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.

Pimpin’s hard work…

I see I have, yet again, been a completely lazy sod of a blogger.

Sigh.

But hey! You get what you pay for, am I right?!

However, let us not equate a lack of blogging entries to mean humble narrator hasn’t been taking pictures. Nothing could be further from the truth my dear readers. To be both frank and honest I’ve been taking more pictures over the past month than has been the norm throughout much of the summer. Unfortunately, one of my more recent photographic projects did not go quite according to plan, but instead followed my usual tried-and-true route of revealing large gaps in both my skills and talents.

And so it was humble narrator become a bit dejected. After a few days of sulking it suddenly occurred to me that my so-called ‘failure’ wasn’t actually a failure at all. Nope. Perish the thought. A ‘learning experience’ it was rebranded and suddenly all was right in the world. Lesson learned: models may be late, especially if they aren’t really models and don’t understand the value of available daylight.

Like I said… lesson learned.

Reinvigorated with my learning experience I opted to take a more casual approach to photographing of late and came back with some pleasant results.

Falls @ West Milton, Ohio

I was actually turned onto this small waterfall by some fellow Flickr friends in my area, but took great advantage of a then recent thunderstorm, which I had anticipated would swell the creek and turn this otherwise quiet fall into something more interesting. I think I was right, I might add with a just a hint of self-satisfaction. I even got a little crazy with the processing in that I dropped the Vibrance pretty heavily in Lightroom so that the green foliage would be more muted, thus making certain the viewer’s attention remained more focused upon the actual water.

Another evening I found myself suddenly struck by the urge to go out and snap some night time pictures, which is something I have rarely done. I had actually wished to grab a particular shot of a sign in the downtown Dayton area of which I had a nice daytime picture. I had hoped the neon lighting would be all lit up and that it would be… well… awesome.

It wasn’t.

The sign wasn’t lit at all. But instead of being dejected and resigned to this fate I elected to drive around the area and look for another opportunity. And could you believe one presented itself?

Firefly Building

This is actually a triptych (duh!) of some of the pictures I took that evening. It was a complete fluke that I came across this building’s entrance way as it’s not quite visible from the main drag. Regardless, I thought it so unusual it merited at least an attempt by me to get something out of it. Long exposures… tripod… not so bad results. Actually, my fav from this particular building is this image…

"NG"

Please do not ask me to explain why I like this one so much, but I do and that’s enough for me.

Now… keeping in mind my aforementioned issue with my lack of talent and skill, I elected to take part in a free class on flower/garden photography offered at one of my local parks. The price was right. The weather reasonable. And I have no problem sitting through a lecture which helps reaffirm what I’m doing right and makes me question what I’m doing wrong.

After the lecture I, along with many in attendance, ventured into the garden and snapped away merrily. I hadn’t really intended for this to become a major deal, but before I knew it almost four hours had passed (including the 1.5 hours of lecture). As I hadn’t gone to the garden with the intention of photographing flowers, insects, etc. I had become very relaxed about the entire event. It wasn’t one of my projects, where there is a built-in need to feel as if I’ve successfully accomplished something, but a simple afternoon of photography. A simple afternoon of trying to incorporate the things the instructor had discussed.

I must say I think I had some pretty nice pictures come from it as well…

I need more days like that one.

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.

Let’s Just Call It Progress For Now…

Having mentioned in previous posts that I have felt a certain amount of intimidation… and perhaps even trepidation… regarding Adobe Lightroom (and it’s little brother, Photoshop Elements), it has come as good news to yours truly that I have been busy embracing Lightroom (“Lr” from here forward) over the past week.

It is such an incredibly huge programme with so many features, options, settings, etc. such that I don’t even know where to begin most days. Clearly the user’s guide would probably be a nice starting point, but that would be way to easy. We can’t have that, now can we?

Regardless, I have thrown myself into it with full effect and, like the younger version of your humble narrator, remain hopeful that all will be just fine regardless. And thus far…. well… it’s been a bit of mixed bag.

No doubt Lr is a very powerful application for viewing, editing and cataloguing image files and thus far I have only scratched the surface of all it can do to images and for for me. I spent the better part of a week adding keywords to approximately 1/3 of all my pictures (not having yet imported the other 2/3’s) and began working on a project which I have neglected for far too long: processing the pics from my trip to Wisconsin for my grandmother’s funeral and my cousin’s wedding.

It has been during this first major undertaking using Lr that I have started to use some of the more everyday features (or I assume they are ‘everyday’) including a smattering of keyboard shortcuts (I love keyboard shortcuts) and the collections feature. I have also embraced the Auto button in the Development mode, at least for this particular project.

First, collections is a way to group together photos that share some sort of user-defined common theme. Perhaps it is a birthday party. Or a certain person. Or whatever it is you might want to group together for some purpose. For me it was the opportunity to group together the pictures from my trip to Wisconsin. See… that trip includes pictures of different events and settings and as I knew that some images would likely demand more of my attention in post-processing and that some would only be shared with family I elected to divide the entire group of imported pictures into collections. One collection for funeral-related stuff. Another for visiting some friends in Two Rivers. And yet another for the wedding… and so on. Dividing all the pictures into these collections allowed me to work on them in smaller batches and with certain ideas regarding their processing/editing being specific to the collection.

