Bienvenue à la maison

The Fuji X-T1 is home from his conversion for full spectrum photography and I took it out for half an hour this morning to quickly check it out.

 Dave Whenham

The two images on the top row are RAW files basically straight from camera; they were cropped and the exposure tweaked very slightly in Adobe Camera Raw to bring the histograms as close to the same as possible. The top left is the result with no filter attached and to my eyes the stonework has a slight greenish tinge whereas the ivy on the tree, which should be a dark, glossy green is paler as is the foliage in the hedge. Looking closely there is plenty of detail in the image though. The in-camera black & white jpeg was very “natural” looking however and I could use the camera for “straight” black and white photography if needed; the result wouldn’t match those from an unconverted camera but would be very usable.

Top right is the straight from camera RAW file with the 850nm filter fitted. This filter is mainly intended for black & white work (see bottom right) and I intend to purchase other filters as and when for comparison purposes.  My main reason for converting the camera was for black and white infrared photography and I’m more than happy with the result using this filter. My, very brief, experience this morning suggests I lose a stop with the 850nm filter in place which is more than manageable I think.

The channel-swapped mono from the RAW file (bottom left) is virtually indistinguishable from the in-camera black and white although the foliage is a little brighter in the latter. This could of course be down to the RAW conversion as much as anything.  I always shoot RAW+JPEG however so will have the luxury of knowing that I have all my options open. I’ve always been happy to use Fuji in-camera JPEGs and this hasn’t changed despite the camera having been converted.

So, a succesful maiden run this morning and I’m looking to putting the X-T1 through its paces over the coming weeks.  Watch this space for updates but in the meantime I’m off to check out what other filters are available!

 

Gradient Maps?

There’s a load of different ways to produce a black and white digital image (I shan’t get into film photography today!) and each has its proponents and champions. Each also has its benefits and drawbacks and I have always felt it better to have a suite of conversion tools at my disposal, picking what is appropriate at any given time.

© Dave Whenham
The Silver Efex Pro conversion – but there are many more options!

One that I’ve used rarely in the past is the Gradient Map but I came across mention of it when flicking through a magazine this weekend so decided to have another look at it.

© Dave Whenham
The straight Gradient Map adjustment gives a nice punchy result

© Dave Whenham

Applying a Gradient Map adjustment layer, using default settings and a black to white gradient produces a decent result out of the box with this image taken on the local canal this morning.

For many images I think that this simple method will produce perfectly acceptable black and white images with a great range of tones and the minimum of fuss.

But that isn’t the end of the Gradient Map tools powers as I was finding out the further I read. It is possible to map the colour tones in other ways than simply mapping them onto a continuum form black to white. How about using a continuum from yellow to blue? Stick with it, as this is the basis of split toning and whilst it appears to have fallen out of popular usage recently, at least on photo-sharing social media outlets, it is an extremely powerful technique that can produce some really satisfying images if used properly.

split-tone-canal_DSF0004
Split-tone (how “in-your-face” is down to you!)

The split-tone version (above) was created using two Gradient Maps and a Levels adjustment as shown in the screenshot below.

© Dave Whenham

The first Gradient Map produced the basic black & white conversion as shown at the top of the page. The second Gradient Map adjustment layer was adjusted so that the tones were mapped on a continuum from blue to yellow (I have not included detailed how-to as there’s lots of demonstration on t’web). At 100% the effect was rather overwhelming but by dropping the opacity down to 29% the toning was much more subtle although it left the image looking a little flat and lacking in contrast. A simple Levels adjustment layer solved the problem bringing the punch back into the image.

© Dave Whenham
Red/Blue toning

Now, toning isn’t to everyones taste but I enjoy having another tool at my disposal and there’s no doubt that used selectively it can be a very effective method of producing variety and creative options. The red/blue toned version above puts me in mind of some of the copper-toned prints I produced in my Mum’s kitchen back in 1978. However, my fingers aren’t stained, I haven’t accidentally bleached a sixteen inch wide stretch of her kitchen worktop and there’s no bottles of toxic chemicals under her sink!

