Thursday, August 31, 2017

Refining the sketching pencil roll


My collection of pencils and pens in my small pencil roll has move for all graphite pencils of various hardness to a few conventional graphite pencils HB to 6B range a couple of woodless pencils, a charcoal pencil a couple of clutch (mechanical) pencils, a sharpener and a water brush, as well as a small watercolour round. Whilst there is room to keep this in the outer pocket of my camera bag, I normally keep it in my smll art kit backpack

I also like to start new sketch books by drawing anything, usually something ordinary (and probably bad)  just to “break in” the book and avoid any feeling that it might become to precious to use. If its different to one you have used before turn to the back page and make a reference “colour chart” with you current media. Different papers make a big difference at the sketching level. This is a new A4 book spiral bound to see if I can avoid the falling apart in the wind problem with the conventionally “glue” bound sketch books.                                                                                

My Camera Bag Diet

I’m not obsessive about my gear, but I do like it to be safely stowed, I have been very happy with my thinktank bag I bought last year for my trip to Canada. Even though its a Mirrorless Mover 30i it has plenty of room for my bulky Pentax K20 with my big tamron zoom and a 300mm zoom sigma lens, also on the large size. However I have been slowly trimming the ancillary stuff to give plenty of room for my sketcking gear. I have the mandatory clean small towels (aka face washers). I also have two lens cleaners, an old fashion blower brush and a lens pen. There is also a polarizing filter and a case for SD cards. I am rotating the SD cards, so there is a temporary backup of photos there as well as on the two external backup drive (back at my accommodation). I also have an old HTC phone that has no sim card but it has a good gps receiver so I just need to turn it on, start My Tracks and put it back in the camera bag to get a continuous wayfile. I also have my trusty but redesigned string monopod.

Art gear wise I still carry an A5 sketchbook, and a couple of pencils and/or pens, often a water brush style pen. And of course my small Cotman sketcher box. I am now even move convinced a sketckbook is a great camera accessory (for seeing).

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Photo Mechanic Unplugged

There are certain disadvantages to learning new software away from the net, especially when the help system is on-line. Quickly realizing that I downloaded the Flat version of the help system as a pdf. It not exactly the same but I was able to find and answer to most queries. The next and probably the biggest draw back was I was out most of the days either travelling around on the boat’s tender, visiting remote island, or scrambling over rocks to visit cave painting site, walking along remote beaches or out spotting birds, crocodiles, whales, sharks, turtles and not to Example Photomechanic full screenmention getting some photos of sunrise and sunsets. In other words I was doing a lot and when back on the cruise vessel I was pretty much eating or sleeping which left precious little time to review and cull photos.

Still I had three cameras to upload (aka ingest in photo mechanic jargon). My favourite pentax, my old faithfully canon rebel, which I tended to use for wet beach landing and rock scrambling outing, just in case it got dropped, wet etc (which it didn’t) and finally the camera in my mobile phone. I must admit I could not get Photomechanic to ingest directly from my phone (a HTC UPlay) either with a cable or via wifi. There are generally only a few photos so copy copying them via a USB cable was fine. Actually I had two smartphones, even though there was no phone signal most of the trip. The oldest was used just simply as a GPS to collect wayfiles, I’d set it in the morning and put it in my camera bag (or backpack), The new phone I used used both with My Tracks to save a wayfiles and also with the default camera and location set to include geocode in the EXIF header, mainly for checking purposes. GPS logging is a pretty heavy battery drain om the phones so they often ran out of puff. So I went over to different morning and afternoon shifts on each phone for GPS tracking. I usually managed to upload every thing at least every second or third day and made a point of also running a backup to one of two external drives each time anything new was loaded, all simple to set up in Photomechanic.
Example Photomechanic Contact Sheet of ingested photos
Photo mechanic did make culling a lot quicker, but I couldn’t find an auto-advance setting (such as lightrooms) as I rated photos, I kept using my favourite 1, 2 Or 3 stars. However I could not use the press X for flag images to reject. These star rating are written to a .xmp sidecar files, so all the rating where useful in lightroom and AfterShotPro. Photomosaic tagging system works a bit different so I actually just used the keyboard delete key instead of a shartcut (it does also mean also doing a confirm delete each time). I will also admit that I had trouble doing selective transfer of files into lightroom if it was running. I tried both drag and drop and setting up lightroom as the external editor. However both attempts to work on the images in lightroom starts the import from disk function but without and files selected and as I had already culled I could just click on select all (and go have a coffee).

