Archive for Photography

Photography workflow

Four years ago, I made the switch to digital SLR photography.  The primary reason was the workflow.  When I shot slide film, I would have to get the film developed, look at each image, scan the ones I liked, correct the color balance and then manually remove the dust spots from the scanned images.

When I first got the digital camera, the workflow became: auto-correct the color balance using the Nikon’s color profile, then select the images I liked.  Great!

Unfortunately, over the years, my SLR has gotten dust on the sensor, because I was doing what Nikon said and not mucking with the sensor to try to clean it.  So, first thing is that I should ignore Nikon and actually clean the sensor.  But the second thing is that this has really screwed with my workflow.  Last year, after identifying the “good” images, I had to manually go through them and use the Heal tool in the GIMP in order to get rid of a few dust spots.  Well, dust is cumulative and this year it was worse than ever.  In particular, the dust was more noticeable because I was shooting a lot of waterfalls… long exposures with a small aperture – dust city.  Take a look at the following:

To some extent or another, that’s on every single image I took while K and I were on vacation.

I could repeat my old workflow, but that would take days.  New idea:  there is a tool in the GIMP called the Smart Remove Selection.  It takes a selected bit of the image and replaces it with textures from the surrounding area.  It’s comparable to Photoshop’s content-aware fill.  So, if I can select all of the visible dust, I can clean it at one time.  But that’s still slow.

Instead, I selected all of the dust from the image above.  Grew the selection by 10 pixels, converted it to a path and then saved the path as an SVG file.  Since the dust is at the same location in each image, a single dust file is relevant to all of my images.

Now all I have to do is to open an image, import the path, convert the path to a selection and apply the smart remove.  That’s a little better, but still means that I have to touch each file manually.

Enter GIMP scripting.  Last night, I wrote a script that takes a file glob, converts it to a list of files, and for each file automatically removes the dust and color corrects the image.  It still takes about a minute per file, but it’s completely automated.  Unfortunately, the first version of the script only handled horizontal images.  But since I always turn the camera clockwise when I shoot vertically, I was able to modify it to rotate the image appropriately, apply the dust removal and then rotate the image back i the height of the image is greater than the width.

The results are pretty great:

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Calendar update

K and I received our copies of the Yellowstone calendar and they look great.  I’m happy with both the images we selected and also the printing – which was great.  As I mentioned earlier, we went with Zazzle for doing the printing and couldn’t be happier.  My mom got the ones for the folks in Louisiana and she also thought they looked good.  But hey, your mom is supposed to think everything you do looks good, so I was even happier to see that someone I don’t know in Illinois bought a copy on the Zazzle marketplace.  I didn’t expect that, but it was nice to see 🙂

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Yellowstone calendar pictures

Time to assemble the annual Yellowstone calendar.   This year I had a bit of a deadline (and not the shipping deadline this year!).  The company I ordered from (Zazzle) was having a 44% off deal, which expires around 3am.  Unfortunately, because of my grandfather’s death, I never did get around to processing the pictures from this year’s trip, so I didn’t have anything ready to go.  Fortunately, it didn’t take that long to find 10… 18… 26… 28… 29 pictures.  It took a bit longer to color correct and prune them back down to the 13 below:

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Sierra and the case of the uncomfortable pillow

dsc_7289One of our dogs, Darwin, likes sleeping on the floor.  He’ll occasionally sleep on the couch or on his dog bed, but then he gets too hot and moves to the floor.  The other dog, Sierra (named after either the Sierra Nevada Mountains as beautifully described by John Muir or the brewery named after the same mountains, depending on whom you ask), doesn’t get so hot and prefers sleeping on pillows or couches… my spot in the bed if I’m not currently occupying it, etc.  One of her sleeping spots is on an old pillow in the bedroom.  But apparently, it’s not always that comfortable.  When we went to bed last night, this was the scene that greeted us.

I love my dogs.  I love my dogs.  Om mani padme hum.  I love my dogs.

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William Wallace on wildlife releases

They may take our rehabilitation bins, but they’ll never take… our FREEDOM!

On Sunday, K release some baby water turtles that she had been over-wintering.  Fortunately, we’re all of a mile from a good place at which to release turtles, Jordan Lake, so we didn’t have to drive too far.

The big one in the image set is a male (note the long nails for better, um, gripping) slider and the other three are painted turtles (you can see the orange on the underside of the shells in the images in the gallery).

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Links take you to the full set.  Oh, and for those wanting to take pictures of fish or reptiles in water, circular polarizers rock. 🙂  I do wish I had a better depth of field on some of the images, but it was a cloudy day, I needed the speed and I don’t like using an ISO greater than 800.

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Snow pictures

Last week (on Inauguration Day no less), we got about 7″ of snow out at the house.  I just uploaded the pictures this morning.  Some of my favorites are below, the rest are in the gallery.