So there we have it. A quick play with Gradient Maps and hopefully some ideas for your own investigations. Enjoy!

Timelapse – a particular pleasure

I write a monthly column for the MENSA Photography Special Interest Groups newsletter and there was some talk in the related Facebook Group a while back regarding time-lapse photography and I found myself agreeing to share my thoughts on the subject in a future column which I did in their November 2017 edition. I’m no expert, and looking at the MENSA Facebook group there are people there with more knowledge than myself but I had promised so I sat down and wrote the piece. I had planned on illustrating it but other things got in the way so it was eventually published with some “stock” images supplied by the Editor.

Firstly, don’t be misled by people who say that time-lapse photography can be achieved simply by shooting a 20-minute video and speeding it up to play back in ten seconds. To my mind that is not a time-lapse, it is simply time sped up and without the lapses. A true time-lapse is a sequence of images taken at regular intervals to record changes that take place slowly over time. When the frames are shown at normal speed the action seems much faster. They have a distinctive look and feel too, indeed you will have seen them used a lot in TV shows or films even if the technique isn’t known to you and they are often used to denote the passage of time.

If you own a camera and a tripod then you pretty much have everything needed to take a time-lapse, however one tool that I wouldn’t be without is an intervalometer, which is basically a shutter release that can be programmed to take a series of images at a set interval apart. Before you rush off to buy one though it’s worth checking your camera manual as many cameras have them built in without the need for additional purchases. My Fuji X-T20 for example has one as does the Canon 7DII and many Nikon, Olympus and Panasonic cameras. I found a partial list on the Lonely Speck website (link below) but your camera manual is the best place to check, you are looking for interval timer or similar.

Consistency and patience are also key with shooting time-lapses. For consistency, I always place the camera on a tripod and use manual settings for focus, white balance, aperture, shutter speed and ISO to ensure consistency between frames. Many enthusiasts will tell you that a slower shutter speed can create smoother footage and I certainly try to keep the shutter speed below 1/60th second where possible although this can be problematic outdoors on a very bright and sunny day so you may need to use a neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light entering the lens. I also shoot RAW files although many proponents of time-lapse would recommend shooting JPEGs, as ever you pays your money you makes your choice. For what it’s worth I usually use the JPEGs to quickly see if it’s going to work before batch processing the RAW files.

I prefer to set a low ISO setting as this usually gives better image quality and should help prevent unwanted noise in your images. It is also important to move the camera off of the Auto White Balance setting. Choose an appropriate preset and leave it there, especially if you’re shooting JPEGs.

Even with fully manual settings, one frame can expose slightly differently from the next frame, especially with rapid or constant changes in the light levels, which can sometimes result in a flickering effect in the final output but I have found that wider apertures can sometimes minimise this although a shallower depth-of-field is not necessarily the look that you are wanting so pragmatism has to rule and there are commercial software options to help reduce any flicker in post-production if desired although I’ve not yet found the need for them in the simple sequences that I produce. If you use filters, such as a graduated filter to hold back the exposure in the sky, then these should be in place and not touched again until you’ve taken the required number of images.

I always take a test shot before I start to make sure I am happy with the composition and exposure. Once I’m happy I take a final test shot but with my thumb in front of the lens so I know where my sequence starts. I do the same when I’ve finished shooting, with the thumb pointing down, to quickly identify the end of a sequence. Sounds daft but believe me if you’ve been out shooting for several days before getting back to the computer it really does save time!

So, compose the scene, focus and then lock it down and switch your lens to manual mode and leave it there – don’t touch it again until you captured all the images for your sequence. Which brings us to how many shots do you need. Well, that’s the typical “how long is a piece of string” question so as this article is intended to get you started I’m going to create a typical scenario and work with that.

So, a sunny afternoon sat alongside a stream in the Forest of Bowland, the sheep are grazing in the field below you and a gentle breeze is slowly wafting the white, fluffy clouds across a gentle blue sky. My first thought is how long do I want the finished time-lapse to run for – let’s say ten seconds will be enough. So now I need to decide how many frames I need, which is simpler than you think. We are essentially going to be creating a short video sequence and a typical video displays 24 frames per second (24fps) to give a smooth look to the footage. Which means that for every one second of finished time-lapse I am going to need twenty four images. I don’t need to tell this audience therefore that ten seconds of video needs 10 x 24 = 240 individual images.

