White balance you say?

You know what I like about taking photographs with my iPhone? Simplicity.

At its core there are no settings. You select the Camera app…. it selects the focus area (or you can do such if so inclined)…. you press and release the virtual button. And you’re done.

Granted, there seems to be millions of apps by which to edit your image, but the actual act of snapping the photo is brain-dead simple. And this is a good thing as I’m pretty brain-dead a lot of the time. But for every moment the iPhone is just fine for capturing something in a lovely stream of 1’s and 0’s there is a moment when a dSLR (or something relatively equivalent) certainly comes in handy. But the price we pay for shooting with fancier cameras is complexity. And complexity, my dear readers, opens up opportunities for mistakes.

But this isn’t necessarily always a bad or undesirable thing. For example…

West Milton Falls in Fluorescent White Balance

West Milton Falls in Fluorescent White Balance Setting

I snapped the above a few days ago while re-visiting a local waterfall, which is actually part of a city’s drainage system. I had thought I ‘fixed’ all my various settings to the appropriate… uh… settings, when about half way through the shoot I realized the white balance setting was still on Fluorescent (I had been shooting in my kitchen a few days previously).

Sigh.

I quickly made the necessary adjustment to Cloudy and continued shooting knowing I could easily alter the white balance setting in Lightroom as I shoot in Raw. Notice I said I shoot in Raw and not in the Raw, which would be a completely different matter altogether.

When I returned home and popped my pictures onto the computer I finally had the opportunity to see them on the large screen which allows for a better view. I moved along through all the pictures with the incorrect (Fluorescent) setting and then came upon the ‘correct’ ones. And you know what? I was disappointed with them. Yes; they were much more accurate in terms of color, but they seemed to have lost something. And so I tried an experiment.

I created a virtual copy of the above image and set its white balance to Cloudy within Lightroom and obtained this result…

West Milton Falls in Cloudy White Balance

West Milton Falls in Cloudy White Balance

So… is it just me who thinks the image with the much more appropriate white balance setting is less appealing or what?

I confess I prefer the foliage in the corrected version, but the focal point of the image is and should be the waterfall and there I find the incorrect white balance setting to offer a much more pleasing effect. Perhaps more importantly is the fact it was my intention all along to work my final selection of photographs such that any greenery showing would be fairly desaturated as to take away its potentially distracting qualities and help keep the viewer’s focus upon the water.

Once I factor in my additional editing plans I can’t think of a single reason to not use the incorrect white balance setting on all my keepers and let the work speak for itself with those who view them. However, I elected to seek some opinions from others and shared these two images with a handful of friends and family. The consensus? None.

There were those who liked the correct white balance and those who preferred the incorrect one, AND they were evenly split. Good grief. It’s bad enough when I myself have difficult selecting for more impact, but when everyone puts the decision up in the air…. Wow.

So where does this leave me? Well I’m going to work the keepers with the incorrect white balance and edit as previously mentioned. However, I think I will include at least one copy with the same edits, but with the corrected white balance and see what folks on flickr say about the choice. Can’t wait to see where the choices fall.

When life gives you lemons…

Yeah… so… I have this thing about photography wherein I tend to have something in mind which I wish to accomplish. I call it project photography.

Instead of simply picking up my camera and photographing stuff I get an idea into my head, plan it out and then go and do it. I meet with varying degrees of success as is painfully obvious when one views either this blog or my Flickr account. There are those who strongly support the shoot every day mentality, but I can’t get behind that for myself. It’s like those 365-projects you see so often on Flickr. The pictures often seem forced, if that makes any sense and I’m not into forcing myself to snap pictures if I’m not inclined. But I sure do love setting up for a photography outing and so it was I did such last month.

I had been searching for a new model when at a local art festival I ran into a young lady my daughter knows. I had thought about asking her before, but never got around to it, but here she was. And I was. And there you go. Numbers exchanged I began making plans for a project with her. And I had it all planned out… the location, time of day, what I wanted to actually shoot, etc. And so it was the day came and I arrived early to scout the location, which I had been to before, for our photographic get-together.

But there was a problem. Actually… two problems.

