Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pushing the limits

I got my much needed picture of my granddaughter.

Attending the annual Christmas Irish dance show is a family must: My granddaughter, 4, takes part. I must get a picture. The problems are legion, or at least they feel numerous and immense. My camera is but a glorified point and shoot, the distance from the stage is so great I must use a long lens setting and therefore a small f/stop and the light level is quite low. It is a tough situation.

I set my Fujifilm HS10 to manual. I accept the f/stop that I must. It is wide open but when the lens is zoomed wide is not all that wide. And I set the shutter to 1/500th. Lastly, I kick up the ISO to 1600 or even 3200 if I feel lucky. I set the camera to shoot bursts of six exposures each time I depress the shutter and then I shoot lots and I shoot RAW.

The images were a little underexposed but using Photoshop I enhanced the RAW images before switching them to jpegs.

Are these images perfect? Of course not. There a little grainy thanks to the high ISO, the shadows are a little too dense thanks to the underexposure, but they are usable. They capture memories and that is what photography like this is about.

Don't let a little loss in quality stop you from capturing those important family moments.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Try and correct or just leave alone?

The older sister loves her little sister. She hugs the baby, snuggles the little girl, holds her hands and tries to involve the baby in play. In response the little baby laughs and seems to truly enjoy the attention from her older sister.

I saw this moment through the eyes of a grandfather and the moment was right. I also saw the moment through the eyes of a photographer and the light was wrong. The strong, warm light behind the two children was staining the kids with a strong blue cast.

I did what both a grandfather and photographer would do; I shot the picture. Granddad was happy and the photographer was ready for a challenge. The top image was my second kick at the colour correction can. Off to the right is the original image as it came from the camera.

Hint: The highlight in the baby's eye is among the brightest whites in this picture. Of course, it is tinted blue. In colour correcting, enlarge the baby's face until the pixels are clearly visible. Then colour correct used a white eyedropper and click on the brightest blue-tinted pixel in the baby's eyes. Done correctly, this will remove the bulk of the blue tint without blowing an extreme number of bright tones found throughout the image.

If I had the time to try colour correcting this image yet again. I would select the kids first and then colour correct. This would keep the background from being driven well into the bright yellow end of the spectrum as the kids were cleansed of their blue tint.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Putting a smile on a shooter's face

A Canon S90 proves it worth.                                                                    © Ken Wightman
I've enjoyed taking pictures all my life. I have a shot from my childhood showing me taking a picture with an old Kodak Brownie Autographic mounted securely to the top of a tripod.

In high school I bought my first SLR kit: A Pentax Spotmatic body with three prime lenses. My 300mm f/4.0 was my pride and joy. I used that stuff through art school and continued to use it at my first job as a photographer for a little, Northern Ontario daily.

Over the years I went through a Nikon stage, doesn't everyone, and finished my career deep in my Canon-shooter period. My 200mm f/1.8 was the last love of my professional life. When I left the paper, I left my camera gear behind. The paper owned my photo kit.

Today I shoot with a Canon S90, a small point-and-shoot, teamed with a Fuji FinePix HS10, a super-zoom amateur camera.

Do I miss my top-end Canon stuff? You betcha. Am I happy with my present camera kit? You betcha again. My heart is poor, my back is weak, my ability to carry a large, heavy camera bag is but a memory. If I had to shoot with my old stuff, I wouldn't be shooting. Period.

My picture of the Kestrel falcon displayed by a birder at Hawk Cliff before its release to continue its migration south is only possible because I am shooting with a small, light, take-anywhere camera.

Purists may shutter at the photographic image quality. I don't. I'm pleased to have the image and the memory-reinforcing photo. If you can handle a big DSLR, go for it. The results will put a grin on your face. If you can't, get a good point-and-shoot. The results will still put a smile on your face.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Minimal photography

Some would argue this image is too complex. Too much is going on for some minimalists.

Recently I joined a Facebook group, Abiotic Minimal Photography. I'd encourage you to join and contribute images but unfortunately the site has been closed. I believe it is now only open for viewing. Being a member, even for a brief time, exposed me to the minimal photography concept. Without knowing it, I've been shooting minimal images for years.

The AMP site had a few rules. One was that images based on flowers or other vegetation were off limits. I expect this was because it is simply too easy to shoot great minimal photos with a flower as the subject.

That said, a colourful wall featuring a colourfully painted window is a pretty obvious subject as well. I see no reason to declare vegetation an unsuitable subject for minimal photography. If it works, for it.