Now, remember I mentioned patience above? The essence of time-lapse is the lapses, the gaps between each frame and for the scenario described here I would typically leave a five second gap between each frame. Different subjects and conditions call for different intervals but five seconds serves me well for clouds on a typical day. Which means that in a minute we will only be taking twelve frames so our ten second video is going to need 240 x 5 seconds = 1200 seconds or twenty minutes! I did say patience was important and when shooting time-lapses I’m normally grateful for a second camera (or a flask and a packed lunch).

So, we have set the camera up on a tripod. We have composed the scene, focused and locked off the lens and camera. We have set our exposure (aperture, ISO, shutter speed) manually and we have chosen an appropriate white balance in preference to the auto setting. We now need to shoot our 240 images (I would usually shoot more than I need to give me a little bit of wiggle room later if needed but it’s not essential) and for this we really do need an intervalometer. If your camera has a built-in intervalometer then it’s a matter of telling it how many frames and how long to wait between each frame, I can’t really cover the precise how-to here as all cameras are different. My Fuji X-T20 has a much more intuitive built-in intervalometer than those I have used on a Nikon for example. Without a built-in intervalometer you will need to purchase one that plugs into the camera and there are plenty of these available to purchase online.

Some cameras I believe will also create the time-lapse automatically in-camera for you but I prefer to do it myself so having captured my two hundred and forty-plus images I then head for my computer to do the next stage.  There are many different ways to create the time-lapse and in a general article such as this it doesn’t make sense to focus on just the one I use, Adobe Lightroom, as many other options are available including Photoshop and Elements. Just type “timelapse with [insert name of your software]” into your search engine of choice and you’ll get plenty of options to choose from.  There are lots of videos and tutorials available online for this aspect and even more opinions on the best way of doing it but for what it’s worth this is my typical work flow for a simple time-lapse.

I import all the RAW files into Lightroom, find the sequence (remember my “thumbs up” above?)  and select them all and then process the first file, copying and pasting these tweaks to all the other images in the selection. I feel it’s important to be as consistent as possible across the entire sequence, we did that by shooting manually and should continue this by giving every frame the same post-processing treatment. I then move to the Slideshow module in Lightroom where I use a preset to combine my 240 single images into a single ten second time-lapse video. I have provided a few links below, including one for the Lightroom preset, to get you started

I hope this has whetted your appetite, be warned though, time-lapse is addictive especially once you start adding movement into the capture of the images!

To finish a time-lapse shot from the bedroom window

Some useful links

An interesting discussion on flickering: https://timelapsenetwork.com/mini-tutorials/what-is-flickering-how-to-avoid-correct-it/

Creating a time-lapse in Lightroom: http://lightroom-blog.com/2013/09/17/timelapse-again-in-lightroom-5-2/

Create a simple time-lapse using Lightroom: https://fstoppers.com/education/create-simple-time-lapse-using-lightroom-160813 (this is also where I downloaded the timelapse templates from)

A beginners guide: https://petapixel.com/2017/04/05/make-timelapse-video-beginners-guide/

Lonely Speck website: https://www.lonelyspeck.com/list-of-large-sensor-cameras-with-built-in-intervalometers/

Pictures To Exe and the Mac … a match made in heaven?

Screen Shot 2017-08-04 at 18.17.08Pictures to Exe (P2E) is a photo slideshow application developed by WinSoft Ltd exclusively for the Windows operating system.  It’s been the go-to application within the audio visual world for many years now.  But what if you use a Mac? There are plenty of workarounds to be found on the Internet but to me they all seem to need a degree of techy skills that I lack if one was going  to realise the desired outcome.

