You may have noticed that I like Black and White photography. It’s how I started out, way back when (with Tri-X film, developed in a make-shift darkroom). So I’ve done it for a while, but I’m mostly self-taught. I’ve studied many books and looked at a lot of online info, but I felt it would be good to take a course and expose myself to techniques and ideas I haven’t discovered on my own – to see how others are doing it.
I signed up for “Modern Monochrome” at the Crealde School of Art in Winter Park, Florida. The course promises to cover “the aesthetic qualities of black-and-white photography, seeing in black and white, RGB conversion methods, tonal relationships, luminosity versus luminance, and demonstrations in Photoshop and Lightroom.”
I was a little worried at the first session. There were a couple of people who didn’t appear to meet the prerequisites and it seemed like we’d struggle trying to bring them up to speed. But they ended up dropping out and the remaining students all easily kept up with the agenda.
Next week is our last class and we owe the instructor ten B&W images. I thought you might be interested in seeing some of the ones I’m going to turn in.
Wild Orchids – at Fort Christmas
High Key Grebe – along Black Point Wildlife Drive
Gloomy dawn – Blue Cypress Lake
Misty Marsh – Orlando Wetlands Park
The instructor’s going to critique our work and I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say.
This course has definitely lived up to my expectations. I learned several techniques in Photoshop – some that I’d heard about and never tried, and others that were completely new to me. I also enjoyed discussing printing techniques and I intend to apply these more in the future. I haven’t been printing my photographs as much recently as I should. The course was also a great incentive to think about and practice photography and especially B&W processing.
I hadn’t ever seen Orchids in the wild and I hadn’t been out there since 2012, so this was a big enough motivation to make me want to visit again. I ended up exploring with Tom M. on a morning last week.
Once we knew what to look for, the orchids weren’t hard to find. There were a lot of them higher up in the large live oak trees. The strong back light, wind, and distance made them hard to photograph well, but with a longer lens, a flash, and some careful camera positioning I managed to isolate these blooms against a dark background. I like the colors and background, which remind me of an oriental flower painting.
Wild Orchids – Up in the live oak trees. Two frames, with flash, different focus points, hand merged in Photoshop. I believe these are Florida Butterfly Orchids (Encyclia tampensis).
Sunflowers were also blooming in one of the small gardens on the site.
Sunflower bloom – In the garden. Single frame, ambient light.
We also spent some time looking around inside the buildings. You’re free to enter most of them as long as you’re careful. And since we were there on a mid-week morning, there weren’t many other folks around. Until two busses of summer camp kids showed up around 10:30.
In the bedroom – Single 1/2 second exposure at f/8 for depth of field. I didn’t have a tripod, so I rested the camera on the window sill
Antique fixtures and appliances fill the rooms. These and the wood and fabric textures make for some very photogenic settings – perfect material for a bit of nostalgic, B&W processing.
In the kitchen – I was able to hand hold this one when I opened the aperture to f/2.8. The depth of field is acceptable since there’s nothing too close to the viewpoint.
Here are some photo hints for you:
For the orchids, you’ll probably want a longer zoom lens, a flash, a tripod and remote release.
Some of the flowers and other items would make good macro subjects.
For photos of the building and room interiors, I found a wide-angle lens very useful. A tripod might be handy for this too, but I was able to brace my camera and / or use the pop up flash to eliminate camera shake / blur.
I’ve posted other photos from Fort Christmas in this set on Flickr. It’s a wonderful year round photo-op. And the blooming orchids in the summertime are a nice bonus.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!
Once again, your intrepid Central Florida Photo Ops reporter was there – in person and on the scene – to record and report a sample of the photo ops on offer. You can see a couple of my photos below and more in this set on Flickr. You can also review a previous post I wrote here for more info and hints on flower show photography.
You should keep an eye out for these kinds of photo ops. They happen quite often are a great way to make some interesting photos.
By the way, the blog is now starting its 5th year. The first post was May 4th, 2007. That’s a long time in blog years! I hope you continue to enjoy it as much as I enjoy writing it.
A little bit of background. I’ve been seriously interested in photography for a long time. I owned several film SLRs before I switched to a digital camera at Christmas time in 2000. It took me a while to change over, since I wasn’t convinced that digital quality matched film. Once I did switch, I haven’t looked back (until now), and I’ve been happily shooting digital ever since.
When I used film, I always wanted a pro level Nikon camera and could never afford it. This started with my first SLR, which was a Yashica entry level model (I don’t remember which one). The best film camera I ever had was my last one, a Nikon 6006. I bought this sometime in the 1980s and it was a great camera, but it wasn’t a “pro” model.
So recently, I was browsing eBay and ran across a listing for a Nikon F4. This tank of a camera was introduced in 1988 and was Nikon’s top of the line film camera until maybe 1996 when the F5 was introduced. To make a long story short, I couldn’t resist.
