Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New year, new opportunities

With the fast approaching end of 2013 and beginning of 2014 I am hopeful for lots of new opportunities in the coming year.

My blog is now firmly relocated on a new platform and the old URL is now successfully redirecting traffic here, so this blog will continue to grow in content - and hopefully readers.

Both Christmas and my birthday provided wonderful new tools for my photography in a full copy of Photomatix Pro 5 for HDR creation and a Lowepro Flipside 500AW to carry all my gear in.  My poor old Lowepro Stealth Reporter 200AW was woefully unable to carry a fraction of my gear and was proving bad for my shoulders and back with what I could squeeze into it.

I am planning lots more HDR work this year, both urban and natural world.  I am also growing very interested in trying out HDR Panoramas, especially since I have been reading up on the whole process and techniques.

HDR's are not the only photos I'll be taking though, as I will continue to explore all styles of photography.  I do know I have some portrait work coming up and also some product photos for my wife's Etsy site (while being "free" sessions, it is all good practice and helps build my portfolio).

One thing I would really like to do though is to continue to explore new avenues to making money with my photography.  Print sales are not bringing any profit and seems to be drying up as a revenue stream for a lot of photographers.

All in all I'm looking forward to the new year and all that it could bring in new opportunities and growth - not only for myself but for everyone else too.

Here's to 2014, may it be great for everyone!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Icy morning

It's been cold and icy here in Oklahoma.  We were hit with an ice storm recently and the temperature hasn't really been high enough for long enough to really melt it.

Amongst clearing up the mess it has made to an ornamental pear tree in my garden, I've been photographing different aspects of the ice (and will post some additional photos in another post).  Today was a little different as I had to go into Tulsa early this morning.  As I take my camera with me, there was some clouds in the sky and the sun was coming up, I took a few auto-brackets of the Tulsa skyline with some ice covered trees in the foreground.  It definitely gives an interesting look to the overall image, with a nice crispness to the scene.

Then for a different look I did a 90 degree turn and shot into the sunrise to capture this view:

I will say though that I was a little disappointed with the diffraction softening my focus on the building but overall I like the mixture of the warm tones from the sun and the colder tones from the ice.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

In case you noticed a difference in post appearance

I wanted to make a quick post to explain why there is a difference in how my entries look prior to December 11th 2013.  Up until that date my blog resided on a different platform (QuickBlogCast to be precise) and I was experiencing technical issues that made it very difficult to make new entries as I was often unable to post images as part of my blog posts.

So, on December 11th 2013, I made the decision to export my entire blog (and cancel my subscription) and import everything to my newly created Blogger account.  As you can see by scrolling to "older" posts everything transferred well, with one exception; photographs and images are BIG and in some cases fill the browser window - while newer ones are automatically sized down and become clickable to view the full size version.

In all, this is a relatively minor issue but one I felt should be explained more fully as it does affect the overall look and feel of my blog.

It also explains why my Blogger version is not showing up in Google searches yet - it's only 8 days old.  Ah, the joys of SEO.........

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tripods - why so short?

I have to ask a rhetorical question about photography tripods, why do manufacturers make them so short?  It seems that everyone views ~50 inches as the preferred height for a fully extended tripod (without resorting to an extendable center column), which for someone shooting HDR bracketed shots is WAY too short, especially as an extendable center column is something that should never be used as it introduces too much instability and vibration.

I'm 6ft 1-ish and would really like a good tripod that has no center column and extends to at least 72 inches and that doesn't cost a ridiculous amount to buy in the first place.  Yes there are a few that get close to this spec, but their price gets way high in comparison to the "normal" tripods.

Currently my only real option for a more cost effective tripod that comes closest to my requirements would require me to approach the issue in an out of the box manner - and a little customization.  Surveyors tripods, the ones used with lasers, theodolites and other measuring equipment are available in heights of ~72 inches and have no center column.  They will however need to have an insert added to convert their attachment screw to one suitable for mounting a photo tripod head but these are readily available for around $20.  However, the one flaw in this idea is that the tripod legs are not individually adjustable for angle and/or spread - other than manually stomping the steel leg tip into the ground to secure the tripod in place.  Also, as they are fitted with heavy steel spikes, they are not going to be usable anywhere other than on soil without some kind of rubber cover being attached.

I still haven't decided if I'm going to experiment with a surveyors tripod yet but my point is, that if these companies can make tripods that meet (most of) my requirements and price them reasonably, why can't the photography tripod companies do similar.  That or some enterprising individual or company take a surveyors tripod and convert it (at reasonable cost) to a photo tripod with individually adjustable legs and exchangeable leg tips.  And by reasonable cost I mean something in the $150 - $250 price range.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mohawk Park redux

On November 10th I posted a LDR image of a HDR bracket set I took at Mohawk Park in Tulsa.  The image was processed in my "normal" tools of Photoshop to merge the images for HDR and Lightroom to post-process down to the LDR image.  At that time I was pretty happy with the result but as time passed and I found new tools and processing techniques, I found that I was not  so happy with the final image.

Today I finished re-processing the HDR bracketing images through ImageFuser and carried out a little post-processing in Lightroom to add a little punch to the finished LDR.  I'm a lot happier with this new image and it is much more natural in appearance and less "cooked".  While I like to boost things a little, I prefer to keep everything closer to reality.

