Afterexposure Photography

Image Hotness

51 seconds to a visual vocabulary

The last week was interesting, productive, and frustrating, all at the same time.

I was in Toronto for SecTor, a conference that’s somewhere between Blackhat, DefCon, and something more mainstream like RSA, after which I was in Vancouver for a few days of R&R, shopping, and of course, some shooting.

Actually, I had planned on doing a lot more shooting than I did. My preparations were a bit rushed, and I wasn’t really able to put together a shot list for the trip. It seems that writing, at least beyond the style of this blog, and my more to-the-point stuff I do at work (usually email) isn’t my strong suit.  Ah well; both are beautiful cities and offer a lot photographically, so I wasn’t too worried.

I sat down today to go through some of the digital images and found this single image jumping out of the stack at me:


Vancouver at sunset, from the hotel. Pentax K20D, 50mm f/1.2 @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/20 sec

The shot took a bit to develop; I’ve boosted the Vibrance in Lightroom to bring out the blue in the sky, as well as some light noise reduction with Wavelet Denoise … and to get the buildings to look straight(er) I did a keystone distortion adjustment in the GIMP as well.

After I was done editing the image a few things struck me.

First, I’ve always wanted to do this shot of Calgary, because I often see the city at dawn/dusk; although given the local topography it’s never quite this dramatic (downtown Calgary sits quite low compared to its surroundings).

Second, this is similar to a dawn shot I wanted of Toronto, but couldn’t get an early enough ferry.

And it reminded me of another of the shots I was planning on doing in Toronto, but didn’t due to poor weather;  one of those night cityscapes of the flow of traffic, like this one. The CN Tower would make the perfect vantage point!

My original plan was to add shot list notes into my iphone calendar so I could be at the right place at the right time for the shots I wanted. But I couldn’t describe the scenes. I had no way to say what I saw in my mind. I couldn’t say “high vantage point, city view, long exposure, with light trails”. I don’t know why. I can say those things when I see an image, but I couldn’t seem to turn an imagined image into words in the pre-trip rush.

So as the sun set I saw these images that were familiar to me; the fading sky reflected in skyscrapers that are often used in travel magazines, and I clicked away; here is a three image panorama that took a bit of work to stitch together… for some reason autostitch thought it should be a pyramid…


Tower. Pentax K20D, 50mm f/1.2 @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/15 sec, 3 images

I had pictured images like this in my mind before the trip, but for some reason couldn’t write them down. What the heck is so hard about “skyscraper reflecting sunset” ?

The last image wasn’t one I had ever planned, and the color treatment, using the Split Toning tool to amp up the blue in the shadows, well it’s quite heavy-handed… but what the heck. One thing that shooting with the iPhone app “The Best Camera” has taught me is that vivid color and simple composition are often the best to communicate an image.


Sunset. Pentax K20D, 50mm f/1.2 @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/180 sec

But what is that? I’ve taken shots like this before; but never described them simply. Is this “Silhouette against twighlight” ? Or “Geometric man against fluid nature” ? Bah!

Either works, but I guess I need to start reading something other than technical standards and linux howto’s if I’m going to be able to better put what I imagine into words. Without words to help me I’m not going to communicate or remember to get all the shots I want!

Incidentally, all 5 of the images here (the first one, the 3 that make up the tall pano of the skyscraper, and this last one) were shot within 51 seconds of each other.

Magic Dates in October!

If the colors of fall aren’t enough to get you out and shooting, here are a few more things to fuel your photography through the cooler weather of autumn:

October 10th: Pentax World Day #7 (a whole day of shooting and posting)


October 17th: Pentax World SyncSnap (a worldwide snapshot, but only at midnight)

You can read about both here on pentaxforums


October 17th is World Toy Camera Day!

From, and the flickr group.

October 19th: My Calgary 2009 Digital Photo Contest Submission Deadline

Details here, the winner will be announced at the Photo Expo (details below).

October 24th and 25th: 2009 Digital Photo Expo

I don’t know where I picked up on this, but for some reason I had this weekend as the date for the Digital Photo Expo here in Calgary.

Silly me.

It’s not until the October 24th / 25th weekend.

I suspect I added the wrong dates from either 2008, or from a very early announcement. In any case, check your calendar; last year it was a great place to troll through the sale bins from The Camera Store and fiddle with new gear from the big manufacturers.

With Canon skipping PMA in favour of CES, I wonder if they’ll do anything local? I know Pentax (US) does…

One image, two shots

A while back I posted about this digital shot I used to check exposure for a similar shot on the Diana F+ :

Parkerhouse, Digital

Parkerhouse, Digital (click for full sized image)

I got some time on Sunday night to develop the Lomography ISO 100 film after some leg work to figure out the correct time for my developer… it’s ‘Shanghai’, so for Xtol the Massive Dev Chart shows a 1+3 dilution and a 16 minute (!) soak. Here is the result, a little tweaked to match the slightly darker tone of the digital image, but uncropped:

Parkerhouse, 120 Film

Parkerhouse, 120 Film

Diana F+ Cheat Cards

I’ve never been really satisfied with the icons on the bottom of the Diana lens that change the aperture, and wanted more ‘exact’ information on what was going on.  After some searching, some fiddling, and some trial and error, here is a cheat card you can print and fold in half to hang from your Diana strap:

Diana Cheat Card

Click for full size!

For different editable versions, click here for the source doc in OpenOffice format.

This chart is a kind of nomograph; you select your film speed on the left, follow the line through the current weather/lighting condition in the middle, and you’ll find out which aperture to set the Diana to on the right. I didn’t put the little icons from the Diana on this chart on purpose as they are bit misleading. Just remember that f/22 is the smallest aperture, and is the little sun icon; f/11 is the biggest aperture, and is the cloud icon.

On the right side is a 35mm turn advance guide. I have my Diana’s winder knob marked off in ‘hours’, or 12 spaced tick marks, so this is the number of ‘hours’ per frame that you should turn the knob. So a ’12’ means one full turn. The X at the start is to load some film before shooting the first frame, and the bold ’10’ is where a roll of 24 exp might run out… same deal with the last ‘!’… you may or may not get this frame, depending on how accurately you’ve been winding.

So where did all this goodness come from? Not me! I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, here folks. Here is where I pulled the information from:

With very little digging I found a chart at Indian Hill imageworks that gives a great summary of exposure times.