Now, in the spirit of minimalism I am going to keep my writing for this post to a minimum. I'm simply going to supply a good link: 8 Tips to Become Excellent at Minimalist Photography.

If this concept interests you, google 'minimal photography.' There's a lot posted on this movement. Now, get out there and enjoy.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Experimenting with RAW

I tried my first shot with my Canon S90 set to RAW. There are clear advantages to using RAW but there are also clear disadvantages -- especially if the jpeg artifacts don't both you.

This RAW image was not print ready in the least. The highlights were light and the colours lacked density. The image was soft but then it hadn't been given any automatic sharpening in the camera.

If I'm asked, I'll post some of the intermediate images. There are two. The original as it came from the camera and the one showing the result of the conversion from RAW to jpeg. The above image is the third whack at correcting the image.

Here is where the embarrassment comes in and the reason I took a couple of day to post the intermediate images. There was a woman in the background off to the side of the engineer. I removed her. I found her distracting and removed her. This was a firing offence at the newspaper where I once worked. I felt, and still feel, like I have sinned.

But, this isn't journalism as has been pointed out to me by those who have read this post and looked at the picture. So, here are the two intermediate images.

This is the way the original RAW image appeared when I first opened it in Photoshop. The major problem was that it was incredibly burned out. In Photoshop I darkened the highlights of the RAW image, deepened its shadows, sharpened it overall and adjusted its colour. When I was done, I saved the corrected image as a JPEG which can be seen below.

Next I yielded to temptation and removed the woman using Photoshop tools. I thought the woman, seen here off to the side of the engineer, was a distraction. Then I darkened the image a bit -- maybe a bit too much.

The result of the experiment was that, using my simple, amateur equipment, the RAW image has the potential to make a better quality image than the JPEG. With expensive high end DSLRs, this experiment is not valid. Those cameras can make fine images while using the JPEG format. Almost all newsphotographers, whom I know, use JPEG for its ease and speed.

Shooting jpeg? You must be a little generous.

I have been shooting jpegs with my Canon S90 and RAW with my Fuji FinePix HS10. This has made me acutely aware of the in-camera affects that can muddy an image. Shooting RAW circumvents all this automatic image enhancement. Unfortunately, the bigger RAW files take longer for the camera to process and save.

If you are going to shoot jpegs, you are going to have to be a little generous with the image quality that you are willing to accept. Just note the hair in the little girl intently colouring. The hair is smudged in some areas and exhibits overly powerful highlights in other areas.

If you cannot accept the software enhancement flaws in your images, do not shoot jpeg -- consider shooting RAW. Discover whether you are more comfortable with images produced using that approach.

I have excused the processed look by hiding behind the it's-artistic-excuse. The excuse is growing thin.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Always keep your camera handy

My granddaughter is saving for a toy that she saw in Toys R Us. I decided to drive over to the mall and check out what this little three year old is salting away money for. I was not thinking about photography.

When I saw the white horse down by the pond I temporarily forgot Toys R Us. I stopped thinking about toys and thought about pictures. I saw a picture moment and had to pull over.

I like to keep my camera handy at all times. I keep both my little Canon S90 and my larger Fuji FinePix HS10 in a small, padded camera bag which I carry with me most of the time. I also always have spare batteries for both cameras at all times. A camera without a working battery is worthless.

I used my Canon for this picture. I like it but I'm beginning to feel I should be shooting RAW rather than JPEG. Point and shoot camera software plays nasty games with image quality. I don't believe this would be an issue if I were shooting RAW.

No matter. I'm still rather pleased with this "slice of life" moment. So here's the tip: Always keep a camera handy. Today's pocket sized point and shoots are perfect but some cell phones are beginning to give low end point and shoots increasing competition.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Catch those catch-lights

Watch for the catch-lights. They can make or break a photo.

Little Isla is distorted by the wide angle I used to take her picture. Without the catch-lights attracting your attention, her smaller-than-should-be chin would be more distracting.

The catch-lights give her eyes life. They add real sparkle to her expression. They make everything right in this photographic world.

Remember to note where the windows are in a room, note where the light is coming from, and then work with that knowledge to capture those all important catch-lights. The extra effort is worth it.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Capture painted face before it melts in heat

Little kids love to have their faces painted. My granddaughter is no exception. She wanted a picture of her painted look. It wasn't going to last in Sunday's heat and I think she knew it.

For a family picture, the lady doing the art is not all that important. I got in tight and cropped out the artist. I only included her hands to frame Fiona's little face

Shots like this demand one fills the frame. I used the 105mm setting on my Canon S90. This allowed a frame-filling composition but done at a comfortable distance. You can't be shy when shooting pictures but you can't be a boor either. You've got to do what works best not only for you but for your subjects.

