Sunshine and a Folk Album Cover

I was asked to do the cover and liner shots for an upcoming folk album entitled "Sunshine In My Suitcase."  Having never done an album cover I jumped at the chance.  

I have this rather large collection of folk albums dating primarily from the sixties and most of the album covers are quite literal.  The most common type of cover by far is a straight portrait of the performer or band.  Well, that seemed easy enough.  Is that what I want though?  What about stretching a bit and playing with concepts taken from the title, for instance?  Surely, given this particular music genre, I'm not at all limited to the literal - Folk has a deep history of working in metaphors, sometimes very taxed and/or tricky metaphors at that!

John Henry McDonald posing with a short necked 12-string acoustic.  You don't see one of those every day.

John Henry McDonald posing with a short necked 12-string acoustic.  You don't see one of those every day.

My options going in were to do a straight portrait and attempt to capture the artist's personality as best I could with a single image.  (That was going to be no small feat considering this dude is a renowned character and personality indeed.)   Or, keeping with the literal, I could create a picture OF the title - Perhaps drop a CTO onto a speedlight, put it in a road-weary suitcase, and get a shot of the light pouring out through the zippers and holes.  Although that would probably make a great cover shot, I really wanted to get an image of the artist - He's just too interesting a person, both visually and personality-wise, not to put on the cover.

I decided to do a fusion of sorts and get a good portrait, hopefully highlighting some visually striking feature of his get-up, and flood the scene with sunlight.  As luck would have it, there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

Outside testifying to the trees.

Outside testifying to the trees.

I sat John Henry in a chair in front of bay windows that overlooked the Austin Hill Country and worked an angle that put the sun up in the corner.  Two articles of clothing most typify his look, the bow tie and the two-tone leather shoes.  Given that I was working in a smallish room, I was going to have to get close to the subject.  I needed a wide focal length to get everything in the shot, so whatever was closest to the camera was going to be exaggerated.  Fine, I'll exaggerate the shoes!  This album isn't about shoes, though, so I needed to be careful not to overdo the effect.

I asked him to strike a cool-confident pose, minding the placement of his feet, and we were off to the races.  I settled on a shot of John Henry leaning back, looking off camera, with his chin resting on his hand opposite the camera in pensive thought.

Cover shot for Sunshine In My Suitcase

Cover shot for Sunshine In My Suitcase

After editing out power outlets and similarly distracting things, I processed the image to evoke old classic Kodak Tri-X film.  The tell-tales are in the grain structure, especially in the shadows.  Tri-X was introduced in the mid-Fifties but had a heyday in the Sixties.  Since folk music has a similar history it only seemed apropos.

The original image had nowhere near this amount of sunlight flaring so I gave it a gentle nudge in Photoshop.  Okay, I pushed it over a cliff.  But I wanted sun DRENCHED!

For the liner shot I initially wanted a straight portrait.  I settled on a shot, also taken in this room, of John Henry holding his most unique guitar, a 12-string short-necked acoustic.

JHM portrait with guitar

I wasn't too happy with the result, but I liked the idea.  If I'm ever in a situation where I like the idea of an image but the image itself isn't working for me, I sometimes simplify the image as a possible fix.  By simplifying I take those elements that stand out or otherwise "worked" and reduce the image to those elements.  Here those elements are the guitar, the shoes, and the bow tie.  (The hands worked too, in fact they worked very well, but they were going to have to go.  Such is life.)

Reduced down to the core elements.

Reduced down to the core elements.

What I'm left with is a caricature of sorts.  It's the perfect kind of quirky and it should do very nicely as a liner image on a folk album.

I packaged the images and sent them off to the designer.  Here's the early rough I got back:

Sunshine In My Suitcase

Sunshine In My Suitcase

It'll be neat seeing my work on an album cover.  It's also going onto a poster announcing the CD release.  I'll need to snag one of those.

EDIT (04/15/14):

Poster.jpg

Well lookie there!

-JD

Mixing Up Business Portraits

I was recently approached to update the employee images on the website of a local business.  Normally, this type of project doesn't give one much latitude for fun or experimentation.  If you browse your run-of-the-mill business site you generally come across staid and safe profile pictures.  I didn't want to spend a day running people through a photo mill and do a lot of post on images that all looked alike - that type of project seems like it's bad for the soul.  And, luckily, I'm in the position where I don't have to take a job if I don't think I'll enjoy it.  For me, this is just a hobby; photography by far costs more than I make from it, so I can reply to said business and offer them my idea for how to do the portraits and if they don't like what they hear c'est la vie and move on.

