Stand developing: follow-up

Any lack of sharpness is down to poor camera craft!

As a brief follow-up to the Stand Development post, here is an image printed in the darkroom from one of those negatives.

A brief recap. The camera was a Nikon EM with a 50mm “E” lens. The film, Kodak 400TX (expired circa 2013) with this particular image being taken in early 2016, so the latent image has been languishing in the camera for over three years.

The print is grainier than I would prefer but as I already noted this was not the perfect situation for trying stand development. However, this is a straight print and despite the tonal differences between Zac and his background the whole print had a 17 second exposure under the enlarger and I have not needed to use contrast filters or any dodging and burning.

So, whilst it is unlikely that I shall be using stand development for 400 ISO films in the future I shall certainly be employing the technique from time to time and it’s a useful tool in my developing (pun intended) toolkit.

Panoramic woodland

Panoramas are often seen as a landscape photographers tool but they have many other uses and I like to use them in all sorts of settings, not least in woodland. Two or three vertical images stitched together can make for a very detailed 1×1 image for example and whilst the resultant image does not look like a panorama as we know it the methodology is exactly the same.

The image here though takes a more traditional approach and stitches multiple images to create a super wide panorama without the need to crop out a large chunk of the image top and bottom which would have been the case if we’d used a super wide lens to capture everything in one frame. Indeed, this particular image is a 180° panorama and even a fisheye would have been hard pressed in this instance!

For less ambitious stitched panoramas I will typically shoot 4 or 5 frames, overlapping each by around a third and using the camera handheld. Practice has helped me in this as the camera needs to pivot around the same point (on all axes) to avoid large alignment shifts which result in having to crop deeper into the stitched image. Given that I was looking at a 180° panorama for this image I shot my frames with the camera firmly mounted on a carefully levelled tripod. The initial image (below) was created using the merge function in Photoshop and is shown exactly as produced. Note the blank areas where no data was captured and how small they are; this means that the tripod was allmost levelled perfectly but not quite!

The panorama is made up of 13 individual files as can be seen here and Photoshop has applied masks to each so that the final image is comprised of a little of each individual frame. You can see the progression of the lens as it was moved between each shot.

Once I was happy that it was properly aligned I simply flattened the file to create just one layer with the raw panorama ready for processing in the ordinary way. As I set white balance, aperture, ISO, focus and shutter speed manually I tend to stitch the files first and post process afterwards.

Levelling the tripod is important as it means that you maximise the usable area of each frame. Overlapping each sequential image by between 35% and 50% gives the software the maximum material to work with and creates a better stitch. I always shoot an extra frame either side of my intended area – if my intended scene extends from B to E for example I’d shoot frames from A to F inclusive to ensure that my intended outer edges of the image are fully covered.

Single-shot verticals (drone)

A bit of an obscure title I know – that’s what happens whilst you type “out loud” I guess as you fumble for the right words.

The Mavic Pro’s gimbal gets a fair bit of stick for being so exposed – but it means that it can shoot natively in a vertical format which means “portrait” images using the whole sensor rather than cropping from a “landscape” or horizontal image.  I was just coming to the end of my mornings flying (battery was at 20% and I’d already used both spares) when I remembered this facility so I took a couple of test shots. It’s a facility I’ve not used before and indeed rarely seen mentioned. I wished I’d thought of it when shooting the long exposures of the lock gates a few weeks back.

© Dave Whenham
Shot from above the flood plain at Woodside Lock.  Apart from lifting the shadows slightly this is basically as-shot

I could see this being useful if shooting waterfalls or any image with a “tall” subject, for example a lighthouse. I shot a lot of panoramas today and with hindsight could have switched to portrait mode for some of those too as this would have given extra height (and is more like the way I shoot panoramas with a stills camera too).**

So, despite over 16 hours flight time I am still happily learning!

© Dave Whenham
Four hundred feet up – spot the pilot!

**POSTSCRIPT

I took the Mavic out the following morning, set to Portrait Mode, selected the Panorama 180 mode – and the camera swung back to horizontal for the sequence before returning to portrait mode at the end of the sequence. Seems I’ve not missed a trick with my panoramas!

 

Long exposures at the weir

My first attempt at a long exposure wasn’t a resounding success but it provided some very useful food for thought and experience.  It also provided a surreal moment as I woke on Sunday morning to find it featured in Flickr’s “Explore” section despite its obvious flaws.

My second attempt therefore was made on a slightly more open stretch of the River Calder although for the initial close-in shot, the trees on the left hand side and part of the front of the scene were still fairly close to the drone. Once again I am using the Freewell 10-stop ND filter.