I had two choices when taking this image. I could shoot from the right side or the left. I chose the backlit side. The rim lighting on Fiona's cheek gives the image a nice sculptural quality. The soft, almost shadowless lighting on her closest cheek gives the skin a look quite in keeping with such a young child.

As a portrait, I like it. As a moment captured for the family album, it's absolutely wonderful.

You may notice that I don't make a lot of the exposure: The f/stop in use and the shutter speed setting. I don't make a big deal because it is not a big deal. Up close, with your lens zoomed out to a mild telephoto setting, you know that in such diffuse lighting the f/stop will be open to its maximum and the depth of field will be limited. That's all you've got to know. That's enough. Let the camera choose the exposure settings and free you to concentrate on capturing the best image, the best moment.

Strong, colourful geometric shapes make this picture

The bright colours and the geometric shapes are what make this image pop. The bright blue wheel in the background, the yellow and red squares created by the black, protective netting and the arcs of colour all work together to hold this image together while framing the picture subject.

The bright colours worn by the little girl help her to ease into her surroundings while the organic flower design on her skirt and the cartoons on her shirt all help to distance her. It is a nice mix.

This is an image that would just jump from a page in a family photo album and, as soon as I find the time to make a print, it will.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sharp is relative

This picture is not truly sharp but it looks good at this size.

One attribute of many good pictures is sharpness. Back in the days of film, one way of eliminating negatives not worth printing was to examine one's negatives under a magnifying loupe. If the negative was out of focus it was out of the running.

Today, thanks to digital photography and the sharing of images digitally rather than as prints, the rules for what is sharp enough have slackened.

Be aware that when you sharpen an image in Photoshop, you do not truly sharpen the picture. You add edge contrast. It is a line effect. But, it does give the illusion of sharpness if the image does not demand too much sharpening enhancement or if the image is played small and displayed on a computer monitor.

Today's picture of my granddaughter is not dead on sharp. Subject movement, not enough to be artsy but enough to be annoying, mars the image. I gave it some sharpening in Photoshop and have played it relatively small on the computer monitor.

It looks good now, just don't look too closely.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The world is a 360-degree experience

The threatening storm rolling into London arrived accompanied by threats of possible tornadoes, heavy hail and high winds gusting up to 110 km/h.

I walked across the court to take some pictures. As the storm moved closer I looked down. Ah, there was the picture. I forgot the storm.

It is important, as a photographer, to never forget that the world is a 360-degree experience. Always remember that there is more to the world than what is shown by your viewfinder.

This can be tough. You don't want to miss what you initially wanted to capture but keep an alert eye for alternate picture opportunities. The flat light of an approaching storm can make pictures of wildflowers pop.

I should also note that there are times that I miss the wonderful picture quality of my old professional DSLRs. The image taken with my FujiFilm HS10 is good. It does the job. It makes me smile. But it is not in the same league picture-quality-wise as those from my old Canon EOS monsters I once carried about while working at the local newspaper.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tell a story

A picture that tells a story is often a stronger picture. A chap walking for his health is one picture but a chap pumping a bit of iron while he strolls is another picture — a better picture. There is no doubt why this fellow is walking through the park — no question whatsoever.

The barbells also add a little extra dash of interest, always a plus.

In cropping this image,  the bright yellow dandelions on the left were retained as was a little bit of green grass on the right. Both help to define the paved path and while softening visual effect of the hard, wide, asphalt walkway.

The long lens on the Fuji FinePix HS10 was zoomed almost to the max. This helped to throw the background slightly out of focus by keeping the depth of field shallower than it would have been if shot at wide angle.

Lastly the bright, red shirt underlines the importance of the subject in the picture. The combination of red on a green is a classic. This placement makes the red pop.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bright values pop, attracting the eye

These mushrooms did not pop into our view from the forest floor but they do command our attention here. Why? Well, they are clearly the brightest objects in the picture. Their bright value makes them pop out from the work. Also, this image has been "printed" with increased contrast in the "digital darkroom."

Plus their placement and clarity, the mushrooms are among the few objects in focus in this shot, just adds to their control of the visual territory.

I've talked about depth of field before and how images with shallow depth of field force attention onto the in-focus subject. With point and shoot cameras controlling this effect can be difficult. But, when the light is subdued, as it was in the forest, and the camera lens is set to a wide aperture in order to capture enough light, shallow depth of field is the natural outcome.