Here is the new version so you can compare it with the other version, that is now resigned to my archive of techniques that didn't quite work.

I think you'l agree with me that this is a much better image than the previous version.  And going forward, this is more the "look" I will be producing in my HDR/LDR images.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Inexpensive but helpful tool

I recently purchased a TriggerTrap (www.triggertrap.com) cable to allow me to remotely fire my Nikon camera from the TriggerTrap application installed on my HTC One phone.  While the cable and app combo are a really great idea and work really well, it did raise one issue - namely what to do with my phone when doing long exposures or other automated firing.  Do I stand there and hold my phone, for how ever long it takes to fire all images or do I just let it hang there by the cable (and strain the connections)?  The much better solution would be to find some means of attaching my phone to either my camera or tripod.

Jump forward to about 1 month ago and I was in, of all places, my local Home Depot store and walking past a Christmas gift display of cellphone related items.  And that's where I spotted something called "Mobile Man", which is a rubber coated, flexible, person-shaped device to hold your cellphone and hang it off things via the hook at one end; a photo will show you what I mean better than my words, so here it is:

The entire thing has a flexible wire skeleton that allows it to be molded to shape/size to suit.  The hook means I can hang my phone from my tripod and and be secure in knowing it's not going to fall.  This little guy only cost around $5 which to me makes this a huge bargain and really hard to beat for anyone wanting a means to quickly attach their phone to a tripod.

Here's another photo with it actually holding my phone:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Working behind the scenes

While I may not have been taking many photographs lately, I’ve still been pretty busy behind the scenes.  I’ve been taking a closer look at different programs for creating HDR Images and tone mapping them to LDR files - free, open-source, shareware and commercial.  While my testing may not be as thorough as some of the major review sites, I carried out a side by side comparison of them all to see how they handled the same set of 9 auto-bracketed exposures.

The pictures in question were a pretty tough test due to it being of a tree, with the sun directly behind it shining into the lens.  And while the camera was mounted to a tripod, there was some movement to the branches and leaves from a slight breeze.

The programs I tested were:
  • Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop (my normal combo and benchmark)
  • Photomatix Pro 5 (trial copy)
  • HDR Expose 3 (trial copy)
  • LuminanceHDR
  • Hydra Pro (trial copy)
  • EnfuseGUI
  • ImageFuser
(behind the scenes were a few other command line tools that were used by the “FOSS” software - Enblend-Enfuse, Hugin, Libpano)

And the winner is………!!!!!!  Honestly, not that clear cut that I could pick one overall winner - for me that is.

The one with the best combination of ease of use, quality of results, image aligning, ghost removal and ability to ingest RAW files and able to export/save the 32bit HDR file would bePhotomatix Pro 5.  It is a commercial program and has a license fee but it is very reasonably priced.  I will be picking up a full version of this in the near future.

As for the free, open-source, shareware (FOSS) programs, my vote for the one with the most features and that worked for me and my files is ImageFuser.  The only things that let it down from being the ideal application is the lack of ghost removal and it’s limited exporting of the 32bit HDR files.  While this program is more of a photo merging application than a true HDR tone mapper, it produces really nice “natural” LDR images from my shots.  It also is the only one of the “FOSS” programs tested that had a fully working auto image alignment feature as well as the ability to correctly ingest RAW files from my Nikon.

There were a couple of issues I ran into that were deal breakers, for me personally, with a couple of the programs:
  • HDR Expose 3 has a tricky to use image alignment tool that, to me, is a lot harder to use than it needs to be when comparing it to other programs.  Which is a shame as this program has some nice features that I have not found in other programs - in particular the Veiling Glare tool.
  • LuminanceHDR would not work correctly with the RAW files out of my Nikon.  While it was able to read them, it was not reading them correctly and was producing badly exposed and wildly colored images.  Contacting the company via their Facebook page did not resolve this issue and their limited response did not include assistance in fixing the issue.  Also, I was not able to get the auto-image alignment feature to work - it kept giving an error that it was not setup, despite my having the “companion” tools installed.  And while the manual alignment was simple to use, I was not able to correct any complex alignment of the stacked images.
As for the remaining programs, here are my findings:
  • EnfuseGUI - while this uses the same "back-end" as ImageFuser, the images it produces are a lot more saturated. Also there is no alignment tool and no RAW file capability.  When used with aligned images and TIFF source files, this does produce wonderful images.
  • Hydra Pro - maximum image stack size of 5 files.  I often will have stacks of 9 images when there is a wide exposure range in the scene.  Maybe a minor issue due to not "needing" more than 5 images for an HDR but it does limit its appeal.  As for its output, I found it to be rather dull and no better than my base-line from Lightroom/Photoshop.
All in all, this was an interesting period of testing and I know what works (better) for me and the images I like/want to produce.  I will still be using Lightroom and Photoshop as the basis for my work but going forward I will also be using a combination of Photomatix and ImageFuser.  I’ll leave you now with the LDR image that ImageFuser produced as a part of this comparison testing.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mohawk Park

This weekend I took a trip out to Mohawk Park in Tulsa with my wife and dog...had a nice family day out.  Of course, I also planned on taking some photographs while there.  It was a wonderful sunny autumn day with warm temperatures and, for better photos, some nice clouds in the sky.

