Category Archives: Cameras and Photography

iPhone vs. "big" cameras?

When I’m traveling, I try to take an iPhone photo when I get to a new place.  Sometimes I forget but when I can remember, the iPhone’s GPS capability records the location for me.  Then when I’m back home, it makes it easier to map out exactly where I’ve been.

This is one of the first photo’s I made on our trip out to Utah a few weeks ago:

Cedar Breaks National Monument amphitheaterCedar Breaks National Monument amphitheater iPhone panorama

 When I posted it on Flickr, I commented “Straight out of the iPhone’s panorama mode. I’m not sure why I have all these other cameras.”  And I do like the photo.  Phone cameras do pretty well, especially in good light.  So I wondered …

When I got home and processed the rest of my photos, I took a look at some of the other iPhone images compared with similar images from my “big” cameras (interchangeable lens cameras with larger sensors).  Here’s another example:

Sunrise at Point Supreme, iPhone PanoramaSunrise at Point Supreme, iPhone version – Panorama mode

Although the light was very pretty that morning, it was also very challenging for the iPhone sensor and lens.    I’ve tried to adjust the photo to be as similar as possible to the one below.  But I can still see major differences.  I made the next photo a minute or so later and very near the same spot with an Olympus E-M5 II micro four-thirds camera and the 12 – 40 mm f/2.8 Pro zoom lens.

Sunrise at Point Supreme
Sunrise at Point Supreme – Olympus version – multi image panorama

After looking at several cases where I had similar photos, I think this example shows why we need to keep our big cameras.

  • The exposure latitude and dynamic range capability of sensors that are larger than the one in the iPhone means that the dark areas have more detail and less noise, and the bright areas are less likely to blow out.  For high contrast light (sunrise / sunset) this helps a lot.
  • The lens in the iPhone didn’t handle the flare / glare very well.
  • The resolution capabilities of phone cameras are growing.  But with careful capture, I can create much larger images with the big cameras.  For instance the last photo above is 58 megapixel. The amount of detail in a file that large is enormous compared to a phone photo.
  • Control:  For me, the big cameras beat phone cameras in flexibility / control and ergonomics.  I can easily control everything from lens choice to aperture, ISO, shutter speed, etc.  You can get apps for your phone that add better controls, but I find them inconvenient and don’t often use the ones I have.
  • Color / white balance:  The default color and white balance on the phone are very good.  But when I use the big cameras, I can shoot in RAW format, which makes adjusting white balance and color much easier in post processing.  RAW format also allows more adjustment latitude, since I’m working with a 14 bit file in RAW, instead of an 8 bit jpg file.  RAW is coming to the iPhone soon, which should help.

So there are some reasons why I think big cameras are worth the extra weight / trouble of bringing them along.  I use my phone camera to supplement them.  How about you?

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2016, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Frustrating Film Failures

… Well, some film failures and a small favorable film finish.

I’m a sucker for old cameras.  I recently came across two that I ended up buying.

My "newest" cameraA Zorki 6 35mm film camera made in 1962 in the Soviet Union

This first one is a Soviet “Leica” clone I found in an antique store.  I’d heard of them before, but never held one.  It seemed to work, and since I’m a sucker – I bought it.  I got it home, put in a roll of film and tried to take a few photos.  The shutter is inconsistent and started running very slowly.  First failure 😞.   If you’re interested, there’s more info about the Zorki 6 at the Camera-wiki article at this link.

I ran across this next one at a different antique shop.  It’s from Germany in the mid 1950s, and came with a clean Zeiss Sonar 50mm f/1.5 lens.  I like the shutter speed range from 1 second to 1/1250 second (including T and B). The built-in selenium light meter still works too and no batteries are required.  I’m always a bit leery of messing with these old cameras in the store.  So I didn’t actually open it up or try to do too much investigation while there.  It also seemed to be in pretty good shape and I went ahead and bought this one too.  Yes I’m a sucker.

