Thursday, August 30, 2012

Somewhat confused :-(

85mm at f8
Yesterday I was getting quite concerned about the accuracy of focus on my 85mm lens.  I'd taken a few photos in the front yard of cherry blossom and felt that the focus wasn't as accurate as I'd hoped for.  I came inside and tried a few things with a tape measure and "AFS Fine Tune" that seemed to suggest the camera/lens combination was focussing slightly in front of where it should.  I tried autofocus with my 18-200mm and this seemed spot on.  I then tried a manual focus with the 85mm lens and this was spot on.

Using the AFS Fine Tune was quite straightforward, but didn't seem to fix my problem.  Even at the fullest extent of the fine tune my image still seemed to be focussing in the wrong place.  To check out the camera/lens combination seems to require a few days, so that can't happen for a wee while, and it would appear from the brief tests I've done that I should really check my other lenses as at least the 18-200mm is spot on.

Anyway, hoping I'd made a mistake and was imagining the problem, I went into the backyard to take some shots of the kowhai blossom.  The first shot was taken at f8 with the 85mm lens.  Camera and lens mounted on a tripod.  This is pretty sharp, but at f8 I'd expect it to be!  Also the leading flower, pretty well central to the image seems nicely focussed.  Interestingly my attempts at manual focus didn't give as sharp a result as the autofocus attempts.  This was the opposite to last night's ruler experiment shots.  Not pleased with the busy background, I opened up the lens and tried again at f1.4.
85mm f1.4
Using autofocus again on the leading flower but this time it seems acceptably sharp (bearing in mind the lens is wide open and the there was a little breeze).  My attempts at manual focus were not as accurate as the autofocus and I'm beginning to wonder if I'm imagining things.  To get the camera and lens checked will take a few days and cost at least $100.  Is it worth it I have to ask and how much better would the images be if the setup was tuned?  As I said at the start ... somewhat confused :-(

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

DoF and cherry trees

Looking up!
Wow!  What a glorious day today!!  I can remember a long long time ago when I was a youngster that I'd lie on my back on the grass and jus look up and watch the clouds.  I can remember there being lots of clouds in the UK when I'd look up, but today, here in GodZone New Zealand, we're pretty cloud free just now.  The sun is out, feels lovely and warm.  The cherry blossom is out and the tuis and silver eyes are feasting on the nectar.  Summer is on its way at last!

If you look to the left of the first image in this post you'll notice the pink blossom of a cherry tree.  I thought it'd be quite noce to get a shot of these flowers with a blurry background mixture of the sky and other blooms.  I put my camera on a tripod with an 85mm lens attached and took three shots at different apertures.  A couple of things intrigued me.  Firstly there's a significant difference in sharpness of the  "focussed" blooms when you compare the f1.4 and f4 shots.  Makes me wonder if I need to fine tune the autofocus!  Secondly there really is a big difference in background blur, or bokeh, as you open up the lens.  There's much more difference between f1.4 and f2.8 than I was expecting.

Oh well, such a lovely day today I'd better get out and enjoy it!!

85mm f4
85mm f2.8
85mm f1.4

Monday, August 27, 2012

Tui shooting again ;-)

On the way to the Botanic Garden's Cherry Trees and Tuis.
Off to the Botanic Gardens again to see the tuis and silver eyes.  I had a really good time yesterday and was hoping to get some good shots today as most folks would be at work instead of disturbing the birds.  Sorry to say I didn't do that well with my photos.

The light was a little awkward and it was rare to get the iridescence that I saw yesterday.  Also the birds seemed pretty frisky and it was really quite difficult to frame them, focus on them and then shoot.  I was using a 70-200mm lens which is pretty quick to focus, but I still came away with quite few blurry masterpieces!  I met a lady there shooting with a 300mm lens and a teleconverter to get in excess of 500mm.  How she focussed that thing I can't imagine!  I had a look through the viewfinder and found it very difficult to even find the bird let alone focus on it!

The first image in this post is a 5 shot HDR blend of a scene in the gardens I pass on the way to the cherry trees.  This was taken with the Samyang 8mm fisheye.  I remain fascinated by this lens as I think it gives quite lovely images very rich in colour and quite detailed.
The place where the birds are!!  Look carefully and you may see a few of the tuis.
The second shot in this post shows the trees where the tuis hang out.  Click on the image to get an enlarged view and the look at the kowhai tree in the centre of the shot and you may be able to pick out a few birds.  The eagle eyed amongst you may be able to spot the odd bird in the cherry tree too.  As you can see from this shot is was a bit on the cloudy side today which made it a little awkward to capture the tui's iridescent plumage.  Perhaps I need to visit again tomorrow.