If you are shooting with a point and shoot and you find all these promising possibilities coming together, take advantage of the moment and shoot lots. You may get a winner. I got two!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Imitating selective focus

Shooting with a point and shoot, there is one thing that I really miss: Selective focus. Choose a fast shutter speed and mate it to a wide aperture and slash the depth of field in your picture.

Depth of field being the depth of sharp focus in front of and behind the point at which you focused when composing your shot. The smaller the taking aperture, the greater the depth of field. About one third of the depth of field is in front of the true focus point and about two thirds is behind that point.

Use a wide aperture, an f/stop with a small number, and the background in your shot will be rendered out of focus. This can make the subject of your picture, the think on which you focused, pop right off the page. It is a nice effect.

The small sensors in digital point and shoots make blurring background difficult. Depth of field is also dependent on the size of sensor, or with film cameras the size of the film. Cameras that used 4X5 film had very little depth of field. Back in the days of film, 35mm cameras were thought to give a lot of depth of field. Now, with sensors so small in many digital cameras, the 35mm cameras seem in comparison to have been great for blurring foregrounds and backgrounds. They made subjects pop from the image if you took the time to force the effect.

Usual look of a point and shoot picture of a flower in bright, full sunshine.

Digital single lens reflex cameras, the top of the line ones with sensors the size of 35mm film, are great at reproducing the shallow depth of field of the old SLRs. But what to do if one is using a point and shoot with a small sensor. The answer: A photo enhancement program. I have found Photoshop does a great job of emulating the look resulting from shallow depth of field.

The flower picture taken into Photoshop to have the background blurred.

So, how was it done? The pedals I wanted to remain sharp were selected using the magic wand. I also selected the flower immediately behind the main flower in order to keep them in focus too. I felt the traditional depth of field of the past might well have extended as far as that second flower in the image. I inverted the selection. I feathered the edgles about 2 pixels. Finally, I applied the Filter -> Blur -> Field Blur... until I got the look I desired.

Clearly, doing this in-camera is preferable. It is far quicker and the results are better if one simply shoots at a wide open aperture and then takes a couple of other pictures with the lens closed down an f/stop or two. But, if one doesn't have the money for a SLR and one can pick up Photoshop cheap - I did, keep an eye open for sales - then Photoshop, or another enhancement program with this blurring feature, may be the answer.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Shooting RAW

Shot through a kitchen window using a Fuji FinePix HS10 shooting RAW.

For years I resisted shooting RAW. I used a couple of high end Canon DSLR cameras shooting for the newspaper and these cameras did just fine shooting jpgs. A powerful program like Photoshop had no difficulty colour correcting my shots and when working to deadline most of us in the photo department found jpgs quicker to correct and send off to the desk than RAW images. One shooter actually shot RAW briefly and then switched back to jpg. For me, this confirmed that shooting jpgs was the way to go at the paper.

That said, since leaving the paper a big disappointment for me has been the incredible amount of processing performed on jpg images by point and shoot amateur cameras. My early Canon SD10 wasn't anywhere near as sophisticated as todays cameras and I believe it was a much better camera for it.

My Canon S90, as nice a camera as it is, has some faults that are making me question whether or not I have been too accepting. For instance, the in-camera processing will sometimes blur areas in the image. Sharpening and blurring are both done in-camera when saving jpgs but neither is carried out on RAW files.

Unfortunately, shooting RAW turns off the image enhancement features you want along with the ones you don't. The Canon S90 lens suffers from a lot of distortion at wide angle. For the most part, the photographer shooting jpg does not see this. The in-camera computer corrects this distortion before saving the images as jpgs. Shoot RAW and the distortion will be there to see. No in-camera correction.

So, why am I thinking of shooting RAW? I got a real deal on Photoshop a year or so ago. I've got software powerful enough to fix any distortion. Render intricate detail as blurry mush and there is no amount of Photoshopping that will bring back the missing visual information.

Look at the far left of this image, at the little rabbit's rump, do you see how blurry the fur is. My guess is this fur would be detailed if shot using RAW rather than jpg.

For a more detailed discussion of shooting jpg vs. RAW, here is a link to a fine technical site:

Understanding RAW

There was a time I was an I-care-about-the-science kind of photographer. I used to try water bath development to capture detail in church windows while holding detail in the dark, shadowy pews. Slow, I had those concerns beaten out of me. I learned that three years of art school and more years spent at Ryerson earning a degree all worked to fill me with far too much fear.

I learned to focus on the subject to the exclusion of everything else, to strive for images that could be delivered quickly to the desk while capturing the subject accurately enough to keep the editors happy. Heck, by the time a reader saw my shot it had been translated into a halftone, separated into three colours and printed on newsprint. One could easily get too concerned with quality, quality that would never make it to the reader.