Zeiss Contax IIIA 35mm rangefinder film cameraZeiss Contax IIIa ‘color dial’ 35mm rangefinder film camera

I was able to find a manual and much more info about it online.  You can read the Camerapedia article at this link.  The first problem I ran into was a missing take up spool.  So I tried to use a spool from a 35mm film canister, but the film wouldn’t reliably advance.  Second failure 😞. More research turned up many used Zeiss Contax take up spools for sale, and I bought one from Ebay.  Several days later I loaded up yet another roll of film and started clicking away again.  This time the film advance worked.  I finished the roll and anxiously shifted to Cinderella photography mode (see below*).

And yeah!  Some of the frames were good.  But many had weird light leaks.    I inspected the shutter curtains carefully and saw a gap between them on one side.  When the film is wound, the gap moves across the frame and if the lens cap is off, it partially exposes and ruins the film.  Third failure 😞.

I can’t fix this.  But I bought one more roll and this time I covered the lens each time I wound the film.  And finally I was able to get some decent exposures.  Favorable Finish on the fourth roll!! 😊

Here are three frames from the camera, along with comparison digital images I made at the same time.   I think the camera works pretty well for 60 years old!

MKMK

MK in the back yard (Film is on the left, click for larger versions) –  I really like the way the Zeiss Sonar 50mm f/1.5 lens renders both the background and subject.

Pine tree at sunsetPine tree at sunset

A Pine tree at sunset – (Film is on the left, click for larger versions) – The color rendering is different, I think digital might win this one.  Different film would give different results.

In the gardenIn the garden In the garden (Film is on the top, click for larger versions) – The Caladium leaves were in the sun and the B&W film seems to have handled the highlights better.  The subject isolation in the film version is better here too.

So, can I draw any interesting conclusions from this exercise?

  • Buyer beware – 50 and 60-year-old mechanical devices may not work like new.
  • There are no  new parts for most old cameras and few people know how to work on   them.  Unless you’re willing to go to a lot of trouble / cost, they are what they are when you get them.
  • You can buy a film camera with a warranty (KEH.com does this).  It would be less frustrating.
  • Film holds up pretty well (at least at web resolutions).  I scanned these frames in with a desktop scanner and I could get better quality (at greater cost) with a professional drum scanner.  Anyway, I think current digital cameras beat film hands down for convenience and quality.
  • The “film” look can be pretty nice.  I think the film portrait of MK came out better than the digital version.  This is mostly due to the Sonar lens and 35mm film size.
  • Film cameras can be frustrating, but they are fun to play around with.  And film and old lenses definitely render scenes differently than digital cameras.
  • For me, film is definitely a hobby as opposed to something I would use all the time for my photography.
  • But film is enjoyable to play with. This Contax is usable if I’m careful and I might take it out and load it up from time to time.  It reminds me of the rangefinder that my father gave me as my first camera.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2016, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

*Cinderella photography:  “Someday your prints will come”.

Lake Apopka wildlife Drive

My friend Tom M. wanted to go out shooting last week and hadn’t ever been to the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. The drive itself is only open to cars from Friday through Sunday, so we met on Friday morning and went over.  It was raining when I got up and still cloudy on the way over, which made for interesting skies in my infrared photos.

Lake Apopka Pump HouseLake Apopka Pump House – 2 frame panorama, infrared, black and white.

We did have a bit of good light while we were there.  We saw this bird struggling to swallow a fish and stopped to watch for a few minutes.  It was on the side of a canal with the clouds reflecting in the water behind it and flowers blooming in front.  I stayed in the car so I wouldn’t bother it and shot a series of single frames while we watched.  This one was the best one of the series.

Nice catch! Nice catch! – an Anhiga tosses a fish it caught along a canal on the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive.

On this trip, I brought my micro four thirds cameras.  I’ve used the system for about four years and they’ve worked very well.  The dynamic range and noise performance are not as good as larger sensor cameras, but it’s “good enough”.  And the noise is not an issue for me.  DxO Optics Pro does an outstanding job processing the RAW files.  The focusing capabilities have been fast for static subjects – but I’ve never been able to do very well with continuous focus.  Well, I recently traded up to a used Olympus E-M1, which has phase detect sensors built into the image sensor and it’s been doing a great job with continuous focus. So much so that even for birds in flight it’s working “good enough” too.  Here’s an example from Friday:

Checking me outChecking me out – A hawk in flight looking at the camera

You can view other photos I’ve made with the micro four thirds system in this album on Flickr.

