Friday, March 29, 2013

Some new toys!

Semi Leo on a gorgeous acoustic bass guitar
Some of you may be aware that I'm very fond of Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro.  I find this to be a wonderful tool for the processing of digital monochrome images.  Recently, Nik Software was obtained by Google and a pretty good deal for the acquisition of all the Nik Software was announced.  More than slightly tempted I have to admit to now being the possessor of most of Nik's software.

When shooting the bands one big problem I face is noise in the images.  Often the light levels are low and I have to use high ISOs.  At other times the choice of light colour is great for the atmosphere but really doesn't help when I'm taking photos.  Red is the bane of my life!!  Nik Software have a suite of product that seemed to offer some opportunities to address the noise and sharpening issues as well as perhaps let me be a little more creative in the way the images are interpreted ... and in colour too!

Bear in mind that I'm no expert here and, to be honest, will need to watch the on-line videos multiple times to get better appreciate just what can be done with these new tools.  So far, however, they seem to provide some wonderful options and I'm delighted with my new toys!

So, with the new toys installed on my machine I headed off to see Aqstik Soul in Botany.  Light wasn't bright and was pretty "flat".  No real contrast on the face or instruments.  This was ideal really for the tests I wanted to conduct at home.  Truth be told, I'm still working on the images to see how the Nik tools work, but thought I'd share one shot from last night.  The first image in this post is an unprocessed underexposed pretty bland image with no real atmosphere or emotion.  The second image in the post is after a few tweaks in Nik's software suite.

By no means a perfect image, but there is something about it that intrigues me.

There's much more "texture" in the shirt and Semi's face has more depth and structure to it.

Perhaps let me know what you think - it'd be good to hear what other folks have to say.  Right now I need to get back to my experiments :-)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

To HDR, or not?

I've been considering of late the benefits and risks associated with using HDR techniques for property shots.  I'm pretty happy with the use of HDR for exterior images, but am becoming increasingly dubious about the advantages of this technique for interior shots instead of using flash or studio lights.
7 shot HDR blend processed in Photomatix Pro
It was a comment from one of the agents that really made me think that HDR for interior shots may not be the best solution.  The remark was that the images looked "dark", which I didn't really think was the case.  However, "dirty" may be a better description!

Some shots seem to work OK, but are they really better?  In cases where there's many reflective surfaces the use of flash is quite challenging, but in "normal" rooms I can't help feeling that HDR techniques produce a less than realistic impression of the scene.  It tends to have a more "artistic" or painted look about it, which in some cases is entirely appropriate.
Tone mapped interior shot to balance window light and interior light.
HDR blend to emphasise the warm tones in the timber interior of this Lockwood home.
Is it quicker to produce an HDR image as opposed to using lights?  Well, in some cases yes, but in others most definitely not.  One bit problem I find is with whites.  I've played with HDR photography for several years now and have worked my way through the various effects achievable yet still find it awkward to produce "clean" whites as well as provide the necessary contrasts in the image.
Single frame HDR image to illustrate the "grittiness" or "dirtiness" achievable with HDR techniques.
Single Frame HDR image the accentuates the textures in the concrete.  "Dirty" perhaps?
Speaking of being "easy" or less time consuming consider the image below.  This was shot with a single light source, a 300W studio light with a 1m ball diffuser attached.  The aim being to scatter light all around the room and present the impression a clean, bright, white kitchen.  Little to no post processing and ever so easy to setup the lights and camera.  Would I be able to obtain the same effect with HDR?  I suspect not ... but perhaps you could!  If you can, then perhaps let me know how!!
Single shot image using a single studio light and ball diffuser.
Just for fun, lets take a look at two shots that may help illustrate what I mean by "dirty".  When working with HDR processes I've often been amazed by the extra details that appear in the processed images.  When looking for clean whites the unfortunate effect here is the details appear dirty.  Below are two shots taken at a wedding reception.  I'll let you decide which is HDR and which is not!

OK, so perhaps I've been a little enthusiastic with the HDR processing, but I think you can see the "dirtiness" in the second image.  The first image has no hint of this grubbiness on the walls, whereas the second seems to accentuate it.

As I said at the start, I'm still contemplating the relative benefits of using lights and HDR for property shots.  As such, comments, hints and tips are, as usual, most welcome.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

An avenue ...

 ... a road having having trees at regular intervals along its sides.  I think they're lovely.  Wonderful dappled light and often quite cool.  There's a lovely avenue of oak trees in Cornwall Park, but of special interest is the plaque at the start of the avenue.
Commemorative plaque in Cornwall Park, Auckland.
It's entitled "The Trees" and it is inscribed thus,

They who plant an avenue of trees cannot in the nature of things hope to enjoy them in their maturity and grandeur.  They plant for generations unborn.  Much that we have and prize today comes to us from our fathers.  they did not make or build to last their time but rather that something worthy should mark their passage and be their memorial.

Makes you think a little doesn't it?  In this world in which we live I seem to be finding fewer people with the attitudes of the avenue designers and planters of old.  No real thought for tomorrow,  just the here and now and most things are disposable rather than maintainable and repairable.  Somewhat sad really ... or is this just progress?