While my wife was off walking our dog I got my tripod set up next to a pond to take some HDR brackets of the trees and water, hopefully with some good reflections too.  As it turned out I was able to get reflections of the clouds in the water as well as the trees.

The later afternoon sun was giving a really nice golden light as it was coming from camera left, as well as a little glare onto the lens.  Not enough to be really concerned with and it was giving a nice warmth to the photo.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Visit to Tulsa

This past weekend saw me taking a trip to Tulsa and taking some photos of the BOK Center in the downtown area.  While I was there I also took a couple of additional photos of the high rise skyline, this time from a different angle.

My HDR brackets ended up having to be hand-held as my tripod became unusable due to an unfortunate turn of events.  Like many tripods, my Giottos is top heavy so can be awkward to carry with its carry-strap.  If given the opportunity it will try to flip up-side-down on my shoulder and when it does this the strap attachment of just looping around the leg bottoms can lose its grip.  Guess what happened?  Yeah, it flipped and the strap popped off the legs causing it to fall head first onto the concrete sidewalk.  To make it worse, it fell onto the mount screw of the ball head, crunching the top of the threads - and as I discovered shortly afterwards, it bent the screw rendering it completely unusable.

So, back to the photos.  I took a mixture of 5 shot and a couple of 9 shot brackets, all hand held.  I was pretty fortunate in that Photoshop was able to align them and remove ghosts with minimal effort on my part when I merged them to HDR.  I also tested them out in trial copies of Photomatix and HDR Expose with varying success - of the three HDR merges, only two packages were able to align the images and remove all the ghosts automatically.  HDR Expose has some nice features but it requires a lot more work up-front to get everything aligned and ghost free, not helped by what appears to be a trickier to use manual toolset.

Before I get to posting the photos, I wanted to briefly touch on my last couple of posts about creating and using a linear camera response curve and how my first attempts weren't that successful.  I'm still finding that having Lightroom use the Camera Neutral response curve gives me the most consistent results and none to minimal banding and posterization when processing and merging the bracket images.  I also made a very interesting discovery about my Nikon D2X.  I downloaded a trial version of Nikon Camera Control and connected my camera so I could check the response curves installed and in use.  What I found is that it is using a completely flat, linear response curve.  I can't say if this is the factory setting from Nikon but I can say that it is what it is currently using.

Okay, enough talk, it's time to get some photos posted here.  So here are a selection of tone mapped LDR versions of the HDR's I took of the BOK Center:

And finally, here's my tone mapped image of the Tulsa skyline taken from near the BOK Center, to give a different view to the "usual" Tulsa skyline photo:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Curve ball

After writing my last post I continued to test out the linear curve profile on other HDR images, including several multi-exposure ones.  And the more I tested, the more I found inconsistencies were creeping in.  I started seeing banding, posterization and increased noise appearing in the HDR files.  It seems that while the theory is pretty sound, the practice needs further investigation.

Something about the profile creation went wrong - but not completely, as a couple of HDR images worked really well with the profile.  So, until I can figure this issue out I will be utilizing the "camera neutral" profile within Adobe Lightroom as it is the most linear in behavior.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Throwing a (linear) curve

While doing further reading and research on the technical aspects of HDR Imaging I came across a pretty large issue concerning image curves.  Namely how Adobe Lightroom does not apply a neutral linear curve to your images.  Now when you are only working with single images, this is not necessarily a bad thing however, when working with multiple images for HDR's (3, 5 or even 9) this can become a big problem as the colors don't match up from image to image.  

Enter the theoretical linear curve, one that is completely flat from light to dark; which when all the images are stacked and merged keep all values of light, dark and color channels in their correct relationship to each other.

The problem is neither Lightroom or Photoshop has this linear curve profile and even using something like the "camera neutral" profile in Lightroom, there is still a slight curve to the profile which throws in mismatches.  How to modify these profiles or create a new one to fit my needs?

Which brings me to when (yesterday) I was browsing the forums on www.hdrlabs.com and found the answer.  Adobe provides the tool to create a custom profile in their DNG Profile Editor.  With it, you can create a custom camera profile that is completely linear and then export it into Lightroom (if like me you use Lightroom as your main workflow tool) and in turn apply to each of your images prior to exporting them to your HDR creation program of choice.

So, now you may be asking yourself, how do I create a custom profile - well here it is in a nutshell:
  1. Create a DNG of one of your photographs.  Again, Adobe has a free tool to do just this which is either standalone or included in Lightroom - Adobe DNG Convertor
  2. Open this DNG file in DNG Profile Editor and in the window that comes up ensure all the adjustments are zero'd and then on the Tone Curve tab, select Linear for the Base Tone Curve.  You want this graph to have the line completely straight from bottom left to top right.
  3. Save the Recipe - name it something useful to you
  4. Export the Profile - this will then add it to Lightroom for you, and can be found in the Develop Module under Camera Calibration
  5. In Lightroom, select the exposure stack, select this new profile and hit the Synchronize button to apply it to all the images in the selected stack.  This is also a good way to insure all develop settings match across the stack prior to creating the HDR Image
You are now the owner of a fully custom camera profile that has a truly linear response curve.  I now have one for my Nikon D2x, which is my current main camera.  It will be a good idea to go back and create on for my Nikon D100 too in case I want to get creative with photographs shot on it, as the profile created in DNG Profile Editor is camera specific, being that it is built off of the curve response of the camera the DNG file was taken on.