Lake Apopka is an awesome place, I’ll definitely go back.  I’m collecting photos from there in this folder on Flickr, and you can also read an earlier article I wrote about it here on the blog.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2016, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Rectaflex update

I first posted about this back in January of 2012.  Surprisingly, it’s become one of my most popular articles and “Rectaflex” is now a common search string leading to my website.  Since then, I’ve learned a bit more about the camera and so I thought I’d add this info to bring anyone interested up to date.

Early 1950s, Italian Rectaflex film SLR kitEarly 1950s, Italian Rectaflex film SLR kit.  This is a multi-frame focus bracket, stacked in Photoshop.

A lot of the new information first originated with Andrew Fildes, a photographer in Australia who also collects cameras.  He too has a Rectaflex and saw my post.  He emailed me, initially to make sure I knew how collectible these cameras are and we had an interesting email exchange.  Here’s how the conversation started:

“Just spotted your post about the Rectaflex. Good grief.  Has anyone told you yet what you’ve got there?  … The most common Rectaflex in working order is worth about $1000, Unusual models or rare ones (‘Specials’) can go up to $20K or more… (The lens cap is a $150 item if clean) … looks like you’ve got the Angenieux 35mm f2.5 there as well but the other one – 10cm f2.8 Meyer? That’s unusual!  Even the rings and cases are worth a lot to collectors.”

I think the collecting market has calmed down a bit since then, and the copy I have isn’t in working order so I don’t think it’s worth all that much.  Still – it was an exciting email!  I wish I could’ve asked Lynn’s Grandfather about it – I’d like to know his story behind the camera.  Andrew said that a lot of his information came from the book Rectaflex The Magic Reflex, by Marco Anonetto.  I bought a copy (included in the photo above) and it’s a wonderful resource if you want to find out more.  It seems to be out of print now, but if you search the web, you can find copies.

I got another email recently from Bosse, who lives in Olso, Norway.  He’s very knowledgable about reflex cameras including the Rectaflex and he’s posted a huge amount of info on his website at http://www.pentax-slr.com/108413508.  Boss confirmed that mine was manufactured for USA sale, probably around 1950.

Although I still can’t find out much about the 10cm f/2.8 Meyer lens, there’s more info on the web now about Rectaflex than there was in early 2012.  If you search, you’ll get many hits  for your reading pleasure.

So that’s my post for this week.  By the way – have a wonderful holiday season!

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Thoughts on Processing Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II High Resolution Photos

Introduction

I’ve been using an Olympus E-M5 Mark II for several months and I’ve mentioned it once before (in this post about algorithmic and computational photography).  I very much like the camera and the photos I’ve made with it.  You can see some of these in this set on Flickr.

Today I’d like to talk more about its high res mode and some things I’ve learned so far while working with it.  I’ll use this recent image from the north bank of Haulover Canal in Merritt Island NWR for my example.  By the way, please click on the photo, you’ll be able to see a higher resolution version on Flickr.

Daybreak at Haulover CanalDaybreak at Haulover Canal

For those of you who aren’t interested in this particular camera or capability, here’s the tl;dr summary:  Your capture and processing tools, technique, and skill make a difference in the resulting photo.  But that’s true of every camera.  And you already knew that, didn’t you?

Okay, for those of you that are interested, here’s some hints on how to get the best out of this mode.

RAW Import

I’ve found that the software I use makes a big difference in the detail that shows up in the file.  I normally use Lightroom for all my photos, although I also have DxO Optics pro and I think it does a good job with higher ISO images.  But I noticed issues when using either of them with the Olympus high-resolution files.  Here are three 1:1 crops, processed in the three different software packages.  These are just after importing from the RAW file, with (mostly) default processing, although I did adjust sharpening on the first two to try to improve detail.