My idea was to do away with generic backdrops and use paintings, other art, or furniture from the office as the background.  Also, I wanted the option to incorporate more candid shots - if a person was looking away in contemplation, for instance, and I captured something compelling there, I wanted the option to use it.   Or, as it turned out, if someone were engaged in real and spontaneous laughter and if it made a good image, I wanted the ability to use it as well.  The point was I wanted something different, but still professional in feeling and execution.

They liked the idea.  This is Austin, of course, so the odds of you coming across a business that appreciates the idea of trying something new are probably better than your average city.  Their old site had traditional portraits set against that one blue muslin that seem to be given away every time you open a bank account or something - you know what I'm talking about.

However, there is always one problem when dealing with employees - they are not models.   I can talk all day preparing them for natural and candid shots, but once the camera comes out people more often than not clam up and start doing their approximation of a portrait pose or smile and the effect can be unnatural, if not unexpected.  This happened often, let me tell you.

If I was having a hard time getting what I thought was a natural pose, I would do my best to coach something out of the subject.  I could have them lean back to get comfortable, and fire off a series of images WHILE they formed their smile.  It seems that when people start to do their "portrait smile," somewhere during the process they make a face that feels far more natural to me.

Business 3.jpg

So, safely in their everyday environment, I would start each person's portrait with a conversation to get them used to seeing me and seeing the camera.  During our talk, the camera would come up and I'd fire off a pic or two. 

It's a process that seemed to take most of the edges off the "portrait taking experience" and give me something to work with.

Business 6.jpg

And sometimes, it really showed off the subject's personality.

Business 5.jpg

This was all well and good, but working in a limited environment for backgrounds, it didn't take long to run out of things to pop behind people.  So I decided to use some background ideas more than once, changing up how I presented them.

For example, this office had nice large windows that overlooked the Texas Hill Country.  As pretty as that is, it was going to get boring soon if the same stretch of grass and trees were behind everyone so I chopped up the scene.  I shot one looking down onto a highway:

Business 4.jpg

And another up towards the horizon: 

Business 1.jpg

And then, to completely maximize a location, I blew out the light from the window and high keyed the image:

Business 2.jpg

That's three very different portraits taken from the same window.  Not a bad use of limited resources if you ask me.

When we were done we had a collection of diverse imagery that complimented the employees and the resulting website looked unique and professional.  More importantly, the client was happy.  

Perhaps just as important, I enjoyed it. 

-JD

 

Fotodiox's WonderPana 66 System Review

The problem of filtration when using ultra wide-angle lenses with bulbous front elements has been a thorn in the side of photographers wishing to take advantage of these stellar optics.  As a whole, these lenses are never threaded for filters as the front element's convex construction prohibits threads.  The hoods for these lenses are usually fixed, as well, and given their unique nature, makes it impossible for a single holder system to work on all variations without significant modifications to the holder for each different lens. 

I came across a DIY describing how an intrepid photographer was able to adapt a Lee Filters SW-150 150mm filter holder onto his Samyang 14mm ultra wide-angle lens.  (Currently, the Lee SW-150 filter holder is made only for the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8.)  The process, however, mangled the scarce and expensive filter holder and there was still the problem of there being no circular polarizer that was currently available for the 150mm system.  (Some have adapted circular polarizers meant for other applications for use with the SW-150, however.)

Formatt-Hitech make a system for ultra wide-angle lenses that have several adapters for various lenses, including the popular Samyang 14mm.  The Hitech LucrOit system looks to be a well though-out solution, but until recently it was very difficult to find the product in stock.  After playing the Lee Filters stock game I wasn't looking to double down on that particular experience.  The LucrOit system also does not allow you to mix square/rectangular filters and circular threaded filters.  In fact, there are no threaded filters available for the system, period.

Enter Fotodiox.  This American company, based out of Illinois, developed a near complete system for fixed hood, bulbous front element ultra wide-angle lenses called WonderPana 66.  Reading the description, I became excited.

