Category Archives: technique

Close Encounter With A Swan

One of the nice aspects of mirrorless cameras is using the tilting screen to see the shot while holding the camera away from you.  I took advantage of this when I was near a swan at Mottisfont.  We were walking alongside the water and the swan was swimming towards us.  I wanted to get a close shot from low down but swans are not always the most friendly beasts.  Getting myself down there didn’t seem like a good plan.  Holding the camera out while looking at the screen seemed a better idea and the swan, while not totally enthusiastic, was less annoyed that way.

Lightroom’s New Content Aware Remove Tool

The latest version of Lightroom Classic was recently rolled out.  It comes with a bunch of new additions and refinements.  The one that caught my eye was the addition of content aware remove.  There was already the cloning tool and the healing tools built in and these could do a lot of what you might want.  However, these have now been supplemented by content aware removal.  The tool is really straightforward to use but you can customize it if you like, both by choosing what area to use as a reference and also the ability to get it to try again if you don’t like the result by hitting Refresh.

The thing I wanted to try out was using it to remove power lines.  These can sometimes be a bit of a pain when taking shots but, rather than use an aviation shot with some power lines crossing it, I happened to be looking at a photo I took in California of some railroad which had a bunch of lines strung across it.  I wasn’t bothered about making a great shot.  I was just interested in what the tool would do with the power lines.  It was surprising effective.  Too close an inspection would show the flaws but, if you look at the overall image, it came out quite well with very little effort.  I have the before and after shots here for comparison.

Stealing A Composite Idea

Quite a while back, I saw a shot that someone had composited of a Typhoon display over an airfield where they had the jet throughout its routine to show its route through the sky.  I liked the idea and, while it was totally different, it got me thinking when I was up at Heritage Flight Museum.  They had the Skyraider on the ramp but not flying.  It was ready to go but hadn’t yet been signed off.

However, they did do an engine run for the visitors and unfolded and folded the wings a few times.  Having got some basic shots, the idea of the Typhoon display popped in to my head so I shot a sequence of shots of the wings as they folded and unfolded.  I took way more than actually was a good idea.  I imported them all in to Photoshop as layers and then hid all of them except one and then progressively added some back to get the wings in different positions.  If I had used them all it would have just been a blur of wings.

With the ones I wanted selected, I changed the blend mode for all but the base layer to Darken and that meant the dark wing elements overlaid anything brighter behind them.  The result was a composite with multiple wing positions all showing at once.  I think it came out quite well.  I thought I might have issues with hiding things I didn’t want to or having to much movement between shots but that wasn’t a problem in the end.

A Little Spider Gets Macro Treatment

While getting ready one morning, I saw a little spider in my bathroom.  It was wandering around on the vanity unit and would stop for periods of time without moving.  I figured I might want to give the macro lens a go and went to get the camera.  The introduction of the camera was not ideal for encouraging it not to move but I got a bunch of shots.  Unfortunately, they were at a pretty high ISO.  However, stacking shots can help with the ISO so the result was okay.

A while later, it was back.  This time it had climbed up a cable and this reduced the number of ways it could go.  This time I decided to tool up and got a clamp to hold the camera and set things up to shoot a proper sequence for stacking.  The shutter speeds were low with the clamp which meant ISO could be a lot better.  Here are the results of those experiments.  (Sorry to people I know that don’t like spiders but, really, this thing is tiny!)

DxO PureRAW2 Review

This post might look like it is an aviation post but, while the examples I am using are planes, this is about software.  A while back I downloaded the trial of DxO’s PureRAW product.  I liked it but didn’t see enough use for me to justify buying the full version.  I was also a little put off by the lack of integration with Lightroom.  You had to start in the app and then the output DNG file would be exported to Lightroom.

PureRAW2 has been released so I downloaded the trial version of that to see how well it works.  I was interested not only in the processing capabilities but also the new Lightroom integration.  Now it is possible to use the application as a plugin so I can go to a file in Lightroom and take it out to PureRAW before the DNG returns.

First, what is my experience of the integration?  It is okay but not great.  Taking the file out works well and you can get the processing sorted out.  The return to Lightroom is not ideal.  First, it gives you the option to either put the new files in a DxO folder or to go to a specific folder you choose.  I would rather it went to the same folder as the original.  That is not available.  The second issue is that the re-import process takes a very long time.  It was a couple of minutes after closing the file that it showed up in Lightroom.  No idea why it takes so long.

Now for the processing.  It is very impressive.  I was working with some shots from very dark conditions with B-1s taking off.  The exposure was heavily driven by the afterburner plumes so the rest of the airframe was very dark.  When I tried to bump up the exposure in Lightroom to get something that showed the bare outline of the fuselage, the noise was really bad.  The PureRAW DNG was so much cleaner and allowed me to move the exposure around quite a bit.  For an ISO 51,2000 shot, this was very impressive.  I think the processing is not massively changed from before but it clearly works well.