Despite an expectation that v9 of P2E would work natively on Mac that unfortunately didn’t transpire so no reason for me to upgrade of course. I use v8 of the software on a Windows laptop and really miss the speed and convenience of my Mac; my laptop is snail-like compared to the older iMac. I also have to copy image files and other resources across to the laptop with a USB stick when using P2E.

Screen Shot 2017-08-04 at 07.16.22Although I knew it was possible I had been loath to look into running Windows on my Mac fearing, as I mentioned above, that it would be complicated and might compromise the smooth running of my other applications but frustration with the laptop finally led me to take action. Speaking to a more technically-minded friend he recommended a program for the Mac called Parallels and as I had a Windows 7 disc from my days as a Windows user lurking in the back of a cupboard I parted with £50 for the Parallels software.

Back at home, sat in front of the computer ready to begin the installation I was expecting some serious stress so I settled down with some soothing background music, a mug of black tea and a packet of chocolate fingers.

Having downloaded the Parallels software and started it running I settled back to wait but it almost immediately asked me to put the Windows operating system disc in the CD drive which I did before even opening the biscuits. I didn’t actually time the operation, I was expecting to measure it as in afternoons not hours and certainly not in tens of minutes but imagine my surprise when it announced it was complete and I’d barely got half way through the mug of tea.

It really was that quick and straightforward. I felt somewhat cheated and had only eaten a couple of the chocolate fingers too. And P2E worked!

Screen Shot 2017-08-04 at 07.15.54I’ve been using it for a few days now and have not noticed any performance issues from the Mac. I only run Parallels when using P2E and am astounded at how well it integrates with my Mac. I can prepare all my resources using the Mac as normal, particularly the Adobe Creative Cloud applications, save them as I would usually , where I would usually and they are available immediately from within the Windows environment.

So if you run a Mac and have been wondering about the ease of running your Windows programs I can attest to the efficacy of this solution. Truly the best of both worlds.


ps: because of the aforementioned speed issues with my Windows laptop I’ve never really got to grips with Pictures to Exe. I’m currently giving myself a crash-course in its use and hopefully the first test AV will be on YouTube later today.

Cogitating …

At the end of my “Something Different” blog last week I said I was off to do some cogitating. Well I’m still doing it – cogitating that is!

One thought that did come to mind was: What is the correct way to go about making a video. Or should I say “correct”?

Last week, I put together three videos in as many days using existing material, video and stills, from my files.  The audio was recorded as I went along and together with sound effects was the only part created specifically for the three videos apart of course from the tea-making sequence.  One thing I realised was that the oft-heard advice that the only way to improve was to get making videos was sound. After three days I had remembered most of what I’d forgotten about using the software and I think that the same will be true of shooting footage. I’ve dipped my toes in and out of video-making so often over the years that I invariably end up having to relearn things I’d already covered and therefore each attempt is no better than the last.

© Dave Whenham
Nine months since my last dabble in video creation

Making three videos in as many days, all using the same approach meant that each time I was able to build on the learning from the previous one. I genuinely believe each is better than the previous attempt and can say without fear of contradiction that putting them together in the software definitely got easier. Not easy … easier!

The first video, Something Different,  was built around a narrative and is something I was originally going to produce as a normal written blog post but given that it was about video making I thought it made sense to create a benchmark video. The visuals were selected to provide something interesting to look at rather than move the narrative along and I surprised myself by how much material I have lurking on my hard drives!

Video two, Something Different – The Sequel, has a definite theme. Again built around a narrative but this time the imagery relates directly to the subject matter.  I also found that I had material I would have used in the first video but omitted because I wanted to keep the running time to around three minutes.  The secondary aim of that video was to incorporate some drone footage that a friend of mine had shot and I was keen to use.

© Dave Whenham

Which brings us the the third, Black & White Landscapes. This has a definite concept, black & white, and the opening sequence was shot specifically for the video, in black and white. Like the first two videos it is narrative-driven, but this time I added something of myself (the opening sequence) as a way of appearing to be speaking directly to the viewer and the words themselves are perhaps more personal speaking as they do about I how think.  The main body of the narrative was adapted from a blog post from 2016 as I wanted to see if I could present the same material in two different mediums. Again I used existing material for most of the visuals apart from the specially shot opening sequence and I created the voice over on the day.

