Through the looking glass

It’s been a while since I got my Pentax 6×7 out to play. I had completely forgotten that I had an adapter to use my massive 105mm 6×7 lens on my regular DSLR (Pentax K3).

I love the quality of this lens. Attached to my K3 it does look ridiculous and it’s heavier than the camera itself. Old film camera lenses retain a lot of their character in digital format. This one gives a fair amount of chromatic aberation, as lenses designed for film often do, but that’s easily rectifiable manually in Lightroom. It’s an exrtremely soft lens and wide open, regardless of the cropped sensor on the K3, it just has a really expansive feel to it.

I intend to drag out the 6×7 for some more film fun soon, and this has certainly whetted my appetite.

 

Take 2: Visibility: Coal Force 5

I took a two and a half hour cruise on my boat this weekend. With my engine newly serviced, and the sun shining, it was a staggeringly beautiful day out on the canals.

This time of year when the sun is so low it can be a bit blinding out there at times. Especially when heading West in the afternoon.

I like to take pictures into the sun. I love the way the light scatters and the possibilities with silhouettes, shadows, and lens flares.

With this picture I wanted to turn it isn’t something it wasn’t. I didn’t want the deep shadows. I wanted the picture to show me what I could have seen had I not been staring into the sun for hours. I wanted to try to create an image that expressed how I felt about the day. The air was still and chilly, but the warm Autumn colours were still out in force. I don’t normally apply such extreme adjustments to an image.

These are the main edits I made using Lightroom:

  • I took the contrast all the way down to flatten out the image and give it a painterly, slightly hazy quality
  • I brought the shadows all the way up to bring out as much detail in the background as possible
  • I took the highlights down to bring out a bit of detail in the sky
  • I pulled the tone curve into a gentle S shape, with the lights and shadows brought up and then highlights and darks very slightly down just to give a bit of definition
  • I very slightly warmed up the white balance

Colours:

  • I raised the orange and yellow saturation and luminance
  • I raised the red saturation slightly
  • I took the green luminance up to give a bit of life to the background
  • I raised the blue saturation slightly and also lowered the luminance to bring out more detail in the sky and balance the warmth a little

 

 

Postcards from the edge of the laptop

I have almost accidentally found myself constructing a series of black and white self portraits with my laptop camera. People who know me well will know that I don’t usually have a problem expressing myself verbally, but recently I’ve found this ability somewhat ripped from me. I always try and infuse my pictures with as much emotion as possible, but rarely turn the camera on myself for this purpose. The low quality images seem to create a barrier behind which (conversely) I can comfortably express more of myself.

I’m editing the photographs in Lightroom and I’ve found that another result of the image quality being so poor, is that it is really freeing up my creativity in other elements of the pictures. It’s turning out to be a really interesting way to experiment with and explore and express different visual ideas, a bit like a sketchbook. I think I’ll continue with this from time to time.

The amount of grain in the images has added interesting textures. They could almost be pen and ink, pencil, charcoal, or spray painted images. The huge depth of field and wide angle view bizarrely reminds me of my pinhole images which I find fascinating considering the ridiculous difference in equipment involved.

 

Take 2: Photosyn… this… is…

So here’s a fun before and after journey.

I took this shot while I was enjoying a very usual evening stroll and the most glorious sunset began to unfold. I only had the very wide 15mm lens with me. I spent a long time trying to catch a similar shot to this with various different foreground objects but this was the most successful by far. It’s a rather sweet shot as it is straight from camera, but it didn’t quite capture the drama of the colourful light as I had experienced it. I sort of thought I’d play with it and then keep it more or less as is, but once I started playing with it, it pretty much edited itself.

It became clear quite quickly that it had a very painting-like quality so I focussed on trying to give the tones and colours a kind of “fairy tale” look. It’s a bit bolder than my usual style and I gave it an overly pink tint to really enhance the dreamy nature of the image.

I feel it actually represents a truer version of the experience of what was the beginning of a very vibrant sunset. Not long after this, the sky went a really deep pinky red. One of the frustrating things about photographing sunsets is that they can’t capture the really magical aspect of a sunset itself – it’s mostly about the process and experience of constantly changing colours over time, the movement of the light as the sun sets. A still image can’t capture that experience, so I tried to merge aspects of my experience together into the image using colours to best describe the sunset as a whole as it felt to me at the time.

Dealing with the colours was actually quite easy with this image, as the sky pretty much has a separate range of colours to the foreground.