After all this you may be thinking "Is this all really worth the effort?", "Will a linear curve really improve my HDR Images?".  In my brief experiments since creating my custom curve I can give you a simple answer to those questions - YES!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Deep diving into HDR

Despite my lack of updates here and/or photos being posted I have been pretty busy and doing research and testing of HDR processing techniques.  And it has been pretty illuminating for me.  I've also learned that there is a lot more to making good HDR Images than just taking a sequence of photos and slapping them into something like Photomatix (good software, trying out the trial version).  While this may produce a HDR image, it will likely be very far from it's full potential.  One of my biggest finds is that despite my not having set any "default processing" of my NEF RAW files on import to Adobe Lightroom, they were being modified and altered slightly, so they were more likely to suffer highlight and shadow clipping when processed as HDR's.  This led me to start looking more closely at RAW convertor software and also what (if anything) could be done to minimize Lightroom's interference on RAW files.

My research led to a wonderful free (donations will unlock additional features) software package called Raw Photo Processor - caveat is that it is Mac only, which is not an issue for me.  Now this convertor keeps the RAW files as neutral as possible, so much so that they look very "cool" in comparison to other converted RAW files from other convertors.  I almost feel that they need a slight warm tone added to mimic what I see with my eyes.

I also found a minor modification to make to Lightroom to correct the unexpected and unwanted modification to my files on importing.  Under the Camera Calibration section of the Develop Module, change the profile to "Camera Neutral" to minimize any automatic processing and/or changes from what your camera captured.

As I move forward, I will most likely move away from using Lightroom and Photoshop as my primary software for creating HDR images.  Photomatix, while not perfect, is the most popular program for producing HDR images and tonemapping them and my testing/trials of it have confirmed that I will be getting a full version.  Now Lightroom is my primary cataloging and processing software so it will be staying as part of my workflow, especially now I've minimized it's interference with my RAW files.  I will likely keep using it to feed RAW's to Photomatix, although I'm seriously thinking of making a donation to RPP to unlock all the features and continuing to evaluate it against Lightroom to get the most neutral files to produce HDR's from.

I'll also continue reading the HDRI Handbook 2.0 from the people over at HDRLabs.  If you are really interested in learning about the technical aspect of creating HDR images, it is a very good read.  The website is also a very good resource that I recommend checking out.

As a visual representation of how my technique is evolving, I thought it would be interesting to post some comparison samples of one of my images so you can see how much things have changed.

From left to right you can see the progression from my original HDR image, through to my latest version (still using Lightroom and Photoshop to merge and tonemap).  Certainly some significant improvement in the overall look.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Refining my technique

After my initial steps into HDR imaging I've been slowly refining and modifying my techniques for creating the images.  So much so, that I now feel I have my "default" settings defined.  I can't say for certain that each and every image will have the exact same settings applied because that would be silly.  As each image is inherently different, the settings applied will need some tweaking.  So there will always be a couple of the settings that are only guidelines (in my notes) and they are adjusted to achieve the desired look on a per image basis.

Of course, while making these refinements I also modified some of my HDR images, including those from my last blog post - such as the Midland Valley Bridge image.  So here is the latest (and final) version of that image:

If you're waiting for me to reveal what these settings are....it's not going to happen yet.  They're not exactly secret or anything, all adjustment settings within Lightroom, but they are what I identified (through experimentation) to be the most pleasing to me, so in essence they have become my "style".  If you spent a few hours in Lightroom and played with the various settings, you would likely find "my settings combination" but you may also find your own style in the process.  And to me, this would be much more preferable as it's better to do your own work than it is to copy what someone else is doing.

I can use these settings both on bracketed multi-image HDR sets and also on single (RAW) images to give similar results.  They have been tested on both types and give good results, dependent on the original image(s).

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Midland Valley Bridge in HDR

Here in Tulsa is an interesting bridge that some may not realize is/was actually a combination of a railway and pedestrian bridge.  The bottom level is the pedestrian bridge and the upper level was, until 1974, a railway bridge.  Now it is a part of the River Parks trail system and is in regular daily use by countless Tulsans and visitors.

You'll find the bridge at roughly 21st and Riverside in Tulsa, with a parking lot just to the east and foot access to the bridge via a concrete overpass over Riverside Drive.

Here are the photos:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Going in circles

It's interesting (in a weird way) just how much it is possible to travel in such wide arcs, and even full circle, as we journey through life.  Here I am now, diving into the world of HDR imaging, yet only a short time ago I was not a big fan of the HDR images I would see posted online and generally avoided the whole style.

First a little back story, how for most of my time in photography I have had this nagging voice in the back of my mind that the photo does not do the scene justice.  That and the overall disappointment on my failure to have the two match up any closer than I could with the cameras and film I was using.  Even moving into the era of digital cameras, there was (is) that discrepancy between what the human eye can see/perceive and what the camera can record/capture.  With the current technology there is just no way that a camera can match the human eye in either seeing or capturing a scene.