First, the incredible graffiti, which covered a lot of the walls around this set of buildings in downtown Dayton, was gone. Painted over. And fairly recently. So much for my cool-as-shit backdrops. Second, my model was late. By over an hour. Not really being a model she wasn’t aware of the great importance of the waning daylight I had intended to make use of. We were off to a poor start. But instead of being dejected (too dejected I mean) I opted to make do with what I had of the remaining daylight and the fact I had brought my single-light kit.

And so it was we tackled my first selected location with the now fading ambient daylight…

Sarah in Doorway I

Sarah in Doorway I

I had noticed this tiny green door surrounded by the red-painted bricks and thought it might make for a nice background. And I think I was right, but I had no small amount of difficulty figuring out how to arrange her within the space. So many of the poses looked tense or even awkward… as if she was just a bit too big for the small doorway, but we continued in hopes of finding some sort of magic.

Sarah in Doorway II

Sarah in Doorway II

While I’m not certain I was actually aware of the thought-process, I eventually came to settle upon two styles which seemed to work better. The pose in the above picture seemed to work well. I mean, if the space is vertically challenged then go horizontal, right? Seems pretty self-evident in hindsight, but at that moment in time I was having issues with seeing this. And the other style which appeared to work better was to get in close and let just a part of the doorway be the backdrop.

Sarah in Doorway III

Sarah in Doorway III

Alas… the sun was setting quickly and at this location we were already shooting in strong shade brought about from the shadow of the building. I was loath to let my model go after such a short period of time… hell… I had been there longer in advance of her than we had been shooting thus far. And so I suggested, if she didn’t mind, we try and make something of the evening with the flash, stand and umbrella I had dragged along.

Sarah being game she helped me get the equipment out of the car and we moved on to another spot I had selected. And here was where things became more complicated as I hadn’t planned to shoot with just the flash and I’m really not adept at it in any way. I mostly use the flash and umbrella for fill-light and the like and not as the sole source of illumination. Add this to the general complications which come from photographing a model when you don’t really do that sort of thing anyway and it’s more-or-less a recipe for disappointment.

Still….

Sarah on Escape Ladder

Sarah on Escape Ladder

I think the above is my fav of the entire evening. It may not be my most favorite pose, or lighting, or framing/composition, but I think it possesses the best overall qualities. Kudos to Sarah for having been so cooperative too as we spent most of the rest of the evening working on the escape ladder, which couldn’t have been particularly comfortable.

The ladder had presented a unique problem in so much that she was up fairly higher than I and my light, while on a 9-foot stand, just wasn’t tall enough to throw light on her in a more or less 90-degree angle to the plane of her face. In other words: I was often throwing light up to her at an angle, which led to some really weird and undesirable results. In the above image she had come down onto the steps and I was able to get the light thrown more directly upon her.

Eventually we wondered off to one last spot in front of a solid brick wall. Just her and I standing there with me trying to find a way to get light on her in a way which might be pleasing. I didn’t want her to be lit face-on as she was in the last image, but nor did I want anything which cast large portions of her face into too much shadow. After a great number of attempts I finally found a pose and positioning on my part which seemed to work.

Sarah at Wall

Sarah at Wall

There are still some things I could do to this image in editing which I think will make it even better (like adding some light to the dark side of her hair), but in general I’m rather pleased. Of course this sort of thing gives me just the excuse I need to dump the file into my recently purchased Adobe Photoshop CS5 and try and make the image more the way I really want it to be.

But boy… CS5 sure is a complicated bit of programming.

Welcome Surprises…

Being an amateur photographer I’m accustomed to surprises. Unfortunately they tend to be of the un-welcomed variety.

Like the time I first took out my brand new 70-200mm lens. Photographing cardinals in an ice-covered tree I’d press the shutter release and nothing would happen. Then some seconds later “click”. I spent two or three minutes thinking there was something wrong with the lens, when in truth there was something wrong with me: I hadn’t changed the camera settings back from self-timer after my last use.

(sigh)

But sometimes we hobbyist photographers get lucky. Something cool happens. We’re playing in post-processing and chance upon a setting which really makes our otherwise average photo really sing. Or once home and in front of the computer we realize the pictures we took and thought were ho-hum on the camera’s LCD screen are actually pretty good. These are great moments.

But today I’m talking about coming across something within the actual image, which we hadn’t originally seen. For instance, we start with this basic flower picture…

A pretty picture of a pretty flower. But nothing surprising about it. Right? Well when working with this in Lightroom with a large, 24-inch monitor I came across this…

Isn’t it cute?