But it was a little ‘big’. I tried printing it small, and hacking off the bits I don’t use, but still wasn’t happy.

I wasn’t really sure about the EV descriptions, either. So another 2 seconds of Google and Wikipedia had this to say about Exposure Values.

So now I could use more meaningful descriptions (at least to me), and I could use only the ISO values that I was shooting at to create my own chart.

I also wanted to put something on the back of the chart. Since I sometimes shoot with 35mm film loaded, why not a film advance guide that gives the number of turns per frame? With 35mm loaded there little red window is taped over, so you do have to guess a bit.

I started with this chart over at Photon Detector… but again… wanted something smaller. I also confirmed the number of turns by both putting film in the camera with the back off and counting as I advanced, and of course by shooting some film and checking the results. Depending on what you are using as a take-up spool, and if you use any masks, you might want to change these numbers.

Now, time to get out there and do some shooting!

The Best Camera ?

If you are an iPhone user, and a photographer, you probably have already heard of an idea / application / book / website from Chase Jarvis called “The Best Camera“.

Overall the concept seems to borrow heavily from the Lomographic Society and their branding; lots of lomo-style images to get you fired up; lots of filters to create lomo-style images; and lots of ways to share them, right from the phone. To be fair the style isn’t owned by Lomo, and Chase Jarvis did some work in this style that was (as I understand it) well known and liked before the amateur craze started.

It’s got warts and growing pains, but the ability to change the order the effects filters are applied in, learn from others and how they used the filters, and get some inspiration from the constantly changing live feed on the app on the website… it makes the iPhone camera worthwhile – even my crappy 3G camera.

It’s more fiddly, with more options, so it takes longer to get a ‘finished’ shot than with Polarize, but the effects can be similar. It can also use an image from the camera roll, so you can always mix and match.

It’s not perfect (yet)… there are a few missing features from the camera app and the website…

  • The camera app doesn’t have ALL the possible controls, but the selection is good.
  • The filters that you apply don’t have individual adjustments of their effects.
  • The shutter button is small, but at least it takes the shot when you release it, not when you press it.
  • When you share an image via twitter, there is no option to add a title or description to the tweet.

The web site needs a way to find images by a specific user, I think. That might make it too flickr-like, but unless you save the images to your phone or email them to yourself (and don’t delete the emails, like I did…), you’ll lose the images forever!

But overall it’s pretty cool, and worth the $3 for it in the App Store.

An image processed with the Best Camera app. Click to see the filters applied.

Diana Surprise

I shot a roll of Ilford XP2 Super 400 last week, and was all excited to develop it… until I realized that although it was black & white,  it needed C-41 development! Ooops! I bought it on a lark without even reading the box, just to take it for a spin, so not a huge deal.

For development I took it to Vistek, since they seemed a likely place to get C-41 120 format film developed, and they did a great job. If only my scanner was up to the job! Most of the scans have streaks in them; in some I’ve minimized them with some digital editing if it was overly distracting.

One technique that worked really well, and is a HUGE cheat, was to shoot every frame digitally first. I had my K10D with 28mm lens set to ISO 400, 1/60, and read the aperture right from the cameras meter. To confirm I did the shots in digital, and it also helped that I had set the camera to use full stops instead of halves or thirds of a stop. So besides a double exposure on the first frame, I ended up with a roll of perfectly exposed film, and 12 usable (if some boring) shots, which was sort of surprising.

The bigger surprise, however, was the clarity of the Diana F+ and it’s plastic lens in some shots. And the not-clarity in others. To get super-crisp shots is almost disappointing; I’d rather they came out all funky and weird! All of these images are hosted over at flickr, and you can see higher resolution versions of them there.

Decent clarity, nice contrast. Surprise!

Decent clarity, nice contrast. Surprise!

Or not so clear. Surprise!

Or not so clear. Surprise!

The interaction between aperture and focus is really pronounced on this camera. Even though the estimated apertures of  f/11, f/16, and f/22 seem to be grouped at the slower end, the depth of field can vary from almost infinite at f/22 @ infinity focus to really shallow at f/11 @ 1-2 meters.

Here are some more:

Sharp. Surprise!

Sharp. Surprise!

Not so sharp. Surprise!

Not so sharp. Surprise!

And on and on it goes:

Sharp, sort of.

Sharp, sort of.

Soft. Except for dead-center.

Soft. Except for dead-center.

It’s almost a 50-50 split between the sharp and soft shots from that day.

Fairly sharp (less so at full resolution)

Fairly sharp (less so at full resolution)

The physical prints are fairly impressive in their own right. Although they were only printed at 5″ x 5″, they show a bit more shadow detail and tonal range than the scans do. I was expecting something less crisp; what I had read about this type of chromogenic film was to expect ‘dye clouds’ instead of silver particles… well, that’s not exactly accurate. At large print sizes I could see it contributing to the overall quality, in fact I could see using this film for just that effect with the Diana, or any Lomo camera, especially when it could be printed at poster sizes, or bigger. I think I’ll compose some images for printing at LARGE sizes and see what I get.

Right now the Diana has some of that no-name Lomo film in it, and then I have some T-Max and Delta that are going for a head-to-head in my developing tank, so look for more black-and-white goodness over the next few weeks.

Just for fun: Cross-Processing

First off, this isn’t about cross-dressing, like the killer in ‘Dressed to Kill’. (Great movie. Lots of little plot details. Even a bit of a photography angle, in the form of character Peter Miller, who hides a camera to catch a killer.)

Nope, this is cross-processing; the intentional developing of one type of film in chemistry intended for another. You’ve seen the look; like Kodachrome, but more vivid, darker blacks, and blown highlights, and often incorrect or unnatural colors.

Cross-processed Fuji Sensia 100

Cross-processed Fuji Sensia 100

When I got the Diana F+ one thing that drew me to it were the samples; unreal colors and flaws that are really difficult to produce by editing digital, if only because of their apparent randomness.

My first couple of rolls were some Lomo 120, ISO 100. Not bad for outdoor use in bright light. But black and white; and I developed myself – the first time in 25 years, so a little lacking in deep blacks. But that’s another post.

My third roll, and one I was dying to shoot, was some Fuji Sensia ISO 100, a slide film. I had purchased it intending to use in the Kodak Stereo Camera on a mountain hike, but the hike evaporated, and there sat the Diana, just begging for some color film.

The first surprise is how hard it was to get it processed here in Calgary. Within 15 minutes of me are probably a half-dozen drug-store processing machines, all C-41 (print chemistry). What I had was slide film, or E-6 chemistry. I did a little leg work and found that neither WalMart or London Drugs would take it, first citing fears that I wouldn’t like the results, and second that it might somehow gum up their machines. I did a little reading after that, and found that the only film that’s likely to do that is Kodachrome – no longer available. (There are others, but likely to be in unmarked/self-loading 35mm cans).

In that search I found a local lab that would process it ‘wrong’ for me, but I’m going to have to keep it a secret; I don’t want a sudden influx of hobbyists flooding the lab because they don’t make much (if any) money from it. If you have a roll, live in northwest Calgary, just do some leg work (and a Google search). You’ll find it.

The next surprise was that the slide film came back as a negative… I hadn’t thought about it; all the shots that I’d seen online, even those with sprocket holes, seemed to be clear slide film. A thread over on APUG showed me the light; the chemistry dictates if the results are positive (slides) or negatives (for prints).

But it wasn’t an ordinary negative; the actual film substrate turned green. Yikes! Again, the APUG threads indicated this is normal-ish… for certain films, notably a few of the Fuji’s, like my Sensia. Ah well…

My next challenge was to scan it and see if I could invert it digitally. I was hoping to avoid any digital manipulation at all – and go totally lo-fi, but what the heck; I had an HP film/photo scanner, so let’s see what we have…

Step 1: Scan as Slide

The scanner did some pretty funky things to the scans if I told it to ‘scan as negative’, so I lied to it and said it was a slide. Also, for this sample strip I did NOT use the film loader; it hides the sprocket holes! I put the slide into a print carrier, which is just a bit of clear plastic with a white paper backing that is only sealed on one edge. Great for feed loading delicate items, like this. But the big reason why I like this way: I get sprocket holes.

What the film looked like from the lab. Ugh! (click for bigger version)

The scanner saves this as a TIFF file; which is perfect for more manipulation…

Step 2: Color Inversion

This is really straightforward: I loaded the image into the GIMP (think ghetto Photoshop) and selected ‘Invert’ from the Colors menu. That’s it.

Ooohh! Thats looking better...

Ooohh! That's looking better... (click for bigger version)

I saved this step as another TIFF file also, so I could come back to it if needed. These files aren’t high resolution, so the files are really small, about 2.4 MB.

Step 3: The Tweaks!

This is where things get personal. I used the curves editor to drop the red a few notches, and bump up the blue and green. In the curve grid I simply drag the point from the right hand corner; straight down for red, and straight left for green and blue. Play around until you get it ‘right’. It’s possible to actually get colors that are really normal – but where is the fun in that?

The result: Lomographic goodness.

The result: Lomographic goodness. (click for bigger version)

That’s really all there is to it. You’ll notice that I didn’t get the film advance right, and one frame is damaged. Meh. That’s part of the process. If you don’t want overlapping frames then take the time to load and count turns; I used about 1.25 turns at the start of the roll which was waaaay to few; and 2 turns in the middle  – waaaay too many; and about 1 turn at the end… which was about right. That sounds like a whole ‘nother post, so I’ll leave it at that.

My flickr page has a few more samples, sans sprockets. Comparing the two: Sprockets Rule!

Another one bites the dust…

I just tried to have a roll of color slide film shot with my Diana F+ cross-processed at the local Royal Oak Wal-Mart in Calgary last night.

No Dice.

The kids looking after the photo counter were afraid of ‘ruining’ my film. That has to be one of the funniest things ever, since the chemistry of cross-processing has just that effect.

Ahhh…. kids.

So I thought I’d wait until later today, and see if I could get one of the nice day-shift techs at the London Drugs next door to take a stab at it. They were excellent with the oddball film from the Kodak Stereo camera, so this should be a breeze for them.


No dice at the Royal Oak London Drugs, either. They’d never heard of cross-processing, and thought it might damage their machine (ie, contaminating it’s chemistry). They thought they might be able to do it if they sent it into their custom lab, but I doubt that the lab would understand, either, and would either process it as slide (wrong) or cut it (wrong), or god knows what else.

Next stop… Vistek. The only camera store in Calgary that has ever been rude to me.

I’m sooo looking forward to this.


Update #2:

I now have a super-secret location for cross-processing.  I don’t know how long the good times will roll, but I’ll roll with them…

Photo hosting; a quick comparision

This post started an excuse to try using my account with WordPress, but I think a quick comparison of the hosting services I use might be fun.


This was my first photo hosting service, but their terms of service are kinda whacked; like having to post a link back to flickr with each image, like this:

Random Flower

Blech! I much prefer using the static flickr url so I can get the WordPress border and title; and the photo still links back to flickr, so I don’t think it’s a TOS violation.

Ever see fog outside when you wake up? Grab your camera and get out there!

Ever see fog outside when you wake up? Grab your camera and get out there!


Normally I use zenfolio; unlimited storage and very few other limits it’s my first choice. Because it’s a paid service there are no distracting advertisements and it’s really slick looking.  If you like how it looks use my referral code ‘X1V-31U-ZJR’ and get another $5.00 off the already super duper cheap annual fee.

Weird building in SF; click to see it under construction in Google Maps.

Weird building in SF; click to see it under construction in Google Maps.


I have a photobucket account that I never update, and just recently re-discovered. It looks really … plain. Ah well. I think I was going to use it as a dumping ground for family and friends type shots that I didn’t want on the same hosting service as my portfolio work. There are still a couple of shots that are worthwhile, let’s give them a whirl:

Details, details...

Details, details...

Whoa! That’s toooooo wide! That about wraps it up for photobucket… with no image resize options for blog posts, it’s out!


And apparently a lot of my older blog posts from used my account on Googles Picasa. Let’s see if mine still works:

Cold beer in a North Beach bar.

Cold beer in a North Beach bar.


Zenfolio just rocks. I have an unlimited account with them and am tickled pink that for once, I got what I paid for. Great stuff.

flickr seems to be the #1 image sharing site, and they have addressed some image-use rights questions over the years, which is good, but their requirement to provide back-links from static image URL’s is really inconvenient for some web uses. It seems ok for WordPress for now.

Picasa is owned by Google, and despite the fact that it works, I have growing fears of Google and their ‘Do no evil’ mantra that seems more and more tarnished lately. I’m not sure I want to trust them with my images.

Photobucket is just plain fugly. Hard to navigate. No image resizing. No thanks!

Visualize it. Dare ya!

I mentioned yesterday that if you visualize something, it will happen.

Today I’m the proud owner of a darkroom.

Yup, just like that …. *poof* and it appeared.

Well, actually I was Googling around for a developing tank, and found a classified on kijiji … a guy about a mile away from me was selling a complete darkroom setup. A phone call later and I was on my way.

It was like this weird light surrounded me and a voice said “This one’s for you!”.

I like when that happens. I should visualize more. Like an actual room to set this up in, for a start…

And the homework from yesterday? Due Monday. I have a darkroom to build.

Accidental Exposure

I have a series of photography business related posts that are gestating in draft mode that just aren’t getting the attention they deserve. Something is distracting me…

On the weekend I bought one of these; a Diana F+.

Why, oh why, would I buy another camera?

Something about the imperfections and unpredictability really appeals to me. It’s fast, off-the-cuff photography. Not the super-buttoned-down studio style that I sometimes do. And certainly not how I frame and compose most shots; square on, level, and … boring. I’d been looking at flickr images tagged with lomo, holga, etc, and the honesty and simplicity really grabbed me.

I was visiting family in Edmonton on the weekend, and as chance would have it I found a retailer that stocked the Holga, Diana, and a ton of Lomography stuff. So on Friday I become the proud owner of a plastic lens camera, and I started to see the world around me in cross-processed, light fogged colors. Ahhhh….

I got up early the next morning, thoughts of the Diana and it’s image style compartmentalized, a memory of yesterday, not part of my today yet. I was in Mr. Photographer mode, of course I was shooting with my Pentax K20D, 360 flash, and 50-135mm lens, which usually travel with me.

I wanted to take some stock shots of the gardens;  really shallow, even out-of-focus images, to make page backgrounds for wedding albums, and since summer here is so short, having stock images isn’t a bad idea.

Then something odd happened:

White balance? White balance? We dont need no stinkin white balance!

White balance? White balance? We don't need no stinkin' white balance!

Ack! A mistake! An error! Ewww!

I hadn’t had my morning coffee yet, so with bleary eyes I switched the white balance to daylight, and kept on shooting. I forgot all about it; we had brunch, drove home to Calgary, and got caught up with chores around the house.

Tonight I managed some free time to sort through the 150+ images I shot, and came back to this image.

Wow, it’s an unpredictable, improbable error! And it’s really cool! And it’s digital!

And it took buying a plastic camera with a plastic lens to make me see that happy accidents don’t always have to be on film.

Food for Thought…

Of all the kinds of photography there is, the easiest has to be food photography. I have no idea if I’m any good at it, but man-o-man do I like the subject matter!

A couple of nights ago we had deep fried zucchini flowers; tempura batter, some beer, a chilled bowl and hot oil in the wok. Wow.

Zuccini flowers... we saw them at the market and knew what to do!

Zucchini flowers... we saw them at the market and knew what to do!

Then tonight was a baked onion dish with bacon, cheese, and herbs in cream. A heartstopper. Just a few spoonfulls on a plate and you are done.

Onoins as main dish. Rosemary, bacon, cheese, and friends.

Onions as main dish. Rosemary, bacon, cheese, and friends.

More experiments with film; scanning and stereo!

Some time ago my Dad gave me a Kodak Stereo Camera as a novelty from one of his antique store forays. I’d wondered if it still worked, so I took it to the Lethbridge airshow. With lots of aircraft on static display, it would be a good place to try it out. It has some very limited settings for aperture and shutter speed, and focus is by guesswork, using a distance scale; the viewfinder is actually the square window between the lenses, just above the green bubble level.

Kodak Stereo Camera

Kodak Stereo Camera

Originally slide film would have been sent to Kodak and they would have cut and mounted the left and right images in cardboard to make them easy to use.  Keep this in mind if you have one of these cameras and would like to try it out… starting with slide film will save you a TON of time later on. All the unused film I have handy is 35mm for prints; not slides… had I known how much hassle I was about to cause myself I would have sprung for a roll of slide film for sure.

For starters, the images from each lens are almost square, and quite small. They are interleaved 3:1 on the negative, and that was the first hurdle. The photo lab couldn’t print or scan them because of the non-standard size… the tech tried, but the spacing didn’t match the standard mask sizes.

That left me on my own; I could go to a pro lab and explain to them what I wanted, and it would have cost a fortune in labour… or I could buy my own film scanner – but still have the same problems with needing non-standard image masks and having to realign every frame. What I ended up doing – photographing the negatives – was far more work, but the end results are (almost) worth it. If you get close enough to the screen and let your eyes cross the images below should fuse to a single 3D image!

Final result: A left+right image pair. Click for a larger size.

Final result: A left+right image pair. Click for a larger size.

After some failed experiments simply photographing the negatives against window light, I mounted a flash on one end of a 4 foot long bit of wood, my trusty K20D with a Tamron 70-300mm macro on the other end. One thing I had read about photographing negatives is that the orange cast of the negative can be best dealt with by gelling the lightsource to blue/cyan. I picked a strong blue gel from my freebie pack of Lee filters, and my first guess was pretty good (I think it’s #200 – Double C.T. Blue). I also put four layers of a white plastic bag in front of the flash as diffuser.

I mounted the negative at roughly the minimum focus distance. I used a folding cardboard slide holder taped against the bottom of a shoebox, with an oversized hole cut in the box. The flash was a few inches back from this, firing into the box to limit light spill. The camera was set to ISO 100 and f/11. Because of the spacing of the flash and camera I used some cheap eBay triggers; to keep the sync right I set it to 1/30 second shutter. The hotshoe trigger also gave me a handy mount for the flash.

The steps of transforming the negative to positive required some trial and error. These links should help: (scroll down to Dave Martindale’s post)

A negative, lit from behind with a blue gelled flash.

Starting from the image above, here are my steps using the GIMP (Photoshop should work too):

1. Switch to the color picker, and choose an area of neutral orange (the sprocket holes, for example) or something known to be grey (like a cargo plane).

2. Add a new layer using this new foreground color

3. Invert the new layer from orange-pink to blueish. I ended up editing this blue tint to be Red: 0, Blue:255, Green:175, after experimentation. A different filter on the flash will mean these values will change!

4. Set the new layer to ‘Overlay’ mode. This should improve the color range, but it’s still a negative image.

5. Merge the new layer down (you should have only one layer now)

6. Invert the layer; it won’t be quite right yet, but it should be close

7. Edit the curves for red, green and blue individually; I just selected the midpoint and dragged it up or down very slightly. Also edit the brightness and contrast to taste.

Hope this helps anyone looking to scan or copy old negatives with their digital camera. For the money a good flatbed scanner, with masks for 35mm film is going to save you a lot of time.

Alberta International Airshow

Last weekend we snuck down to the city of Lethbridge, Alberta, for the ‘Alberta International Airshow’. It’s not as big an affair as the old airshows at the old base at Namao (Edmonton), but the more relaxed atmosphere meant lots of space up at the fence to get close to the action… not that you needed to be very close with a unexpected treat like this old girl:


B-52 (in black and white, for a vintage feel)

All of these shots were done with the Pentax K10D and K20D.  The K10D pretty much had the 16-45mm lens on it all day; the K20D had either a 50-135mm f/2.8 or Tamron 70-300mm (sometimes with a 2x TC on it). By having two bodies with different focal lengths I was able to switch quickly, and by pairing the K20D with the tele’s I could use higher ISO’s that the Tamron needs (f/8 for best sharpness) without sacrificing shutter speed. The day was pretty warm and hazy; I’ve color corrected the sky in these back to a better shade of blue, and in some cases have done additional color treatments to bring out some extra pop in the shots.

Easily the most photogenic aircraft was this silver P-51 Mustang; the nearly chrome finish really makes it stand out. Turning up the ‘Clarity’ slider in Lightroom also added a whole lot of punch. I wish I had selected a slightly longer exposure time to let the prop blur more; the plane was actually turning in front of the crowd so I’ll have to settle for this:



This shot was chosen from several frames for the pleasing clouds and clean ground under it. The other shots had ground antennas, trucks, and ground crew visible. Ick!



And who can resist a nice sharp shot with no distractions?



The Mustang also flew a bit with a Harvard trainer. They trotted out a number of older planes to celebrate 2009 as ‘100 Years of Flight’ in Canada. This particular shot is a tight crop to isolate the aircraft, but also leave in a nice cloud in the distance.

Mustang and Harvard

Mustang and Harvard

A nice young lady from Montreal gave us a wing-walking show; she starts off by lying in the criss-crossed cables between the wings for take-off, then clambers up to the top wing for the show.  The sun wasn’t at a perfect angle for shooting most of the action, so the best shots were of the aircraft from crowd-left. For most of the of the show the sun was directly across the runway from the crowd fence, making for pretty uninspired shots; when a plane did a dive and was lit pleasingly the shots have much better color.

Wing Walker

Wing Walker

A pleasant suprise was the show from the ‘MiG Fury Fighters’, which was entertaining. They had an old T2 trainer, and did a simulated dogfight with a MiG 15 and MiG 17. Nice. They also did several ‘beauty passes’, so I’m sure there are a lot of folks with shots like this one:

MiG Fury Fighteres: T2, MiG-15, MiG-17

MiG Fury Fighters: T2, MiG-15, MiG-17

Another suprise is that they could afford to take a CF-18 and paint it up in non-combat colors for the airshow circuit this year. I honestly didn’t think we had enough of them to spare… but I’m not complaining… flat grey fighters are pretty boring! For this shot I wanted the water vapour that get squeezed out of the air during high-G manouvers.



Not as clear, here is a similar effect from another angle:



I also shot several rounds at 22 frames per second (the K20D has a super-duper burst mode that nobody seems to talk about much) so I could capture the Snowbirds doing their close-pass manouvers. Here is a particularly interesting 4 plane cross… I’d love to have shot this from the second seat of one of these planes… they used to be trainers, so they sit two-abreast.



All in all a great show; I think this is one I’ll do again next summer, although I’ll bring more water and more ice next time. In total I shot about 20GB of images; what you see is just the fraction that I’ve looked at so far.

For memory cards I had a 16GB SDHC card in the K20D. It meant less changing cards, although I still used a Hyperdrive Space for making backups, and dumping the 2GB card in the K10D (my 4GB cards had disappeared in my bag for the day!). I can’t rave enough about the Hyperdrive; I upgraded the hard disk from 40GB to 250GB; plenty for vacations or extended shoot assignments. The built-in battery is enough for about 40GB worth of backups, and you can buy or build an external battery pack for cheap. It also charges from USB or AC, and I’ve noticed a lot of USB power in airliners, rental cars, and hotel business centers, so power is never an issue.

Splitting Atoms II

In a prior post I wrote a bit about possible changes that might take hold in the photographic imaging business, specifically in the world of content creation, and the effects of microstock image warehouses and photographers and models that shoot ‘for free’.

Some would argue that the availability of high quality equipment has made this possible; the rise of the inexpensive dSLR and the enthusiast shooter. Some might point to sites like Model Mayhem as the root of all evil for making trade shooting available to the public (and by ‘public’ I mean ‘aspiring models’, as opposed to ‘professional models’ that don’t flake out on shoots… but that’s another rant…). Some might point to the internet as the great ‘leveler of markets’, where price information gets confused with value information, and chaos ensues.

I would argue the inevitably of it all; in fact, I would argue we haven’t crested yet (or troughed, if you are a glass-half-empty type). I think we haven’t seen the bottom of the price curve.

The crest, at least as far as past experience in other industries has shown us so far, happens when we can outsource the content creation, but use the internet as the medium… no agency, no face-to-face meetings, and sadly, no client lunches to write off. I would see this as half way between stock shooting and a commissioned shoot; with the client requesting only the general parameters of the image content, and letting the ‘market’ deliver the service.

Note I said ‘service’, not ‘experience’. That’s a key point in Pine’s video from TED about the next split in industry as a whole. Of course it’s happening now, but it’s not pushed out to Jane & John business owner in a big way.

So what’s this have to do with splitting atoms?

In a previous life at IBM (yeah, about as far from creative photography as you can get… no wonder I quit!) I participated in the creation of services, and one important thing we did was to identify the value of our people and their roles within the processes we used to deliver our services to our customers.

The key activity was to split what was previously seen as an ‘atomic’ element – usually a person – into two parts; their innate expertise, and the humdrum stuff that we could stuff into a process that anyone – or any computer – could do.