© Dave Whenham

I have visited this part of Cromwell Bottom a few times recently, shooting the weir from above as an incidental part of a wider scene as well as deploying the infra-red Fuji.

My aim was to keep the shutter speed to around 1 – 2 seconds increasing the ISO if needed in order to do so. In the event it was a bright sunny morning so I was able to keep the ISO at 100 and still shoot with the desired shutter speeds.

© Dave Whenham
weir at Cromwell Bottom, River Calder 10-stop Freewell ND filter

I was using the iPad with the drone for the first time and the larger screen was a boon in quickly identifying that movement was still an issue when the drone was just 14 feet up but as the height increased the stability improved. As I mentioned earlier there are a lot of dense trees to the left of this shot and immediately behind the little monitoring station. I had wondered if these would help shelter the drone perhaps from the slight breeze but on reflection wonder if they were once again swirling the drones own backdraft around? Whatever, once we clear the trees matters improved although that begs the question what would happen in a stronger breeze?

The four images above are straight from the drone and even at this size the motion blur in the first is very evident. I needed to reduce the exposure time for shot three but looking at others I took around 90 feet the thoughts on height affecting motion blur in this situation hold.

© Dave Whenham
Weir at Cromwell Bottom, River Calder

All of the images shot at between 1 and 2 seconds above tree height were very usable, and if the scene had been more photogenic would no doubt have been properly processed too for my Flickr feed and blog.  However, this trip was about learning the possibilities and so I wasn’t precious about the actual view. The question remained though, could I salvage the first image, shot from just fourteen feet up?  I took the unprocessed image into Photoshop and applied the Shake Reduction filter. I manually selected five areas to provide multiple traces for the software and as you can see above the end result was definitely usable.

© Dave Whenham
Flood damage from a couple of years ago is still very evident

I played with a few exposures between 3 and 6 seconds but wasn’t happy with the results of these on the day. It could be that such lengthy exposures are possible on very still days but that will need some further tests. For now an exposure time of between 1 and 2 seconds seems to give me a nice creative look to the image without too many problems vis-a-vis image quality. As with the first attempt I am very pleased with the neutrality of this ND filter too.

© Dave Whenham
Shot of the Day: weir at Cromwell Bottom, River Calder 10-stop Freewell ND filter

So, a successful morning, a few more lessons learnt and some more food for thought. I’m looking forward to shooting some 1 and 2 second shots above the Northumberland shoreline in the Autumn!

Long-exposure

Not my best photography ever but I learnt a lot from this mornings mini test on the footbridge over Woodside Locks.

© Dave Whenham

Part of the reason for venturing out this morning was to scratch an itch and also to test a new filter. It had to be done very early (I was out well before 7am) to ensure I didn’t get in anyones way as this towpath is popular with cyclists, joggers and dog walkers at almost all times of day.

I fully understand the concept of ND filters for the drone, especially in controlling shutter speeds for smooth video, but have been surprised to see advertisements for ten-stop ND filters which can extend exposure times into the seconds even in bright sunshine. As drone photographers we tend to keep our ISO at the lowest possible setting but even at 100 ISO and on an overcast morning in the shade of some trees I was getting eight seconds this morning.  I could have pushed the ISO up and reduced the shutter speed but the purpose of today was to learn rather than create an image for the wall.

As you can see from the image above, the drone was no more than seven feet above the bridge over the lock with trees encroaching to within the same distance from above, behind and the right.  The morning breeze combined with the downdraft from the drone in such a confined space meant it was struggling to remain perfectly still; indeed I was surprised at how buffeted I was stood below and slightly to the drones right.

© Dave Whenham
A proof of concept shot (Freewell 10-stop ND)

An eight second exposure was probably a lot to ask in these conditions! I knew it would be tight under the trees, I’d even put the drone into Tripod mode to ease it gently in to the space, but had not really appreciated quite how much wind turbulence there would be.

A healthy dose of the shake reduction filter in Photoshop has produced an image that confirms the filter is neutral, and that given the right circumstances it should be more than practical to use slow shutter speeds in daylight to achieve a perfectly acceptable long-exposure from the air. To be fair I could have increased the ISO and thereby increased the shutter speed to 2 or 4 seconds for example, but this was after all just a quick  experiment to see whether the new filter lived up to the good reviews I’d read online and to prove that the drone could hold still enough for a longer exposure.

I’m convinced  that in a better environment I will be able to capture some interesting and creative images with the drone. I probably need to avoid hovering in what was effectively a wind tunnel next time! Mind you, that won’t stop me trying this again with a shutter speed of 2-4 seconds to see if that helps.

