Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Orchid House

Collage of orchids
If you like orchids, The collection at the Orchid House, Queens Park, in Mackay is definitely worth a look see (and photograph).
Posted by Picasa

Under the Moreton Bay Fig

"Joiner" style collage made in Picasa Autostitch panorama Moreton Bay Figs [Ficus macrophylla] can grow into massive trees, and it is quiet difficult in a single photo to convey that all embracing size, especially when you are enjoying the dappled shade well underneath the tree’s embrace. My simple solution is to take lots fo images. These two starkly different collages where prepared from the same series of photos, which followed up the mighty branches to the patterns in the foliage above me.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

PhotoProject :: self portraits into photoimpressions

Photoimpression, self portrait as if a tonal sketch  PhotoImpression inspired by MC Escher style tesselations
Yesterday’s post was inspired when I found myself being a part time portrait model for the Victorian Artists Society. Normally I’m one of the students. I figured if I mounted my camera on a tripod and used the remote control, I would be able to take some photos as I posed. I also figured if I put the images on my computer it could also be running up some self portraits using Mosaic Creator, all while I posed. An automated self portrait? That was the theory!pages from my sketch book Well the remote didn’t behave so I did have to get some assistance, thanks Chris. Technology …c’est la vie! I had analyzed the colour palette and rough composition in a set of sketches before hand and thought that fractal flames would make great tiles for a photoimpression style of mosaic, starting a pastel portraitand I had pre-prepared a small set of tiles to be my mosaic palette. Well the lighting was different enough as I sat and I had to “recalibrate” the colour scheme for the fractal flames after the event, to get a reasonable colour image but I did get some good tonal sketch-like results on the day. Was a lot of fun, even if it wasn’t truly an automated self portrait.
I’ve also posted the two photoimpressions above, along with my “words” version, from the post below, over in flickr to let you see the detail, Just click on the images to see them larger.
By the way I adopted the term photoimpression back in 2008 to describe my approach to creating photo mosaics, I note a growing number of, phone apps, software packages and websites now also use the term, and my techniques have nothing to do with any of these.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

PhotoFriday :: Last word on self portraiture

self portrait in as many words
A self portrait in as many words.

Created by sampling a photo with a custom brush using the alchemy plug-in and Corel paint, Click on the image to see a more detailed version over on flickr, so you can read the words

For PhotoFriday‘s topic words

Monday, June 25, 2012

Returning to Geotagging–seeing satellites & calibrating the time

I haven’t every stopped geotagging, just maybe I haven’t been talking about it much here. Ok, there was a little while back in Europe last year where I got slightly discouraged. I had been using Geotag Photos and loved it but one day java automatically updated itself on my PC and next one of the scripts for geotag photos promptly stopped working. The error message looked simple enough, it was trying to load a file from a location that didn’t exist. However, when you are travelling you don’t have time or energy left to ponder such bugs. So I keep collection my GPS tracks and photos, figuring I could post process the location later (as opposed to each night. Somewhere In Germany I discovered GeoSetter and downloaded it and wow what great features it offered. Now the interesting part of the story. My mobile phone, which houses the GPS automatically adjusts itself for the local time zone and if you are wandering around near Salzburg, sometimes the roaming on your foriegn phone finds a French telco and sometimes a German telco and for some very strange reason the German times were an hour ahead (no that wasn’t supposed to happen, it was some sort of roaming telco glitch). The result was a lot of my post processed photos where geotagged at the wrong location. I just lost patients before I found the time shift in my GPS tracks (months later). In actual fact that isn’t a problem with geosetter as there is a nice time change feature (providing you realize the time shift) which can be applied at the time you processing the data. It also maps out your route and photo locations on a google maps, providing you have internet access. Which is a great way to check your geotagging. A little later on in the Netherlands I found google code’s gpicsync, which is a bit clunky and old fashion (ie the user interface is very plain, but it works) and used it and the picasa/google earth approach whenever I had web access for the rest of that trip.  I definitely now prefer GeoSetter.

The other problem I had at the time was my phone’s GPS was not always working, basically the narrow street in old medieval towns effectively hid some of the satellites which should have been visible, but where hidden from my phone at street level. Worse still My Tracks, my personal favourite GPS tracking tools, just didn’t bother to record the point when there were not enough satellites found. Not only that the phone spent a lot of time looking and would quickly drained the battery. Again I only found this out after the trip. However at the time I did find GPSTrac (beta), a nice simple GPS app that promised to save battery life and basically it does report all it readings albeit with an error flag if only a few satellites are found. I now always run both My Tracks and GPSTrac and I suspect the fact that GPSTrac is running keeps My Tracks functioning better and less power hungry or is it we don’t have narrow medieval lanes between buildings here in the bush in Australia. There are dozens of alternative GPS tracking apps around, so I suggest you look for yourself and test out their suitability to your area.