The WonderPana 66 System

The WonderPana 66 System

The WonderPana 66 uses a base kit specifically designed for a lens to mount circular, double-threaded filters which Fotodiox call the WonderPana 145 Core Unit .  Onto this foundation one can optionally install a rail kit, called the WonderPana 66 Upgrade Bracket.  This bracket allows you to install either two rectangular filters or one screw-in filter and one rectangular.  It's made of aluminum and attaches via thumb screws so you don't need tools when you're out in the field. 

Unfortunately, the thumbscrews that tension the rectangular filters in the Upgrade Bracket are of a different length than the thumbscrews that mount the bracket to the Core Unit.  This has the potential to frustrate if you are looking for one type and pick up the other, which apart from slight length difference appear nearly identical.  The longer filter tensioning screws will not work as bracket mounting screws.  The tensioning itself is not unlike the way the Schneider/Century Optics variation of the Lee Foundation Kits secure slide-in filters and it works very well.  (If only Lee would adopt something similar to their basic foundation kit, but I digress.)

WonderPana attached to a Nikon 14-24mm and a Canon 5D Mark III

WonderPana attached to a Nikon 14-24mm and a Canon 5D Mark III

The Core Unit is novel in both its method and construction.  Other methods for attaching large filters to lenses not designed to accept filters might require the user to push on the foundation holder, similar to the way you push on a lens cap for slim filters that have no front threads.  This method can be secure, to be sure, but the Wonderpana system uses threaded collar that slides over the back of the lens and screws into the front of the unit resulting in a very positively locked system, similar to Lee's SW-150 holder.  All of the Wonderpana components, however, are made of aluminum.

Rear view of the WonderPana system.  The red collar screws to the front of the unit clamping down on the fixed filter hood.

Rear view of the WonderPana system.  The red collar screws to the front of the unit clamping down on the fixed filter hood.

Onto this core attaches the rail bracket with brass thumbscrews.  In the above picture I used four total but there are holes for six.  The small thumbscrews are fiddly to work and would be very difficult with gloves on.  In fact, attaching the bracket is best done where you have a clear surface to work on.  Out in the field this entire operation could prove nerve-wracking - balancing the lens and collar, lining up the holes, screwing in the thumbscrews while keeping the two pieces, lens collar and bracket, from moving.  Once you get one thumbscrew in, however, the rest of that side is a piece of cake.

For scenes where you'd like to place the ND grad transition line at an angle, it is possible to rotate the bracket about the core unit but you're limited to rotating in 45° increments.  This isn't ideal, but it sure is better than having to compromise your placement by only being able to work with perfectly horizontal transition placement.  To rotate the rails you must unscrew them from the core unit and re-mount them in the angled configuration.  There are another set of mounting holes for this.

WonderPana vs. Singh-Ray 4x6 filter comparison.

WonderPana vs. Singh-Ray 4x6 filter comparison.

The WonderPana's rectangular filters are HUGE.  We're talking 168mm wide huge.  In comparison, the Lee SW-150 filter holder accepts filters that are 150mm on the wide side.  The estimable and popular 4x6 filter, above, looks like a Cokin P compared to the WonderPana.  

Not only are the WonderPana filters large length and width-wise, but they are also thick.  Hitech's Lucroit filters are 3mm thick and that's already pretty robust.  WonderPana filters are 4mm thick and unless you hold it in your hands you might not have an appreciation for just how much filter that is.  Lee's 150mm filters are like their 4x6 filters in this regard, half as thick at 2mm. 

The WonderPana rectangular filters are multi-coated (!), which makes them unique among this large class of filter, and made from organic glass called CR-39 or "optical resin."  If you wear corrective lenses, optical resin is the material the lenses are probably made of.   Plexiglass is also a type of organic glass.  CR-39 is a high quality transmissive material that's cheaper and lighter than glass but won't (read: shouldn't) shatter when dropped.

The system comes with a complete line of standard neutral density filters, 4ND, 8ND, 16ND, and 32ND in 145mm screw-in configuration, and four graduated neutral density filters, 2 and 4-stop versions of both hard and soft graduation.  There is also a clear protective UV filter and a circular polarizer in 145mm available.  To top it off, Fotodiox include a 145mm lens cap to protect that precious front element when the system is attached without filters.  All of the components come very well appointed.  The rectangular filters come in large foam-reinforced nylon zippered pouches that are plush on the inside.  For some reason there is also a mesh pocket on the inside of these pouches.  I suppose you can keep a microfiber cloth in the pocket, but a microfiber cloth doesn't need a pocket to be stowed.  I find that the pocket catches the filter when the filter is slid in more times than not.  The internal pocket annoyance is one quick scissor procedure away from being corrected.  The screw-in filters ship with nylon pouches similar to the blue B+W pouches that Velcro close.  The hardware components, the core unit and bracket, ship in zippered hard clamshell pouches with flocked foam fitted inserts.

