Category Archives: technique

High ISO Shooting and Processing Technique

I watched a video on YouTube about a way to process shots taken in low light with high ISOs to improve the noise performance.  I wasn’t particularly interested in the approach until I was down on the shore as the sun was going down and I was using a long lens.  I figured this might be a good time to try it out.  The approach is to shoot a lot of shots.  You can’t have anything moving in the shots for this to work but, if it is a static scene, the approach can be used.

Shoot as many shots as you can.  Then import them in to Photoshop as layers.  Use the align function to make sure that they are all perfectly aligned and then use the statistics function to do a mean calculation of the image.  You can do this a couple of ways in Photoshop.  You can make a smart object and then process it or you can process through Statistics.  The averaging function takes a lot of the noise out of the shot.  If you have lots of images, you can make it effectively disappear.  I wasn’t prepared to make that many shots but I tried it with a reasonable number of images.  The whole image isn’t really of interest.  Instead, I include one of the images cropped in and the processed image similarly cropped to allow you to compare.

Diffraction Problems with Window Screens

Occasionally I will get aircraft heading in to Boeing Field come right by the house.  Late Friday afternoon, two Boeing test jets were coming my way.  One was the first 777X and the other was that first 737 Max7.  The usual route brings them just slightly north of the house so I was ready.  However, the Max was heading just slightly south of the normal track and looked like it might go the other side of the house.  At the last minute, I realized it would and ran through the the other side.

I got the window open but didn’t have time to remove the screen.  I thought it would take out some light but figured the large aperture of a big lens would just blur out the screen mesh since it was so close.  Through the viewfinder, things look pretty good.  However, when I downloaded the shots, I realized the shots were totally awful.  The screens had caused shadowing of the images.  The center image was there but I could see shadow versions about and below.  Then I got to one with a beacon flashing and that showed exactly how the pattern of light was scattered.  Based on what I see, I assume this is a diffraction effect.  It is a useless shot but it is very interesting which is why I am sharing it.

Is HDR Necessary Anymore?

I was taking some shots for work recently where the sky had some nice cloud detail and the foreground was in a lot of shade.  Since the pictures were needed for a project, I was covering my bases and shot some brackets to allow me to do some processing in HDR later.  Some people hate HDR but I have always been looking to use it to get a shot that reflects more the human eye’s ability to deal with extremes of contrast.  With a wide range of light levels in a shot, HDR can give you a more usable image.

However, when I was processing the shots, I was struck by how I could use the middle exposure alone and, with some helpful adjustment of exposure, shadows and highlights, I was able to get much the same sort of result as the HDR image provided.  The raw files seem to have enough latitude for processing that going to the bother of taking and processing the HDR image hardly seemed worth it.  There are still situations where the range of exposure is so wide – outdoor sunlight and shady interiors – that it is still probably necessary to bracket and process later.  However, for a lot of the situations I used to use HDR for, there seems little point.  How many of you still shoot HDR?

Red Flag Night Launches

Adobe periodically updates the processing algorithms that are used by Lightroom and Photoshop. Each update provides some improvements in how raw files are processed and it can be good to go back to older shots and to see how the newer process versions handle the images.  I find this particularly useful for images shot in low light and with high ISO.

I have some standard process settings I use but have also experimented with modified settings for use with high ISOs and the higher noise levels that come with them.  I got to some night launch shots from an old Red Flag exercise and had a play with the images.  The E-3 launch was actually as the light was going down but it still had some illumination so it didn’t need much work.

The KC-135 and B-1B shots were a different story and were at high ISOs and with very little light.  I was able to update the process version and apply some new settings I had worked out since the original processing and it resulted in some pretty reasonable outputs considering how little light there was to work with.

Disassembled Bicycle Tire Valve

I recently bought some replacement valve cores for my bicycle tires.   I notice that part of the core was bent so decided to replace it.  It is a quick job to change the core over and, prior to throwing the old core away, I figure I would play with the macro lens.  I first too a picture of the still assembled core trying to angle it to show how badly bent the part was.  Then I figured I could take the core apart altogether.  Another focus stack and I could show the parts separated.  I love the detail you get of the metal surfaces when you shoot macro.

