Sunday, September 26, 2010

Covering a news event with a Fuji FinePix HS10

When I worked for a daily paper, I had oodles of the best gear. I had two DSLRs, three zooms lenses, and four prime lenses. My slowest lens was an f/2.8. My zooms were f/2.8 throughout their zoom range. It was wonderful.

Now, I often get by with one glorified point-and-shoot. Today I grabbed some shots from the Strength Behind the Uniform charity walk and run held in Springbank Park here in London, Ontario.

I used my HS10 on auto, plain auto and sports auto, and found that often I'd have picked a slightly different exposure but I am living with its choices. I must admit that at times Photoshop is a godsend. I'm going to spend some time soon with ACDSee to see if I can do complete image enhancement without falling back on Photoshop for such stuff as working on feathered selections.

If you are curious about my news shooter results, check out my post on London Daily Photo.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More than one way to shoot a scene

Whenever you shoot a picture, remember there is more than one way to shoot any scene. Why is this important? Because, some of the possible approaches can be better than others. Don't just shoot and move on. Take some time and take a number of angles, a number of views, use different lenses and at different settings.

When I saw the three boats rafted up on Lake Erie off Port Stanley, my first thought was a tight, close-up. I cranked the lens on the Fuji HS10 to its max, 720mm, and shot. I used the best frame capture mode as I like to  have choices on how a moving person is depicted. I like the composition to suggest action.

But there is more to this moment and so I shot a few more images. I especially liked the following picture, I may even like it more than my first shot. It locates the three boats clearly just off the sandy beach. One person has called the second image "romantic."

Note the crude dodging of the boats in the first image. I was going to correct this but then thought I would post it as a warning to others. Either work on only specific areas or feather selections with great boldness. Half measures can look less than half as good.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Canon S90: More Low Light Level Shooting

I like to 'print' all my images. I very rarely just accept an image as it comes from my camera. When I noticed Fiona sitting on the floor hugging her fluffy, white seal, I grabbed my Canon S90 and set it to the low light level setting for dim lighting.

On this setting, the camera automatically treats two adjacent pixels on the sensor as one and as result the file size of the images drops from 10MB to 5MB. On the plus side, the image noise is not as high as one would expect when shooting at ISO 3200. The camera picked a shutter speed of 1/30 second and set the lens to f/4.9.
Image straight from camera on left; image after Photoshop on right. (Click to enlarge.)
I took the best image into Photoshop where I cropped it and straightened it by rotating the crop box. Next, I corrected the colour by clicking on the brightest area of Fiona's white sleeve. I determined the specific spot by going into Levels (Control-L) and while pressing the Alt key, Option on a Mac, I slid the white triangle at the right-bottom of the histogram until the black screen had a bright white speck. That white speck was the brightest white in the image. I returned the white triangle to its starting point and clicked the white area with the white eyedropper.

I then set the endpoints for the picture in Photoshop. I held the Alt key and moved the white triangle and then the black triangle. In this way, I controlled the whites that were blown and the blacks that were plugged. I find it best to blow as few whites as possible --- I try to stick to spectral highlights --- and to be a wee bit generous in the plugging of blacks. This ups the overall contrast of the image, giving it more punch.

Then, I selected Fiona's face and tweaked the endpoints of the selection using Levels and I tweaked the skin tone by going into Curves and removing a little yellow.

My last step was to resize the image for the web (7-inches deep at 72 dpi) and give it a whack of USM (Unsharp mask: Amount 160% / Radius 0.4 pixels / Threshold 3 Levels).

Was I totally happy with my Canon S90 results? No. The shutter speed the camera picked was awfully slow and this made capturing movement difficult. I could have done better with a DSLR and a very fast lens --- f/2.8 or faster.

On the other hand the S90 is always handy because of its small size and the images it does capture are quite good. I may not be totally happy with my little point-and-shoot but I still totally love it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Get down to their level!

When shooting children and pets, getting down to their level will often yield the best pictures.

This picture of Fiona was taken with my Canon S90 on the low light level setting. This kicks up the ISO and cuts down on the expected image noise. If I had a better camera, a DSLR with a top mounted flash, I would have tried bouncing my strobe off the white ceiling rather than shooting at the higher ISO.

Without a flash, find your angle and if possible brace your camera. You face enough difficulty trying to stop the movement of the child or pet; don't add camera shake to the equation if you have a choice.

And if you are protesting and saying, "But your camera has a flash." You're right but straight on strobe is the flash of desperation and with lots of window-light I wasn't that desperate.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Memory Colours

One often hears arguments about digital photography and how film was better. Film depicted the world in a more accurate manner, or so many people believe. Don't count me among them.