Lightroom Processed

Processed in Lightroom  CC Version 2015.1.1

DxO Processed

Processed in DxO Optics Pro 10 Version 10.4.2 

Olympus Processed

Processed in Olympus High Res Shot Raw File Photoshop Plug-In 

To my eye there’s no question:  the Olympus software does a better job processing the High Res Raw file.  The result is sharper, with more detail – so I’ve switched to using it instead of either Lightroom or DxO Optics Pro for initial input of the high res files.  There are limited adjustments available with it, so after importing the file I usually add an Adobe Camera Raw adjustment layer in Photoshop to help fine tune the highlights, shadows, etc.

Motion Artifacts

You can see artifacts on the water surface in the crops above.  These are from the way the high res files are created.  Each file is composed of 8 separate captures that the camera combines into the high res RAW output file.  So any motion during capture will result in strange-looking distractions.  If your camera is moving, the image will be unusable.  So I use a sturdy tripod, a cable release and / or a shutter delay.  If part of the scene is moving (like water, or wind-blown branches) you’ll see the distracting artifacts in that part of the frame.  For some subjects (e.g. still life) this isn’t a problem – nothing moves.  For landscapes, you’ll need a very calm day or you may want to remove the artifacts in post processing.

If they bother you, there are (at least) a couple of things you can try.  Olympus also saves the first of the 8 frames that it uses to create the RAW file.  You can open this, up-res it, and mask it into the high res version wherever there are artifacts you want to remove.  (Note that you’ll have to rename the normal res file – your software probably won’t recognize the .ORI extension).  And you’ll have carefully process the normal and high res files exactly the same up until the point where you do this so that any color or brightness difference doesn’t show.  And finally, you’ll have to recognize that wherever you do this, the resolution will suffer.

For water surfaces, you can also try applying a motion blur in Photoshop and masking it in to hide the artifacts.  That was easy to do in this photo, since it was a relatively long exposure (1/2 sec.) and the water surface was calm.  Here’s a before and after 1:1 comparison:

Motion Artifacts

Motion Artifacts – prior to removal

Motion Artifact removal

Motion Artifacts – masked out using a motion blur layer in Photoshop 

Other Artifacts?

Olympus outputs 64 Mega Pixel RAW files.  Olympus themselves say there’s not 64MP of information in the file.  It’s more like 40MP, so they downsize their JPG files to 40MP.  When using this mode keep that in mind.

There’s not too much else to worry about, although I have seen some things that look like “hot pixels” in the high res images (2 or less per file).  I’m not sure if that’s what they are and I also don’t see them in normal res files from the camera.  But they are pretty easy to remove with the Healing Brush in Lightroom.  By the way, If anyone else has seen these, I’d be interested in hearing from you.

Red Dot Artifact

High Res “Hot Pixel”

Conclusions

So, the E-M5 Mark II High Res mode:

  • Is most suitable for still life types of images when the camera is mounted on a tripod and nothing is moving.
  • Is best processed from RAW by the Olympus High Res Shot Raw File Photoshop Plug-In – at least with current (August 2015) versions of software.
  • Offers better resolution and improved color and noise characteristics than the normal mode images.
  • Can be used in other situations (e.g. landscapes), but unless the subject is still, you’ll need to deal with motion artifacts.
  • Provides the greatest benefit with better lenses.  Lower quality glass could compromise the output resolution of the system.

If you capture images in high res mode and the artifacts are too difficult to deal with, you can always drop back and use the normal resolution file.  The results will be almost as good for anything except large prints (or pixel peeping).

Have you used a capability like this?  What have you discovered?

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Algorithmic and Computational Photography

I have a long time interest in photography and a degree in Electrical Engineering.  I’ve also worked for many years in digital design, software engineering, and system engineering.  The changes happening in photography fascinate me.  Here’s an example:

TranquilityTranquility – An exceptionally calm morning in the marsh (On Black Point Wildlife Drive in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.)

