what options are there for a ‘few’ dollars.

After much reading and experimenting I have settled on two products that work for me. The first is an additional Codec that runs under Windows and allows you to see .psd thumbnails on your Windows’ desktop. The product is called FastPictureViewer Codec Pack ( and it costs $9.99. Once installed you can see your .psd thumbnails, which helps when you are browsing your image files outside of LR/PS environment.

The second product is called FastRawViewer ( and, at less than $16, it gives you an amazingly powerful front-end ingestion engine to your workflow. 

FastRawViewer has been created by the developers of RawDigger, so you are assured that there is ‘RAW science’ behind the product.

FastRawView is so powerful, there is no way I can describe its virtues here. However, here is an example of how I use FastRawViewer (FRV):

  • Transfer the images from my CF/SD card(s) into a folder on my PC, either in the final location or a temporary loation;
  • Open up FRV and the folder of images that you wish to evaluate;
  • The first image in the folder will open and the first benefit of FRV becomes apparent, you are presented with a RAW histogram and RAW statistics;
  • You can program any keyboard shortcut that you wish, via the shortcut editor, thus you can tailor things to your preferences;
  • To aid your assessment, you can program FRV to toggle between different views, for example between the shot view and, say, a -3Ev view. This is useful if, like me, you favour ETTR exposures and thus your images look ‘blown out’ and you need to look at the highlight areas;
  • You can toggle on and off focus peaking, to assure yourself that the image was focused on the subject of interest;
  • Having assured yourself, using RAW tools, that the image is a keeper you simply press the space bar to move to the next. If you decided to ‘reject’ that image, you simply press a key of your choice (I have programed X) and that image is moved from the folder into a rejected folder and the file name is altered to reflect this rejected state;
  • At any time you can evaluate the image in Photoshop (or other post processing tools) by simply pressing R;
  • Having trawled through your images in FRV, you exit the program knowing that you now have a folder of rejected images (in your original folder or somewhere else you point to) that you can either delete or move elsewhere. The images that are left are your keepers!
As I said above, FRV is very powerful and very tunable to your personal workflow needs. At $16 it is a bargain and one I can recommend that you evaluate yourself using the 30-day free trial period: that is if you wish to bring in a more intelligent workflow to your photography ;-)

Monday, January 12, 2015

From near to infinity

All landscape photographers, especially those using a wide angle lens, have one thing in common: they seek out ‘tack sharp’ images from near to far; and, for the sake of this post, let’s say near is a foot away.

Those who have read about hyperfocal distance will naturally first look at what this focusing approach can do; however, they will soon realise that a single image approach will simply not do. 

So, focus stacking to the rescue and the first step is the trusty FocusStacker App from George Douvos:

With a one foot to infinity objective, the App tells me at a focal length of 14mm, and using a combined blur spot diameter of 19 microns (for my Sony A6000), I need to shoot at 1.2 ft, 2 ft, and 5.9 ft at F/9. Using a single image, I could cover 2.5ft to infinity, if I shot at F/10. In other words, I would not cover my objective of a foot to infinity.

But then we begin to experience real-world practicalities. For instance, if I was to use any of my Canon auto focus lenses, I would find it virtually impossible to set those three distances, ie you will not be able to manually set an auto focus lens, as the focus ring floats; and who wants to be setting up distance targets in the field!

Thus, for landscape (as opposed to macro) focus stacking I have settled on another strategy, namely using a manual lens.

My manual lens of choice at the moment is the Rokinon 14mm F/2,8: At less than $300 a bargain that every wide angle shooter should have. I can use it on my 5DIII full frame and of course my A6000 APS-C.

The advantage with this lens is that it has a focusing scale that covers under a foot to 10 feet in about 180 degrees of the fixed focus ring rotation. It has markers all through the focus range. It also has a manual aperture, which means I have no image to image variability, ie for timelapses the aperture is locked in, thus minimising flicker.

