Category Archives: technique

Astrophotography on the Beach

Tofino is a remote town.  Being on the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island, it is a long way from built up areas with only Ucluelet being anywhere close and that does not provide much light pollution.  Combine that with cold and clear nights and you get a fantastic view of the night sky.  Stepping out of the hotel and on to the beach (keeping the light of the hotel behind you), the sky opened up in an amazing display of stars.  I have been to places with great night skies but never at the time of year when the Milky Way is visible.  It looked fantastic.

I had not thought about this possibility and did not travel with a tripod.  I figured I had to have a go at photographing this sky.  I Googled some settings for night sky photography, grabbed the camera bag and headed out on to the sand.  Focus had to be set by using live view and a distant lighthouse with manual focus.  I then set the camera up at 30 seconds and f/4 with a 10 second delay on the shutter trigger.  Then I put the camera on the bag propping it up in the position I thought it needed to be.  Live View was of no use when it was this dark.  I then let the camera sit there for a while to settle.  Gentle pressing of the shutter button and then wait.  I got some good views of the shoreline with the stars including the lighthouse as well as a shot straight up at the sky.

Polarizer Effect on the Water

If I remember – which I frequently don’t – I take my polarizer with me when I am going to photographing scenery.  With our trip up into the Cascades, we went to the overlook of Diablo Lake and the sun was reflecting off the surface of the lake waters.  I took two shots – one with the polarizer rotated to remove the glare and one with the glare in full effect.  I was interested to see which of the shots I preferred when I got home.  The color of the lake is very nice but sometimes the reflections are more interesting.  I include both here to show just how much of a difference the polarizer makes and for you to decide which is to your taste.

Dropping the Shutter Speed in Bad Light

My cloudy Vancouver shoot also gave me the chance to play around with some lower shutter speeds.  I have done this for the turboprops before but this time I decided to play with some of the jets.  A really low shuttle speed can blur out the background and give a nice impression of movement but it is a problematic shot to make.  You don’t want to do it on something that you are keen to get in case you get nothing!  It is also something that results in very small apertures if there is much light which can make for a lot of dust spotting in post!  A cloudy evening is a good time to try and a bunch of boring regular jets are good targets for a trial!

Negative Lab Pro 2.0 Update

A while back, I bought the Lightroom plugin, Negative Lab Pro.  This is a plugin that converts digital images of negatives to a positive image.  I wrote about it in this post.  A short time ago, the developer brought out a version 2.0 upgrade to the plugin.  It turns out, the upgrade was free for those of us that had bought the original plugin.  I installed the upgrade to see how things have been improved. 

Initially, I was very disappointed.  The conversion process after the update seemed to be awful.  Things looked dark and blotchy and efforts to unconvert and reconvert the images didn’t help.  I was perplexed by this since a number of users had already exclaimed how happy they were with the update.  If in doubt, follow the old approach of closing stuff and restarting it.  I closed Lightroom and reopened it and whatever was wrong before was now fixed.  The conversion worked very well.  The controls have been expanded to give you a bit more to play with.  The main benefit I am seeing so far is in the color balancing.  Shots seem to have a more natural look to them without me having to work too hard on the color in the first place.  Shots like those with a lot of sky and an odd colored aircraft will still test the algorithm a lot but otherwise it seems to have a good handle on things.  It is also now able to handle frame edges without getting confused.  You can tell it how much of the edge to ignore which is a useful feature although I have got into the habit of cropping carefully already.

All in all, the upgrade seems to be a good one.  Since it hasn’t cost me anything, that is a nice thing to have.  It is also good to know that the developer is continuing to work on the product which holds out the hope of further upgrades to come.  I continue to recommend this to anyone that has been scanning their old negatives with a digital camera.

How Slow Can I Go With the Turboprops?

Shooting Dash 8s and Q400s at YVR is not going to be particularly interesting so I was able to spend some time playing with shutter speeds progressively lower and lower.  Shooting very low shutter speeds on the 500mm handheld is a bit of a crapshoot but you never know what you might get.  Besides, the evening light meant it wasn’t so bright that you were at ridiculous apertures with the associated endless dust spotting!