Jump forward in time to just a couple of months ago and I found myself reading an article in a copy of the Adobe Photoshop magazine on editing landscape photos to (among other things) modify the histogram by adjusting the white point and black point - extending or contracting the dynamic range of the image.  On testing this out on some of my photos, I liked the overall look I was achieving and started using a modified version of this technique on my photos.  Pretty much all the photos I have posted in the last few months have received this editing technique and have modified dynamic range.  (anyone see where this is going?)

Time for another jump in time - now we're a couple of weeks ago.  I was checking out my G+ profile and saw several posts of photos from a photographer I did not know, called Trey Ratcliff.  They were photos he had taken at Burning Man and they had an interesting look to them.  So, being that I didn't know of him or his work, it was time to go check out his website.  Once there I found out he was a major player in the world of HDR imaging and that all the photos that had drawn me to his site were HDR.  Then I started looking through his portfolio and saw that his photos were not the garish, weirdly colored HDR's that I had seen online previously - and that had turned me away from the technique.  In fact, some of his work was not dissimilar to my recent edited photos.  Then it started to click, I was making very subtle HDR images where I was modifying the histogram and the white/black points.

Jumping forward to now, I am in the process of reading an e-book version of Trey's book - A World in HDR - and have his website www.stuckincustoms.com bookmarked.  I had a pretty big moment of awakening when I read that he too experienced similar thoughts and feelings about how the photo and scene never matched - yay, I'm not alone in these weird thoughts and feelings of disappointment.  

So now, I've come full circle, from someone who didn't like or want to do HDR imaging, I'm now diving in and want to do more HDR.  I may finally be able to quiet that voice in my head, once and for all, and make a photo match the scene I see in font of my eyes.  

It's time to experiment and fully explore HDR, and to stop going in circles.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Experiments into HDR

While I may be late to the party, I've recently started taking another look at the whole HDR process.  I know in a lot of photography circles, the subject of HDR is a hot topic...and also that there are some really good, bad and downright awful examples of HDR out there!

My views of it have been rather mixed as I don't like the artificial look that a lot of people end up with in their images.  And then I see better images from more accomplished HDR photographers and like the extended dynamic range of their images.  Really, when it comes down to it, the best I can do is try it out for myself and if it works out, I have another style of photography to offer to people.  If it doesn't work out to my liking, I can say I gave it a try and just didn't like the outcome.

With that said, here are my first two attempts at creating HDR images.  I shot them this morning when the sunrise was underway, with my Nikon set to auto-bracket "+2, +1, 0, -1, -2" to give me a set of five images per HDR file.  Once I imported them to Lightroom I selected the five images and selected "merge to HDR in Photoshop".  As you can see, I didn't go for wild, extreme effects - instead I tried to keep it more subtle while still having the extended dynamic range in the finished images.

Now it's time to post the first two HDR images from me:

Hope you like them.  I plan on continuing my experiments in HDR photography, at least for now, to see if I like the style.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Recent photos and musings

It's been a pretty changeable time for me just lately.  There is the possibility of some pretty big changes coming my way in multiple ways and lots of little things too.  I'll update more as things change (or not change).

I recently found myself in Norman, Oklahoma again and went exploring the OU campus for interesting things to photograph.  At the time, I thought I had captured a selection of interesting subjects but on review later that day (and since) I have found that I have a few good photos and more than a few boring, uninteresting photos.  While technically sound, they lack any real subject or meaning so will not see the light of day on here or anywhere else - they'll just lurk in my archives as an example of what not to do.

Here is one I do like though, a different view of the football stadium's clock tower:

There's been some other things going on lately, one of which hit pretty close to home.  My 8 month old rat terrier, Amber, has been diagnosed with a condition called Legg-Calve-Parves Disease and will have to undergo surgery on her left hip that has essentially collapsed.  Regular readers should remember her from a previous post where I posted on of her portrait shots as she is one of my "regular" portrait subjects.  She's also a very active, loving puppy who is having to be kept relatively inactive to limit any further pain and damage to her hip.  Here is another portrait of her taken before her diagnosis:

I will likely be taking a lot more photos (and posting them here or on Facebook) of Amber as I document her path from now through surgery and on through her rehabilitation...until she's back to her active self.  Then again, I'll more than likely always take photos of her as she's such a great subject.

Other things of change going on lately - I recently purchased a Rogue Flashbender light modifier for use with my Speedlights.  However, for the time being that will be limited to my SB-600 until I get my SB-900 replaced, under warranty, as it quit firing on me this past weekend.  However, back to the Flashbender and what a wonderful thing it is.  Small (smaller than an umbrella or softbox), portable, highly adjustable and gives great lighting from small flashes.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Copyright and the difference between could and would

The subject of this post was pretty much handed to me today and I feel it is something that needs to be out in the open.

I was approached by someone who is unhappy with the price of the photo package for their son's senior photos - that and how many prints are included.  Other than complaining to me about how they did not think it should cost that much to take and print a few photos, they wanted to know if I could make any copies of the prints.

Now, I couldn't comment much on the price for the photo packages - I don't know the market or costs incurred by the photographer/studio - I do know that the physical print is not the only thing you are paying for when you hire a photographer.  Above all else, you are paying for the artistic vision and skill of the photographer - you're also helping pay their overheads, as most professionals are self-employed and they have a lot of costs to cover.