Sure… this isn’t a big surprise. A bug. On a flower. Outdoors. It could happen. But it was unexpected and unseen when I snapped the picture. Hell.. it was only because I was playing with cropping that I even saw this little fellow in the soft shaft of sunlight falling upon the petal.

And just the other day I was out at a local garden, Wegerzyn Garden (part of the Dayton, Ohio, area Five Rivers MetroParks system), snapping pics of late Spring flowers when I came across a bee. A bee doing its busy bee thing and so I started snapping a series of pics of it on this one particular flower.

When I got home and was going through the images I had, once again, zoomed in to better see the bee when I … well… well see for yourself.

The poor little bee has what I am certain is an unwelcome guest: a mite!

While I’m certain the bee could live without this Faustian nightmare, I can’t help but think how lucky I was to be in the right place at the right moment such that I could capture this bit of nature.

I’ll take these sorts of surprises any day of the week over not clearing previous session settings.

Firsts for 2011…

It seems a bit funny to be typing “Firsts for 2011” when one considers we are…. what…. half-way into 2011. But I think it will all make more sense when you see….

While certainly not the first butterfly to be found in the Dayton, Ohio, area in 2011 it is my first shot of one. I imagine folks who venture to my flickr photostream get tired of shots of my butterflies. But that’s their problem. I love photographing them. They are such beautiful little creatures and seeing them on my computer monitor makes me smile. Their bright colours. Sometimes iridescent.

Like I mentioned in one of my more recent posts, if I enjoy it why shouldn’t I photograph it? It is, after all, my hobby. My passion. I should shoot what makes me happy. Granted, I hope others enjoy those images as well, but ultimately the only person I need to satisfy is myself.

I also have a penchant for photographing…

Although I’m not certain what I’m really photographing in this image. I was shooting for the bee (I do love bees.. at least in terms of photography), but wound up focused upon the flower instead. But I do enjoy photographing flowers as well, just not as much as bees and other bugs.

At first I was going to delete the image from my hard drive as it wasn’t what I was looking for. You know… I nice & sharp picture of the bee. But before I could flag it as a reject in Lightroom I think I realized how this photo worked just fine after all. The flower is lovely and the bee, while out of focus, is still in-focus enough that I, and any other viewer, immediately recognize it’s a bee.

And upon further consideration I decided that this ‘mistake’ was actually a very nice photograph. Or at least I think so.

I Don’t Like Printing…

I really don’t. I’ve had nothing but trouble printing most anything larger than a 6×4-inch print. And 6×4-inch prints are made much easier for me because I have a dedicated 6×4 printer in the guise of the Epson PictureMate Snap 240. Which, I must say, is one wonderful little printer. Consumables aren’t too much and the image quality is very, very close to that of my local camera shop’s printing.

But when it comes to printing 5×7’s or 8×10’s please dear Jesus fucking shoot me.

Of course, part of the problem has been my own. For the longest time I wasn’t making the connection between the aspect ratio of my images as they come off the camera and the aspect ratios of the prints I wished to make. Our modern dSLRs aspect ratio is very similar to that of a 6×4-inch printed picture, but not that of 5×7 or 8×10.

I would frequently be trying to print one of my images as… say…. an 8×10 only to find it would be cropped in weird ways. I know this sounds really basic, but my brain only made this connection very recently. It’s likely just as much a part of how I almost never printed anything but 6×4’s in the past so my brain wasn’t trained to think in other aspect ratios. But this isn’t the complete problem for me.

Look at this for a second…

Pretty nice, eh? I thought so.

This is an image which had remained stuck in my head since I took it in February 2010. I think I’ve had this low-level thought the image could use some sort of processing and so it was the other day I elected to go back to it and fiddle around for awhile. And this is what I came up with. I’m actually very pleased with it. So pleased I decided I wanted to print an 8×10 version and frame it.

And so it was I remembered I would need to recrop the original image to the 8×10 aspect ratio. And so it was done. Easy enough, right? Certainly! And so it was I used Lightroom to export the image as a JPEG and then from within Apple’s Preview programme I printed the image. Now you may ask why I didn’t print directly from Lightroom, but that’s a discussion for another day.