WonderPana 145 2-stop neutral density filter.

WonderPana 145 2-stop neutral density filter.

Looking at the 145mm ND filters one notices that the reflected color of the filter themselves changes rather dramatically from the 2-stop to the 4-stop.  The color of the 2-stop is bronze while the 4-stop is greenish. 

WonderPana 145 4-stop neutral density filter.

WonderPana 145 4-stop neutral density filter.

It's not clear if Fotodiox make these filters in-house or outsources some or all of them.  Interestingly, the 145mm circular polarizer is labeled "XS-Pro" on the ring.  XS-Pro is B+W's designation for their slim form digital filters that are thin for ultra wide lens use yet retain front threads for filter stacking or a lens cap.   Do B+W make at least the 145mm circular polarizer for Fotodiox?

Regardless, there is a reassuring physical quality to both the 145mm screw-ins and the 168mm rectangular filters.  There is no play between the glass and the filter ring that I could detect.  The ring of the circular polarizer rotates independently and does so smoothly but not loosely - it stays where you rotate it - similar to high quality rings from B+W and Singh-Ray.

But how do they perform? 

Baseline Lake Image

Baseline Lake Image

Using a Canon 24-70mm Mark II mounted on a Canon 5d Mark III, here is the scene without filtration or processing of any kind.  (Was it too difficult to get some clouds?) 

Singh-Ray 2-Stop Soft Grad

Singh-Ray 2-Stop Soft Grad

Here's the same scene with a Singh-Ray 2-stop soft graduated neutral density filter.   In attempts to create as level a playing as practical using two such different sized filters, I slid the Singh-Ray down into the scene until the meter went from 1/1250th of a second, which is where the baseline image was taken, down to 1/640th of a second and immediately stopped and took the picture.

WonderPana 2-Stop Soft Grad

WonderPana 2-Stop Soft Grad

Using the same method, I slid the Wonderpana 2-stop soft graduated neutral density filter into the scene and stopped when the meter hit 1/640th of a second.   It's not scientific but it is illustrative for our purposes.

The scene is remarkably similarly rendered. 

Lake Baseline

Lake Baseline

Singh-Ray 2-Stop Soft Grad

Singh-Ray 2-Stop Soft Grad

WonderPana 2-Stop Soft Grad

WonderPana 2-Stop Soft Grad

After a predictable corralling of the blues in the skies you can see that the filters were slid down enough to affect the greens in the trees, too.  The Singh-Ray brought more into the midtone region, note the green channel, than did the WonderPana.  Both affected the highs in much the same way if they are not nearly identical.

Baseline Image

Baseline Image

Here's a more chaotic baseline scene.  The scene has a smattering of detail, a great area for testing the polarizer, and it blows out through the trees.  The should give us some convenient examples for comparison. 

WonderPana 145mm Circular Polarizer

WonderPana 145mm Circular Polarizer

This is the same scene with the WonderPana 145mm circular polarizer installed.  Notice the reflection on the siding of the house in the upper left corner. 

Baseline Corner 100% 

Baseline Corner 100% 

WonderPana Circular Polarizer Corner 100%

WonderPana Circular Polarizer Corner 100%

I was concerned that a multi-coated 145mm circular polarizer that costs $120 would create some problems with resolution and sharpness.  After all, quality multi-coated circular polarizers in 82mm can cost over $250!  We're talking 63mm more filter for $130 less.

Mind you, this area of the image was outside of the polarized band that affected the siding reflection.  (On extremely wide angle images, polarizers cannot affect the entire image.  This usually creates a noticeable band of polarization over just a portion of the image.)  However, the lines of the leaves are well maintained with no noticeable amount of resolution lost.

This is significant because in this area of the image light has to travel at an angle through the filter that is most extreme, so light goes through more filter glass at the edges than anywhere else in the image, if only very slightly so.  If there are going to be imperfections, they should be most pronounced in this area. 