Now, some years into my retirement, I am starting to think it may be time to get back to my roots and spend some time getting a good handle on this digital photography beast. It may be time that I learned what my computer-that-takes-pictures (my digital camera) is really up to. The world of silver halide is gone and maybe I need to get in step with the changes.

--- As you may have noticed, this is more a blog than a source of great photographic insight. Follow my tips and you'll be a better shooter but that's all. Maybe better isn't enough. Maybe I should raise the photo quality bar. ---

Friday, April 12, 2013

Cameras aren't toys . . . uh, yes they are!

Fiona, 3, taking some pictures of a bunny in our backyard.

"Fiona! Gug-ah's camera is not a toy!" This was the warning shouted at Fiona when she dared to take my camera to get a shot of something that "made a picture." Let me make one thing clear, it wasn't a warning from me. I've given the little girl permission to use my small point and shoot anytime she needs a camera.

Fiona has been taking me up on my offer since she was two. Now, at the age of three, she is beginning to amaze even me. And I'll admit, I'm partial to the little kid's work.

I like this shot but Fiona wasn't satisfied.
When Fiona asked for my camera this morning, it was to take some pictures of a bunny nibbling grass in the backyard.

I gave her my Canon S90 with the lens zoomed out to 105mm and I went for my other camera, a Fuji FinePix HS10. Fiona took shots of the bunny; I took pix of Fiona.

When I viewed Fiona's work, flipping through the images on the camera-back monitor, I was surprised to see she had captured the rabbit very nicely in a number of her shots. The short telephoto hadn't caused her much grief. The biggest problem was subject movement and camera movement. Both worked together to screw up almost all her pictures. Even the ones posted, suffer some from movement.

I was most disappointed by all the photos showing the rabbit mainly from the back. The bunny's rump was the main thing in those pictures.

Chatting with Fiona, I was surprised to learn that my granddaughter wanted to take the pictures accenting the bunny's "behind." According to the little girl, pictures of a rabbit from the side or front, ones that accent its face, are common; Shots featuring a rabbit's rump are not your everyday picture.

Fiona's approach is a simple one and will increase anyone's chance of a successful shoot.

  • Know what you want to feature.
  • Shoot lots. If you don't get what you want, at least you'll get something.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Bounce fill often better than adding another light

Years ago I heard a famous New York fashion photographer describing how she lit her shots for the covers of famous magazines. She used one light and a carefully placed wall of inexpensive white foam board for fill.

It was a good tip and one I went on to use for not just fashions shoots but food shoots and more. Now retired and blogging, I needed a shot of a drug blister pack showing some writing on the foil. My first shots were all too contrasty.

I was doing my shoot on the dining room table with the light supplied by a nearby window. The light was soft, directional and yet too harsh for the foil.

I looked about and grabbed the napkin holder filled with white napkins. I slid the hold into position below the blister pack. (See picture.)

The white napkins reflected the window light back into the shot, lightening the harsh shadows that had been hiding important lettering. The yellow table cloth also benefited from the boosted light level.

It took five seconds to add a "second" light. Five seconds!

Check the results. It was five seconds well spent. And the napkins could still be used as napkins later.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Learning to shoot blind

Light was wonderful but finding a vantage point was a challenge. A point and shoot met the challenge.

News shooters know this trick. Often, when caught inside a tight scrum of photographers, they do the only thing possible. They hold their cameras above their heads and they shoot blind.

At least, this is what they did two decades ago. Today, with monitors on camera backs that flip out and even possibly rotate, it is no longer so imperative that one keeps one's eye to the viewfinder.

For more than four decades I was a news shooter. I learned to hold my camera high above my head and shoot with film and with trust. When I got my first point and shoot, a Canon SD10, I found I had a camera that did not have a viewfinder and the monitor could not be viewed in bright sunlight.

I'll admit that I thought I was snookered. I confess that at first I hated that camera. Unfortunately it was a gift from my wife. Returning it was not an option.

Red sketch indicates camera position.
So I learned to shoot in the dark when I was in bright sunshine, or so you might say. The talent I had honed shooting above the heads of other photographers, I put to a new use. Looking at my portfolio of shots taken with my SD10, I've got to admit a whole lot of them were taken "blind."

The other day I saw my three-year-old granddaughter doing a Dora puzzle. She was facing a living room window, the light was wonderful, the moment memorable but there was no way I could get into position for the picture. If I took the time to move the plant and pot sitting just where I wanted to be, the moment would be lost.