I made this image yesterday using the high-resolution mode available in the Olympus OM-D E-M5II.  It’s a two frame panorama, but this discussion applies to single frame images too.  The camera comes with a 16 Mega-Pixel sensor and can generate images 4 times larger (~64 Mega Pixels) using some very clever built-in technology and processing.  I won’t go into how it does it (if you’re curious, here’s a good explanation).  If you’re careful and the conditions are right (no motion) the results are outstanding.  I’m also seeing  lower noise and better color results compared to normal resolution images.  Heres a small crop that’ll give you an idea of the detail captured.

An exceptionally calm morning in the marsh; On Black Point Wildlife Drive in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
A 1:1 crop from the photo above showing the detail captured

Each new model of camera adds more capability:  High Dynamic Range, Panoramas, Lens distortion / aberration correction, 3-D / post shot focusing (Lytro), face recognition, image stabilization, Live Composite, and many more algorithms are all being done now in camera.

Most of these (and more) can also be done with software on your computer or phone.  In fact, the computation capabilities inside your phone are one reason they’re replacing point and shoot cameras.  Algorithms / computation  can overcome many of the limitations of the relatively simple camera in your phone.  Look at the Hydra app for an example of this.

Photography started as an analog activity.  Capture the light via optics, film, chemicals, and sometimes (for experts) manipulation / fine tuning of the chemical process.  Create prints with more chemistry and manipulation of light during printing.

Photography today still involves capturing light using optics.  Instead of chemistry, most people use digital sensors.  And capturing the light as digital information allows us to apply algorithms using computers in many places in the process – either in camera like the E-M5II or in post processing.

I think the pace of change in the camera industry is slowing down at least with regard to sensors.  For instance, the E-M5II sensor is said to be identical to the first model (from three years ago).  But the rate of change in algorithms and processing is speeding up.  The new model has a faster processor with added capabilities.

Where’s all this going?  I don’t really know.  As they say:  “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future”.  I do know it’s a very interesting time to be a photographer.  And if you’re a photographer, I don’t think you should ignore the algorithmic and computational side of things.  Some of the processing tools can provide exciting capabilities.


On a different subject, there’s a Clyde Butcher exhibition in town at the Maitland Art Center until May 16th, 2015.  If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend that you go.  The subjects / compositions / technique are wonderful and the prints are large and masterfully done.  Lynn and I went last Thursday and as we were leaving, Clyde Butcher walked in.  I very much enjoyed meeting him.

He achieves beautiful results with an analog, large format, black and white approach which would be very difficult to reproduce with a digital workflow.  That won’t be true forever.  What will most likely be true forever is that his kind of artistic inspiration and results will be extremely difficult to reproduce with an algorithm.


Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Fisheye, fog, and Flower

Wow – it’s been over a year since I’ve posted any fisheye photos on the blog. So one day last week, I mounted my Rokinon 7.5mm Micro Four Thirds lens and went out looking for some photos.  I ended up at Central Winds Park in Winter Springs.  It was very foggy and the light was a bit dim – it was a good thing I brought a tripod with me.  I noticed several kinds of wildflowers blooming and decided they might be good subjects..

Fog and mist can blur detail unless you get close.  Fog in the background can also help isolate your subject.  Getting close with a wide-angle lens (especially a fisheye) will emphasize close in objects and make them stand out.  So I got close to this flower.  It was off to the side of the path and I was able to frame it against the dead leaves so colors also helped it stand out.

Flowers in the forest by the footpath in the fog

Flowers in the forest by the footpath in the fog

Using an approach like this can give your image an almost 3d look. I stopped down to f/8 which made my depth of field large enough to cover the flower, but shallow enough to blur the background a little.  At base ISO (200) my exposure was 1/50 second.  I used -1 stop of exposure compensation so the sky in the background didn’t blow out, and this also helped with saturation.  The Rokinon is manual focus.  Since focus was critical, I carefully used magnified live view to get it just right.   I like how this turned out, but looking at it now maybe I should have gotten even closer.

You can see more of my fisheye photos in this set on Flickr.