This particular one is an F4S and is in great shape for a camera this old. It comes with an MB-21 auto-winder: can you imagine ripping through almost 6 frames of film a second with this puppy? A whole role of 36 gone in 6 seconds! Another feature that’s really nice is that this one can meter / focus with all Nikon lenses, including the newer G series (although you can’t control the aperture directly). For more information on the camera, you can look at the Nikonians website article on the F4 or visit Ken Rockwell’s site, where he talks about it. Also, a Google search will reveal several places on the web where you can download a PDF file of the camera manual.
After the frost. Tri-X film, Nikon F4S, 60mm f/2.8 macro lens
When the camera arrived, I went to my local drug store to buy some film. To my surprise, they carried Kodak Tri-x B&W ISO 400 film! This is the first film I ever used in my rangefinder and SLR cameras and I used to load my own 35mm photo canisters from 50ft. rolls of film and do all of my own development. So … of course I bought a roll to run through my “new” camera. 24 exposures later, I brought it back to get developed. “Do you develop Tri-X black and white film?” I asked. [Photo clerk looking at film canister] “Of course we do. Do you need it back in an hour?” “No, I said” [Thinking to myself – ‘this is amazing’], “I’ll come back later tonight to pick it up.” So I leave and on my way home, I get a call from the clerk: “Uh, sir, we can’t develop this film.” Apparently they can develop B&W film that’s designed for color print film chemistry, but not good old Tri-X. Anyway, my local camera store (Colonial Photo and Hobby) does develop Tri-X and can also scan it to CD for you as part of the process. I also ran some color print film through the camera, and ended up shooting a total of three rolls.
Weeds. Kodak Ultra Max Color Print film, Nikon F4S, 60mm f/2.8 macro lens
The camera works pretty well. The focus and exposure seem good. So what else did my tests reveal? How was the experience? What impressions did the Nikon F4S make? Did I finally fulfill my desire for a pro film camera? Will I give up digital and go back to film?
First of all, the controls were very familiar, so I didn’t have any problem using the camera. The locks were annoying to me – I’m not used to having to unlock the on/off switch. One thing that using the F4 emphasized is that film cameras are simpler to operate than modern digital cameras. Most of this is because on a digital camera, you not only have to control the camera, you also have to control / adjust the sensor response. Loading your film into a film camera determines the white balance, ISO, color profile, etc. for you.
Second, this is the heaviest camera I’ve ever used. An F4S weighs 45 oz. vs 37 oz. for a D700 or 25 oz. for a D90. That’s a big difference. Maybe I’m glad I didn’t have to carry this around all the time.
Third, I shot three different kinds of ISO 400 film: Tri-X, Ultra Max, and Black and White (CN 400). Grain is apparent in all of the shots although much less so in the CN 400. In fact, the grain is much more apparent than noise in either a D-90 or D-700 shot at ISO 400.
Orchid. Kodak Black and White (CN 400) film, Nikon F4S, 60mm f/2.8 macro lens
Fourth, having 24 or 36 exposures to work with instead of hundreds is quite different too. There’s much less experimentation and more ‘get it right the first time’. Even though I was only testing this camera and not on a serious shoot, I still found myself conserving film instead of shooting with abandon.
Fifth: Chimping is really handy! With a film camera, you can’t tell if you got the shot until much later. There’s a lot more “trust the camera” and “trust your skills” involved. I remember a trip to Germany in the early ’80s with many rolls of slide film and its narrow exposure range. I felt a lot of anxiety then until I got the processed slides back.
So, am I going to abandon my digital tools and revert to the good old days of Film? Absolutely not. It was fun to play with the camera and it brought back a lot of memories. But we’ve come a long way and the F4S is going on my shelf to look at. I won’t be looking through it too often.
You can click on any of the photos above to view them on Flickr. You can see the rest of my test shots here.
This post is not my usual Central Florida Photo Op entry. Instead I want to cover a technique and some software I’ve been experimenting with.
One macro photography challenge is to get the desired portions of the subject in focus without using such a small aperture that the image quality is degraded by diffraction effects. One solution is to combine multiple images focused at different depths within the frame to extend depth of field. In this post I’ll talk about how to do this, including software that can be used to automate the process. I’ve posted one focus bracket image before in this blog. That image was created manually. Using software to help is much easier.
As with all macro photography, good technique remains important. Focus bracketing will not make up for poor composition and exposure or sloppy camera handling. But for stationary subjects focus bracketing can give the photographer complete control over depth of field, background appearance / bokeh, and help optimize image quality. I used a program called Helicon Focus for this experiment. I think you can accomplish the same thing using Photoshop CS4, but I don’t have this latest version, so I haven’t tried. Helicon Focus is available as a fully functional 30 day trial download, so you can experiment with it too.
The Helicon Focus web site has a lot of information on how to use their software. To learn more, browse these links:
Here are some of my additional hints based on what I learned while evaluating the software.
Use good macro and general technique
As for any type of bracketing, a sturdy tripod will help make sure all images are aligned.
Use a cable release or remote so you don’t jar the camera.