Ok, back to the question at hand...I said I'd take a look at the photos.  Hear me out here!!  I want to LOOK and see them out of professional curiosity as I like to see other photographers work.  I have no intention of making any copies of what will clearly be a copyrighted photograph - hence the title of this post.  While I "could" make a copy, there is no way that I "would" do so.

All my work is copyrighted, and has my information encoded within the EXIF Data of each and every photograph.  I also place a watermark on photos used online; they are also formatted to "1 DPI", so while they look great onscreen, they will not print in any usable format.  As a photographer (and artist) I certainly do not want any of my work pirated as I know what has gone into each and every one of them.

If anyone is interested in further reading concerning copyright, there are plenty of links available in a basic online search.  I entered the term "photography copyright" into my favourite search engine and received 291,999,448 results.  It is a very hot topic and can lead to very expensive legal action and costs for all parties concerned.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Reverse posting

In a little change of track, I'm posting here to let everyone know of a new collection of photos I just posted on my Facebook page - Ian Mildon Photography

Over a period of several years I made 4 separate trips to the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska, Oklahoma.  Going through my photo archives, I selected 121 photos that I posted on Facebook.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

In a flash

As much as possible I try to not be without a camera when I leave the house - as an absolute minimum I have my cellphone with me at all times.  This weekend saw me without my Nikon while a guest at a wedding reception.  And forever the photographer, I couldn't help but check out what the event photographers were doing in covering the reception.

The biggest surprise to me and to many, a big "faux pas" was that they were shooting with the little pop-up flashes on their Canon's.  Let me clarify, they were not using the pop-up flashes to trigger off-camera flash units, they were using the pop-up flashes as their main lighting source.   

I thought it was known within the professional, semi-professional and amateur photography circles that the use of pop-up flashes were a major "no-no" other than as triggers for additional lights.  Using them for any kind of main lighting is pretty much guaranteed to  provide the following:
  1. harsh illumination of the subject
  2. hard, sharp shadows
  3. unflattering lighting
  4. high chance of flare due to the light being so close to the lens
To put it into context, the small pop-up flash on most consumer cameras can be likened to a spotlight, whereas what you want for most types of photography is more of a floodlight.  Having a wider spread of light is much more flattering on your subject as it reduces harsh shadows and doesn't "wash out" peoples complexions.

There's a reason why the main professional cameras from Nikon and Canon do not have pop-up flashes - they're unwanted.  Speedlights and small studio strobes are the things to use for portable light sources and they are kept away from the lens as much as possible.  At a minimum, when Speedlights are used on-camera, they are usually used with either a diffuser (of some description) or a bounce card to provide a softer, wider spread of light.  

Unfortunately there seems to be too many photographers with little to no experience in using flash in their work.  Working by natural, available light is all well and good when it's available but it's also unpredictable - and also usually needs some modification via diffusers and reflectors to provide even and flattering light.  Flash on the other hand is eminently controllable and can be used either as the main source of light or as a secondary source.  Many top professionals use flash in this manner and there are a plethora of books and courses out there that cover this topic.  Above all else, the one thing a photographer needs to know and understand is LIGHT.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Delving into my archives

Recently I've been spending a lot of time in my photo archives and re-editing some of my early photographs.  As these were taken on film, I was also checking the quality of the scanning I undertook to digitize them.  Unfortunately some of them have some artifacting where the film negatives have some damage.  Hopefully I can take them into Photoshop and clean them up enough to make them usable.

Doing this also took me back in time to the 1990's and my local areas of Plymouth and Dartmoor, that I used to explore a lot with my camera.  It certainly brought back a lot of good memories for me.

Now onto what you are probably waiting for, the photographs!  So, not to make you wait any longer, here is one of my favourite photos from the time:

This old tree sits on the edge of the River Plym at Shaugh Bridge, on the edge of Dartmoor National Park in Devon, England.  And yes, it is a real "living" tree and not a piece of digitial art created on a computer.  I also have a photo showing a wider view of the tree, with the river in the foreground.  If you are lucky enough to be in the area, go check it out - I'd love to know if it's still surviving. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Snapshots - August 4th 2013

It's way past time I posted something here for all my readers.  Sorry for the delay but there's only so many hours in the day and lately there just seems to be something else taking my attention away from posting.  To be honest, I haven't found much time to take many photos...although I did have another cross-over between my photography and day job recently.  I had the opportunity to design a graphic advertisement for an up coming event on campus and as part of this I needed to create a photograph where I had two separate laptop screens evenly lit, despite being at differing brightness levels.

I did a few test shots as a proof of concept and found that using a single flash was not sufficient to give even illumination on the foreground, back ground and both screens so that they could both be read.  Also that flash placement would be very important so as to not cause flare.  I ended up using two flashes positioned at about a 45 degree angle at each side from the screens and at about -2EV to provide enough to light the scene but not overpower it.

Other than this I've been organizing my photo archives into one big library, and re-editing some of my older photos.  And in doing this I am formulating a few ideas on combining my photos and writing to create a photo essay.  Stay tuned on this as it should be pretty interesting.