A note about the blog:  I’m working to add Gallery / Portfolio pages to my site.  I’ve posted two so far.  You can get to them from the pull down menu at the top of the page, or by clicking these links:  Florida Landscapes,  Florida Wildlife.  Please take a look and let me know what you think.


Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

One way to improve your photography

If you want to get better at photography, you can find a lot of free advice on the inter webs.  Buy a new camera or lens, use new software, travel to an exotic location, take a workshop or a course, read books, study the masters, etc.

My free advice isn’t any of the above and it won’t cost you as much money as some of those things will.  And I don’t see it come up very often on-line.  Take my advice and not only will you learn new things – you’ll be exposed to different genres of photography, and you’ll be able to practice what you’ve been exposed to.  What’s the secret?

Join your local camera club.

The weather’s been gloomy around Central Florida recently.  solid grey clouds, rain and drizzle, and not much light to make photographs with.  So I was happy that there was a Still Life Event at the Orlando Camera Club meeting last Monday.  They brought in interesting items to photograph and had tables, lighting, and backdrops to use for set up.  I brought a camera, tripod and flash (although with my tripod, I ended up not needing the flash).  It was a lot of fun to choose items and arrange compositions.  It’s something I don’t usually do – but that’s a good thing.  Here are three photos from that evening.

TelephoneTelephone

Keb Mo bluesKeb Mo blues – Playing around with compositing: I made the foreground shot of the guitar & Blues sign at the Still Life event.  I added the background photo of Keb Mo that I made at his concert in the Plaza Theater in Orlando on Feb. 1 2012. 

Wrench, bolt, and lockWrench, bolt, and lock

I belong to the Orlando Camera Club (http://orlandocameraclub.com).  I’ve also attended meetings at the Port Orange Camera Club (http://www.portorangecameraclub.com) and the Oviedo Photo Club (http://oviedophotoclub.com).  Membership in any of these will benefit your photography.  Some things most clubs offer:

  • Photo competitions in different genres with feedback
  • Events (like the still life one I went to)
  • Guest speakers on many related topics
  • Workshops (free or inexpensive) about many subjects
  • Field trips to local photo ops
  • Libraries of photo books that you can borrow for free
  • And other people with similar (and diverse) interests to share your passion with

I’m sure that wherever you are, there’s a camera club that you can join too.

Here’s one other post I’ve written on still life photography, and you can see some of my other still life photographs in this set on Flickr


Update on the blog hosting change:  It does look like the transition’s been successful.  The email subscriptions seemed to go out ok last week and I haven’t received any problem reports.  One issue I’m aware of is that the move appears to have broken RSS subscriptions.  So If you’ve come here directly to find out why your Central Florida Photo Ops RSS feed isn’t working – I’m sorry.  I don’t think I can do anything about it.  You’ll have to re-subscribe.


And finally, I’m sure you heard that Leonard Nimoy passed away on Friday and will be buried today.  Of course I didn’t know him, but I felt I knew his famous Mr. Spock character that saved the day (and even the universe) so many times over the years.  May he rest in peace.


Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos! And live long and prosper.

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Kayaking at Haulover Canal

If you search the web for “Haulover Canal” you’ll get many hits on fishing and kayaking there.  I haven’t tried the fishing, so I can’t really comment on that, but I see people (and dolphins!) fishing there all the time so it’s probably pretty good.  I have kayaked there many times and it’s a wonderful place to paddle and to photograph too.

Haulover Canal is in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and it’s part of the Intracoastal Waterway.  It connects Mosquito Lagoon with the Indian River.  You can launch your Kayak at the Bairs Cove boat ramp on the south side of the canal, but we use a better spot on the north-west end of the canal.  Heading north along the Courtenay Parkway, take the first left after the bridge and follow the dirt road to the end where there’s a sandy bottom put in.  There’s a fee to launch from Bairs Cove, but not from the north side.

From the put in, you can paddle west and circle around Mullet Head Island where there are usually quite a few birds. We’ve seen Redish Egrets, Great Egrets, Tri-colored and Great Blue Herons, Pelicans, Cormorants, etc. there. It is a protected nesting area, though – so you’re not allowed to get too close.