I sat down, hung my arm over the edge of the sofa, and with my hand almost at floor level, I started shooting and shooting and shooting some more. Exposing digits is cheap. The constraints of expensive film are concerns from yesterday.

My Canon S90 doesn't have a flip out monitor, but it does have an f/2.0 lens at wide angle (28 mm). And it can be set to take a lot of pictures in a hurry. It may be an amateur point and shoot, but it is a pro at handling focus concerns and exposure calculations.

I shot lots and I got a picture with lots to like. I also got lots not to like, but that's O.K. Talk and digits are cheap. Good pictures are priceless.

Learn to shoot blind. It'll open your eyes.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A fast lens and available darkness makes a better picture

When I got into photography in a serious way, my photography instructor drove home the idea that slow lenses were for amateurs and fast lenses were for pros. Part of the reason for this was cost. Fast lenses cost a lot more money. An f/3.5 lens was a lot less money, and also weighed a lot less, than an f/1.8 lens.

The above shot of my wife blowing out the candles on her birthday cake, surrounded by her grandchildren, was shot available. I had the lights turned out in the dining room but there was some light spilling into the shot from a distant kitchen.

I made sure the three were facing the lit kitchen and not the dark wall behind them. The positioning was under my control. I see nothing wrong with taking a little control when shooting family pictures.

The shot may be a little grainy but I can live with that. I like it much more than a shot done with an on-camera flash that provides a cold blast of light illuminating the scene in an unattractive, flat, shadowless manner. (And a faster lens helps to keep the need for ridiculously high, image-damaging fast ISO-speeds, to a minimum.)

If I were buying a point and shoot today, I would make sure it had a least an f/2.0 lens like my now aging Canon S90. Do a google search and you will find there are even faster point and shoots out there today.

Remember, the smaller the f/stop number the faster the lens. f/1.4 is a full stop faster than f/2.0 and two full stops faster than f/2.8. And even with a fast lens, try and brace the camera while taking your shots. A steady camera is important even with all the image stabilizing technology used in making cameras today.

And as most point and shoots suffer from camera lag, I find shooting bursts of shots and just not single pictures helps to capture the moment. With some cameras this may force you to accept smaller files but this is not a problem if you are not making enlargements bigger than eight by ten.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Why I like a fast lens: f/2.0 and no slower than f/2.8

The skin peels from Bud Gardens, revealing a skater underneath.

The World Figure Skating Competitions were held in London, Ontario, last week. I'd have loved to shoot some of the action on the ice but the ticket costs were out of the reach of this retired photographer.

But outside the arena, on an exterior wall to be exact, there was another event to photograph: The Tree of Light light show. This was one of those 3D projection mapping displays so popular around the world.

The company that produced the one in London was the Moment Factory out of Montreal, Quebec. The Moment Factory has done work across the globe.

These projections are incredibly bright and easily photographed using almost any point-and-shoot camera. Still, having a camera with a fast maximum f/stop at wide angle is still a plus. A fast lens means you are prepared for the worst. You know you will get a picture.

You also know that you may get by very nicely without the use of either a tripod or even something on which to brace your camera.

The fast lens also makes it easier for the camera to focus accurately and quickly. Faced with a choice between a fast lens and a longer zoom range, I'd take the fast lens every time.

But, the advantages of a fast lens are not restricted to rare occasions such as shooting projected displays. A fast lens is called on to provide its magic on almost a daily basis.

When my granddaughter did an impromptu dance, causing her dress to swirl, my Canon S90 with its f/2.0 lens had the lens for the job. It may have been night, the illumination may have been a low wattage fluorescent bulb, but the Canon S90 succeeded where other cameras might well have failed.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Possibly best camera ever for newspaper reporters?

If you came here looking for a technical report on why I picked this camera and not that one. You've come to the wrong place. I've never used a camera from a high-end manufacturer that had a lot of hidden surprises. A careful reading of the specs released by the camera maker is usually enough to let me know whether or not a camera will work for me. If I need confirmation, I find a few in-depth reviews on the Web. Every thing I know about the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 tells me that it will be my next super-zoom and I'm quite confident that I will be happy with my new camera. I've already stopped by a camera store and the FZ200 passed the 'how does it feel in my hands' test.

For a technical report go to Camera Debate 

A good technical look at the Panasonic FZ200 can be found on Camera Debate. Interestingly, they compared the FZ200 to the Canon SX50 HS and the Canon won. They went for high ISO quality over the constant f/2.8 aperture.