These are the main edits I made using Lightroom:

  • I lowered the contrast a lot and actually also slightly lowered the exposure
  • In the top panel of sliders, I slightly lowered the highlights, brought the shadows and blacks up
  • I applied a small amount of clarity
  • In the tone curve I made a gentle but top heavy S shape, with the darks and lights both brought up fairly high, and the shadows and highlights brought down just a touch to balance it out

These are the adjustments I made to the colours:

  • I adjusted the white balance to the cloudy setting and then adjusted the tint a little further over into pink
  • I raised the red saturation and lowered the luminance a small amount to deepen the red in the clouds
  • I did the same with the orange channel although I gave this one moderately more saturation
  • With the yellow channel, I gave it a fair amount of luminance and upped the saturation to counter this
  • In the green channel I raised the luminance as high as it would go to really elevate the foreground, and I lowered the saturation quite a bit to counteract some of the green glow this cast on the image
  • In the aqua and blue colour channels I raised the saturation and lowered the luminance a touch to deepen the sky slightly

Take 2: Willesborough Windmill

I knew I had a nice shot with this one and actually it is pretty much perfect as it is straight from the camera. The sky is so moody and there’s a lot of detail captured in the shadows. I really didn’t *need* to do anything to it. But of course I did.

I really wanted this photo to have a more intense impact. To me it was too depressing in tone. RAW files often look very flat and cold and dull. I wanted to lift the image whilst still retaining that quality of melancholy. I didn’t want it to look sad. I wanted it to look devastating.

Here are the main adjustments I made using Lightroom:

  • I raised the exposure slightly and slightly lowered the contrast.
  • In the tone curve, I upped the lights and highlights a lot to really get a good, bright contrast in the sky and slightly lowered the darks and shadows to a gentler curve, so I didn’t quite lose all of the detail in the silhouetted part of the building walls.
  •  I gave it some very, very gentle split toning. Slightly warm highlights and slightly blue shadows. This gave the sky a luminous quality. I enhanced that by lowering the luminance values in the blue colour channel.
  • I raised the luminance in the green colour channel to brighten the grass in the foreground and really bring out that eerie sunny, but not sunny, stormy quality.

I made a few more detailed tweaks here and there but those were the major changes I made. I’m pretty pleased with my choices in-camera for this picture that make the image so versatile when it comes to editing. I could have edited this shot in many different ways. Perhaps I shall yet…

Take 2: What’s the time, Mr Schultz?

This weekend I discovered that my windowsill during daylight hours makes a great little blank space as a photo setting for small objects. It’s easy to get in close without a tripod when there’s abundant light bouncing all around the subject.

In my last Take 2 post I talked about a sort of minimal correctional editing on pictures, and how sometimes that’s enough to let the work of the lens and the settings really shine and your picture is done. This post isn’t that much different really although with this example there is very little “wrong” with the image straight from camera (though it’s a touch purple and a little flat). I used the actual watch as a guide and it was simply a nice little study in adjusting colour.

 

I wanted this image to be clear, almost floating, with no real sense of time or space (context) other than the time on the watch. I wanted the colours to be bright and “true”. The winding mechanism and the hands are exactly in focus but the lower half of the image (further away timewise) is slightly less in focus. Shops often display watches at ten to two or ten past ten because it’s an aesthetically pleasing arrangement for the hands. Beautifully coincidentally, I appear to have stuck to tradition.

Here are the adjustments I made using Lightroom:

  • I adjusted the white balance manually by sight. I prefer to do it this way, sometimes using the dropper tool as a starting point and then finely tuning it. I wanted to offset the purple tinged shadow tones so I warmed the temperature and shifted the tint towards green, until the shadows and background were neutral.
  • I raised the exposure just a touch.
  • I slightly lowered the blacks just so there was a bit more definition in the outline of the watch face.
  • I increased the vibrance overall.
  • I slightly raised the lights and lowered the darks using the tone curve.
  • I altered the hue of the reds, pushing them slightly towards the orange end of the spectrum.
  • I increased both the red saturation and red luminance values.

I like playing with individual colour values. It’s a really simple way to lift an image or completely alter the effect. Once I had managed to get the red in this image true to life I didn’t really need to adjust much else.

Here’s another example shot from the same set of pictures:

 

I applied the same process, starting with the white balance which needed a slightly different adjustment to the first example image. I personally find the camera’s programmeed white balance settings are a little too much on the cold side, so I usually use a warmer setting than the camera might think I need. Even so, I often find that photographs benefit from a slight tweak of some kind to the white balance and that’s fine as it’s probably the easiest thing to change in the edit.

With both of these shots I went with the automatic white balance setting which was a great way to practice the colour study. With this second example the lighting of the shot is so different from the first that I needed to raise the red saturation a lot more than in the first example and the hue needed to be tipped further into the orange end of the spectrum to achieve a similar colour result.