I'll close this post with a few more images of the tuis.  I think I prefer the images when they're in the yellow kowhai tree, perhaps let me know what you think?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Shooting birds!

Off to the Botanic Gardens here in Auckland armed with a tripod and a 70-200mm zoom lens hoping that I might see some tuis in the cherry blossom and be able to capture them with my camera. I can't say that I find these birds the easiest to capture.  They tend to flit about the tree quite quickly and usually end up with a branch or a flower in the way.

Anyway, I tried a few shots that I've posted for your amusement.  I think I'll go back again later this week and try and do a better job.

The yellow flower, by the way, is a kowhai tree.  One of NZ's native trees.  Kowhai is also the Maori word for yellow.

I hope you enjoy the photos ... perhaps let me know what you think?

Ah, this isn't a tui!  This is a Silver-eye :-)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Wenderholm ... again!

Looking out of the window at a gloriously blue and cloudless sky I decided to take wifey north of Auckland to see the sea at Wenderholm.  We've been before and you may recall this post from 2009 created after a previous visit?  So, the car was packed and off we set.  Travelling north the feeling that we were leaving the better weather behind was soon made quite apparent with a significant increase in cloud cover.  Never mind, just so long as the clouds don't leak all is fine I thought.  Thankfully we stayed dry throughout the visit to the regional park.
View from atop the cliffs looking down on Wenderholm beach
Light was quite good, but there were some very deep shadows and bright highlights that I decided to bracket all my shots.  I must admit that I didn't take very many as wifey was more interested in a walk than taking photos!  Anyway, on return home I decided the best way to treat the images was with a bit of HDR.  This allows me to get a bit more detail into the clouds and shadowy areas as well as pull back the bright highlights.

The first shot in this post is looking north over the Puhoi River as it heads out to sea camera right.  The car park, incidentally, is just visible at the right of the shot.

As it happens, the second shot in the post is of the Puhoi River as it meets the sea and is just to the right of the previous shot.

It's a lovely place to visit with some very pleasant walks thought the bush for the more active members of the family and very pleasant views from the carpark for the more sedentary among us!  The final shot in this post was taken from the car park just a few steps away from the drivers seat in my car.
Wenderholm car park view!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Seed pods!

Liquid Amber Seed Heads
I don't know what it is, but there's definitely something about these seed pods that intrigue me.  Perhaps it's their shape or the way they roll down the driveway scattering seeds?

Looking at the seed pods I wanted to make them as sharp as I could and blur the background.  I used a 200mm focal length and an aperture of f4.  I kept using the depth of field preview to make sure I had as much of the seed pods in focus as possible without bringing in too much of the background.

On my computer I used Silver Efex and added a bit of a lighter coloured vignette to guide your eye to the interesting things.  As before there's a bit of interest along a diagonal, and the seed pods are  reasonably sharp.  Perhaps let me know what you think?
Those seed heads again!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Diffuser ball

I have this indoor job to do that requires some nice even light in quite a small room.  I've been wondering how to light the scene to avoid harsh shadow and came across this diffuser ball so thought I'd give it a try.  Really it's a largish acrylic ball with an attachment that allows me to mount it on a studio light.

Room lit with a single flash gun and reflector.
After getting it out of the box I attached it to one of my studio lights on a light stand.  I then mounted a flashgun with a reflector to bounce the light around the room on a separate tripod.  I was curious to see the difference in room lighting between the two setups.  You can see a part of my globe in the top right of each shot below.

The first shot in this post is the result of using the flash gun.  Shadows under the table from the stool and chair are quite obvious, and there's a laminated document on the wall to the left of the far window that has unpleasant reflections.  You'll also notice the shadows under the bookcase to the left and, due to the proximity of the flash, a small white box atop the bookcase camera left is blown out.
Room lit with ball diffuser.
The second shot is with my globe (ball diffuser if you'd prefer).  True there are shadows, but they're nowhere near as harsh.  Take a look at that box atop the bookcase.  Look under the bookcase and at the laminated document by the window.  Look also around the ceiling light and compare the differences.  To me it looks more natural and significantly less stark that the first shot.  OK, so I got an unpleasant reflection in the window and there are shadows in the far right corner of the room, but I must admit to being quite delighted with the effect.  Time to take it to a few places now and experiment with my options!!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bin job ... maybe not?