So, this trio of offerings are all built around a narrative with the images supporting the words. A bit like a composer writing the music to fit the lyrics I guess.  But some lyricists add words to music and some composer/lyricist teams evolve words and music together. Each approach works so I would conjecture  that the same can be true of video making?

One of my biggest stumbling blocks in terms of video production has been coming up with the initial idea. I’m beginning to realise that I already have the ideas – I write them regularly in this blog. Viewing these latest three attempts at video making, especially the third, I am starting to think that I can use this approach to present some of the ideas and topics that I’ve been writing about for some time now.  In doing so the mechanics of which comes first, words or images, becomes less relevant. What matters is how the thoughts evolve and how best to translate these into a finished piece.

Some things will need to be done differently that’s certain. I love writing, always have done, and enjoy playing with words and constructing sentences. I found when recording the voice overs that some of these sentences do not work as well when spoken aloud. Long sentences in particular.  Which means that the narrative will need to be written in shorter, tighter sentences. Without appearing clipped.

I will also need to think about what video sequences I need and make sure I shoot specifically for future videos to keep everything fresh and relevant. If for example I want to talk about the role of chance in photography the visual subject is not as relevant as if I wanted to discuss street photography for example.  However, taking that first example, I think it would work better if I took a specific example, say the Bluebell Woods, and shot footage specifically for the purpose. As I’ve already shot the stills that will mean returning on a suitable day to capture the video footage.

Everything needs to be more considered and deliberate, I can’t rely on somehow having suitable footage but need to plan ahead and capture it specifically. If I’d known at the time I would consider a video on the subject I would have shot video footage whilst working in the bluebell woods for example.

I also need to be more patient but that’s a whole new skill set for me to learn!

Of wardrobes and plastic boxes

I had an interesting hour Monday morning which culminated in me sitting in the wife’s wardrobe chatting to myself.

Pause for dramatic effect …

No, I’ve not lost the plot, well no more than usual anyway. I had been recording the voice over for my second video blog (yes a second) and whilst I was able to use the spare bedroom on Sunday, the main road outside on that side of the house is a lot busier in the week and waiting for lulls in the traffic is not an option.

I watched a ton of videos before heading towards the wardrobe mind. And there was method in my madness.  I will try to explain. Many of the videos I watched talked about putting acoustic tiles on the walls, eliminating extraneous sounds etcetera. All well and good for a professional or serious enthusiast but the casual blogger? Nah! Which explained why one vlogger I watched recorded her commentary sat in a cupboard and another under the stairs surrounded by coats and other outdoor items.  Not much good for voice to camera or talking heads style recordings I guess but for voice only it seemed workable.

© Dave WhenhamSo I looked about this house -no cupboard under our stairs, just the steps to the cellar and nor are there any handy cupboards with sufficient floor space for a six-footer like me to squeeze into. I settled on my wife’s walk-in wardrobe (except you can’t walk-in because of all her shoes).

By opening the double doors and draping these with dressing gowns I had a type of acoustic-cubicle when taken with all the clothes behind (sorry, should explain, clothes absorb stray sounds). I placed my microphone in an acoustic foam-lined plastic storage box on a chair, attached the recorder and then knelt as in prayer in front of the microphone.

With the bedroom door closed and draped in even more dressing gowns (how many can one woman wear!) and the floor length curtains pulled at the window I was as acoustically set up as I was going to be I figured.

Having used this makeshift sound booth for a few days now I can confirm that it does what it is intended to and I’ve recorded two complete narratives using this makeshift set up. It is also very quick and easy to set up, especially as I keep deciding to record just one bit more shortly after putting it all back to normal.  It wasn’t that comfortable if I’m honest, kneeling is no fun at my age I can tell you! The other problem was the floorboards, every time I shifted even slightly the microphone picked up the squeak of our ancient woodwork.

For now it works, if I end up using it on a regular basis I may have to think of a slightly more permanent arrangement – I can’t spend my life in my wife closet after all!