See images taken by with an FZ200 at CNET Reviews

If you want to see a good selection of images taken under a good mix of conditions, click the link to  CNET Reviews. Do you agree with Camera Debate that the digital grain ruins the images by ISO 800? Based on the photos posted by CNET, I believe I could live with the grain at ISO 800. But, I would find ISO 1600 getting a little too rough for some applications.

FZ200 quality at f/2.8 and 600mm equivalent lens length, posted by Panasonic.

My post 

I worked as a staff photographer for nearly four decades in the newspaper business. My first camera kit was based on a 1960s Pentax Spotmatic body mated with three lenses: A 28mm, a 135mm and a 300mm telephoto. The 300mm was the slowest lens of the bunch at f/4.0.

The Pentax wore out rather quickly, dying from way too much use. It wasn't designed to take a thousand pictures a week, fifty thousand a year. I replaced that first kit with a Nikon F2 plus another gaggle of prime lenses. I loved my Nikkor 28mm f/2.0. It was some piece of glass. The rest of my kit simply duplicated the Takumar (Pentax) lens based kit.

I stayed with Nikon for years, upgrading the lenses from prime to zooms as soon as zooms that held a constant aperture of f/2.8 hit the market. When the paper at which I worked offered to pay for our personal camera kits, I switched to the Canon EOS line of professional DSLRs. I got by with two zooms lenses plus a 200mm, f/1.8, telephoto which converted to 400mm, f/3.6, when used with a 2X teleconverter.

When I retired, the paper kept my gear. I found myself forced to embrace new cameras and tackle a new approach to photography in my senior years. Money and a bad back ruled out replacing my work gear with more Canon pro stuff. I decided to buy two cameras: A Canon S90 which offered a fast f/2.0 aperture when used at wide angle (28mm) and a Fujifilm HS10 superzoom with a lens capable of emulating a 24-720mm zoom on a 35mm camera.

Taken with my Fujifilm HS10 zoomed to the max, this is a great image.

I love the Canon S90. I have absolutely no complaints with that camera. I do not hesitate to recommend its latest incarnation, the Canon S110, to those looking for a compact point-and-shoot. It does have some competition today, there are other f/2.0 wide angles being offered, google the reviews. Maybe there is a better choice today but you can't go far too wrong with the Canon.

Orchid shot with Canon S90 at show in a school gym.
I've had great luck with my point-and-shoot camera kit. I haven't been thrust into any situation where I could not get an image. That said, it has been tough at times.

The biggest problem has been lens speed. Both cameras are damn slow when zoomed out to telephoto. f/5.6 is just not good enough. One can make do. One can get by. But in professional do-or-die situations, these cameras have serious limitations.

My Fujifilm HS10 has had a rough life. It has been dropped into coarse gravel and onto a hard tile floor. It keeps going, so I must give it an A- for solid build quality. It gets the minus because the camera back monitor blinks on and off at times and something else is amiss inside the camera. A colour cast is appearing in some images of late. It is time to think about a replacement for the HS10.

I've had good luck shooting with my HS10. I had very good luck.

My choice for the best all-around super-zoom available today is -- drum roll, please -- the Panasonic Lumix FZ200. This camera offer a 25mm to 600mm zoom with a constant f/2.8 aperture used wide open. This brings back memories of my beloved pro lenses.

My Fujifilm HS10 took this. The FZ200 will make it easier.
So, what claims does Panasonic make for the FZ200 that have convinced me it it the best super-zoom for me? Check out the Panasonic site for the answer. And look carefully at the posted images shot by some pros. Here is a link: The Breath of Nature Captured with FZ200.

If you are actually a working pro, the FZ200 will not replace your Nikon or Canon DSLR with assorted detachable lenses, but if you are anything less, say a reporter, I'd give the purchase of the FZ200 a lot of thought.

There are reviews on the Web of the FZ200. But in my experience, what is important is not the grain that appears at IS01600, or the number of lines per mm that can be captured with the lens zoomed all the way out, what's important are the moments that can be captured. Most of us are not looking for ultimate quality and quibbling over tonal range, most of us simply want a decent shot Bruce Cockburn in concert for our scrapbook. A large aperture (f/2.8) should make this easier. I liked what I was getting before, I can't wait to see what I'm going to be able to achieve with an FZ200.

An f/2.0 aperture made capturing this moment possible. Thank you Canon S90.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why? What has happened to quality?

Click the image to see all the complete photo file.

Recently I was interviewed by a freelancer for one of Canada's biggest daily papers. I supplied some art for the article as requested. The above is the picture as it looked posted on the Web. I didn't see the image in the paper but I have to wonder how it reproduced in print. It sure looks poor here.