Take 2: Tinkerbell

Whilst visiting my mother for christmas I took the opportunity to get some shots of her cats. On boxing day I found one curled up in the hallway with the sunlight filtering through the front door. I used the 55mm lens that I wrote about in my last post.

There was just enough light, with a wide aperture and a slow shutter speed, to get some fairly lowish ISO close ups. The cat didn’t mind the camera at all and kept remarkably still which was ideal. This shot was taken at 1/15 of a second which is about as slow as I’m comfortable with handheld using this lens. With this combination of elements, I could get some really smooth close ups.

Now that I have a new computer I can edit without headache again, and it’s such a relief. Adjustments are quick and easy.  Digital images straight from camera can often look a little lifeless, flat or cold. No matter how carefully I adjust my camera settings, if nothing else they nearly always benefit from at least a slight adjustment to white balance and/or exposure.

 

This picture looked pretty good to begin with. The focus in the eyes is pin sharp and the expression on the cat’s face is adorable, but the raw image was dark and murky. It was underexposed and the white balance was too cold and too pink. My camera is fairly good at getting exposure right with a manual lens, but it’s not always perfect.

What I wanted to capture was the delicate complimentary colours of the cat’s fur and eyes, so the whole key to this becoming a striking image was in simply correcting the white balance and exposure. Pretty much everything else had been handled already in camera and by the beautiful lens. The finishing touches were then just some small tweaks to give it a hint more of a glow and increase the definition without losing the natural softness of the lens.

Here are the main adjustments I made in Lightroom for the final edit:

  • Raised the exposure
  • Adjusted the white balance manually
  • Slightly deepened the blacks
  • Raised the clarity
  • Added a very slight touch of vibrance
  • Adjusted the tone curve into a gentle s shape with brighter lights and hilghlights and slightly lowered darks and shadows
  • Slightly raised the orange and yellow luminance

Click here for more cat portraits on flickr.

Take 2: Just leave

I live a ten minute walk from the Avery Hill Winter Garden. They are currently running a photo competition so I grabbed a keen photographer friend and we both went over there at the weekend to take some pictures and try to inspire each other.

I got one or two nice enough pictures but will probably go back at another point over the next week or so to get some more as I don’t feel I have anything especially competition worthy yet. I always like to have pictures to practice editing with however and this little photo escapade has proven to be quite educational in terms of trying to create more interest in images even if I feel I haven’t necessarily achieved anything particularly brilliant straight from the camera. It has taught me to look more closely at images I might normally dismiss at first glance*.

I’ve mentioned before how much I find editing a bit of a bind, but it is undeniably a pretty nice feeling to elevate a photo that maybe didn’t appear to shine very much at first. I liked the composition of this image of leaves, so I took some time with it to see how I could introduce some dynamism into what was originally quite a flat image. It was a very overcast afternoon and most of my photographs had minimal contrast.

 

 

I made edits in black and white and with some split toning as well, as the lines and shapes look good in monochrome, but decided in the end to go with colour to stress the luscious, deep, shiny green of the leaves. This picture went through a good number of incarnations until I rested on making a final colour edit.

 

What I did in Lightroom for the final edit:

  • Raised clarity
  • Deepened the blacks
  • Upped the vibrance a fair way but slightly lowered the saturation
  • Made a gentle s-shaped tone curve (lights were slightly raised, and darks & shadows slightly lowered)
  • Yellow saturation and luminance were slightly raised
  • Green luminance was also slightly raised
  • Added a brush stroke to the surrounding leaves towards the edges of the image with slightly lowered saturation and slightly lowered clarity, just to make the central bigger leaves pop a little more

*Like a Kinder egg, this image also contains a little hidden secret surprise. When zoomed in closely, the raindrops on the front leaf reflect the central point of the Winter Garden’s glass roof. You can view the full size image by clicking here.

Take 2: Aaron

This is not so much Take 2 as Take 3. Or maybe 10. Or just keep counting.

One massive downside with digital photography for me personally is the fact I take so long in making decisions. Time. There are almost infinite possibilities as to how your photos can end up looking via a few clicks on your computer. It’s just one big digital, and therefore very precisely and easily adjustable, darkroom.

Now that I have a better digital camera in the form of the Pentax K3, it handles editing so effortlessly and gracefully that I have even more options at my disposal than I did before. This is a pleasure to behold but it is also a curse. It’s more pleasurable to spend more time editing, so it’s easier to spend more time editing. Working full time you only have so many free hours to start with… and editing was already taking up a bit too much of my time.