Workflow is simple:

  • Dial in the aperture (F/9 on this occasion);
  • Compose;
  • Focus at 1.2 ft and take the first image;
  • Refocus at 2 ft and take the second image;
  • Refocus at just under 7 ft and take the third image;
  • Take a fourth image at infinity for insurance;
  • Ingest into Lightroom;
  • Export to Photoshop as layers;
  • Auto align the layers;
  • Auto blend the layers;
  • Merge the layers;
  • Bring the merged image back to LR and ‘finish off’.
The attached (indoor test) image is a four-stack, taken with the Rokinon on my Sony A6000, where each individual image had some ‘out of focusness’ somewhere in the scene. However, the focus stacked image is tack sharp from 1ft to infinity.

Bottom line: For focus stacking wide angle landscapes, where you will likely have a strong near field component to your image, I believe manual focusing, with a manual focus lens, is the way to go; and the Rokinon 14mm F/2.8 is a winner. Where as you would not wish to focus stack every image, for those occasions where you need a huge depth of field, I believe the ‘technology’ and workflow above can’t be beat: IMHO :-)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Practice, Practice, Practice

There is nothing worse than going on a photography trip and not really knowing what you are doing. I therefore spend a lot of time at home practising. 

This afternoon I wanted to see if my Sony A6000 with its ND Throttle (NDT) could cope with Extremely Long Exposures (ELEs), say beyond a few minutes. Most would consider LE work in the 10s of seconds to be long, especially when attempted in daylight.

However, for certain architectural shooting there is a need to consider capturing images over many minutes. So the question was: would the image quality suffer using the NDT?

So I decided on a 800 seconds (over 13 minutes) experiment and used what is now my standard exposure-setting workflow on the Sony A6000:
l Work out how many stops of reduction I need from the target (800s) to get below the Bulb setting. In this case that was 5 stops, ie bringing the shutter time to 25 seconds. Because of diffraction I would normally try to limit things to 4 stops, ie F/2.8 to F/11;

l put the lens on F/2.8 (the widest my Rokinon manual will go) and adjust the NDT until the histogram looks about right. From experience you can not afford to have blown out areas when setting up;

  • Set the camera to Bulb; 
  • Dial the lens up 5 stops to F16;
  • Use the iPod and MaxStone to take the image.
So here is what a boring 800 second shot of my living room looks like. As you can see the floor is a little blown out and clearly I could afford to adjust my initial NDT setting or adjust the Rokinon to, say, 1/3 or 1/2 stop less than F/16, ie towards F/22. But as I said above, I would prefer not to go to this small of an aperture. 

However, overall I’m pretty pleased with this ‘ultimate’ test of the ELE abilities of the Sony A6000. Next the field test!

New Camera = New (Cheap) Tools

This will be a short post and only of potential value to those with a Sony A6000 or another Sony Nex-like camera.
The A6000 comes with a small pop-up flash and a multi-function hot shoe (where you could mount an external flash unit or another accessory. 

The multifunction hot shoe comes with no protection and as a precaution I decided to buy a hot shoe cover from Amazon:
As for the in-built flash, this appears OK with a wide-angle (stubby) lens. However, if you have a longer Sony lens fitted or an adapter with another manufacture’s lens, you can/will get a shadow. Here is an example of such a shadow with my 24-105 F/4L Canon lens fitted to the A6000, ie an out of focus picture of my carpet!

To minimise the shadow effect and provide other flash bounce options, I also purchased this simple bounce kit from Amazon:

As you can see, fitting the clear bounce card reduces/eliminates the 24-105mm lens shadow.

I will post more ‘tips and tricks’ as I get to know more about my A6000.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Taking Control

As the reader of my blog knows, I tend towards the technical side of photography; hence I love posting about new technology. In the last post I mentioned the MaxStone IR trigger as a rather unique and cheap cross platform solution
In this post I wish to discuss another piece of (affordable) cross platform (Canon, Nikon & Sony) remote control technology, namely DslrDashboard (, which, like CamRanger, allows full control of a camera wirelessly. However, unlike CamRanger, which costs some $300, DslrDasboard achieves a similar result for less than $50.

The DslrDashboard is a free cross platform application for controlling Nikon and Canon DSLR cameras. It uses the PTP and PTP/IP protocol to communicate with the connected DSLR camera. It runs on Windows, Linux and Android platforms and the iPad/iPod version is available in the iTunes store for under $10.

An important disclaimer is that the DslrDashboard is still under development, however, from my experience with my Canon 5DIII and my Sony A6000, the product is stable enough for all users. Also, by experimenting with it, you are helping in DslrDashboard's development through your user feedback. Also, please consider a donation to the developer, for what is a fantastic photography tool.