Baseline Histogram

Baseline Histogram

WonderPana Circular Polarizer

WonderPana Circular Polarizer

There are no painful shifts in color.  Many circular polarizers like to cool scenes down.  Not so much here.  The blues are nearly cemented in place.  Corrected for light lost, there is a general midtone drift as you might expect.

Baseline Image

Baseline Image

Back to the baseline image. 

WonderPana ND4 2-Stop Neutral Density Filter, unadjusted

WonderPana ND4 2-Stop Neutral Density Filter, unadjusted

WonderPana ND4 2-Stop Neutral Density Filter, adjusted

WonderPana ND4 2-Stop Neutral Density Filter, adjusted

To bring the 2-stop ND back in line with the baseline image required just +1.07 exposure adjustment, not 2 stops.

WonderPana ND32 4-Stop Neutral Density Filter

WonderPana ND32 4-Stop Neutral Density Filter

By the time we get to the 4-stop ND there is a very noticeable color cast.  Correcting out magenta can sometimes be quite a pain compared to, say, a blue shift.  If one has to deal with a color, pray it's of the blue variety.  Other color shifts, like bronze and magenta, can lead to hours in post, fiddling with sliders and pulling hair.  

 

Baseline Image

Baseline Image

WonderPana ND4

WonderPana ND4

WonderPana ND4, adjusted

WonderPana ND4, adjusted

WonderPana ND32

WonderPana ND32

You can see the red channel breaking away from the rest in the ND32's histogram.  For its part, the ND4 holds up well where this is concerned.  The adjusted ND4 image is a good facsimile of the baseline image, if only slightly more red.  Then again, it's not a significant deviation, requiring only +1.07 stops to compensate for.

Thinking back on the reflected color change of the physical filters themselves, going from bronze to green, perhaps whatever change to the formula that is used to create the stronger density resulting in the green reflection is the culprit in the drastically more reddish example image.   Who knows but the wizards concocting the density formulas.

Baseline Corner 100% 

Baseline Corner 100% 

WonderPana ND4 Corner 100%

WonderPana ND4 Corner 100%

Here again the sharpness seems nearly unaffected.  Contrast is subtly affected and now there's a visitor on the flamingo, but apart from that there is little different between the two images.  The slight red that was hinted at in the histogram can best be seen in the brickwork here.

Baseline Image

Baseline Image

Back to the baseline... 

WonderPana 2-Stop Soft Graduated Neutral Density

WonderPana 2-Stop Soft Graduated Neutral Density

Baseline Image

Baseline Image

WonderPana 2-Stop Soft Graduated Neutral Density

WonderPana 2-Stop Soft Graduated Neutral Density

After the predictable midtone drift, the WonderPana 2-stop soft grad does well with color.  Again, we have a slight reddening of the affected area, which is now the upper half of the image.

Baseline Corner 100%

Baseline Corner 100%

WonderPana 2-Stop Soft Graduated Neutral Density Corner 100%

WonderPana 2-Stop Soft Graduated Neutral Density Corner 100%

This close-up of the corner is really only a test of the quality of the resin used in the WonderPana system.  As mentioned earlier, this area, and indeed all the corners, represent where the filter is at its thickest with regards to light travel.  The CR-39 shows how little quality resin affects the resolution of an image even at 4mm thick!  That impresses me.

After having used just about every piece currently available in the WonderPana 66 system, I feel the quality is overall better than I expected.  I was, however, disappointed with the fiddly nature of the optional bracket, but considering the all-aluminum design I'm not sure there is a practical alternative that keeps the design tool-less, which I'm sure was a major goal of the Fotodiox engineers.  The color cast of the amittedly low intensity ND filters is not without precedent, even by filters from highly reputed manufacturers, like Formatt-Hitech and Cokin, but it's unfortunate that the cast wasn't blue.  At least it's not bronze.  /shudder

Also, I would have liked to see a more convenient way to rotate the rectangular filter rails for scenes where you'd like the transition line for the grad filters to be at an angle.  A clip-on rail bracket, similar to what's employed by the Lee Filters Foundation Kit would have been preferred.  This design change might also alleviate the need for the user to juggle two different length thumbscrews.  This, of course, could have made the bracket more cumbersome in packing and carrying, but the trade-offs, at least on the face of it, seem to be worth it.  Unlimited angle choices isn't a minor thing.  For some, though, angle options at 45° intervals might be just fine.  