However, as before, the number of times I would want to use this are not many.  The full version is now $129 which is a step up from where the original was priced when I reviewed it.  I am still not sure I need it enough to justify the investment.  No question, though, that it is a significantly improved tool from the original version.

Focus Stacking With The Camera’s Help

One of the functions that my new camera has built in is a focus stacking function.  I know this is not unique to this camera but it is a first for me so I was keen to play with it.  The mode, when enabled, allows you to set how many shots you want taken and set a scale for how close the focus points will be to each other.  You then pick you initial focus point and set it off and it takes the sequence of shots incrementing the focus slightly between each one.

The resulting stack of images can then be processed in Photoshop to get the focus stacked output.  This is so much nicer than making minor focus adjustments by hand between shots.  The sequence gets created really quickly.  I also was able to do reshoots easily.  On one of the sequences, I had left it on auto ISO so it shot at a really high ISO level.  I could reshoot with the ISO set low (tripod mounting means this was not a problem) in no time at all.  (As an aside, the focus stacking algorithm actually seems to do a good job of reducing noise as well.)

I experimented with how fine a scale to use.  Initially, I was taking way too many shots with very little movement through the image so I coarsened up the scale a bit.  The nice thing was, if it didn’t go all through the range, I could just hit the shutter again and it would keep going.  Photoshop chunked through the processing pretty well.  I was shooting a few things but also experimented with some coins on my desk.  Not the most original subject but one that shows the result well unlike the other things I was shooting.  The software seemed to struggle a little on some of the coin edges so maybe a finer shoot next time or maybe I should just hand blend those bits.

Shooting After Sunset

For a while, I had been thinking about trying to do some night photography of airliners.  I had seen some good shots people had got but SeaTac does not have a lot of ambient light to illuminate aircraft flying overhead.  It would be better if there was a large public space under the approach that would provide so brightness to work with.  I was down at SeaTac to pick up a colleague and knew I would be there as the sun went down so I decided to have a go at some shots.

I used the 70-200 f/2.8 to get as much light as possible.  The sun was going down so I was going through quite the transition of lighting conditions.  Some were just twilight while other were when things were getting quite dark.  The autofocus was also struggling since the center point was being used and the underside of the jet lacked much contrast in the dark.  I still got a few usable images.  The lack of light means they aren’t too great but it was fun to try something different.  Now to find a better location!

Various Ways To Stitch A Panorama

Lightroom has three methods for stitching the panoramas together.  I tend to use one but for some shots, a different style is beneficial.  I was flipping through some shots of an HH-101 Caesar helicopter that I took at RIAT in 2019.  I also had a Danish AW101 that I had shot in pano format.  The Danish airframe had not been shot as well as it could have been and I did not have sufficient coverage.  I decided to try different versions of the stitching to see which one gave the best result.  Some result in a more natural look while others look more fish eyed.  I can also stitch in Photoshop which gives me more capability for filling in gaps but, with the tricky areas being the rotors, that wasn’t going to work well since the AI is not going to work that out.  Stitching also allows some warping to fill edge gaps but this can mess with the alignment of the main part of the image.  I tried a couple of versions and they are compared here.

Night Touchdown

I posted about some night photography I tried on jets approaching SeaTac.  After finishing that up I was heading to the terminal to pick up my colleague and I decided to go for a shot of touchdown in the dark.  This was not going to be an easy one to get since it is really pretty dark at the north end of the airport so little ambient light.  I was relying on the lights of the jet and pushing the ISO to a really high level.  It is true that the noise gets really tough in those conditions but when looking at the image at a normal size, it really is not a big deal.  Besides, it is a shot we would never have done in pre-digital days.

Go With The Long Lens

For quite a while I have been shooting almost exclusively with the 100-400mm lens while photographing aircraft.  Recently, I knew I had a couple of smaller aircraft inbound and I picked up the 500mm which hadn’t got a lot of use for a while.  While it is a fixed focal length and therefore inflexible for things getting too close, with something small, it works out fine.  When I checked out the images later, I noticed that I had a far higher keeper rate at low shutter speeds than I have got recently with the 100-400.

I decided to stick with it again on another day of shooting and had similar results.  I decided even to sacrifice the closer shots and work with the long lens to get framing I wanted further away and to then go for close ups of details when things got too large.  I was overall very happy with the results.  I think the weight of the 500mm is such that it is a lot harder to disturb it with small twitches.  The 100-400 is so much lighter, maybe it is more sensitive to my lack of smoothness.  The inertia of the big lens is a benefit.  I think I shall be using it more again going forward.  Besides, it is so sharp when you get it right!