Besides lovely trees and views there's also Acacia Cottage which has the distinction of being Auckland's oldest timber building.  Quite a bit to see and enjoy at Cornwall Park really!

One of the many fine specimen trees in Cornwall Park.
Acacia Cottage in Cornwall Park.
Looking towards Auckland City's Skytower from Cornwall Park.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Ponsonby and Grand Central again.

Alan Brown on keys last night.
Every other Thursday night at the Grand Central in Ponsonby there's a chance to hear some very talented musicians.  It's the Alan Brown Project with vocals by Cherie Mathieson.  Last night was really rather good fun and I think each member of the band was having a great time.

Light levels were quite low ... as is usually the case at the Grand Central ... so I set the camera to ISO5000 and the lens wide open at f1.4.  Focus wasn't the easiest, and at such a high ISO the shots are a little noisy, but perhaps that adds to the atmosphere?

The light was red ... oh I hate red lights at these venues!!  It really doesn't help me with colour shots at all, so quite a few of the shots I've converted to black and white.  I'll just post a few images of the band members in this post.  Maybe let me know what you think.  Perhaps let me know if you prefer colour or monochrome?
A monochrome treatment of Andy Smith 
Here's Andy having fun in colour
Junior Turua lurking in the shadows under the stairs!  VERY low light!!
I told you the light was red!!  Here's the gorgeous Cherie Mathieson.
Jono Sawyer at the back in the rhythm section!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Puhinui Reserve

Puhinui Reserve
I'd had a meeting at the airport and on the way home decided to pop into Puhinui Reserve.  This has long been the place for horse trials so there's some wide open spaces as well as a few copses and a very nice lake close by the entrance to the park.  It was this lake that I wanted to see again.  You may remember a post from back in 2009 where I shot the same scene onto which I superimposed my mother's favourite poem?   The weather was quite different then and the trees were a lovely autumnal colour.  Being as we've had hardly any rain I was curious to view the scene again.

I must admit to finding the light on the trees somewhat awkward due to deep shadows, and the scene just didn't have the same appeal as it did under autumnal conditions.  I tried a portrait shot (see left) and a couple of landscape shots ... I even tried a conversion to monochrome ... as well as a few different crops.  Was I happy with the results?  Well, not really :-(  Perhaps let me know what you think and how today's shot compares with the one from 2009.  I'd be especially intrigued to hear what you think of the black and white image.
Landscape view of the lake in glorious colour ;-)
Landscape view of the lake in monochrome ;-)
I suppose the final version.  2:1 crop and tweaked in Color Efex.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Bella Kalolo at Jellicoe Park.

Bella Kalolo on stage at the Music in Parks event in Onehunga yesterday.
Great to see Bella on stage again yesterday and judging by the audience's response I wasn't the only person who enjoyed her music.

I must admit to finding the Music in Parks events challenging in a different way to the low light shots I usually take of the bands.  Now the issue is more of "interest" in the shot than available light.  What with tents, parked cars and plain white tents for a backdrop there's not a not of interest really!  Also, all those things that often blend into the background are now quite well illuminated by the sunlight.  Under a tent the light is diffused and very even, so contrast levels are significantly different to the artificially lit shots in bars and events centres.  I try to keep the lens wide open to blur the confusing backgrounds, but this can cause focus problems.  The shots in this post were taken at f2.8 with a 200mm lens and you can see in the first image that Bella's left eye is nowhere near as sharp as hr right.  Quite different to shooting in the studio!  Here the "model" is in constant motion and correct focus with shallow depth of field is challenging.

The aim for me yesterday was to get a few shots of Bella.  I'm still going through the images and trying to decide if there's any worth keeping.  She's a very attractive lady and puts a lot of emotion into her songs.  I need to be careful that the emotion from the singing and her natural beauty is not lost or confused in my images.  Perhaps let me know what you think of the three shots in this post?  It's always helpful to get comments from people that can help me do a better job next time!

Anyway, I'll keep working through my images, but really wanted to share a few with you and encourage you to visit Bella's website.  Who knows, she may be visiting somewhere near you and it'd be such a shame to miss her.
Bella Kalolo in monochrome again
This time you can see Bella in colour.  Any preference?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Music in the Parks ...

Wonderful hat design at the park today!
A few folks grumble about the way Auckland Council performs, but the Music in the Parks initiative is something that I think is something quite special as well as something for which they should be congratulated.  During the summer months the council provides free concerts in its parks at which some web know New Zealand artists perform.  It's wonderful, and judging by the people at today's event on Onehunga, well liked and appreciated.

Today's event had Bella Kalolo supported by Funkommunity and was really very good indeed.  Such a relaxed atmosphere, easy parking, very family friendly and best of all, great music!  I'd not heard Funkommunity before but was quite impressed with their performance.  Perhaps checkout their website as there's options to hear their performances on there.  To be honest, I'd popped along to see Bella.  Such a gorgeous voice and quite an entertaining lady on stage too!  I'm still sorting through the shots of Bella and her band and will post those in a subsequent posting.  for now I'll leave you with a few of shots of Funkommunity.