Was the photo file I moved to the paper soft and out-of-focus? I assure you, it was not. Check out the image below. This is a copy of the original transmitted to the paper, with the only difference being that I have shrunk the file for quicker loading. I am posting less quality than moved to the paper.)

Click the image to see all the complete photo file.

Which raises the question, why does the image look so poor on the paper's website? Why?

When I worked in the newspaper industry, only experienced staff touched images. I know a lot has changed at newspapers. I know reporters take pictures and photographers write stories. I'm left wondering "Who worked on my picture?" It wasn't someone with any training is my guess.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Don't teach 'em to say cheese

Kid pictures are best if the child isn't looking at the camera and sporting one of those awful say-cheese smiles.

Get down on their level and watch for an action moment. If you have trained your children to ignore the camera, you can get in close with a wide angle and capture an intimate moment unmarred by an eyes-toward-the-camera stare complete with a foolish say-cheese grin.

Fiona had been having a ride in her sled when she realized she should share the fun. She loaded her teddy bears in the sled, grabbed the rope and trudged through the deep snow with teddys in tow. This was the picture. This is the memory moment. Keep its uniqueness intact by not injecting yourself into the moment. 

I shot this with a Canon S90 set to 28mm and fully automatic. I could have brightened the image a little more in Photoshop, see below, but I hate reopening images that I have enhanced and saved. Each time that you open 'em, change 'em and save 'em, you degrade 'em. That's the rule.

If you may reopen an enhanced image later and modify it, save it as a TIFF or another file format that does not cause image degradation with multiple openings followed by changes before saving again.

What magic did I perform in Photoshop to brighten my first image? I moved the white endpoint in Levels taking care not to lose too many highlight tones. Using Levels makes this easy. Just note the tonal graph and don't cut out too deeply or eliminate too many. Then in Curves bend the tonal curve by grabbing it near the highlight end and giving it a smooth curve along its entire length. I prefer a smooth curve. I find it makes the tonal change appear natural and not forced over what we used to call at work "over worked."

Friday, February 1, 2013

My Canon S90: should I trade it or keep it?

My granddaughter and her mom scroll through photos on mom's iPhone.
I'm wondering about a new camera. My Canon S90 was state-of-the-art when I bought it a few years ago. Today's model, the Canon S110, has dropped back in the pack; It is no longer a leader but a follower, an also ran. I understand both the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 and the Fujifilm XF1 sport better sensors, the all-important heart of a digital camera.

Plus, both the Sony and the Fuji boast zoom lenses opening to f/1.8 when used at wide angle. Very nice. The Sony seems a bit expensive, and so I am leaning toward the Fuji if I should make the jump. But, and it is a big but, my S90 is still delivering. I still get the pictures with my present camera kit. I can wait, and save. And the rumour mill has it that the next generation of my beloved camera will have the much lusted after f/1.8 lens, and maybe an improved sensor, too.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Archive child's art with point and shoot

Kids make art; They crank out a constant flow of the stuff. With an innate love of the abstract, they are prolific painters in the modern style. Fiona may be no abstract expressionist, then again maybe she is, but my wife and I like to share her work. We hang it on our fridge while secretly thinking it should hang in a gallery.

Unfortunately, a piece of art faces a short, tough life mounted on our fridge door. I saved some of Fiona's best pieces, but it soon became obvious that it was going to be impossible to save every splash of colour applied to a page.

This is where the digital camera comes in. Save your child's art for posterity, or your grandchild's, using your point and shoot. With a little luck the images may have a greater life span than the pigments used to make the original art. How stable are paints found in child's art set? Will the creation fade in sunlight?

Although there are questions about digital archiving of art, I'm betting digital images will last longer than cheap paint on coarse paper.

A note about the art: Fiona used her hands to paint the flower petals. "Watch gug-ha," she said. "Using your hands makes more complex colours." The three-year-old was right. She doesn't even own a warm brown paint but she managed to use that tone to tint a petal in her painting.

Which bring us to this: There are three things to keep in mind when archiving a kid's work.

  1. Shoot a full frame picture of the work. If you ever want to make a print, you want all the subtle nuances captured in the image.
  2. Shoot a picture showing the image on display.
  3. Try and get at least one photo of the young artist with the work. A picture showing the work being painted or sketched or whatever answers this nicely.
  4. Remember to keep the light illuminating the work "clean". Soft, mid-day daylight streaming through a large window is excellent. You don't want the picture tinted orange from an old tungsten light bulb or green from being lit by fluorescents.