Whilst Photo mechanic process is fast, the step of just copying the photo files to the computer is actually not as fast as a straight system copy file, or Picasa or Aftershot Pro imports. They all loaded all the photos faster than the limited comparity Photomechanic testing I did. However what photo mechanic lets you do was start working on the first files loaded straight away, so you could begin your rating and culling quickly and didn’t have to wait for all the photos to be copied or loaded before beginning. This is a big deal if you have a lot of images to load (I was averaging 800 a day but had a 2,000 day in there). You can easily halve the time to load and rate your photos.

Other than the ingesting process and culling I didn’t really get to exercise photo mechanic a lot. I also have beta version of Luminar for windows on my PC but was not successful in opening an image directly from photo mechanic into Luminar, again I did have access to the on-line help for Luminar. The transfer to edit in AfterShot Pro worked beautifully but there is so much overlap in what the browser mode in AfterShop and Photomechanic do I probably wouldn’t be using them together.

Example PhotoMechanic GPS dialogueI was also very keen to get the GPS tagging running but ran into a series if unexpected issues. The synchronization of timing sounds simple but because the phones had no mobile signal they kept defaulting to different time zones (not “ship” time) and the camera let me change times (both have dual cloaks) but they too often just reset themselves to the base, my home, time. So figuring out time shift was a confusing and annoyingly repeated problem. A second contributing issue was the tools I had at my disposal to show the photos on a map (ie Photo mechanic, Picasa, lightroom and google earth all require and on-line connection) This meant even when I did merge the wayfiles and photos I could not check the location on a map. Recognizing this could lead to a lot of frustration I just gave up.

In the process of getting off the boat in Darwin the screen of my beloved little HP Spectre got cracked (no idea how) and the touch screen and pen functions have stopped working. So this has put an end to my investigation for the moment.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Darwin Sunset ii
Dusk looking over to the Naval Base Darwin
I've been off the nest for over 10days now and Haven't missed it one bit. The noise of constantly being "connected" is very distracting but the peace and tranquilty to just enjoy theplace you are is wonderfull.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Making Softer more Intelligent Filters

I have a long (aka deep) interest in the application of AI (artificially intelligent) techniques going back to the 1970s, it even survived the so called “AI Winter” of the late 90’s and 2000’s. It no surprise that I have been interested in the fairly recent Deep Dream applications to recognise style and transfer it to photographs. I have even, although slowly, warmed to “filters” that perform the magic of image enhancement (a lot of the early auto-fix buttons where and still are only half baked)

Trying to keep abreast of developments (and there a lot and they are fast), I noticed a very interesting presentation by Michaƫl Gharbi, a MIT researcher and also a keen photographer, at this years SIGGRAPH conference.

With this or similar apps I think you can expect smartphone technology to rival current expensive SLRs within the next couple of phone generations. However I think an intelligent camera just got a lot closer and  Michael has also been working on that also.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Seeing inside the frame

I’ve happened upon on a couple of simple tools to really help you see the important aspects of tonal balance and composition. This approach is specifically for the analysis your existing photos, but the insight gained from using them to prepare some composition sketches is very enlightening and of majour benefit for your future photography. There may be some one click filters that undertake similar methods, but it is the act of doing these steps yourself that will not only improve your observational skills but with make looking for tonal balance an automatic habit.

The first step is too find a software tool, a simple photo editor, that will allow you to do the basic editing like lightening, darkening, [cropping]. It should also let you make a black and white version and possibly posterized versions. It is important that it can display the photo full screen (or as close to full screen as possible). In this case I am using, which is a great little user supported editor. Once you understand what’s going on the process, I suggest you migrate to a non-destructive editor. I  played around in Luminar & Polarr , they are also easy to use and do the job required beautifully. Picasa, if you still have a copy, is also perfect and with the added advantage of scrolling through your collection and also rating the photos you like. Lightroom or AfterShot pro could even be used here, if you are already familiar with them (don’t get them just to do these steps, eperiment with something free to start).