Use the mirror lock up function on your camera with low shutter speeds
Know your lens and camera.
Which aperture has the best image quality? (Usually ~ 2 stops down from wide open)
Make several test images at a different apertures. Use them to select the aperture to use with the focus bracket series. You can also use one of these later if you like the background bokeh better than in the focus bracket result.
Where does diffraction start to affect the image quality? (About f/11 for full frame cameras and ~f/8 for APS C size sensors
Don’t forget about composition.
Eliminate unnecessary image content
Remember (or not) the Rule of Thirds
Isolate the subject and make sure the background isn’t distracting (e.g. bright spots)
When you’re ready to start the focus bracket capture, set your camera in manual focus and exposure modes. Also set your camera to a manual white balance, or do this post capture if you use RAW.
Make a series of captures working from far to near and varying the focus slightly closer for each one. I found that the smallest movement of the focus ring that I could make worked best.
I saved the images in RAW format and processed them through Capture NX2 in batch mode to apply the same pre-processing edits (overall lighting adjustment, some highlight recovery, a little dodging and burning and some basic sharpening) to each photo. I also used NX2 to convert the RAW images to TIFF format.
Then I ran the TIFF images through Helicon Focus. By the way, it is Intel i7 aware and so it runs pretty fast on my iMac. The only change I made to the default settings was selecting Lancos8 resample quality.
My resulting composite image had a few areas that could be improved by cloning from one of the source images. Helicon Focus supports this with a “resampling” mode which allows you to clone from any of the source files into the final before saving.
Once I had the final composite output saved, I opened it in Photoshop. Since I liked the bokeh of the f/36 image, I cloned from that background into the composite – and I was done, except for importing into Lightroom where I added some clarity and adjusted contrast.
Here’s a series of images to illustrate.
Wet Back-lit Orchid at f/5.6. At this aperture (2 stops from wide open) the lens optical quality is very good, but the depth of field is shallow. Parts of the flower and the stem are not in focus. The background is completely blurred out.
Wet Back-lit Orchid at f/36. At this very narrow aperture, the depth of field is maximized. The out of focus leaves and background are pleasing. But the small aperture is causing diffraction to degrade the optical quality of the capture.
Wet Backlit Orchid – focus bracket. In this composite photo made using the Helicon Focus program and 16 individual captures at f/5.6, the depth of field covers the entire flower and stem and the background is completely blurred. The optical quality is improved since the wider aperture does not suffer from diffraction.
The final image: Wet Back-lit Orchid – focus bracket with small aperture background. You can completely control the background. If you prefer the bokeh / background of the f/36 image, selectively clone it into the focus bracket image.
Conclusions: Focus bracketing is a useful technique that can give photographers a tremendous degree of control over depth of field in situations where the subject matter is still and there is time to set up, capture and process for it. If you add a manual step to the final output, you can selectively enhance the bokeh. Helicon Focus runs well and does what it is supposed to – make this process easier.
We bought an orchid at the flower show last weekend. There was some nice light coming through the window this morning, so I decided to photograph it. I spent a little time playing with the image in various ways. Here’s version 1:
I then went back and changed the cloth background and re-photographed it. Here’s version 2:
And here’s version 3 (a black and white conversion):
If not, why not? Flower shows can be a great place for photography. They have plants in the prime of bloom and are often set in very scenic locations. Lynn and I have been to a couple of Orchid shows and a Rose show here in Orlando and enjoyed each of them. The most recent was last weekend’s Greater Orlando Orchid Show and Sale held at the Albin Polasek museum in Winter Park. The museum is an interesting place to visit on its own, and is set in a beautiful lot close to Rollins college. This photo is of Polasek’s bronze sculpture of Svantovit , located in the back garden behind the museum where the orchid show was being held.
The one problem with this type of photo op is that you have to be pro-active and search it out. Lynn noticed an announcement for this show in our local paper. The table in the Summary section below has a link for a Google search that may help you locate upcoming flower shows in Central Florida.
Etiquette: The purpose of these shows is to sell flowers, not to be your personal photo studio. I think it would be rude to drag your tripod, lighting gear, reflectors, etc. in to one of the booths selling orchids and set up a shot and interfere with the vendor’s business. So be polite – and buy an orchid. You’ll enjoy it and you can make many photos of it in your home studio!
Lenses: Macro recommended. If you don’t have one, bring whatever you do have that will focus as closely as possible. A mid range zoom lens might also be good to bring for the other things that are around the venue where the show is taking place.
Tripod: Not recommended – see above. There can be a lot of people at these shows. Most of them are there to look at and buy flowers, not photograph them or wait until you get out of the way.
Flash: Might be very handy to fill in shadows, especially in the shade or under canopies. You might even want to get fancy and try using an off camera flash triggered with your on camera pop up flash.
For people new to flower photography, there’s quite a lot of how-to information on the web. For more information, you might try browsing through the results from this Google blog search for “flower photography how to”.