Handsome Pelican
Handsome Pelican:  From my kayak, near Mullet Head Island (Olympus EM5)

We usually paddle east along the canal and stop back in Bairs Cove, where we’ve seen manatees every time we’ve been.  They’re very docile and sometimes friendly.  You’re not allowed to harass / approach them, but if you sit quietly in your kayak, sometimes they’ll harass you!

Manatee checking out Mary's kayak
Manatee checks out Mary’s kayak (Olympus EM5)

You can paddle further east and go under the bridge to a manatee observation deck along the north shore.  However, I’ve never once seen manatees there.  Do you think the manatees enjoy the joke?

We frequently see Bottlenose Dolphins too and they’re often feeding.  This one was near the launch point and made a fuss chasing fish before swimming off.

Mike & Sara watch a dolphin from their kayak
Mike & Sara watch a dolphin from their kayak (Olympus TG-2)

There are even a few landscape opportunities, although I haven’t made it over for sunrise or sunset yet.  This group of struggling trees caught my eye.

Survivors
Survivors : On the west side of Haulover Canal. (Olympus TG-2)

You’ll need to watch for boat traffic, but since it’s a no wake zone, it’s fairly safe for kayaks.  If you haven’t kayaked before and want to have a little support when you make this trip,  A Day Away Kayak Tours is close by and very helpful.  They’ll take you on a guided tour or rent you a kayak so you can go on your own, too.

All the photos in this post were made on kayak trips using a variety of cameras.  I now have enough experience with our boats that I’m confident in the water and not afraid of tipping, but splashes from paddles and waves are still a worry where camera gear is concerned.  A dose of saltwater is not too healthy for most normal cameras.  So I’ve been using an Olympus TG-2 and a GoPro Hero3 (both waterproof) on these trips.

G0030066Photographing birds near Mullet Head Island (GoPro and EM5)

It’s great not having to worry about water damage, but I do miss some of the higher end photo capabilities (e.g. RAW format, interchangeable and long lenses, etc.). So I’ve taken the higher end gear out once or twice.  In the photo above I really photo-geeked and used the GoPro to make a photo of myself making a photo with the Olympus EM5.

Here’s some additional info on Kayaking at Haulover Canal from a couple other sites:

And you can find out more about Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in these posts.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!  And go for a paddle too!

©2013, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

A Panorama Workflow Example

Intro

I had a question recently about how I process panoramas – so I thought I’d document my workflow using a recent image as an example.  This will be a bit geeky.  Next week I should have a more normal post after I finish selecting / editing photos from a visit to St. Augustine.

I was up on Mount Evans near Denver, Colorado with an Olympus E-PL5 camera and a 24-100mm equivalent lens.  This is a 16MP camera and the mountains and valley were just too large to fit through that lens and onto that sensor.  I really wanted to capture something that would give viewers a sense of the scene.  So how did I make a 46MP (9608×4804) wide-angle panorama with the gear I had?  Read on.

Valley of sunbeams and shadows

Mount Evans panorama – the completed 46MP image (click to see larger on Flickr)

This is a multi-photo panorama.  Many cameras have a panorama capability built-in.  I’m not sure if the E-PL5 has it, because I never use it.  Why?  I like the flexibility, control, and quality I can achieve with a manual process.  I don’t like letting the camera decide everything automatically.  And I like the result – huge, rich files that I can print large, or even crop to yield several different compositions.

In this post, I’ll write about using the software that I have (Lightroom V5 and Photoshop CS6) but the concepts are similar no matter what software you have.  You’ll need to interpret / apply this info to your own tools and workflow.  There’s four main phases:  1) Capture, 2) Initial Adjustments in Lightroom, 3) Photoshop stitching and processing, and 4) Final Lightroom tweaks.  I’ll give you some hints about each.

Capture:

Carefully capturing the input frames is extremely important to the end result.  Input variations can be hard for software to handle, so try to minimize differences.  You should use manual white balance, exposure, and focus.