Load up a photo you the are interested in analysing, I’m using the Day 5 photo from last week a Foggy Afternoon in Olinda. The next step is to make it black and white. I prefer to just remove all saturation, but any convert to black and white approach is fine. The next step is to have close your eyes and look for the shapes in just 5 tones. You can lighten or darken the image to get the balance better. Only use the contrast if you must. Controls that let you adjust the highlights or shadows independently are preferable to just altering overall contrast. Now display that image full screen. Only save this version if you want to and be careful to give it a different name if you are not using a non-destructive editor.

The second tool is a neat little sketching program, called mischief, which allows you to draw over the photo, as if on a light table. There are several expensive graphics programs that allow you do something similar to this via layers but they are complex to use and set up. Mischief by comparison is really intuitive to use,  infinitely scalable and is no more complex than putting a piece of tracing paper over your photo and grabbing a pencil.   So I strongly recommend you try these steps with it. Looking on the mischief web site you will see a free and a paid version, you only need the free version to follow my method.Notan test Mischief starts full screen and there are a few controls you need to become familiar with so I have already made an Anatomy of Mischief post back a bit in the blog. Next change the window background opacity (you can use the Ctrl+W keyboard shortcut or the toolbar). I find it helpful to make a little Notan legend of 4 greyscales tones somewhere on the edge. You can later use the eye dropper to pick these shades later as you work on your “tracing”. Using the marker brush (its the bottom brush in the free version brush palette) and make it fairly thick and 100% on the opacity slider. Now start colouring over all parts of you photo that have the same tone. This is a lot easier than you might think. If you paint over something and you can not really see where you painted you have got it right. If you can clearly see where you have made brush marks, its time to back off, erase those marks, or use the undo tool (CrtlZ)  Think of yourself as doodling in the shades. It doesn’t have to be perfect it is about training your hand eye coordination to almost do it in autopilot. Turning off and on the background transparency now and again lets you check your progress. You should avoid getting too detail but you need to cover the main tonal regions (and arrive at something like the sketch on the right.

Now is the time for the most interesting steps. First look for the main positive and/or negative shapes (pick a colour to outline them and outline simple geometric shapes).image In this case the subjects (the positive shapes, my dotted light blue outlines) are the dark shadowy trees and the negative space is the central column of light. The four dark positive shapes are a little asymmetrically balanced either side of that. This is a great start.

Next look for the high contrast edges (and lines). A viewers eyes will involuntarily flow along these high contrast paths paths, because that's what our vision does and our brains use this information to make sense of the image. The direction of the eye will usually be from less contrast towards more contrast along these edges/lines. Also the eye & brain love to play the lost and found found game (lost and found lines and edges is one of a painters secret tools). It is best if these paths can converge on a “sweat spot” or lead onto another path. It is very important that they don’t lead the viewer off the edge of the photo, particular at the corners of the image. If that happens you risk the viewer moving on, scrolling down or turning the page.

Study your tonal doodles and compositional squiggles with squinted eyes. Then close your eye for about 30 seconds and half open them again but follow a different path or focus on an alternate center of interest. Close and half open your eyes a few times until you are following the same paths to the same sweat spots.

Are these what you wanted to show when you took your photo?

You really don’t have to save any of this activity. Its more important that you do it, Doing it as if sketching develops your skill to accurately observe tone and understand composition at an innate level as opposed to following sets of rules. You will be starting to see with an artists eye.

If you have been using a non destructive editor, bring up the colour saturation again (close to the normal mid slider setting) leaving your tonal adjustments. You will probably be amazed, the photo is likely to look less washed out and the colours look more natural (closer to what you remembered when you took the photo).

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Time for a Software & Social Media Diet

Alvin Lfe coachMoving most of my time and tasks, much of which is now Art & Photography oriented, to reorganised workspaces and computers was more tedious than I had expected. I had managed to accumulate a lot software applications and tools which looked interesting at the time but I haven’t used since. I have to admit I also have a few social media accounts that are collecting dust and/or pretty much ignored.

Rather than wait till new year and a big resolution setting time I figured now is the perfect mpment to go on a diet, stop feeding the empty social spaces and slim down the bloat inside my computers. I’ve enlisted Alvin as my life coach.

I sure hope he knows what he is doing?