It also made it easier when it came to exporting them as JPEGs because I could select only those collections which I was going to share with family members via burned DVDs. For instance, the pictures I took of my friends in Two Rivers as well as mine and my dad’s photography excursion to the WW II submarine exhibit will not go out to the family members. As such I need only select the other collections for exportation to JPEG, thus leaving the unrelated pictures off the DVD.

Sweet!

However, not all is sunshine and bunnies with this collection business. First, it seems that I cannot always remove a photograph from a collection as the option to do such is greyed out. In some collections this isn’t a problem, but in others… well…. it’s a problem. And as yet I haven’t seen any recognizable relationship between those pictures I can remove from a collection and those that I cannot.

In an unrelated, but equally confusing matter, I have noticed that some functions/settings can be applied to images when they are selected in the filmstrip, which runs along the bottom of the Lr window. However, other functions/settings cannot be applied from the filmstrip, but must be handled either from grid view or as a single image in the viewer. To me that’s just plain weird. A selected image is a selected image and I don’t know why it should matter whether it was selected in the filmstrip or in the grid. Perhaps there is a reason…. a very good reason, but it shall remain a mystery for the moment.

As I mentioned earlier I learned of the miracle of the Auto button in the development module. Auto is just like it sounds: auto-adjustment. Press it and Lr does whatever it does to determine what would make your image better. Nicer. Whatever. And I must say that for the most part it was a rewarding experience to use it. The end result was often very close to the adjustments I made myself, which, after some experimentation, left me feeling confident in its use for moving rapidly through many images.

However, and I think further experimentation is needed before I’m completely certain of this accusation, I’m not certain one can use the Auto option along with the Sync option. It occurred to me after having already gone through maybe one half of the 600+ images I had from Wisconsin, that if I’m generally satisfied with the Auto feature I should use it and then Sync it across all the images! What a time saver! I could then review each photo and if I felt Auto had gotten it wrong I could Reset that image and manipulate by hand to my heart’s delight. Except I don’t think it really worked that way….

As I said, further experimentation is needed, but I think what happened is that when I Auto’d the first image and then synced that to all subsequent images it was the specific individual settings from that Auto-treatment that wound up being applied across the rest of the images, which is NOT what I wanted. No. Instead I wanted Lr to apply the Auto feature to each individual image and not merely copy the Auto-settings from that first image.

Something of a disaster, you know?

But where would humanity be without the adage “Live and learn”?

Does JPEG Make More Sense?

Over the past month or so I have been considering my general absence from dSLR photography. And during the course of pondering, considering and talking to myself…outloud…which can be rather disconcerting to those around me….I have further honed a thought that I have had and shared on numerous other occasions:

I really like being behind the camera, but not in front of the computer.

I mean, I don’t particularly care for the process of going through my photos, picking keepers from dumpers, and then editing them to turn them into something better or even tweaking them for upload to Flickr.

I had, for a while, dismissed my lack of interest in such matters as being a reaction to the complexities of Photoshop and Lightroom. To address this particular issue I have undergone a metamorphosis, if you will, by reading, watching and listening to any number of websites, podcasts and online videos related to the proper and creative use of Photoshop and Lightroom.

And while this information collecting has left me feeling more comfortable and confident about the use of these fine pieces of software it has done nothing to dissuade me from the general sense of apathy I have about using them.

So what does one do?

I mean, there’s little reason to continue to hang on to my cameras, lenses, flash and other assorted photography-related items if I have no intention of putting them to use, right?

But that’s absurd as well because I desperately want to put them to work. Because I really enjoy being behind the camera. So you can see the problem.

And then just today, while watching some lovely red cardinals soar from tree to tree in our back garden, I thought to myself “How could I mitigate the amount of time I spend in front of the computer?” in regards to the whole process and what-not as related to this photography caper?

Shoot in JPEG.

Okay….shooting in JPEG doesn’t mean I don’t have to sift through my shoots and sort keepers from flushers, but as the amount of processing that can be reasonably done to a JPEG is monumentally smaller than that which can be done to a RAW file….well….you get the picture. (pun completely and utterly intended)

And by processing I don’t mean the creative sort of stuff one typically does in Photoshop, but the more basic sort of processing at which software like Lightroom excels. The sort of processing I have been doing, but do not particularly enjoy.

As an added bonus I wonder if the switch to shooting in JPEG would force me to become a better photographer? I mean, without the ability to make monumental and wholesale changes to my image file I would have to learn to shoot better pictures to begin with, wouldn’t I?

And certainly there is no correlation between excellent photography and file type, right? A quick look around Flickr convinces me that the skills, knowledge and creativity needed to make exceptional images has little if nothing to do with whether or not one shoots in JPEG or RAW.

But I don’t know….it’s a major paradigm shift, isn’t it? And what about the ability to save a picture shot in RAW that might otherwise be for the trash bin if shoot in JPEG? The way I shoot I need every saving grace I can get both hands upon.