This splitting of person from role is the important exercise. If you let the people focus on the creative stuff, and encapsulate all the supporting the processes into a web-accessible format, you could open the door to a new niche of industry; one where the client can get high quality content for a much lower price, and the creative team is much more focused on creating, rather than unprofitable administrivia.

There is also the flip-side to Pine and his notion of ‘the experience’; there is great value in delivering something special to the customer directly; this is evident in successful photographers that continue to command high prices and have a style with great market value.

A final thought; it’s not important which side you choose; or even to choose at all.

It is only important to know which side of the coin you are working on.

A photobook cheat sheet

Back in June I shot a wedding, and at the same time was having a promotion, so I thought … ‘What the heck, let’s try printing their wedding as a book!’. I’m glad I did… one of things I need to do is build better estimates of the actual amount of time it takes to perform all the post work, and assembling a whole book was an unknown to me. Short answer: it took more time than I thought… (more on that later), but the results were great:

Take a few wildly out of focus images for page background shots.

Take a few wildly out of focus images for page background shots.

I organized all the print-resolution ‘Picks’ into a folder, fired up the free layout software they provide (you could do your own .pdf if you like), and started the process. I tried a few things at first to get used to the software, which is a breeze to use, and then settled in for a full-day edit session. I wanted to know how long it would take, start to finish, for a 40 page book (which, by the way, is not only the minimum book length, but it’s also a tight squeeze for the ‘Big Day’, so count on using more pages).

I also wanted to try out all the possible layout options; white background, image backgrounds, and a couple of their ‘canned’ backgrounds. I wanted to know what would happen to the middle of an image of a two-page full bleed image (answer: bad things!). I wanted to know if the edges of an angled inset image would be smooth or jagged (answer: very smooth!). Do white image borders still look corny? (answer: yes!).  I had a LOT to try out.

Lots going on: An image background, and some angled insets.

Lots going on: An image background, and stacked and angled insets.

I knew the result of trying so many things would make the book, taken as a whole, slightly inconsistent from page to page. But it would let me use it as a sales sample tool… prospective couples (who am I kidding – it’s really just the brides) could hold it in their hands and get a feel for how the decisions they make would look.

The first mistake I made was choosing the less expensive softcover book; go for hardcover; after all it’s what the couple will be choosing for their book, although the extended family might opt for softcover versions. Although the paper and image qualities are fine, the softcover is attached to the rest of the book with a slightly different binding. It does mean that the cover won’t be creased when the book is opened – which is great – but the deep, tight binding means the pages don’t lie very flat, and a lot of image is lost into the spine. Also, the hardcover binding option they offer just looks damn cool, so that’s what I’ll order next time.

The cover is lying flat, and the pages loose almost 1cm of image into the binding, so beware!

The cover is lying flat, but the pages lose almost 1cm of image into the binding, so beware!

I made a special effort during the wedding day, knowing that I’d be needing additional images for the book to use as backgrounds, to ‘shoot everything’. How well did that work? It’s harder than it sounds. I went to the hotel room the bride and bridesmaids were using to get ready, and didn’t think to shoot a table of room service trays of food – it was just messy. Later, when I was laying out the book, I realized what a fantastic background that would have made for a page of fun shots. After all, they obviously had fun eating it, but there would be no photo to help them remember it, and food, taste, and smell are such powerful memories!

I ended up using a swatch of the wallpaper as a background, and it worked out ok, but I can still see that half eaten slice of pepperoni, taunting me…

Wallpaper as background; I decided to use sepia images for a complimentary look.

Wallpaper as background; I decided to use sepia images for a complimentary look.

Some obvious things to check are red-eye and resolution. I had a couple of red-eyes in the crowd shots; nothing major, but I can’t believe I missed them. Once the ink is on the page the only red-eye tool that is going to fix it is a Sharpie!

The other thing to watch – and their software will help you with this – is image resolution. You really don’t want to approach the minimum resolutions for any of your files; I had some small crops that didn’t survive being printed large, despite the software confirming they were ‘ok’. I should have manually up-rezzed them myself first. The print process emphasized the jpeg quantization matrix in one of the monochrome images; thank goodness it wasn’t the bride! You can always confirm the final calculated image resolution with their software, so don’t worry too much; it will protect you from make really blunderous errors.

Source material is from a 14.5MP Pentax K20D, and APS-C sensor. There is plenty of resolution for a two-page, full bleed spread.

Source material is from a 14.5MP Pentax K20D, an APS-C sensor. There is plenty of resolution for a two-page, full bleed spread across two 8.5" x 11" pages.

It took about 12 hours to do the entire layout; I suspect that should fall to 8 hours for 40 pages next time, and perhaps 5 hours for 50 pages as I improve the workflow. If you add the extra prep time for background and detail images, and the postproduction time on the proofing, uploading, and ordering, it should be ‘about a day’ to put the book together, using the flow of events to guide the chronology of the images.

Floating sharp inset images stand out nicely over intentionally out-of-focus backgrounds. This background was actually a shot of the centerpiece that didnt make the cut.

Floating sharp inset images stand out nicely over intentionally out-of-focus backgrounds. This background was actually a shot of the centerpiece that didn't make the cut.

When I thought I was ready to print I had a couple of questions for their tech support; they use a live person on the other end of a 1:1 chat window. Although typing is slower than talking, it does mean that swapping URL’s is possible. And the fact that I was conversing with an well informed person at 10pm MST was just awesome!

The first question I had was finding the final trimmed crop marks. This was important because in my layouts I wanted some of the inset images to bleed right off the page. To see the crop marks you have to start the upload process, and the first step is the creation of a temporary Acrobat file that shows the real crops.  The file has the word ‘Proof’ across all the pages, so you can’t just print it yourself, you have to go to step 2, which is to ensure that you’ve actually proofed it, and then you can upload it, and provide payment info.

Proofing tip: If I had printed the Acrobat proofing file I would have chosent to make these inset shots about 50% bigger. Against the busy detail of the dress macro shot they get a litte lost!

The second question I had was more of a puzzler – what about color management? The short answer – “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. If you use their software to do the layout, they take care of it, because you’re basically using sRGB jpegs on the input side, and their software (and printer) on the output side.

No color-balance worries here; the DJ's lights weren't going to show in the early evening light, so I gelled some strobes to add some punchy color.