Finally, my main website has received some updates!!  Still not entirely happy with how it looks and I'll be carrying out some further changes to give it an overhaul.  I'm wanting to bring in more photo work and need to have a good web presence to attract possible customers, which is also why I've been expanding my online presence a bit more to include a profile on DevientART.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Park Life

(Post re-edited and re-published for changes in photo editing technique)

On another recent Saturday, I found myself back at Woodward Park here in Tulsa.  While my wife wrangled our rat terrier I was off spotting photo opportunities.  As it turned out, I have quite a lot of photos to sort through of the various subjects I found.  Among them was a selection of wildlife - insect, bird and rodent that I want to share on this post.

Without much further ado, here is a small selection of the photos I took:

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


With the recent "super" full moon, I thought it would be interesting to take a sequence of photos over the day before, the day of and the day after the full moon.  I wanted to see if there was any real difference in it's appearance over these days.

The first photo was taken with a 55-200mm zoom.  I found this was a little too short and required a pretty severe crop to give a larger moon in the shot.  The remaining photos were taken with a 300mm f4.5 telephoto. 

~ taken at 11:22pm on 6/21/2013

~ taken at 11:19pm on 6/22/2013

~ taken at 10:19pm on 6/23/2013

I found it pretty interesting how the "slight" time difference on the last photo seems to have had a fairly large impact on the colouring of the moon.  I don't know with any certainty but I would think that with it being earlier, the sunlight refracted more within the atmosphere as it lit the moon's face, picking up the colour.

As a slight aside, I noticed on the following night that there was a lot of wispy clouds in the sky when the moon was out.  The challenge was in capturing these clouds as the moon was still (pretty) full and still had lots of contrast - the camera's sensor was having difficulties capturing the full range of darkish sky, pale clouds and brightly lit moon-face.  The following photo was the best of my attempts in capturing the image presented before me.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Snapshots - June 17th 2013

It's been a pretty mixed time lately, and filled with a lot of technological issues.  I have since overcome the ones concerning my camera, now I need to deal with my ailing Macbook Pro.  

Fortunately I have been able to source a temporary workaround for my lack of laptop - albeit having to switch back to Windows as an OS.  Thankfully my Adobe subscription to Creative Cloud permits me to use either Mac or Windows to run applications.  I also was able to track down a "free" application to give me the ability to access files on my HFS (Mac) formatted backup drive from Windows.  This means I have full access to my photo archives regardless of OS platform I use.

I'm still taking photos and as of today have over 6GB worth, in alternate archives, that I have taken since having laptop issues.  To some this may sound a lot, but to some this is a small number of photos for a 2 week period!  To me, this is  my experimenting stage, where I'm having fun and practicing my photographic vision to see and capture interesting images.  I have no real direction currently in my work, although this may change at some future time, just not for the foreseeable future.  Which is not a bad thing as it gives me the freedom to explore and experiment, which in turn could lead to new opportunities.

I have to say though that it has been good to simplify my approach to photography and return to working with a single fixed focal length lens.  For the majority of my recent work, this is what I've done.  There has been a few photos taken with one of my telephoto zooms but they are in the minority.  If the image can be captured the way I want with the 35mm lens, then that's what I use; if not, I will select the best tool for the job (if I have it). 

It's been a while since I've posted any photos here, and even longer since I posted anything on my website.  To be honest, my website has been badly neglected for a while and in desperate need of a full refresh.  While I'm at it I would like to see if there are any options to pull my website and blog together under the one URL.  If I can, this would help streamline my web presence and allow for better (and more frequent) updates.  Oh, and don't be alarmed if my website goes offline, as at the very least I need to do a big overhaul and refresh of it.

I guess this is going to be a new start for me -a  new camera, a new lens and hopefully soon, a newly serviced MacBook Pro.  Stay tuned for how it all works out.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Nifty 50

I had forgotten just how flexible and useful a 50mm (or 35mm on DX format) lens really is.  Also just how much I missed working with one on my DSLR.  I've recently rectified the situation and picked up a Nikon 35mm f1.8 lens and it's already my favourite lens to shoot with.  It's like welcoming home a long lost friend and finding out you should never have parted ways...we just "clicked"! 

If you don't have a 50mm or equivalent lens in your arsenal I would really recommend you get one and see for yourself why it's the most popular lens in photography.

I have been busy getting reacquainted with the lens (35mm on DX) and have a lot of selective focus photos with shallow depth of field, which is a great by-product of the focal length, combined with the wide maximum aperture.  This does show up one drawback of the Nikon lens...the aperture diaphragm is not truely circular so the bokah is slightly irregular.  It's a minor detail that won't stop me from using the lens.

The only downside to all my recent photo taking is that my MacBook Pro is out of action, so I haven't had the opportunity to check out all my photos.  I do have everything backed-up though, so everything is safe.  Just need to get it serviced, which will be covered by my extended warranty.

All in all it's been a fun time and I'm glad to finally be back using a "nifty" 50.

Sent from my Motorola Smartphone on the Now Network from Sprint!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Another pet portrait

I'm still testing out the capabilities of my new camera and taking more pet portraits, while trying to decide on a self assignment subject to work on.  Some may not view pet portraits as a subject of value but I disagree and think that it is a subject that deserves consideration.