For horizontal panoramas, shoot vertical frames and overlap them by  thirty to fifty percent but not more.  Too many frames means more seams, and this could add  problems you’ll have to fix.   If this happens, try removing a frame – it might not impact the final image.

I shoot either on my tripod or handheld.  If there’s enough light, I’ve had good luck shooting handheld.  I’m careful to keep the camera level and use a grid line or focus mark in the view finder aligned with the horizon as a guide.

I always shoot in RAW format, but the stitching will of course work with JPG input frames.  It’s best to use a camera / lens supported by Lightroom so that you can correct lens distortions. If you don’t, the distortions can build up across the stitched images and look especially bad when there are straight lines in the scene.

Initial Adjustments in Lightroom:

I load  the images into Lightroom and adjust them all identically.    I aim for a neutral, low contrast setting across all images.  I enable distortion correction and usually turn off sharpening / noise reduction (and deal with them in later steps).

Be conservative with the highlights – I’ve found that stitch software may blow out parts of the image when attempting to blend between frames.  I’ll dial down highlights if I have any concern.  If I didn’t use manual exposure, I may also try to match white and black points in all the histograms.

Source files

The seven source images in Lightroom after the initial adjustments

Photoshop stitching and processing:

Once I’ve got the frames adjusted in Lightroom, I open them as layers in Photoshop.  This allows me to try different auto align algorithms (under the Edit / Auto-Align menu), undo them, and try again if there are issues. For the wide-angle shots I usually make, the cylindrical alignment method seems to work best.  I check the result at 100%.  Sometimes the software doesn’t line up the most important parts of the image perfectly and I’ll use the move tool to make small adjustments.

Edit-auto-align-layers_Cylindrical

Seven source images opened as layers in Photoshop and auto aligned.

Next I’ll do the blending (Edit / Auto-Blend).  Then I look for variations across the image (most often in smooth sky).  You can see the leftmost frame above is a bit darker.  If the auto blend hasn’t worked well enough, I’ll undo it and tweak the levels or curves in each layer and then re-blend.

Once I’m happy with the blend, I’ll flatten the layers, and then rotate and crop the image.  I don’t do final cropping at this point – I save that for the later in Lightroom.  It’s OK to leave a bit of white around the edges.  In CS6, content aware fill can fix those for you.  If you do use Content Aware Fill, review those areas at 100% for flaws.  You might need to touch them up with the clone tool.  This is also the time to do any other cloning the image needs.

initial crop

In Photoshop after auto blend, merge layers and initial crop / straighten

Now do your noise reduction on a new layer.  I use Topaz DeNoise 5, but other software works well too.  I just like the user interface in this plug-in.  Check the result at 100% again and decide whether to apply it to the whole image or selectively.  Most of the time I add a layer mask to the noise layer and apply it to the sky and / or smoother parts of the image only.  This preserves detail where the noise isn’t obvious (ground, trees, etc.).

Final edit in PS

Final Photoshop edit after content aware fill, noise reduction on the sky and a dose of Topaz Clarity

I’ll then merge the layers (shift-alt-command-E) and play around with various filters (Nik Color Effects Pro or HDR Efx, Topaz Clarity, etc.) to get to something close to what I want.  Then I return to Lightroom.

Final Lightroom tweaks:

Final steps in Lightroom are sharpening, any tweaks to white balance, exposure, white and black points, cropping, etc.

Final edits in LR

Output in Lightroom after final adjustments (White Balance, exposure, sharpening, cropping, etc)

Conclusions

This workflow takes time.  Is every scene worth all this?  Nope – I only go through it if I think the final image will be worth it.  Even so, sometimes I’ll start the process and stop when I realize that the composition didn’t turn out.  You’ll have to decide whether it’s worth the time and effort to you.

I hope I’ve given you some insight.  Try it yourself and please let me know how it turns out.  Even if you don’t go through the whole thing, some of the info might be useful. I’d be happy to answer your questions.  The best place to ask them is in the comments for this post so they’ll help others.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some really big photos!

©2013, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved