Welcome to my blog!

This is where I'll aim to add some background to the latest shots I've taken; what they are, how they came about and why I've uploaded them.

HDR images (plus a little bit about Exposure)

March 27, 2013  •  4 Comments

Many people have asked me what HDR photography is over the years so it seemed like a good topic for a blog post. HDR  probably got it's highest profile shortly after Apple added it as a feature to the iPhone camera. It's something I've occasionally had a dabble with but ultimately found it very difficult to do well (and exceptionally easy to do badly). To understand HDR photography, as with many photographic concepts, you first need to appreciate quite how amazing the human eye is.

Our eyes are incredibly adaptive to light. We can navigate a room in almost pitch black darkness or a bright sandy beach in extreme sunlight. And not only do we have this very impressive range of sight from very dark to very light, we can also process both in tandem in quick succession. In a church or cathedral we can pick out the intricacies of a brightly lit stained glass window and then, with but a flick of the eye, pick up the details in the dark brickwork that frames said window. Wherever we cast our gaze, our eye (and brain) quickly readjusts to the light levels and enable us to 'see' what we're looking at. The range of brightnesses our eyes can handle is rather breathtaking, and the speed at which it does it makes us forget quite how bright the stained glass window is and quite how dark the brickwork is.

The speed at which this adjustment happens is incredible. But it means we forget it does happen. You only notice it when the margin between the darkness and the brightness is particularly extreme. Take for example stepping from inside a dark cool hotel lobby, out into the bright midday sun. It takes a few seconds for our eyes to adjust to the extreme brightness and to properly 'see' the details. Likewise, when walking along a country lane at night your eyes can make out the lane, the trees, most of what is around you. Until of course a car comes towards you and dazzles you with it's headlights. Suddenly your 'night vision' has disappeared and it takes a little while to readjust to the situation.

You have now begun to appreciate exposure. That there is a process to adjust from one level of brightness to another level of brightness. That our eyes have 'settings' that are adjusted to 'see' different levels of brightness. As explained above, our eyes are constantly doing this to allow us to see the details in whatever it is that we are looking at, be it the stained glass window or the brickwork around it. Likewise, cameras have similar settings which replicate what the eye does so it can capture different levels of brightness. So it also can 'see' the detail in the brickwork or the detail in the stained glass window. But unlike our eyes which are 'seeing' what is around us but frantically changing settings depending on where we are looking, a photograph can only have one setting. We choose (or our camera chooses) which setting to use and that 'exposure' is set in stone for that image.

Suddenly our eyes don't get to choose anymore. As we navigate a photograph, we don't have any further control on how bright or dark different sections are. This 'exposure' for the whole image was chosen when we took the photograph. For example, if we had aimed our camera at the stained glass window discussed above, the details of the window may be clearly visible in the photograph but the brickwork will be almost black. Likewise, if we had aimed our camera at the brickwork the details of the brickwork will be clear but the stained glass window to the side will come out almost blank white.

High Dynamic Range images seek to resolve this. They serve to replicate the quick adjustments to exposure the eye does. By taking differently 'exposed' images for the lighter parts and the darker parts. Taking one photograph with the camera settings adjusted to show the details of the dark areas (such as the brickwork) and then another photograph with the camera settings adjusted to show the details of the light areas (such as the stained glass window). We can then merge these two photographs using software such as Photomatix Pro so every part of the photo is shown as our eye would see it as it moved around the scene. So that when we look at the brickwork in the photograph we can see the detail, and when we look at the stained glass window in the photograph we can see the detail there too.

That's the principle anyway. The problem is it is very easy to completely lose the fact that some things are lighter and somethings darker. As we compress this range to have detail in everything we can end up with an image that looks too flat. When HDR is done well it is breathtaking. But it should be done so that you don't notice it - just as you don't realise it when you're looking at that stained glass window and brickwork in that church.

 

Example: City sunset scene

Below are three photos of exactly the same scene. With the camera on a tripod, I could change the camera settings without changing what it was pointed at. Notice how different the brightnesses are. All three images are taken within only a few seconds of one another, yet by changing the camera settings to get a different 'exposure', we get different details in each.

1.This first image is exposed for the buildings. We can see the windows, the colours of the street, the parked cars, all of which I could clearly see when I looked at them at the time this was taken.

_DSC5974

2. This second image is kind of a middle ground, a compromise between the darker bits and the lighter bits. We can now see pink in the sky immediately above the roof tops on the right and can tell that it's either sunset or sunrise.. Ultimately though the dark bits are too dark and the light bits are too light.

_DSC5973

3. This third image is exposed for the sky. We can now see the amazing colours in the sky and make out the detail in the clouds and the crane - again all of which I could see when I looked at them at the time. _DSC5972

So by combining these three images in software, we take the details from the street in the first image (the darker bits at the time the photo was taken) and add the details from the sky in the third image (the brighter bits at the time photo was taken). We also add the details from the second image for any middle details - the bits that were inbetween the brightest bits and the lightest bits. In this example there aren't many, but the most obvious is the pink in the skyline on the right. In the first image it is almost white and in the third image it is a dark grey. In a different scene, there may be far more 'middle' detail to use.

So we put all of this together and then choose which bits we want from which images and tweak various settings to blend the three:

 

Brussels Balcony sunset
 
Camera
SONY DSLR-A900
Focal Length
24mm
Aperture
f/8
Exposure
1/10s
ISO
400
Camera
SONY DSLR-A900
Focal Length
24mm
Aperture
f/8
Exposure
1/10s
ISO
400

It's not a particularly pretty example, but it is certainly closer to the true scene I saw than either of the three images. Hopefully it demonstrates how HDR images are made and why they can be useful.

I'm keen to know if this is a good explanation or if it needs improving, or any other input you have so please add a comment by clicking here and choosing the 'Add Comment' button


Artistry through editing

January 11, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Image courtesy of David at pasztordavid.com

Image courtesy of David at www.pastztordavid.com - check out his site or visit him at facebook or over on Flickr

The above image is not one of mine but of a fellow member of a photography forum I frequent and thoroughly recommend (www.dyxum.com). It is a stunning image. Simple, well balanced with a strong background of perfectly vertical and horizontal lines overlaid with the soft brush strokes of vehicle head lights and tail lights painting the scene. The inclusion of the 'BUSZ' road signs help give context to the scene. It is an outstanding image and one that compelled me to write to the photographer (David) to congratulate him on such an image, to me a standout shot in an impressive gallery of dyxum 2012 'best ofs'.
 

In reply David thanked me and explained that the original image had been manipulated to deliver the vertical lines. Straight from the camera it had converging diagonal lines due to the angle from which it was shot, and in hindsight this is apparent due to the lack of shadow from any bridge that David would have needed to be positioned for such a shot.

Initially I felt the artistry of the shot had been slightly depleted by this revelation and knowing this affected my enjoyment of the image, albeit only marginally. But after thinking about it for some time, it is nothing more than an optimisation of the image. I followed up with David and asked if he would give me permission to use his shot above, and also to have the original photo. David very kindly gave me permission for both and so here is the original shot that David took:

Image courtesy of David at www.pastztordavid.com - check out his site or visit him at facebook or over on Flickr

There can be no doubt that this is a great shot, but David's vision that a 'better' image lay within - and ability to adjust it so - did indeed deliver a far more effective and visually appealing image.

 

Similar to David, a shot of mine of which I'm particularly fond of - and have received favourable comments from fellow photographers - is my shot below, 'implied windmill'. Most of the comments refer to the 'bravery' to have such a minimalist shot with so much negative space.

But as with Dave's stunning photo, this is not the image I took on that cool September morning in Brighton. I had decided to make one windmill blade my focus and to leave imbalance in the shot with an empty space to the right, but I was not as brave as the initial shot suggests. Instead, the original image was far broader;

DSC05696 - Version 4

As shot, it's quite 'heavy' with too much emphasis on the building and too little emphasis on the blades. The serenity of the landscape is dominated by the base of the windmill and the whole scene leans uncomfortably down to the right and, in the case of the windmill, away and into the distance. So similar to David, I reviewed the photo and opted for several ways to optimise the image. Firstly, I straightened the horizon to remove the left-right tilt that occurred in the original. Secondly I looked to crop the image to increase the sense of contrast between mill and landscape that I wanted to capture.

But do you feel cheated that the image I finally published was not the one I had originally seen? Personally, I believe photography is a three part process;
1) a concept or an idea
2) a camera actuation
3) processing of the 'digital negative'

It's important to recognise this is not a new concept and an applied process to film photography as much as digital. The difference today is that the final step is both easier in digital photography and provides more options.

 

Please let me know you're reactions to the above as there are many degrees of editing (as partly covered in my previous post) and I find this whole debate fascinating. Personally the above two fall well within what I consider acceptable; in each case it is one image, optimised to deliver a stunning published image.

 

And finally, thanks again to David for allowing me to use his images in this post and sharing the original image which he previously hadn't published. Do head over to his site as he's a truly gifted photographer: http://www.pasztordavid.com. Also over on  facebook and flickr


Photography; editing photos

September 30, 2012  •  2 Comments

This is a topic which my view of has changed throughout the last few years of taking photography seriously. At its most simple form, photography is thought of by many as an evidence based tool; a means of capturing something seen and sharing it with others who were not present at the time it was taken. If you edit a photo you are not sharing what you saw.

This view is taken by the majority of non-photographers I speak to and in my experience by every 'new' hobbyist photographer. There is a strong disapproval of photo 'editing'. That the skill should lay in finding the scene, choosing the camera settings, composing the scene and then pressing the big button on the top. Anything beyond this is said to be cheating; deceiving the viewer. This "cheating" is typically attributed to "new" post production (pp) software packages like photoshop.

Now I personally am divided on the PP issue. When starting out in photography I felt *any* edits to the original image was cheating. If there was a spec of dust on the sensor I should've cleaned it first, if the colour wasn't right I should have used different settings. I hated the way "photography" magazines told me how to correct these failings afterwards with software in pp.

But it's important to remember that post processing isn't a new art. Film always had to be post processed. You took a roll of film to Boots to be 'processed' and they used chemicals to process your film and create an image. When photographers processed their own images in a darkroom they could selectively process sections of an image. Make it lighter or darker, cut out specs of dust, or even make a composite of multiple images - the landscape from one, the sky from another. The majority of what photoshop can do is not new, it's just a hell of a lot easier, and I think this is the problem. By having a whole suite of edits that are all so accessible, many photographers edit images because they can, not because they should.

Now personally, I think photography editing is critical to the quality of an image, just as it was in the past with a darkroom. It could be a simple case of straightening a horizon, taking a closer crop, or converting to black and white. It could be more indepth like pulling out details from the highlights and shadows or editing the white balance. But - and this is an important but - I don't agree with removing or adding elements to an image. It's a personal choice, but I'm a photographer, not a graphic artist.


Travel tripod comparison and recommendation

July 26, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

I often get asked why I chose the tripod I have and there are regularly questions on forums based around this too. So a few years ago I wrote the post below summarising my experience when choosing tripods. Hope you find this useful and if you were wondering, venice was lovely...


Originally posted 2nd July 2010

So I'm off to Venice in the summer and so wanted a tripod that I could easily carry around without it being a burden. That meant:
:: low weight
:: short when folded
:: tall enough to use standing, or minimum stooping (I'm 5'9)

 I've trawled the many forums (fora?) and seen some great reviews by other people in the same situation. Argument between established and "knock off" brands seems rife and it's difficult to find decent comparisons; at the end of the day, everyone is reviewing their new tripod and bestowing it's virtues (partly because they're justifying their decision and partly because they feel justified in their decision). The only real comparison you then get are between the statistics of each brand, and again stats only say so much, and when it comes to load weights, some firms are overly confident.


So.... being the analyst that I am, I had to make a spreadsheet! I reviewed all the forums and official reviews and whittled the list down to Gtizo, Feisol, Benro. I appreciate there are other brands out there, but Gitzo and Benro seemed to be the most frequently mentioned and the Feisol was a bit of a wild card based on the low weight.

These are ordered by weight (according to manufacturers website)...

So from this I narrowed the list down to three models:
- Benro C-168 M8 (£239)
- Feisol CT-3442 Rapid (£299)
- Gitzo GT1541T (£369)

So I studied the reviews and decided on a Feisol CT-3442 Rapid. I initially decided that centre columns were an unnecessary weight and the Feisol's height without centre column was a selling point. This review also helped:

http://www.dentonimages.com/page.php?id=Feisol_CT-3442_Rapid_Tripod_with_RAL_Anti-Rotation_Legs_Review

So it arrived, and it was a very light tripod but did seem far chunkier than I was expecting. The mount of the head is large and the triangular shape when folded seemed unnecessary (images further down). The 48cm length when closed was also longer in the flesh than I expected. If I was looking for a one tripod fits all (e.g. travel and studio - aka home!) this would be good but my travel needs were specific.

So I then revisited the fora and reviews and was taken by the Benro TRCB068 reviewed here:

http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/797199

The height figures didn't seem quite right so I ordered the next size up (weight was more of an issue than tiny tiny compact). I got the Benro C168 M8, which at 37cm was noticeably shorter than the feisol. Now this was a compact tripod and equally delightfully light. But there were a few niggling issues I had. It didn't seem quite "perfect". The quality of the parts and build seemed sub-perfect. Some of the legs loosened easily whilst others were different. Some legs would rotate very slightly (say 30 degrees). If the tripod had been £150 I probably would've stuck, but at £239 that's a huge investment in my eyes for something that isn't "perfect". I don't have money burning holes in my pockets but the comments on this blog post kept coming back to me:

http://www.bythom.com/support.htm

Summary: buy quality now or upgrade every year and cost yourself more in the long run.

So after some more forum reading I decided to go crazy and splash out the £359 for a Gitzo GT1541T. Now every forum you read sings the praises of this tripod; that you get what you pay for, but that's a HELL of a lot of money. The thing that swayed me to try it was this review:

http://www.cameralabs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=5526

It arrived today and all i can say is OH. MY. GOD. Honestly, this tripod is stunning. it's everything the benro is but without those niggles. Yes I paid about £120 to get rid of niggles, yes I need to spend another £40 for a bag that's free with each of the other two and yes it's still a HELL of a lot of money. But it's an investment. It has the standard warranty of the country you buy in (1 year in UK), and if you register on Gitzo that extends to an additional five years. I like the peace of mind and I'm so impressed with the tripod.

So comparison time...

Firstly, lets look at all three, folded and alongside the bags they come packaged with.

Both Feisol and Benro have quality bags with arm strap, zipped compartment and pockets for tools etc. All three tripods can fold their legs back on their selves with the idea that a small head will fit between the folded legs. NOTE: there aren't many heads that small! The Feisol bag is exactly the same length as the folded tripod so limited space for a larger tripod head that won't fit between the legs. The benro has a good couple of inches spare so plenty of room to leave head on inverted or not. The Gitzo bag meanwhile is only any good for storage and preventing dust. You wouldn't carry the tripod in this! I'm still awaiting the neoprene bag that cost £40 extra - will update when it arrives.

So next up, the folded lengths...



The benro is marginally shorter than the gitzo but not noticeably so. The Feisol though is noticable and doesn't feel like a travel tripod.

The diameter of Benro and Gitzo is again almost identical and I couldn't say which is smaller although Gitzo feels more compact somehow. Feisol though is considerably larger (Gitzo on left, Benro on right)...



In terms of proportion, here's the Benro, and slightly longer Gitzo alongside a DVD case...



So finally, the tripod lengths side by side....

Please review the spreadsheet image for the different sizes and heights, but what I would say is that you mustn't forget the addition of tripod head and camera (plus vertical grip if you have one) atop the height of tripod. I'm getting this for sturdy photo taking during the "golden hours" so a slight stoop is no disaster. The Feisol would mean no stooping while benro and Gitzo would mean a slight stoop for composing with centre column down (recommended).


Final thoughts...

Feisol: ideal for tall people. It's light and as compact as you'll get for something sturdy at that height. The leg locks are very well made and the "rapid" system is comparable to Gitzo's ARL; one quarter turn of all locks on a leg releases all at once. one quarter lock secures again. The legs are thick and sturdy. (£299)

Benro: A "cheap" alternative to the gitzo, but at £239 it's not cheap. The leg locks are not consistent, and there are "niggles". it's as light as the Feisol, but the one or two inches shorter in folded length do equate to shorter height when extended. You do get a good bag, but I in my opinion you'll buy this and keep pinning for the Gitzo. Eventually you'll buy the gitzo and wonder why you wasted £239 getting there.

Gitzo: Perfection. all the forums I read went on about Gitzo quality or conversely falling for the reputation and ludicrous price. When I got the Benro I was initially impressed but there really is no comparison. If you need a travel tripod, get a very cheap £100 one for a couple of trips OR get the gitzo. Don't go inbetween; you're either spending too much on a hobby your not commited to or your spending too little on a hobby you'll keep up for years.

Final FINAL thought:

I'm indecisive, but having bought all three and compared I know I've made the right decision for me. In the UK you can return anything bought online for a full refund within 7 days. You do need to pay for return postage but I'm pleased i did. If I'd flown in and bought the gitzo I'd be worrying I'd spent over the top, so order the Gitzo and one alternative and decide for yourself.


A day in the life...of the world

May 13, 2012  •  1 Comment

I'm not entirely sure where I picked this up but on Tuesday 15th May people are being asked to photograph their day and upload the images to a single website. The aim being to create a time capsule style photo archive allowing future generations to visually review what life was like throughout the world on one day in 2012. This appeals to me both as a photographer and a researcher.

'A day in the life' approaches are something I've always been keen to capture. I like that facebook is like my own public diary of what I've been up to and I try to photograph the mundane on my mobile as a record. Those that don't reach my social media friends still get kept. In fact my photo archives have a whole section dedicated to these images; labelled 'snapshot'.

I've always taken far too many photos, from family events as a small boy through to nights out at uni, I'm the annoying one snapping away. As a child it was generally being in awe of something (I took reel after reel at Puy-du-Fou: http://www.puydufou.com/en) and at uni it was often to help me remember who I was with, where we went and when we went there (I have a terrible memory after a few beers).

The mundane is rarely photographed and it's important to have these elements caught as they won't be with us forever. Usually the styles, fashions, furnishings and technology around us take a back seat to the various birthday, wedding and holiday snaps but for a spot of future nostalgia they can't be bettered.

So Tuesday 15th May is the day to share your day with the world. The project is run by Expressions of Humankind:

Aday.org is initiated by the Swedish non-profit foundation Expressions of Humankind. The foundation supports scientific research and education centered around the photographic image and the written word. Our aim is to inspire creative reflections on humanity, by experiencing global perspectives. (from http://www.aday.org/about/foundation)

My Tuesday 15th May will actually start in the foundation's home country of Sweden returning from a business trip in Stockholm. It will then take in a day at work in central London and finishing off at home, possibly packing ready for a house move at the weekend. So not my typical Tuesday (and given the time zone, only actually 23 hours in the life of) but that's why it's important the project has as many contributers as possible to ensure it's representative of the whole world on the day.

From a research perspective it's a great project because typically photos are taken for a reason and only a minority (typically those with an interest in photography) capture 'a day in the life of' style photo blogs. This should be a huge bank of information and I'm really keen to see the results.

 

Watch this space for updates. For more info and to sign up: http://www.aday.org/about/foundation

Archive
January February March (2) April (1) May (1) June July (1) August September (1) October November December
January (1) February March (1) April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December