At the weekend I finally put my favourite lens – a fully manual 55mm f1.8 – onto my new K3 body. I’ve no idea why it took me this long. I spent a sunny day in Greenwich with my brother Aaron and I got this really nice picture (my reflection notwithstanding!). I figured it would be good for editing practice and it was.

 

Things should be way easier edit-wise for me now. I could often use pictures pretty much straight from the camera now if I wanted, or easily add one of my self made black and white editing presets with very few adjustments to make a perfectly polished finish to the shot, and yet I can never leave it at that. I still need to tinker. To see if I can “improve” a picture further.

I sat and played with this photo for an afternoon, trying out various different colour edits. I was very happy indeed with my black and white version but I could not seem to get a nice colour edit for some reason. None of them really shone like the black and white edit did. And I think this was mainly a problem of choice. Skin tone is often a tricky subject to be happy with in itself, but with this one I just did version after version and they all sort of looked ok, but I just kept scrapping them unsatisfied.

This happens from time to time when I’m editing and it can be a bit frustrating. It’s like when you say a word over and over and it suddenly loses all meaning. Sometimes you have looked at the same picture in such detail for so long that you can’t remember what you are trying to do with it anymore or even really tell what it looks like. When that happens I often like to take a break, but sometimes instead of doing that, I give myself something else to do with the picture for a bit.

I’ll start making quite extreme random adjustments. Or attempt to edit it in the style of someone else, or to give it a very specific “look”. In this case, the sunglasses and strong sunlight made me want to attempt a look reminiscent of CSI: Miami. Often such idle playing can reveal something in the image you might not have otherwise hit upon.

The last version of Aaron’s portrait in this post here is not at all an edit I would have done otherwise. I learnt a few new tricks from my experimenting. Now that I’m used to how it looks, although a bit extreme and contrasty for my usual taste and not really my style, I do quite like it. And I am liking it more and more each time I look at it. This edit has so many tiny adjustments layered on top of each other. Like the black and white edit, it also has some coloured highlights from the split toning settings. I’d never really played about with that much before for a start.

Go play. It’s one way to guarantee learning something meaningful to you. Whatever that might be.

 ***

In other news I’ve entered a photo competition. If you could possibly spare two minutes, maybe you would like to please help increase my chances of winning a camera so that I don’t have to spend the rest of my life paying off the one I currently have. It would also make my day. 

Registering is quick – I promise – and all you’d need to do is to click on this link and write “I nominate this photo.” underneath my pinhole photo of a ukulele and say why you like it. If you do of course. If not, thank you for tolerating this plea. If indeed you did.

Take 2: Adventures in bokeh

Before and after shots can be quite fun. Every now and then I take a digital photograph that goes on a bigger life changing journey after the shutter fires than most. I’m going to post the more extreme examples of these from time to time just for fun under the heading Take 2.

I’m not always that fond of editing pictures. I consider it mostly a kind of necessary evil when it comes to digital photography. I am not a fan of the amount of time that can pass unnoticed once you venture down an editing wormhole, hunting for some kind of “perfection” with an image, when of course there’s no such thing. Many long hours have I spent making miniature adjustments to images as if my life depended on it, moving sliders backwards and forwards, when really most of the work has already been achieved in camera.

A few weeks ago I took a picture that I was really excited to have a look at properly once I’d got home. I thought it would look a treat with relatively little enhancement. A branch delicately swaying in the breeze, glistening sunlight bouncing off a stream in the background, and gorgeous hazy sunshine. You can’t always judge a picture that accurately when you look at it on the camera screen, and especially if you’re looking at said screen in bright sunshine, but I knew it was going to have potential even if it did look a little washed out.

I got the photo onto the computer and I can’t say I was impressed. It was over exposed, the colours were muddy and cold, and there was a massive big purple blob of light across it. It wasn’t exactly a striking or well balanced image and was pretty far from what I had in my head. However, the focus was pin sharp, the composition really pleasing, and the magical bokeh and sunlight really made me want to try and rescue it. Trying to fix messed up images can often be an exercise in futility, but I think I made the right choice here.

The main adjustments I made (using Lightroom 4):

  • brushed over the purple area and took the tint over the to green side of the spectrum to counteract it (I did this with two separate brushes in different amounts so that it blended well)
  • took the temperature right over to the warm end of the spectrum, and the tint slightly towards the pink end
  • slightly deepened the blacks
  • raised the clarity to a high degree
  • lowered the saturation and vibrance
  • upped the highlights and lowered the shadows
  • slightly raised the orange saturation
  • raised the luminance a little for orange, yellow, and green
  • applied colour noise reduction
  • a very, very slight vignette
  • slight straightening/cropping