Once more I turned to my stand-by subject of Merlin, my tabby cat.  This time I used my Nikon 55-200mm lens, with my SB-600 on camera with a diffuser dome, set to bounce at 45 degrees.  It was also set to -1.0EV and zoomed out to 24mm to give a little pop of fill without over powering the ambient light.


Monday, May 13, 2013

New updates - changes

It's funny what can influence your creativity and productivity if you let it.  New things definitely has a positive effect, be it a camera or a puppy...or both.

First change is the arrival of a new puppy into the family, a rat terrier we called Amber to match the colour of her eyes.  Of course, this also means I have another "captive" photo subject, or to be more accurate it means I have to practice photographing a fast moving subject.  She's fast!!


My previous "captive" photo subject was/is my grey tabby cat Merlin.  He's put up with my continuous annoyance of putting a camera in his face and the popping of my flash gun as I practice fill-flash techniques.


Both photos were taken with my "new" camera (new to me) a used Nikon D2x, with a Nikon 60mm f/2.8 Micro lens and SB-600 Speedlight providing some fill-light.

I've also been experimenting with another new purchase I made recently - a SU-800 Speedlight Commander unit to allow the use of off-camera TTL flash for either fill-flash or full lighting.  Works fantastic with the D2x.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Finding time

I had forgotten just how quick the day can go by and how little opportunity you can have to productively fill that time.  Or more importantly, just how time consuming a young puppy can be.

After thinking about it for a long time and always doing the "what if" and the "need to do this first" we decided to jump all in after seeing an adorable rat terrier at a rescue event in a pet store.  We were there to get supplies for our cats and happened to look in to help socialize the rescue animals...and found one special puppy.

Jump forward a couple of weeks and it's been educating to say the least.  And still is, despite the cliche, as I have a new photo subject and the chance to try to capture a small, fast moving critter without it all being a blur.  I might even pick some of the better ones to post here.

Sent from my Motorola Smartphone on the Now Network from Sprint!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ruminations and Procrastina......

Not been very active here or anywhere online for some time.  To be honest, I've been so preoccupied with my "other" life that I haven't picked up my D-SLR since January.  I have dabbled a little in cellphone photography - in that I have switched camera apps on my phone to one that imitates a full camera viewfinder.  I also found a nice panorama app for my phone, so will be trying it out sometime.

I did finally take a couple of films in for developing - a 35mm one from my Kiev rangefinder and a 120 from my Holga.  So, I will be going "retro" with my film cameras!

I remember reading an article (or several, can't really recall) that artistic people tend to go through a lot of "dry-spells" creatively and often re-invent themselves to break out of their rut.  All I know is I seem to have gone through a lot of these dry-spells lately - at least in actually taking photos.  I still have a lot of visualizing of photos, techniques, ideas - I just have a bad case of procrastination and don't put any of these ideas into practice.

Was good to be out and about with  camera in-hand today.  It may have only been five photographs I took with my Holga but it's still five more than I've taken for some time.  Little steps to breaking my procrastinating bad habit.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Random update

I haven't been spending much time with my camera lately.  Lots of things competing for my attention and I have been busy in other things.

During and after my recent portrait session I realized how little I know about posing a model and how I need to learn more techniques.  My lighting techniques have proved pretty effective and improving my posing should really help my portrait quality.

Instead of taking photos, among other things, I've been reading a lot more.  Both for a technical writing class I'm undertaking as well as  photography techniques.  I've also been reading up on body language, and what a fascinating, complex subject it is.  Hopefully having a better understanding of body language will help with my portrait photography.  It certainly explains why some photos have a stronger attraction or emotive response than others.

I certainly have every intention of picking up my camera again but also plan on continuing my (mixed) reading as it all adds into who I am and also into my photography.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Portrait photo examples

I promised I would post some examples from my recent portrait session and after a longer delay than I intended, I am fulfilling that promise.

All photos were taken with a SB-600 on a stand with a Lastolite softbox and a 42" white reflector.  The lens I was using was my 60mm Micro-Nikkor (effective 90mm on my D100).  The model was a very talented, young lady called Laney.  She is a natural in front of the camera which belies her young age and she has a very classic look, reminiscent of the golden age of Hollywood.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Portrait session

I had a great photo session this weekend with a wonderful, young, talented model called Laney.  Despite her young age, she's a natural in front of the camera.

The photo session also gave me the perfect opportunity to try out my new Lastolite softbox.  And I can report that it worked wonderfully - and the extra features of the Joe McNally special edition are great extras.  One speedlite firing into a softbox and a white reflector for fill can produce some wonderful lighting.  So much so, I never did use the umbrella I also had with me and stuck with the softbox/reflector combo.

Now comes the next stage in the photo session where I go through all the photos and carryout preliminary editing to remove any dust spots and weed out any where the focus was slightly off. Once this is done, I'll be burning copies to a DVD for Laney and her family.

Once this is done, I will post some examples here and on my website, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New gear

My recent birthday brought me some more new photo gear, thank you Lisa!  I now have a Lastolite softbox for use with my SB-600 flash for better portrait lighting.  

Now I just need to break out my camera, dust it off and practice with my new umbrellas and softbox to get used to how they modify the light in portraits and still-life shoots.

The new year has lots of potential to further my photography...I just wonder where it will lead.  I'll keep you informed via this blog and will also try to have some new photos posted here soon.