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If nothing else, the dogs sure did seem to enjoy the snow.  🙂

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front yard birding

Using a bit of leftover birthday money, I bought some new camera equipment.  Nothing particularly sexy like a big long lens (what do you mean by homoerotic?).  I bought a set of carbon fiber tripod legs that weigh about 3 pounds instead of the 6 pounds of my old tripod legs – that should make hiking easier.  They can also hold more weight which is good since my biggest lens tops out what you should put on the old legs.  I also bought a new tripod head.  Instead of a ball head (ahem), I got a gimbal head that balances the weight of the camera so that you can easily point it anywhere and it stays put.  Moreover, the new head is far more stable than the old one when using long lenses.

All of the nerdiness aside, the real proof is in the pictures.  I took the camera outside over the weekend and put it on the new tripod to try to get some interesting bird pictures.   Thoughts?

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The first is a junco – I took the picture with a 500mm lens with a doubler.  That combined with the camera’s internal 1.5x magnifier gives me 1500mm equivalent.  I could not have gotten this shot with my old tripod.

Second – chickadee on the birdfeeder (900mm equivalent)

Third/fourth – sh titmouse on the holly tree and flying off of the tree.

Fifth – unknown (at this time) bird [update: 1/13]  immature yellow-throated warbler

Sixth – yellow-bellied sapsucker

Seventh/eighth – gear 🙂

All in all I’m very happy with the tripod and head.  It’s much stabler than what I’ve been using and has already let me take some shots I couldn’t take before.

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Thinking about camera equipment

I started taking photography more seriously about ten years ago.  I put down my cheap point and shoot film camera and bought an SLR body, a few lenses and some slide film.  The great thing about shooting film (slide or print) is that you aren’t constrained by the quality of your camera.  My first SLR was a used Olympus OM-1n, circa  1975.  The OM-1n was fully manual – no auto-focus, no auto-exposure.  If you didn’t want to use the exposure meter then you didn’t even need a battery.  It was a beautiful piece of equipment, but it was also about as basic as you could get outside of a pinhole camera.  It was a dark box that held and advanced film with a mount to hold a lens open for a set period of time.  That’s it.

At the time I bought the camera, the basic advice was to buy a camera body with the minimum features that you needed and use the savings to buy better lenses.  It was the glass in front of the camera and the type of film in it that had the greatest affect on picture quality.  Two photographers using the same lens, one having a fully manual and one having a fully automated camera could each take similar quality images.  That’s not to say that auto-exposure doesn’t make it easier to get the right aperture settings or that auto-focus isn’t useful when your subject is moving.  Both of those things are true.  But at the end of the day, they just improved the odds of getting a good shot.  Your only real constraints were glass and film.

These days, I’m using a Nikon D80 digital camera body.  It’s also nice.  Definitely a lot more electronics – auto focus, auto exposure, various program modes etc.  You can still set it in a manual meter mode, but it’ll never be a manual camera.  If you take out the batteries, it’s just an inert hunk of silicon and rubber.

I was reminded of all of this when talking to Hunter a few days ago.  He’s interested in getting a new camera body.  I almost choked when I saw how much the body alone costs.  My first thought was the old advice I heard when I bought my first SLR: buy a cheap body and good glass, your photography will be better for it.  Then I realized that’s no longer always true.

One of the things that digital cameras have done is to turn the camera body into the equivalent of the camera body and the film.  It is as if I had bought my Olympus OM-1n and had to always use Fuji Provia 400.  Wait – what if I want a better film, say Velvia 50?  Too bad – you should buy a better camera.  Well, digital cameras are just like that.  Different camera bodies have different sensors of varying quality.  It’s not just a matter of megapixels, but also ISO equivalents and noise reduction.  We’ve just entered a world where the quality of your pictures is constrained by both the lenses you have and the camera body you own.  What’s worse is that the camera body itself will become obsolete.  Unlike my OM-1n, there will never be a market for 25 year old camera bodies.  Lenses, yes.  Camera bodies, no.

This isn’t all terrible I suppose.  The commoditization of the camera body is making better photographic equipment more affordable.  Right now, affordable digital camera gear can produce better pictures than can be had on print film.  High end cameras are better than slide film and in a few years, affordable cameras will also be better than slide film.  I just find it a shame that digital photography has locked us into a world where the amount of money you have will determine the quality of your pictures.

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Wildlife rehab porn

It’s okay to look, I promise that there are no shots of me doing naked cage construction. *shudder*

A couple of months ago, K got a call about a squirrel.  When the folks brought it over, it turned out to be rather small, but pretty far along in its development.  Well, that’s because it was a flying squirrel.  They tend to be a lot smaller, a lot sweeter and just darn cute.  Because they live in colonies, K found someone with another flying squirrel and has been raising them together.  They just recently went outside, so hopefully they’ll be releasable before winter.  Here are some of the pictures from when they were still inside.

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A few more pictures at the gallery site.

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Yellowstone pictures – part 2 of 2 (updated)

update: and for those that prefer a better interface, all of the pictures in gallery

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