Experimenting With Avoiding Heat Haze

Summer weather means lots of sunny days but also means lots of heat haze.  I was at Boeing Field one sunny afternoon and there were two jets parked across the field that I wanted shots of – one was an Illinois ANG KC-135R and the other was a Falcon 20.  Looking through the viewfinder, both of the were shimmering in the heat haze that a warm and reasonably humid day brings.  This is the downside of summer in the Pacific Northwest.

Not long before I had watched a video on YouTube about photographing Saturn through a telescope.  The image of Saturn was all over the shop but they were using a software technique to take multiple images and build a more stable and sharper final image.  It worked reasonably well and this got me thinking about how to do something similar.  In the past I have used Photoshop to blend together multiple images to remove the moving elements of a shot like people or traffic.  I wrote about it in this post.

I thought I would see if something similar could be done.  I put the frame rate on to high and steadied myself before firing off a few seconds of shots.  I wanted a lot of images to provide the best opportunity for the statistical analysis to find the right solution.  Importing this in to Photoshop as layers and then auto aligning them allowed the analysis tool to do its thing.  I don’t think the result is quite what I want and I may experiment with different analysis methods – median versus mean for example – to see which ones are most effective.  However, there is clearly a smoothing out of the distortion and, if I needed to get a shot on a hazy day when there wouldn’t be another chance, I would definitely fall back on this approach to see whether it produced something more usable.

Variations in HDR Processing

While scanning through some images, one of the shots that showed up in my catalog was an HDR processing of some shots of a US Army Chinook.  It had been processed with a plugin that I had previously experimented with.  I thought it looked over vibrant but I was impressed with the way the dark interior of the helicopter had shown up while the outside was also well lit.  I decided to have another go at processing the images.

I used Lightroom initially to do the processing.  It came out surprisingly well and looked not unlike the outcome from the plugin.  However, there was some ghosting on people in the shot and there was a lot of chromatic aberration.  I have noticed issues with Lightroom making a worse job of it than Photoshop so I decided to try HDR Pro in Photoshop as well and use Camera Raw for tone mapping.  The outcome was very similar from an overall perspective.  However, the ghosting was virtually eliminated and the aberration was not apparent either.  It clearly is still a better bet than Lightroom.

Facial Symmetry

After four months of no hair cut, I finally managed to get some clippers and set about cleaning up my head.  I won’t share the awful look that I had developed (and the current look might not be that great either) but I did have Nancy take some pictures before and after.  While she was taking the after shots, I asked her to take a couple that were directly head on.  I was interested in facial symmetry.

I had seen articles in the past about how some people have quite symmetric faces while others didn’t and I had been meaning to try this out for myself.  I got a shot that was nice and head on so took it in to Photoshop.  There I duplicated the layer and flipped it horizontally.  Aligning it centrally was a bit of a choice because you can move it around a little and just widen or narrow the face.  I got it to a place that seemed about right.  The fact my face is asymmetric means that there isn’t an exact center to align against.

I then added a layer mask to two versions of the image to blank one side or the other out.  The result is two versions of my face using either the left or the right side.  The difference between them is quite stark.  My jaw is slightly lopsided as is my nose and so one version has a far broader look to it while the other is a lot thinner.  It’s like two different people.

When You are Locked Down, It’s Got to be Macro Time

Not being able to go anywhere means you can only photograph things close to home.  Why not dig out the macro lens.  I have no doubt that many photographers have been doing the same thing when stuck at home too.  I initially didn’t have any obvious plan for this.  I just decided to photograph anything around me to see what it looked like when seen up very close.  Textures on the surface become apparent in a way that aren’t normally.  I also discovered just how much dust on on somethings that I never noticed until looking at the images.

Spider Hiding Out

My effort at shooting macro images of bees in our front yard (this post) also yielded a surprised.  While I was waiting on a flower for the bee to come to me, I noticed the flower already had a resident.  A little white spider was hanging out in there.  I am not sure what its intended prey was.  It seemed a bit small to take on a bee but I have no idea if that could happen.  Maybe it wanted something smaller.  I got a couple of shots of it that interested me.  The prime shots show its “face” in detail.  Macro shots have a very shallow depth of field so I missed with plenty of shots but one or two had the end of the legs in focus.  The detail of the hairs on the legs was so cool so I include that too even if it looks like I missed focus on the shot (which obviously I did!).