If thirty years ago you had shot the same scene with Kodachrome, Ektachrome, Agfachrome and Fujichrome, you'd have had four different renditions of the scene. As I recall from my own experience the Kodachrome would have been warm, the Ektachrome cool, the Afgachrome warm but not like the Kodachrome and the Fujichrome would have had an intense brightness of colour that would have blown away all the others.

One important place to look for the differences in the films would have been grass or foliage. The green of foliage or the blue of the sky is a memory colour. The choice of how a film renders a memory colour is important and there is an amazing difference between films, or today, between chips.

In the days of film we used to modify the colour of our printed images using filters in the printing process. Today we use Photoshop. Some days I hit my images with lots of colour as it is how I like to recall the scene. My memory colours are bright and bold like the Fuji colours of the past.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Best Frame Capture_A Detailed Look

Click image to enlarge and examine this ACDSee frame grab.
If you are thinking of buying a Fuji FinePix HS10 to shoot sports because you heard that it can crank out ten frames a second, think again.

I tried an experiment. I set my HS10 to the sports photography auto setting, put the camera in Best Frame capture mode, and shot some pictures of joggers. I learned a lot and a lot that I learned was not good.

I found that my camera was not good at following focus. In fact, it was poor. With fast action approaching the camera, the best images were captured immediately after depressing the shutter button. The longer the button was depressed, and the closer the subject was to my camera, and the longer the zoom in use, the more out-of-focus my results.

I am still going to try and shoot a football game this fall, but I have no illusions. It will be tough.

Click image to enlarge: Endpoints set, colour corrected, USM applied, all in Photoshop.
The Fuji Finepix HS10 can deliver the goods when it comes to sports photography but at a high cost in missed pictures. But, if like me, you do not have the money for a proper DSLR, nor the desire to carry a larger camera and all its associated lenses, the Fuji is still a good little camera.

One note: I am finding the best program for enhancing my images is Photoshop. Mostly I use Levels to set the endpoints, and curves to modify contrast and do colour corrections. Often I select areas and apply selective correction --- I think of this as similar to burning and dodging in the old wet darkroom days. For instance, I tweaked the face of the runner in the enhanced image. I always sharpen using USM (Unsharp Mask).

Friday, September 3, 2010

When should I use my flash?

When should I use my flash? Seems like a simple question, but it's not. If there is enough light, I favour available light photography. If my flash is a micro unit built into my point-and-shoot camera, I will push my luck, and my ISO, and stay with available light photography as long as possible. I prefer noisy pictures to flatly lit ones, but that is a person preference.

Handheld umbrella bounce.
When I worked at a paper, the answer was different. Back then, I had a powerful strobe with a swivel head and I always carried a small umbrella. Holding my umbrella behind and off to one side, I bounced the flash into the middle of the umbrella. Using the centre pole of the umbrella as a pointer indicating the path of the bounced light, I would aim the umbrella at my subject. (Check the dressing room picture of a model shot prior to hitting the stage at a local fashion show.)

In white painted rooms with white walls and ceiling, one can forgo the umbrella and simply bounce the flash into a ceiling/two wall corner. Either the corner trick or the handheld umbrella approach will allow one to shoot with at a much smaller f/stop and thus get cleaner, sharper images. This is so important when striving for the best images for publication.

Yesterday was my granddaughter's first birthday. She was one-year-old. To shoot with flash or not was the question. I went without and I'll show you one of my images and let you decide if I make the right decision.

First, I shot the image with my Canon P90 set to available light photography. This automatically ups the ISO and changes the way the camera treats the sensor pixels. At the available light setting, the camera marries adjacent pixels for lower noise at high ISO settings. This cuts the image size form 10MB to 5MB but I can put up with that.

Original Image
Cropped and enhanced
I took the resulting images into Photoshop Elements and enhanced the images using the automatic colour correction feature. I am testing Elements at the moment and that is why I used this program.

Next, I selected parts of the image that I felt still needed some colour correction and made some gross corrections using Photoshop and Curves. I always give my selections a bold amount of feathering. Bold approaches worked in the old wet darkroom and so I use this same approach in the new electronic darkroom.

With the image looking quite good colour wise, I set the endpoints in Photoshop Levels. Hold the Alt key down while moving the endpoint triangles. When moving the white point the image will go white and only the areas with blown out whites will be shown; When moving the black point the image will go black and only the areas with plugged blacks will be shown. With Mac running Photoshop, hold the Option key.

When done, I gave it a small amount of Saturation (8), resized the image for the Net (7 inches deep at 72 dpi) and lastly I sharpened it using Unsharp Mask. (Amount: 160%, Radius: 2 pixels, Threshold: 3 levels)

I confess, I tweaked the overall contrast with one last visit to Photoshop Curves. I grabbed the curve at the shadow end and therefore put a bit more weight to opening up the shadows but it not a big deal for most of us. The resulting image looks good on screen and will make fine prints for the family scrapbook.