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Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I took the photos above and below to provide examples of the kinds of image that can be taken with the old legacy lenses I was describing yesterday. Both these photos were taken in near darkness yesterday on my way home from downtown and were taken with a fully manual 55mm f1.8 Super-Takumar lens. They were hand held so are not as sharp as they could be but I find the colors, contrast and detail are very appealing. This lens cost me $6.95
Software I use to process images

For me what comes out of the camera is the raw material. Of course, before I click the shutter I try to frame the best image I can. Sometimes the resulting image may not need much work but generally, after I select an image that I like, I will work on it to bring out more of what I like about it, to focus it and remove irrelevant details. Mostly I am more interested in producing a memorable, appealing, striking image rather than attempting to capture reality.

When we visit the seashore, it's a multi-dimensional experience with powerful smells - seaweed and salt water, powerful sensations - warm sunlight and sea breezes, sounds such as the wind, the waves splashing and gulls crying and there is constant, often rhythmic movement. It seems impossible to capture all that all with a small, two dimensional static image. With luck and a great deal of skill we may be able to capture an image that suggests all those aspects of the scene that the camera cannot record. However, I think that often we are able to invite the viewer to participate in re-creating the scene's missing dimensions in his or her own mind by intensifying the information we have been able to record. For me that usually means adjusting the contrast, saturation and focus and improving the composition (if possible) by cropping.

For the most basic adjustments I use a free, open source graphics editing program called GIMP. It will do most of what can be done with Photoshop and does it for free. What's more, many Photoshop plug-ins work with GIMP. I recommend it highly. The GIMP organization also has a registry of plug-ins and filters that can be downloaded free of charge. Great stuff! I use it extensively and whenever I have time I go through one of the many free user-created tutorials.

Whenever I think an image can benefit I also put it through HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing using a program called Photomatix. There is still considerable resistance to HDR processing. However, I think this resistance is mostly directed towards the more extreme manifestations of HDR that may be greatly oversaturated and cartoonish. Often HDR processed photos don't look very HDR and are not recognized as such. The prizewinning Chinatown Gate photo I posted a few days ago was processed with HDR. To the left is a split version of the photo with the HDR treated image on top and the original image below. The original image reflects a typical problem. In order to expose the darker underside of the gate properly the sky gets overexposed. Film photographers had a saying for such situations - overexpose and underdevelop. This preserved the detail that would otherwise have been lost in the shadowed parts of the photo. HDR software performs essentially the same process digitally.
Our vision is incredibly sensitive. When we look at a scene, we are always focused on some part of it but our eyes flick around back and forth and as they do so the iris expands and contracts according to the light reflected from that particular part of the scene. Our mental image of the scene is thus composed of all those hundreds or thousands of differently exposed bits of the scene put together in our brains. In my opinion, HDR processing gives us an image that is closer to this composite image we create in our brains than the normal image that comes from a camera in that different parts of the scene are differently exposed, something no
camera is yet able to do. New cameras, however, often have HDR processing built in to the internal software image processor.
Photomatix costs about $100 but there are free HDR programs available online as well.
Another software program I occasionally use is for panoramas. It is another free program called HUGIN. It will stitch together a bunch of photos beautifully. I haven't used it that much but the Victoria panorama below was made with HUGIN out of 16 separate photos.Sometimes I work with images in RAW format, especially if I need to adjust the white balance or the overall exposure. For this I use the Sony software that came with the camera. Most of the time, however, I work with the JPG versions. I almost always shoot so I get both RAW and JPG versions of each photo. The only time I just shoot JPG is when I am shooting something where there is a lot of action and I want to exploit the camera's fastest shooting mode.
Well, I do tend to run on and on but tomorrow I hope to wrap up this somewhat narcissistic excercise with a little discussion of the brutally simple rules of composition that I employ - nothing very original here but it never hurts to repeat good things.


JoJo said...

I have looked into getting Photoshop but am unwilling to shell out nearly $300.

The fundamental problem I have is whether or not I want to use a program to change my photos or sweeten them, b/c I have always viewed that as cheating. It's not a pure photo if it's been sweetened thru a program. In fact last year I shot a sunrise photo of the crescent moon w/ venus and I did use the basic photo program on my laptop to darken the sky more to bring out the moon & planet, and I felt soooo guilty afterwards b/c I cheated and posted a photo that wasn't exactly true. Everyone on Facebook was lauding my photo, and someone even asked to use it for his profile pic and I sat there dying with guilt, thinking, 'they think it's a great photo, and that I'm this great photog, and the original isn't that good."

Dean Lewis said...

JoJo, as Benjamin explains, playing around to get the best balance of detail in the full range of light amounts to doing what our eye does on it's own. When the camera exposes for just the highest or lowest light areas, one has to suffer and we end up with an image of higher contrast than what our eye actually sees.
So,it isn't really cheating to adjust the final print to what our eye sees, only to what the camera sees.
Hope that eases your conscience.

Dean Lewis said...

A footnote, the adjustment done and shown so well in the pre and post shots is often achieved in professional photography, mostly close-ups, by using a carefully done 'fill' light source. It can be a flash or a reflected light from a large hand-held white/silver screen.
It allows for very nice backlighting and good detail in the forward facing shadows.
Then we are talking having a 'crew' member along. :)

Mike Laplante said...

@Jojo. Photoshop for $300! Tell me where -- I think the last time I looked at it it was closer to $700.

"Film photographers had a saying for such situations - overexpose and underdevelop."

I was always taught to expose for the highlights because once they were blown there was nothing you could do to get them back, whereas it was always possible to coax something out of the underexposed parts of your image.

I've used both GIMP and the freeware version of Photomatix but haven't yet ponied up for the pro version.

For those who might want to achieve that soft, pastel HDR 'look' I would refer you to a Photoshop-compatible filter called Topaz Adjust - my tool of choice. Alternately, there is also the ReDynaMix plug-in from Media Chance.

Both produce 'faux' HDR looks from a single image.

Another freeware program called DRI (Dynamic Range Imaging) will produce high dynamic range photos from two images, but it works with JPG only, not RAW, so technically it too isn't true HDR.




Mike Laplante said...

Wanted to respond to JoJo comments...

Like it or not, just your choice of camera, lens, aperture/ shutter speed, etc. causes the final image to 'diverge' from reality.

In film days, time exposures, double exposures, etc were tricks that tweaked reality too yet nobody would argue that the images weren't photographs.

It gets worse with today's cameras where many former software functions can now be found in the camera itself as you're taking the photo.

I struggle with the same issue -- how far do I tweak an image before it's no longer a photograph but artwork?

My personal criteria, fwiw:
If I pointed a camera at it and I fired a shutter, then it's a photograph. Beyond that I'm free to tweak it as much as I please.

I notice the phrase 'digital imaging' is becoming more common. I think it's more reflective of the spectrum of imagery which can range from 'pure' digital photos, to 100% digital artwork and everything in between where elements of both can be used.

Have fun...


JoJo said...

Thanks everyone for easing my conscience about fixing photos.

If Photoshop is really $700, then it must've been an update I saw for $300. There is no way I can afford to lay out that kind of money. lol Perhaps GIMP costs less? I'm just so not good w/ computer stuff.

Well I'm going to the coast tomorrow, just overnight, and we'll see how my pics turn out and if I should tinker with them.

Benjamin Madison said...

Hi JoJo,
I agree with pretty much everything Mike and Dean have written. AND, GIMP is FREE. You can download a fully operational, ad-free, virus-free copy from the website.
Have a good trip to the coast and take lots of photos! You're an artist - don't ever feel guilty about making something more beautiful.