Carl Heilman's "Advanced digital landscape photography"
Published by ILEX.  ISBN 978-1-905814-86-2
I must admit that I enjoy reading photography books; looking at the photographs of others and learning how the images were taken.  Carl Heilman's Advanced Digital Landscape Photography book is one of the books I'm looking at just now and must admit that there's a few things in here that have me intrigued and inspired to try out.

One of the "tips" Carl provides toward the end of the book are related to Photoshop and how you can make simple tweaks to your images and get some rather nice effects.  Things that may transform a shot sufficiently to change its category from "bin job" to acceptable.  I had a couple of shots taken on a grey day - hard to believe that we get grey days here in NZ I know, but it does happen!  The sky really spoilt the shot and I'd replaced it with one of my spare skies I keep on one side for just this reason.  But what about a gradient fill?  This would be way easier to use.  Nice idea, but I failed at the first hurdle as my version of Photoshop is different to Carl's.  Back to Scott Kelby's book to see what he had to say, and wow!  Even easier!  I could do what I wanted in Adobe Camera Raw and it was trivial.
Scott Kelby's Photoshop CS5 Book
Published by New Riders, ISBN 978-0-321-70356-9
The significant difference between these two books is that I've bought the second one, whereas the first os a library book.  I suppose that says something about my preference?  I'm quite fond of the Scott Kelby book and his style.  What's more he has some rather handy tips and tricks.

So, armed with the idea of a gradient fill in ACR I found one of my shots with a grey sky and gave it a whirl.  Wonderful!  Made a huge difference, but what about a shot that really was a bin job?  Could this be made acceptable with something as simple as a gradient fill?  I looked for a poor shot taken a few weeks ago and played with gradient fill.  I was quite amazed with the amount of detail that existed in the RAW file, and whilst not a marvellous shot, certainly gives a good impression of what can be retrieved from something I'd have previously consigned to the bin!  The trick really is to get it right when you press the shutter release, but it's becoming increasingly apparent that there's a lot that can be done in the digital darkroom to resurrect a poor shot.
Oops!  Way over exposed and very washed out shot of the old Council Building in Manukau City
Same shot, but with a couple of gradient fills added in ACR.


Front yard Metrosideros
It had been living in a pot for quite some time, then had a brief spell in the garden until quite recently it was moved to its pressent location in the front yard.  My metrosideros is a dwarf version of some of the very large trees commonly known here in New Zealand  as "New Zealand Christmas Trees".

Most years around Christmas time these large trees, Metrosideros Pohutakawa, are in full bloom and make for a glorious sight especially when you see them by the sea.  The clear blue of New Zealand's waters, the yellow and oranges of the beaches and then these wonderfully rich red blooms make for a very special sight.  Christmas is a few months away, but my dwarf metrosideros flowering in my front yard lets me know that summer is on its way.

I saw this flower and wanted to get a shot where the bloom itself was sharp, as well as a few of the leaves, but the background had to blur to isolate the bloom.  I used a 200mm lens and closed the lens down to f4 to get most of the bloom in focus yet retain and pleasant blur in the background.  I then used Photoshop to sharpen the flower slightly and add a little more blur to the background - but not too much.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Flash eh?

Lily on the driveway.
It's the curves in the leaves and flower that I like about these lilies.  Those lovely leaves with their veins and no straight lines anywhere.  How to get a shot with both the leaf and the bloom to emphasise the white of the flower and the lush green of the leaves when the sun has gone down?

The shot in this post was taken with a speedlight off camera mounted on a tripod so that the light from the flash would illuminate the leaves from underneath.  On camera flash was also used to give a bit of light to the flower itself.  Is it what I imagined?  Almost ... but it is dark now and there's lots of biting insects about so I thought I'd come indoors!  Also, I was finding the autofocus couldn't cope with the low light outside so this shot is manually focussed.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Angles ...

Chakana Cabernet Sauvignon cork.
It was a lovely bottle of wine.  A very pleasant Cabernet Sauvignon from the Argentine producer Chakana.  I must admit to be somewhat surprised to find a black "cork" in the bottle, but the shape of the cork and bottle opener rather appealed to me.  Diagonals and triangles again!!  The shape of the bottle opener has always appealed to me and the way it unfolds.

Anyway, I played with the opener and cork in my hands for a wee while, looked at the cork and noticed the writing and wondered how to get a shot.