When I tried to photograph the key events in the recent Transit of Venus I did carefully calibrate the time on two laptop computers, my phone and two cameras the night before but late the next day I checked again and to my dismay there was up to a 4 second difference across all of them. This is fine for geotagging I can't even run fast enough for that to make more than a couple of meters difference over that time interval.. However if I was trying to get precise measurement so I could work out the distance to Venus and the Sun I would have a few errors in my calculations. That’s academic because cloud cover meant I missed all the key events. The “problem” was that there can be non linear drift in your computer clock, and I haven’t yet found an explanation I believe, There are now no less than 7 million accurate atomic clocks on-line and there are also plenty of software to calibrate your computer and phone, but I haven't bothered trying them (yet!). What I have discovered is a great little site called it give you a nice bold accurate digital clock and estimated the drift in time currently on your computer. The big bold numbers make synchronizing your camera and phone, within a second, nice and easy. I’ll leave sorting out the drift in the clocks and sub second calibration to you to figure out.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Aviary for your phone

Aviary is a damn good on-line photo editing suite, and now a lot of its features are available for your phone. Ok not all phones, my HTC wildfire is still running android 2.2 and thus not compatible. Aviary’s focus in making this release now is supporting developers, and the photo editor is intended to be a quick and easy way for them to evaluate the aviary product before integrating it into their own apps. Even if you are not contemplating developing a phone applications it is worth having a look at this slick photo editor.

PhotoProject :: One photo three different crops

original photo I am often asked “What is the most important photo processing technique?”, and my answer is always cropping. From the expression on the face of the questioner, I suspect that was not the answer they wanted. They wanted to hear about some secret photoshop presets or a magic filter and/or a unknown bit of software. However cropping and getting the composition right is definitely one way to take an ordinary photo into something memorable. The next question is usually then “How do I know when the composition is right?” and some comment about the dreariness of the rule of thirds. I tend to agree the rule of thirds and its ever present overlay grid are a bit overdone and under explained. I must admit I tend to just crop by eye and seldom use cropping guides but they can be very helpful to bring you towards that more interesting photo. When I am photographing birds in flight I am definitely concentrating on panning on the birds movement, and keeping the bird in frame and not the composition in the view finders, that can be sorted out later. So here is a little exercise using the same photo, above, and using three other common composition tools from Lightroom 4.
Regular grid cropping overlay in lightroom cropped photo
In this case I have a fairly simple 6 by 8 grid. You can choose any setting you like. I have taken the conventional crop in the vertical putting the gull just below the top third (ie 2 grid spaces down). However I wanted to get stronger asymmetry into the horizontal, so I made the gull 4 grid space wide and then I could leave 1 grid spacing behind it and 3 in front. This gives the bird room to appear to fly into.
Gold Ratio cropping overlay in lightroom cropped photo
Artist have long know of the Golden ratio, which is roughly 1.6:1 and I suspect the rule of thirds is just an oversimplification of this ratio. However the simplicity of the golden rule is that is you make focal points and strong edges at or close to the golden ratio from the sides it will automatically be more appealing to the viewing  In this case I used the box enclosed by the ratio to “house” the gull. However it has left the final crop a little to symmetrical for my taste. So…
Gold Ratio cropping overlay in lightroom cropped photo
I wanted to get the asymmetry going so I shifted the crop so That the gulls eye was at the intersection of the ratio’s grid lines and the leading edge of the wind approximately running along the ratio. For me this is both a closer crop and tells a stronger story. The golden ratio is a better default than the rule of thirds in my opinion
golden spiral cropping overlay in lightroom cropped photo
This was a bit of a new composition concept for me. I first saw it in a photo app called Pro Capture and have used it a few times but only had mixed results. In this case I like the strong curve of the dark wing, and I moved the crop around till this match the spiral. Horizontally I like the position but I feel the bird may be a little low.
The results are quiet different, but I hope you agree they are all stronger images than the original. At the end of the day I still think once you get your composition confidence you will be able to judge the most appropriate crop by eye.