And so Preview was opened, the image loaded and the process of printing commenced. I selected all the various printing attributes necessary to work with my HP Photosmart printer, loaded the 8.5×11 photo stock and printed. I then grabbed my wheeled cutting board (very handy) and trimmed away the excess white stuff. Easy. And today I went out and purchased a frame which I believed would look really nice with the image.

Upon returning home I cleaned the new frame’s glass and inserted the picture into said frame. Or I should say ‘tried’ to insert the picture. My printed and trimmed picture was too large for the frame’s insert area. A quick check with the ruler showed the frame opening to be correctly sized, which left only my so-called 8×10-inch print. A quick check of its dimensions left me with something closer to 8.35×10.6.

(sigh)

Why? What part of the process failed to produce the required 8×10 image upon an 8.5×11 sheet of photography paper? I selected an 8×10 aspect ratio for cropping. I selected 8×10 (without any scaling) in the Page Setup and Printer Setup sections. There wasn’t a single fucking thing to indicate to me I hadn’t done absolutely everything correctly. Nothing. Nada.

And while this personal disappointment and setback is bad enough, what’s worse is that I just finished printing a series of 8×10’s for family and friends of other images and mailed them the other day. This means when they get their prints they will quickly find they are not 8×10 and will need to be trimmed to fit. What a cluster fuck. And I’m so embarrassed. Every time I think I have it figured out I’m only proven wrong.

And while I’ve been discussing the option of picking up a dedicated picture printer (Canon’s PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II or the 9500 version), thanks to the largess of my mother and father, I’m concerned I won’t get better results there either. Either I am doing something fundamentally wrong or there is some sort of weird disconnect between my software and the HP printer. I’d love to say it’s the printer, but I’m afraid it’s me and that’s rather worrisome.

If I Were Any Dumber…

If I were any dumber I’d be a box of rocks.

I’m not saying I’ve completely solved my various and irritating problems with printing through Lightroom, but I may have just experienced a major epiphany. A huge breakthrough. And the fact it is so incredibly obvious only goes to prove that I should not be allowed to use photo editing software. Or maybe even a camera.

Today I elected to print one of my images as I wanted to frame and hang it on a wall in my office, where sits my photo-editing computer. It’s a nice picture. See!

So here’s the issue.

I was looking to print this image as an 8×10 in this scenario. I opened the image in Lightroom. Fiddled with page setup. Fiddled with the Print Setup. And printed the image.

Funny….. my 8×10 didn’t come out as an 8×10. When I trimmed away the remaining white border (using 8.5×11 stock) my remaining print was more like 7.5×11.

Huh?

Irritated I went back and re-traced my steps. Check this. Select that. Bingo, bango, bongo. Same results.

I returned to the original file in Lightroom and sat there looking at it and asking myself, “Mark: what’s wrong here?” And as I absent-mindedly looked around the screen hoping for inspiration I found exactly that. Inspiration

Cropping.

Not only was this image cropped from the original, but it was cropped at the same aspect ratio as the original file, which is closest to the 6×4 aspect ratio, which is not the 8×10 (or 4×5) ratio.

I quickly created a virtual copy of the image, re-cropped it, but at the 8×10 aspect ratio, exported it as a file through the Print portion of Lightroom and finally printed it via Mac’s Preview app.

Now you may wonder why I elected to use the Preview app for printing instead of simply doing such straight out of Lightroom and that would be both a fair and reasonable question. It also happens to be one for which I have an answer!

When I use Preview I find the option to turn off the printer’s colour management system and allow the Mac to control such. This means I can use the colour profile in which I create the JPEG from the original RAW file instead of using my HP printer’s colour management, which doesn’t get things quite right (especially greens).

I imagine there is something I’m missing about colour management in Lightroom in accordance with my HP printer, but I’ll be damned if I’ve found it yet. In addition, hours spent online looking for help yielded no results. As such, using Preview adds only a minor extra step, but it’s well worth the trip if only to get better control over colour management.

Mischief managed….

Back in the saddle again…

Well I finally did it. Posted some pictures on Flickr. And not just ones from my cell phone. Or ones I took for a special occasion. Or as part of my group project thing.

Nope.

PIctures of the sort I was enjoying taking until the malaise struck. Things like this…

And this…

Oh… what the hell. And like this too…

It seemed appropriate that my first real posting in some time should include pictures from a wonderful evening I had with some fellow Flickr-ites.

Let the fun begin. Again.