FREEWELL ND1000

The filter I was using this morning is a Freewell FW-MAV-ND1000 Filter. It fits snugly and easily and is also straightforward to remove afterwards yet still feels very secure on the lens. Drone start-up and gimbal calibration was not affected and the files have no appreciable colour cast in the test shots I took this morning returning an image with the same colours compared to shots from the same basic area and height but with no filter attached.

One panorama – three stitches

A quick experiment. One set of nine images and three attempts at stitching. The first in the DJI Media Maker, then in Photoshop and finally created in Microsoft ICE. In all cases I set everything to auto.

© Dave Whenham
First, the nine original images in Adobe Camera Raw

© Dave Whenham
Into DJI Media Maker to be automatically stitched. Note the locks are incomplete.

Ignore the overexposed sky in the top right quadrant, the original files are similarly over exposed. Note how DJI Media Maker automatically crops the image.

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Now, Photoshop. The canal is sadly misplaced with a new Cut on the left!

© Dave Whenham
Finally, Microsoft ICE

Microsoft ICE also has an option which if enabled causes the software to attempt to complete the missing elements.

© Dave Whenham
I have manually cropped this auto-completed version but there’s lots of edge distortion.

Conclusion

In this quick test none of the three automated methods produced what I had envisaged although DJI media Maker made the best attempt. Before I closed ICE down however I manually cropped the automated version (with auto-complete turned off) which gave me the best version of this test.

© Dave Whenham
The final version – manually cropped in ICE

Shooting panoramas with the drone

If you’ve read any of my recent posts you’ll have noticed a few spherical panoramas as I’ve been playing with this feature on the Mavic Pro. Here are my thoughts having had a chance to shoot a few panoramas and played with them in post processing over the weekend.

The Mavic Pro has four panoramic shooting modes accessed via the DJI Go4 app which I use on my iPhone 7 when flying the drone. These are:

  • Vertical panorama – 3 frames
  • Horizontal panorama – 9 frames
  • 180° panorama – 21 frames
  • Spherical (360°) panorama – 34 frames.

I’ve seen other (different) frame specifications in some blog posts so I can’t comment on what’s available for, say, the Air but these hold true for me at this moment in time.

I found the vertical panorama less useful so haven’t really played with it that much. The horizontal panorama however is a format I’m very familiar with and enjoy shooting.

© Dave Whenham
Horizontal panorama – 9 frames

The 180° panorama is not something I play with very often when out with a camera, largely because it needs a specialist tripod head to get consistently good results. However, with the drone doing the technical bit I had nothing to lose by trying it out. Twenty-one frames with the drone adjusting itself between each shot automatically.

© Dave Whenham
Twenty one frames – the drone does the hard work too!

So far, my basic workflow has been:

  • Shoot the images with one of the panoramic presets
  • Quickly stitch and review on the app (depends on how critical composition is, I often skip this step)
  • Batch process the RAW (DNG) files in Adobe Camera Raw and save as full-sized JPEGs in a separate folder
  • Stitch the panorama using the DJI Media Maker app on my computer
  • Finishing touches in Photoshop

This has worked very well and I’m very happy with the results I’ve obtained so far. However, the DJI Media Maker app is very much an automated process with minimal user input and I do like to provide my own input! Artistic input if you like. I’ve been playing with Microsoft’s Image Composite Editor (ICE) this morning and that is looking interesting. I am running ICE on an iMac using Parallels software to overcome the Windows/Apple differences. I suspect that in this mixed environment ICE may run a little slower than in a native Windows system but have no way of verifying this.

© Dave Whenham
My first attempt at a spherical (360°) panorama with the Mavic Pro

One thing I should have done before shooting my first spherical panorama (above) was some basic research. Whilst I like the result I could have positioned the drone more carefully and kept the canal within the frame with just a little more thought. But that is what my regular visits to this location are for – to try things out, to learn and to make mistakes before visiting a more distant location. For example, I could have stitched this immediately on my phone whilst the Mavic was still airborne and got a sense for the finished result there and then, which would enable me to adjust my starting composition and shoot the frames again.

© Dave Whenham
One of the intermediate stages as the original long panorama is turned into a sphere.

When I got that first panorama back I wasn’t happy with the resulting sphere it created and after some further research I went back two mornings later and tried again.

© Dave Whenham
Spot the difference – broadly the same view but composed a little differently with the final spherical composition in mind.

Back home I stitched the 34 frames using the DJI Media Maker software (a free download from their website) and then took the panoramic image (above) into Photoshop to create the pre-visualised spherical panorama. Notice how the edges of the panorama become the central element.

© Dave Whenham
Second time – luckier!

So, there you have it. My basic panoramic workflow using the drone and my initial thoughts on the subject.