Attached to the lens, the system seems bulletproof.  It's going to last quite a while if you take care of it, so as a long term investment the WonderPana should satisfy there.  And since Fotodiox include high quality pouches for all the pieces, protecting the components shouldn't be a problem.

Best of all, the system is nearly complete.  Hitech's LucrOit system may have more slide-in options, like alternate colors or the very popular reverse grad ND, but LucrOit doesn't have a convenient polarizer, nor can you use screw-ins, which don't have a habit of falling off when you're moving about.  Were Fotodiox to come out with a reverse grad and a 10-stop ND there wouldn't be much reason you'd ever have to leave the WonderPana system.

Speaking of completeness, Fotodiox now make a series of step-up rings that allow you to attach the 145mm screw-in filters onto conventionally threaded lenses.  It's possible that you could take to the field and only have to carry one set of filters!  You cannot, at this time, connect the Optional Bracket for the slide-in rectangular filters to the step-up rings, however.  (This would be another limitation that could potentially be avoided with the aforementioned clip-on style bracket design.)

The Fotodiox WonderPana 66 system cures just about everything that ails the ultra-wide angle landscape photographer. 

 EDIT (9/24/13):  Fotodiox have upgraded the WonderPana Core so that it now allows the Upgrade Bracket to rotate.  You can now set the graduated NDs at any angle you need.  That's great!  The new Core Unit is now branded FreeArc, but is currently only available for the Nikon 14-24mm.  Hopefully, Fotodiox won't waste time getting FreeArc support for the other UWA lenses like the ubiquitous Samyang 14mm.

-JD

Not-So-Common Photography Mistakes

They say to err is human.  In that case, photography often reminds us how human we are.  The process leading up to the point where you press the shutter release is frought with opportunity for oversight and mistake.  Others may not appreciate it, seeing only the final image, but to get to that point a photographer usually has to be mindful of many things and juggle them all successfully - aperture, shutter speed, ISO, composition, right down to making sure the battery has enough charge or that there's enough space on the memory card.

What follows are oversights on my part that I feel are not common things photographers think about but can surely foul a picture up if not corrected.

Turn Off Image Stabilization When Using A Tripod

This almost seems counter-intuitive.  After all, a tripod, like optical vibration correction, is meant to stabilize the camera, too.  Shouldn't those two things working together make the camera more stable than either by itself?

The Canon 70-200mm f2.8L II attempts to correct for movement that isn't there.

When the camera engages the image stabilization motors it cause the image to jump, if for a brief moment.  Left engaged, the image stabilization system often times will jump randomly as it attempts to correct for movement it thinks should be happening.  Some newer lenses employ tripod sensing algorithms that shut down the stabilization motors when the lens detects no movement, assuming that the camera must be on a tripod.  However, best practice is to just turn the image stabilization off when the camera is tripod mounted to avoid any shot killing hiccups.

Detail of above.

If you've ever used a tripod and inexplicably ended up with an image that isn't as sharp as you think it should be, check that the image stabilization is turned off.

Be Careful When Using Polarizers On Ultra-Wide Images

Perhaps the single most important filter in any photographer's bag is a quality circular polarizer.  I use Singh-Ray, B+W, and Lee for the different polarizers I like to use - warming, multi-coated, and 4x4 square, respectively.  In my opinion, these filters are the pinnacle of performance and quality.  However, like all circular polarizers they are at the mercy of physics.  Polarizers work best when the sun is at 90 degrees from the subject, that is if you point at the subject with your index finger ideally you want your extended thumb to be pointing at the sun.  This limitation means that for wide angle lenses, or any lens wider than 28mm, only part of the image can be polarized at a time.

Notice the polarization artifacts, the rings on the right of the image.

This effect can become even more pronounced if you take a long exposure with a moving sky, as above.  This particular artifact could not be seen in the viewfinder, but the dark banding could.  (The "dark banding" refers to the darkened of part of the sky, the part that is actively being filtered by the polarizer.)  However, as the clouds moved at the extreme edge of the image it became possible to see the polarizer's foil structure.  Do you notice the concentric circles most evident on the right side of the image?  This artifact can be a real bear to correct in Photoshop!

Micro Focus Adjust Your Lenses or Have Them Professionally Calibrated

If your camera is from within the last 6 years or so and is above consumer grade chances are it has the ability to individually adjust the focus of your lenses.  This is especially critical for lenses with large maximum apertures since if the focus is off by even a little it can dramatically alter the shallow plane of focus, and thus the sharpness of your subject.