Useful Camera Bag Extras

IMG_4282 I am trying hard to keep the ancillary contents of my new Lowpro backpack to a minimum, to give extra room for cameras and lenses. Sounds easy but modern digital camera come with a range of extras, some vital others less so. This is a collection of things I always carry. Most importantly I have spare batteries. I also have a few spare SD cards, not a surprise. I have found keeping a small USB universal card reader very handy. I usually have two 4GB USB keys on hand, one blank the other has a number of photo oriented portable apps and utilities. which are great if the only computer around is a cyber cafe. One big hassle is always cables, you seldom need them but then they are always tangled. I found this mess bag with a zip is a great way to keep my contents tidy and generally tangle free. The other important item is a small portable backpack style hard drive, with a 500GB capacity to keep backups updated (each day). At the end of the month I archive from it and clean it up to start a fresh for the next month.

I have an HTC android phone, which has become not only a camera in its own right but also a very useful support accessory. In particular it is the GPS source when I wish to geotag my photos but it also has a number of useful photography oriented apps. It lives in my pocket.

Not shown is my laptop, which does live in the Lowpro backpack as well, and all the charges and power supplies which I don’t carry around in the backpack but fit in my case when I travel.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

RAW Winter Skies

comaprison of thumbnails as rendered in picasa

One thing that has been worrying me for a while has been the behavior of RAW files in Picasa. Sometime ago I had set both my Pentax and Canon EOS to store images in both the camera’s RAW and JPG format. It does use extra space and takes extra time to write both images, however I wanted to get a feel for the difference each format provided. Well a strange thing was happening. Whenever I loaded the files the .jpeg and raw files always looked the same, but after a while,  particularly if I looked at the raw file. The two images inevitably looked quiet different,even when I had not made any changes to exposure etc. At first I suspected it was something to do with the .CR2 (native Canon RAW format) and .PER (native Pentax RAW format) Codex used on the computer.Then I began to suspect that RAW files would be brighter compare with a slight underexposure of the jpeg, but there were plenty of exceptions. Lightroom 4 avoids this little conundrum because when it sees a pair of raw and jpeg photos with the same name it only “imports” (links to) the raw file.

Well the explanation, is pretty simple. Both cameras do create thumbnail of the photo, in jpeg format using the cameras default jpg processing settings and embed this inside the raw image. It is this thumbnail view that you see when you first upload your photos. Then as picasa gets a chance to process the photo further it does read the actual Raw file and does its own best attempt at processing that RAW file, making its own new jpeg thumbnail. This might be quiet different to the cameras settings. Unfortunately it is a kind of Auto-fix for all approach and often not really what you want. For example in this photo I was after a kind of moody winter sky. Tweaking the RAW files a little gave me the effect I was after, and its quiet similar to the original camera jpeg. Once you make some adjustment to the RAW file in picasa (which you now can do by the way) the thumbnail does reflect those changes.

If you look closely lightroom does a similar thing. The image displayed in library view might change once you view it or develop it and it goes through the loading… delay. After that the thumbnail you see in lightroom is what ever you do to the image with lightroom. Picasa and lightroom are both “non destructive” systems so the original raw photo file remains unchanged.

PEF/RAW file tweaked in PicasaPEF/RAW file tweaked in Lightroom

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

MobileMe no More

If you use an apple computer, iPhone &/or iTunes chances are you may also have started using some of the MobileMe services (they were one of those bloatware products that managed to install itself along with other software, you should realize you are using these mobileme services because they are subscription based offerings, ie costs you a yearly rental). Apple have announced that mobileme will be shut down on June 30th 2012. Much of its automatic synchronisation functionality will be transferred to iCloud (which is largely free). I guess the rub is that some of the services people actually used and liked are not being offered under iCloud, these are the features which offer on-line storage, iDisk (an on-line “hard drive”), iWeb (web publishing platform) & Gallery (web based photo sharing). I gather this is because apple doesn’t see themselves as a storage business (I read this to mean they don’t believe there is the money in it)

I’m sure apple will warn customers (but a quick ask around indicates they may not have here in Australia yet!) but you only have a couple of weeks to retrieve your works from Apple’s mobileme Gallery. So where else can you store your photos to share on the web? Well there are lots of places, here are some of the more popular ones, flickr, photobucket, smugmug, Picasa web albums (aka google+ photo) even facebook. The downside is they are not exactly well integrated down into all apples portable devices, but there are plenty of individual apps to provide the synchronisation into these services. Probably the most popular service for iphone photos remains instagram.

Good luck trying to get a refund!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012