Well, after playing with a few lights in the rumpus room I finally came up with the shot you see here.  I've got the angles and shapes I wanted and even managed to get the light onto the bits of interest.

Lighting was VERY simple.  A single softbox looking up to the ceiling and a gold reflector on a boom to bounce the light back at the corkscrew.  The corkscrew was suspended by cotton thread from the boom to get the shape we wanted and then we just fired the shutter.  Oh, and then we used Photoshop to get rid of the cotton threads from the shot.  All just for fun to see how things would work and a great little exercise for father and son.

So there you go.  Lots of fun with a bottle of wine and its cork.  I must say, if you get the chance to try the 2010 Chakana Cabernet Sauvignon it isn't too bad at all.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What do you think?

I thought I might try something a little different over the next few weeks.  What I thought I'd try to do is write down what it is I see as I frame the shot and why I take the shot the way I do.  It's not because I think my photographs are particularly good, far from it!!  However, a number of people have asked me what I see that inspires me to take the photograph as well as why I take the shots the way that I do.  Perhaps explaining what it is I look for and how I decide to set up the camera may give you a better idea of what not to do as well as what to do?  I'm hopeful also that if this is seen as a good idea I may be able to solicit feedback from you to help me to take better shots.  Let's see.  Perhaps we could try this  post as a sample of what might happen with future posts?
Pictorial Composition, E Gordon Barber, Fountain Press
Many years ago, in fact rather more than I care to mention, a close relative of mine gave me a book called Pictorial Composition.  Mine is the 1946 2nd Edition of this little pocket book and it has been a treasure ever since it was presented to me.  I can't say that I agree with everything in the book, but it made me think and ask questions.  It helped me to observe, rather than just look.

Back in 1946, most photographic work was done in monochrome.  Monochrome was a medium with which I loved to work and must admit to still thoroughly enjoying this medium to this day.  Being able to picture an image as a monochrome shot focusses your eyes on structure and form; vital components of a strong image.  Where the various elements of an image are placed as well as how they interact with each other can either make or break the shot or transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.

So let me start off this series (if indeed that ever happens) with some photographs of daffodils.  For the first image I was really inspired by the light on the leaves and that almost misty look to things.  I was looking at the leaves, noticing highlights as the sunlight hit water droplets on leaves and how the leaf colours changed when the light was reflected or passed through the leaf.  I looked at scenes with the light in front of me, and also with the light behind me.  Looking into the sun emphasized the misty appearance of the light and then I spotted a daffodil.  The way the light passed through its petals was just gorgeous, and then there were the highlights in the background.  Using a tripod I managed to get into a position where I could include all the elements that I'd been enjoying on my walk.  Highlights from water droplets on leaves, somewhat misty appearance to the scene and nice play of light on some of the leaves.  I used an 85mm lens at f2.8 as I wanted the background soft and those highlights to be as round as I could get them.  Exposure was measured for the flower as I really wanted detail in the petals.  f2.8 let me get most of the petals in focus.
Lone Daffodil in the early evening light.  Hall Lee Bank Park, Westhoughton, England.
Shot two is quite different.  I rather like triangles as shapes and working along the diagonal with shots.  I suppose this came as a direst result of reading the book I mentioned earlier.  I'm always looking for shapes and angles with the way objects in the fram interact.  I can't say I succeed in my endeavours, but that's all part of the fun and what makes taking photographs a challenge.  This set of daffodils, with one fallen gave me a diagonal of intertest and also provided me with a triangle.  Again a wide aperture was selected as I saw the bloom of the foremost daffodil as the main point of interest in the shot.  f2.8 again with focus and exposure taken for the foremost bloom.  I could have used a longer focal length and concentrated on the bloom itself.  For me, this shot reminds me that the daffodils are in a group, under my silver birch trees and that when it rains they get knocked about yet still manage to look rather pretty.

Daffodils in my front yard.  Auckland New Zealand.
The last shot was inspired by the overwhelming number of daffodils planted close together.  It was this sea of blooms with these three bloom facing towards me that inspired me.  I tried to place the blooms of interest off to the side of the image and leave a significant portion of the fram to be filled with this sea of blooms, but out of focus.  I uses a wide aperture (f2.8) to blur most of the other blooms.
So many daffodils!!  Harlow Carr Gardens, Harrogate, England.
So there you go.  Interesting?  Boring?  Worth continuing?  Perhaps let me know what you think?