I chose the slow-boat shipping to save some $, and the wait was agonizing, but the book did arrive well protected; in a plastic sleve, wrapped in soft foam, inside a corrugated cardboard mailing box that was just the right size. Again, impressive!

The only quality issue (that I haven’t bothered to call photobook about, because it’s soooo minor), is that one of the pages is rippled in the middle, as if the quantity of ink was too high and the paper became wet. It’s so slight that it can only be felt; under normal light it can’t be seen. If you look at the page edge-on, into a light, the slightest of shadows of the ripples can be seen. I’ve heard great things about photobooks service, but for this slight an issue I’m not going to give them a call. But if you are a tactile person you should probably check each page individually when you get your books.

I would still like to try out some other photobook printers for comparison, but if I had to print a book right now, I’d have no reservations about using them again. The images I’ve used in this post were intended as samples for my web site, and were shot pretty wide open on purpose; if you want to see more samples,  head over to photobookcanada and have a look at what other formats and styles are like.

I hope you’ve liked this post, it’s a bit long-ish to cover the material in one shot, but I think it’s deserved in this case.

For me this is what makes wedding photography worth it; its like bottling a moment of distilled happiness.

For me this is what makes wedding photography worth it; it's like bottling a moment of distilled happiness.

Published – on TV!

The fastest shot-to-publication ever?

Calgary storm

Calgary storm

I shot this at about 3:12 local time, and it’s 3:46 – it’s already run on’s TV broadcast – twice!

Wow those cats are fast!

My wife called me outside to see the approaching storm (and to gloat that it would miss us – as she predicted), so I went upstairs to a handy vantage point, clicked, and ran downstairs to develop it from RAW and upload it to their user site.

To my complete shock by the time I got to the TV the presenter (Natalie Thomas, I think), was already mentioning imagery from active weather in Calgary… and it was up after the commercial break.

Total turnaround time: 20 minutes!


A Tale of Three Umbrellas and a Gel

I was just reviewing some shots of Kasandra (one was poster earlier). She is a make up artist that did double-duty as model on a recent shoot, and what a gem she is:

Pentax K20D, ISO 400 ,f/9.5, 1/90 sec, 135 mm, smc Pentax 50-135mm f/2.8

I had been experimenting with white umbrellas (reflective, not shoot through), and found I really prefer the light over a harder reflective material, like silver.

This shoot would be a chance to try out a lighting arrangement that normally would need a bunch of reflector cards, softboxes, and such, but since we were shooting on location I wanted to pack a bit lighter, and keep the setup time down to a minimum.

What I decided on was a variation of butterfly lighting. I knew she would be sitting, and these would be head-and-shouler shots to show off a necklace, so I placed a chair about 6′ from a scrap of seamless background paper. The room was too narrow for a a full 10′ wide roll of seamless, so I put up the portable background stands with only two lengths in the horizontal crossbar, instead of all three.

For light, I put two umbrellas up high and in front of the model, pointing about 45° down. In these shots the light stands are just barely out-of-frame to the left and right. I found that the shadow under her chin was too dark, and a small 2′ x 3′ white foamcore didn’t help enough.

To give a more even light I put my most controllable light, an Alien Bees ABR-800 (that’s right, a ringflash), on it’s umbrealla adapter (which is a curse and should be redesigned…), and put this third white umbrella on the floor, pointing up. No stand, just a pile of black scrim fabric under it, to give it the right angle. Which by no coincidence was 45° up. It was so close to her that she could touch it with her feet.

The main light in the first umbrella (on image-right) was an old hot-shoe flash on full power. It’s an old Sunpak auto 28, but for whatever reason it has a really short recycle time, making it perfect for ‘strobist’ style use.

For the fill umbrella on image-left, a second hotshoe flash, I chose my new Pentax 360. It has good manual control, so I turned it down to about 1/4 to nearly match the main, but not quite, to give some shape to her face.

The Alien Bees is quite a powerful light, so I kept it down to 1/32 – 1/16 territorry. All of these lights were fired from ebay style radio triggers, which aren’t bad for this kind of close range work. And the new ones use AAA batteries in the receivers, so rechargables are now an option.

The resulting image (above) was pretty darn good, in terms of matching my vision. It could be developed has high-key with more juice, but really I was going for a slightly lower tone and DR in the main colors to make it more suitable for print. If you look at the exposure data you’ll notice this was done at ISO 400; this is because the main was already at full power, and couldn’t pump out more light.  I could have set up a heavier stand and put the ABR-800 up in the air as the main, but balancing the output of that monster of a light with a puny little hotshoe flash would mean I would have just turned it down anyway. I could also have opened up from f/9.5 to f/8, but if you look closely enough you’ll see that at f/8 I would have to start making trade-offs in focus; the back of her pony-tail is already starting to blur; and my focus point was either the corner of her eye or her hairline around her ear.

On and off throughout the shoot I added a fourth light, right behind her head; it was sometimes pointed forward, to give her a nice rim light, but that also showed too many fine / stray hairs. Toward the end of the shoot I decided to gel this strobe and point it at the background; I think this color was a Lee Filter ‘Bastard Pink’, and the resulting images from the last 10 minutes really came to life:

Pentax K20D, ISO 400 ,f/11, 1/90 sec, 108 mm, smc Pentax 50-135mm f/2.8

The effect of the gel on the white background paper is remarkable; and the hue of the light is very close to her lipstick shade. I think when I looked in the LCD after this shot I told her she looked like the color of a sorbet!

I hope this inspires you to play around more with inexpensive lighting; I could have substituted a cheaper light for the under-fill and claimed this was done for $200 in gear (three $20 lights, three $20 umbrellas, two $20  stands with hotshoe/umbrella brackets, and two pairs of $20 ebay trigger sets.).

Maybe I should change my tagline to ‘the $20 strobist’…

Panoramas – tripod -vs- software

Last post I found that for casual use, the new version of Photomatix did as good a job as lugging along a tripod.

The other obvious use of a tripod for landscape photography – besides long exposures to capture subtle colors – is for panoramas. But what about software that does the alignment for you? And special mounting hardware that makes sure you are rotating the camera body around the image plane? How does all this stack up against software?

My choice for panorama stitching has always been autostitch. It’s fast and reasonably featured, and best of all, free.

How well does it stitch non-tripod shots? Pretty well; here are four shots, taken by simply rotating at my waist and clicking away, and merged with autostitch:

(Click for full sized image.)
Mt. ChesterPentax K20D, ISO 200, f/4, 1/500 sec, 16mm, 4 exposure pano.