To use DslrDashboard you need to create a wireless interface to your camera (unless it has one built in like my Sony A6000). The DslrDashboard website has all the details and the only cost is to buy a $35 TP-LINK TL-MR3040 from Amazon:

To allow DslrDashboard to communicate with your Canon or Nikon camera (for those with WiFi built in you do NOT need to buy the TP-Link 3040) you need to load OpenWRT into the TP-Link firmware. This is a pretty easy operation and well described on the DslrDashboard website or here:

Once you have connected the TP-Link to your camera, via a USB cable, and switched on the TP-Link 3040 modem, you can now connect to the TP-Link from your iPad, iPod or Android device etc.

Before using DslrDashboard I recommend reading the manual:
Once you use DslrDashboard you may well change the way you capture images. There are so many benefits to using a wireless tethered solution, eg: camera placement relative to you; focus stacking; bracketing beyond the manufacturers limitations etc etc etc.

I will write about my DslrDashboard experiences in future posts and I’m sure the developer (Zoltan Hubal) has great plans for this cross-platform tool. According to your setup, for the princely sum of a few dollars to less than $50, you can turn your Nikon, Canon or Sony camera into a photographic capture power house; and of course its great fun as well!

Friday, January 2, 2015

As complicated as you wish

Photography is easy: compose the scene; focus the camera; set the exposure; and push the shutter button. So simple, so why make it more complicated?

One reason is that the basic camera, as supplied by the manufacturer, is limited to a specific set of capabilities or features; which may not always allow you to achieve your artistic vision. One example being long exposure photography.

Even with a base ISO setting of, say, 100, you will never be able to achieve long exposures, eg greater than fractions to a few seconds, in daylight; even after dialling down the aperture all the way: which you really don’t want to do because of diffraction softening.

Which is why ND filters are a critical part of your inventory and why I was attracted to the mirrorless format, as it allows me to use the ND Throttle (see previous posts). That is a variable ND approach with no dreaded X effect, which you get with wide angle lenses using variable ND filters on the front of the lens.

For exposures up to 30 seconds, the camera can give you what you want. But what if the exposure is greater than 30 seconds? Obviously you move to Bulb mode.

In Bulb mode the shutter simply stays open as long as you don’t touch the shutter release button. In other words, the shutter release acts like a simple toggle; either using the camera’s shutter button, or through a shutter release cable or an IR trigger unit.

The main down side of this is that you need to keep track of time yourself and touch the camera during the capture phase.

However, you can use technology.

For example, if I was using either of my Canon EOSs (5DIII or 50D) I would use the Magic Lantern Bulb timer function. If, for some reason, I didn’t want to use ML, I could also connect my Promote Remote (wired) or my CamRanger (wireless).

On my Sony A6000 (or my EOSs come to that) I have other, non-ML, and cheaper options (the Promote and the CamRanger are several 100s of dollars each). I could attach my wired TriggerTrap ( but I prefer my MaxStone trigger, paired with my iPod Touch (

The MaxStone is a cheap, simple but cleaver device, that allows me to wirelessly trigger my cameras when taking long exposures via the IR shutter control. The MaxStone also does Timelapse triggering as well.


As an example, the following long exposure of our house was taken with my Sony A6000 and a Rokinon 14mm lens attached via the ND Throttle. I simply decided that I wanted a 160 second exposure, to see the cloud movement, and used the following workflow:

  • Connect the MaxStone to my iPod Touch via Bluetooth and set the Bulb timer to the exposure I wanted, ie 160 secs in this case;
  • Set the base exposure to 20 seconds at F/4, ie three stops down from where I wanted to shoot at, ie F/11.
  • Adjust the Throttle so that the 20 second exposure looks OK via the A6000’s histogram;
  • Set Bulb mode;
  • Adjust the Rokinon’s aperture to F/11;
  • Using the MaxStone App trigger the 160 second exposure.

Here is the resultant image: a 160 second daylight exposure. Colour and B&W.


Bottom line: there are many ways to trigger a bulb exposure. IMHO the MaxStone is a very attractive solution, that works across multiple camera formats.