I was quite prepared to have got absolutely nothing from these shots.  However, either my luck was good or my technique has improved – I think we both know which it is – and I got a few sharp ones with plenty of prop blur and background blur combined.  Background blur always makes for a more interesting shot.  However, when you want to make sure you get the shot, you aren’t always willing to risk it.  Having something that is not a make or break shot means you can have a lot more leeway for experimentation.

Staring at an Escalator

I was waiting for some visitors at the airport.  At SeaTac, you stand at the top of the escalator waiting for people to come out from the shuttle station.  I was starting at the escalator for quite some time and decided to see just how slow a shot I could take with the cellphone.  Using ProShot, I have a lot of shutter speed control but the brightness does eventually overwhelm things a bit.  However, it was still possible to play with some interesting effects with the steps blurring out along with anyone standing on them!

HDR Tech Comparison – What’s Up Lightroom?

A while back I saw a Scott Kelby video on YouTube about the HDR functionality in Lightroom and that in Photoshop.  I had assumed that they were the same prior to seeing his video but he showed that the Photoshop version of the HDR was significantly cleaner than that in Lightroom.  I was interested in how this could be but I wasn’t too concerned.  The Lightroom version was so easy to use I figured the impact was not so much that it would show up in my shots.

Then, I found out I was wrong.  I was in the cockpit of the Comet at the Museum of Flight’s restoration facility at Paine Field.  I took a sequence for HDR because the cockpit is very dark but the view out of the windows is much brighter.  It isn’t particularly important since the view outside is nothing special but I did it anyway since I was there.  The lighter shot had quite a bit of shadow noise and, when I created the HDR in Lightroom, the noise was very conspicuous on the finished version.  I decided to try it in Photoshop to see what happened.  The difference was significant.  I include both of the full shots as processed along with the section of cockpit shadow so you can see the impact.

Recovering a Crashed Card

I was downloading shots from two cards into Lightroom when one of the downloads seemed to hang.  I have seen this before and on those occasions, removing the card and starting again did the trick.  This time it didn’t and, when I reinserted the card, the computer said I needed to reformat it.  I thought I would try it back in the camera to see if that was okay but no joy.  Time for RescuePro Deluxe again.  I wrote about using this previously.  I had an issue with it one time when I tried a recovery and the same thing happened this time.  The card drive letter doesn’t show up (nor do any of the others).

There is a simple fix to see them all which is to press the H key.  However, I hadn’t made a note of that previously and couldn’t remember.  Fortunately, their help desk gave me the code and the pictures were all swiftly recovered.  (I jest.  The program works well but recovering everything it can find on a 64Gb card and then working through that to find the files you really want rather than something from months previously is a bit of a slow process.  Still, it is a lot better than the alternative of having no shots!)

Negative Lab Pro

In previous posts I have described my efforts at scanning old negatives using a digital camera, macro lens and a light table.  I have had mixed success with the process for converting the negatives into positives with some films responding better than others.  I was okay with the output but thought things could be better.  A YouTube video showed up on my page that was about scanning negatives with a digital camera and I decided to watch to see if they did anything different to me.  The technique for shooting the negatives was similar enough but they introduced me to a Lightroom plugin called Negative Lab Pro.

I downloaded a trial of the software and gave it a go.  I was sufficiently impressed with the output that I stumped up the cash for the full version.  It isn’t cheap but, given that I can now use it on several thousand images, I figured it was worth the investment.  The plugin requires a small amount of effort.  I revert the images back to a normal San without any of my previous edits and conversions.  The first thing to do after that is to take a white balance reading from some of the visible edge of the film to neutralize any color shift.  Then you crop in on the image.  Apparently, it is important to avoid getting any unexposed edges in shot as this messes with the algorithm.

Then you open up the dialog box.  It analyses the image and does a conversion.  You then get some basic sliders to tweak the settings such as exposure and color balance.  There are some auto setting check boxes but I haven’t found them to be too helpful so far.  Then you click okay and the image is ready to do further editing in Lightroom.  You can also do batch conversions of images if you want although I think it is probably better to focus on individual processing.  I have been playing with this on a range of images so far and I like the results.  My old negatives are not that great and this is not going to suddenly make them amazing but I am impressed how much more I can get out of some of the scans using this software.