There are some cheats you should know about:

– I metered the scene between 1/350 and 1/750 from dark to bright, so I used AE-Lock to hold it at 1/500th. Manual mode would have worked just was well. This means there is less variation in exposure across the entire pano, and the software doesn’t have to do unnatural things to flatten the exposure ranges closer together. It does mean the sky blew out near the sun… next time I’ll try using the brightest part of the image as the exposure base and see what happens.

– I kept all foreground objects as far away as possible. No tall grass, no rocks, etc. The shift in position of objects gets exaggerated the closer you get, so keep everything at a distance. The mid ground is far enough away that it doesn’t shift much against the background, Mt. Chester.

– The software didn’t 100% match the features of the left part of Mt. Chester exactly. There was some slight ghosting that took about 5 minutes in the GIMP (my image editor of choice, also free), using the clone and heal tool to clean up.

– The lens I used is ‘rectilinear’, which means that even at 16mm it tries not to act like a fisheye. I could have used a longer focal length, but that would have meant a two row pano. Hand-held, multi-row panos are still possible; I’ve done up to 4×4 like this, but the distortions are so severe that you lose a lot to cropping (to clean up the rough edges).  At 16mm I was able to get the foot of the rocks and the peak of the mountain in the background in a single image row.


Other than slight image alignment ghosting, I think autostitch comes out on top for panos like this; after all, the software AND tripod stay at home, which means a lighter backpack.

For interiors and man-made objects that have lots of straight lines, a tripod and good mounting is the only way to go.  I’ve not tried this one yet, but something like a Nodal Ninja should do the trick; it looks light enough to hike with, and strong enough to hold up a full sized dSLR.

High Dynamic Range – Tripod -vs- Software

I used to have a quiet chuckle to myself when I saw someone hiking with a tripod lashed to their backpack.

Well, turns out there still IS a place for that archaic camera support… the HDR (and maybe Panoramas… next post…)

Well, maybe.

It took me nearly an hour of cropping, rotating, tweaking, and otherwise fiddling to get three exposures to line up to produce this small sample shot, using an older version of Photomatix (2.3.2):


Pentax K20D, ISO 200, f/8, 50mm, 3 images @ 1/90, 1/180 and 1/350 combined.

Not bad; I was using really low resolution jpegs just to get a feel for the process, so it’s not as sharp as it could be. But all the tweaking to get the images to line up really bugged me, so I checked for a newer version of Photomatix.

Turns out the new version is really pretty good, and even has an alignment mode that works on matching common features. I chose another image set to see how long it would take, and how well it would align:

Behind Chester LakePentax K20D, ISO 200, f/22 (I know… I know…), 16mm (smc Pentax 16-45 F4 ED AL), @ 1/30, 1/15 and 1/8 sec

This image took the new version of Photomatix seconds to process. I spent a few minutes fiddling with various slider controls that adjust the various tone mapping parameters, but Holy Cow, the alignment is perfect. I did spend a minute in the GIMP to clean up a couple of dust spots in the sky, but from start to finish the results are as good as you could hope for, even with a tripod.

And one more little plug for Pentax Shake Reduction… look at the exposure info again… the brightest shot was at 1/8 second, resting on the top of a trekking pole. Nice. I should have opened it up to f/11; I thought it was f/16 but I think my thumb slipped when I was balancing the camera on the top of the handgrip of the pole and it got cranked up a notch.

Perhaps if the only goal of the hike was to make perfect images – then I’d take the tripod, but for casual use like this… Photomatix is the way to go.

A Two Fur. Or Two-fer. Or Two for Two.

I just loving living in Calgary; the mountains are about an hour away, and if you get on the road early enough you’re almost always going to see some kind of critter. Deer are almost as common as cattle around here, and coyotes and rabbits are seen almost as often as cats and dogs, even in the city.

Last weekend was all teeth and claws:

Da Bears

Pentax K20D, ISO 800, f/8, 1/180 sec, 600mm (Tamron 70-300mm LD Di + 2x Tokina TC)

And this weekend was all hooves and horns:
Da Mooses

Pentax K20D, ISO 200, f/4, 1/90 sec, 135mm (smc PENTAX-DA* 50-135mm F2.8 ED [IF] SDM)

I’m really not sure what next weekend will hold… but I bet it’ll be furry!

… and I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again… the in-body Shake Reduction feature of the newer Pentax dSLR’s is just AMAZING. These shots were both hand-held!

Human Statue Shot. Film at 11.

And you thought I was kidding!

Bronze Guy

Bronze Guy

His gal got shot too…

Bronze Gal

Bronze Gal

These were shot at the Calgary Stampede… there is an arts & crafts hall that featured life sized bronze statues of horses, moose, etc in these big graveled areas ringed with big rocks, trees, etc to look like your average mansions driveway.

Perched among the real bronze statues are these performers, also bronzed, and they were at times indistinguishable from the metal statues… to the point where some people just walked on past – close enough in a few cases for the statues to reach out (slowly) and nearly touch them.

Good fun!

Equipment – Does it make a difference?

I was chatting with the model / make-up artist Kasandra about Twitter and photography, and was showing her what it was like to take a quick picture, post it, and tweet it. This was shot with my trusty old iPhone 3G:
The resulting photo is more behind-the-scenes than actual photography, but what the heck.
Of course I was really keen to see what the finished images looked like from the Pentax K20D with the 50-135mm f/2.8 SDM lens that I was shooting with…
Needless to say, there are a lot of differences between the shots; optical equipment aside.
But we’ve all heard the old drum that ‘the equipment doesn’t make the photographer!’
Yeah. Sure.
But what if …. in some crazy corner of the world … you could make the second image with a lowly old iPhone. We’ve all seen links to galleries of ‘Amazing iPhone images
Hmm…. sounds like a great challenge… the next time I’m shooting like this I’ll see what I can do to ‘improve’ the ‘ol iPhone shots a bit. I know I’m going to start with the lighting… I just need a trigger…

Friday Fail

I just sat down to process todays shoot, and Lightroom opened with Fridays pics that I hadn’t processed yet.
I did a quick scan and this series of shots caught my eye… until I looked closer. Damn. Would have been a nice shot:

Nice wine, crappy choice of wardrobe & reflection…. If there is ANY doubt that Friday is Hawaiian shirt day at work, this should erase it…