Portrait taken with a back-focusing lens.

The above was shot with a Canon EF 85mm f1.8 at f2.5.  This means that I was working with a very narrow depth of field.  As is standard when taking portraits, focus was placed on the nearest eye but if you look closely, you may notice that it's the farthest eye that is more sharp.

Detail of above.

Looking at the above image on the back of the camera, without zooming (also a no-no for checking critical focus - always zoom into an image!), you may not notice that focus was missed.   In fact, this image was meant for web-sized display on a company's internet site, so anyone would be hard pressed to see that the left eye isn't tack sharp.

But, what if this were meant for print?  What if it was going up on the company's lobby wall?  Suddenly, it's not good enough and should be considered a missed or wasted shot.

It turns out the lens was indeed back focusing.  Back focusing is when the lens is returning a positive focus lock at a point when in fact the lens is optically focused behind that point, or farther from the viewer.  (Front focusing is the opposite.)  Using a LensAlign Pro I determined that the lens needed -18 adjustment on my Canon 5D Mark III camera.  (This number is arbitrary and would differ from camera model to camera model and certainly maker to maker.)  A correction that great is something more than I care to correct for in camera (most corrections are within the single digits) and this lens will be sent to Canon for some permanent adjustment.

Hopefully this will give you, faithful reader, some food for thought and perhaps you'll have more keepers for it.

-JD

SXSW Photowalk with Google and Trey Ratcliff

Earlier this year, during South By Southwest (SXSW), Google sponsored a photowalk with an appearance by Trey Ratcliff of Stuck in Customs.  I decided to attend, making this my first photowalk, the fact of which is a real shame since I live very near a city with a vibrant photography community. 

Being a photowalk noob I wan't sure what I should bring.  The walk was going to start with the sun up but end well after dusk - should I bring a tripod for nighttime photos?  What about lenses?  Filters?

Arriving at the steps of the town hall building with Trey Ratcliff at the top of the stairs.

I decided to walk around with my 5D III, 24-70mm f2.8L II, 70-200 f2.8L IS II, Really Right Stuff TVC-33 tripod and BH-55 ball head.  I slung the camera over my shoulder with a Black Rapid RS-5 strap and the tripod over the other shoulder with a Manfrotto 401N Quick Action strap.  I even brought a few filters - circular polarizer and a variable ND filter (who knows, if the clouds were right I could do some slow shutter architecture work).

As part of Trey's introduction speech he mentioned he was bringing just one camera and just one lens, a fisheye.  Well, dang.  I may have overpacked.

Special Event.

This was a very large photowalk event with several hundred people in attendance.  We were a mob that moved around the city with what seemed like a singular directive - document EVERYTHING.  Since this was during SXSW, people came up to us thinking we were paparazzi and tried to get a glimpse of the celebrity we were stalking.

With Darth.

Trey was very engaging.  He took time with everyone who had a question or who wanted a photo op.  In not very much time he has become a photography institution.  His blog, ebooks, and videos have allowed him to pack up his Austin residence and move to New Zealand and now runs his empire from somewhere in Middle Earth.  He has a very interesting story and I suggest you visit his site and read more about it.

Tone-mapped Highrise in Austin.

What's the point of a visit with Trey Ratcliff if you don't come away with an HDR or HDR-esque image?  Trey made his name in HDR tutorials.  Even today when you google the immensely popular high dynamic range technique, it's his name that nearly tops the results.

Interesting passers-by were welcoming to the multitude of cameras being shoved in their faces.  In Austin, people are probably used to being subjects - especially those people who tell interesting visual stories.

But be ready to be a subject yourself!

Google Glass.

 This was one of the early public appearances of Google Glass.  There were about 3 people sporting the spectacles and all were very popular with the photogs.

Partygoers on 6th Street.

Austin is chock-full of interesting people - it doesn't take SXSW to realize this.  But during SXSW they come out in full force and it's awesome.

After all is said and done I didn't use my tripod once, despite hauling it around all day.  I didn't use any of the filters.  And, surprising to me, I only used one lens - fittingly, it was the 24-70mm "walkaround zoom."  Now that I'm addicted to the photowalking experience I intend to really pare down the kit I lug around for next time.

-JD