The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Summer comes out for the weekend

This morning we had weather about as perfect as a human could hope for, 26°C and sunny by the lake, with a gentle breeze out of the southwest. I hopped on my bike for an actual workout, complete with heart-rate monitor, for the first time in a couple of years, then came back, grabbed my camera, and walked the dog. Some results:

ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/640, 225mm

ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/500, 55mm

As I continue to evaluate Adobe Lightroom, I'm trying to figure out how best to use it. Since about 2000, I've kept the raw copies of everything my various digital cameras produced, making copies of almost all of them with names and metadata. Lightroom obviates that step, because it saves metadata and editing steps separately from the image files, preserving the raw camera output. If I need a JPEG version of a photo, I can simply export it—edited, and with all the relevant metadata.

This changes everything. I'm just now sure how. For my first step, I've set my camera to shoot only photos in raw (Canon .cr2) format. They're a lot bigger—25 MB vs. 5 MB for JPEG—but so what? Hard drive space is around $100 per terabyte, which works out to 0.24¢ per photo. (It adds up, though; I took 4,635 photos and videos in 2010 and I've taken 2,351 so far this year, and their combined 24.1 GB use up a whopping $2.35 of hard drive space.)

As I write this, dark clouds have rolled in and radar shows thunderstorms just about on top of us. I feel like I took good advantage of the excellent weather. I even remembered sunscreen today, and had the foresight yesterday to install my air conditioners. Now I've got some real work to do, though. Sounds like it's time to go to my Remote Office...

Blog post #2500

(This is the 2,500th post on The Daily Parker. And now back to our current thread, already in progress.)

Version 1, pretty much as it came out of the camera:

Version 2, processed from the raw camera file:

8 April 2011, 18:16 BST, 1/1000 f/5.6, ISO 100

Subtle differences—but noticeable.

OK, walk the dog, thence bed. I feel like I learned a lot today, including that I have to learn a lot more.

What I've learned today about image editing

I'm continuing to play with Adobe Lightroom, and it turns out I've been doing a lot wrong for five years (i.e., since I first started shooting with a digital SLR). It looks like I'm going to shoot a lot more raw photos, because they allow modern software (like Lightbox and Photoshop) a lot more control over the final image.

And, of course, I discovered this using Parker as a subject. The results don't completely suck:

50mm, 1/60 at f/2.0, ISO 3200.

50mm, 1/15 at f/1.8, ISO 3200.

More photo editing

A few days ago I experimented with photo processing to try out a technique a photographer suggested. I neglected the most obvious transformation of the photo in question:

I've also downloaded Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, though I may want to go full-bore Photoshop in a couple of weeks. Lightroom looks like a fabulous way to organize photos, which would be helpful as I've got north of 25,000 right now and that doesn't include about 170 rolls of negatives I've yet to scan. It has some basic editing tools—nowhere near as powerful as Photoshop—and I'm just getting used to them.

I still won't get any photography books for my Kindle.

Possibly inappropriate medium

Generally, I prefer to learn new things by reading first, then doing. I mentioned Wednesday that I've grown dissatisfied with my photography skills, so naturally, I'll go first to Amazon. You know: read about a technique, try it out, post the results online, rinse and repeat.

So it seems somewhat odd to me that most of Amazon's top-rated books on photography—like this one on Photoshop—have Kindle editions that cost almost as much. Because nothing will help someone understand how to do advanced photo editing than 10 cm, 18 dpi halftones, right? Even stranger: the example I just cited has a companion DVD, which I assume does not come with the Kindle version. That, to me, puts the F in WTF.

More than the camera

I'm slowly coming around to the notion that no matter how perfect the composition, digital photographs almost always benefit from some post-processing. Back when I shot hand-rolled Tri-X from bulk and printed everything myself, I routinely changed papers and printing filters, dodged, burned, cropped, and distorted, in search of the perfect print. (I have a great before-and-after example that I will post when I receive the subject's permission.) Ansel Adams, recall, did most of his work in the darkroom.

Here's a 10-minute example of digital processing. Let's start with the raw photo; only the output size has changed:

The near-sunset direct light makes Leah look radiant. The expression—this was during our dad's speech—is purely her. And the reflections off the picture behind her don't distract me too much. Why would I change this shot?

Because I think it can look even better.

Now, I really don't have much experience with digital photo alterations. And I haven't invested in Photoshop; I'm just using Microsoft's Digital Image Suite 2006, which they have discontinued. So you won't see any dramatic changes.

First, let me desaturate slightly (to 70%) and increase the contrast slightly (to 130%):

Huh. I think that's a little better. She's better defined, and the light looks more golden than red. What if I do more? Saturation 30%, contrast 150%, and reducing the shadow level by 20%:

Too much? Maybe. OK, add more color up to 50% saturation, stay at 150% contrast, shadows down only 15%, and change the color temperature from 5700K daylight to 6200K (adding some warmth back in after the desaturaion):

I'm not sure which of these looks best. I'd appreciate feedback from the blogosphere. I will probably do another version that removes her stray hairs, reduces the ghost reflections behind her, and brings out her eyes just a bit more. Maybe I'll even buy Photoshop.

Half Moon Bay, Calif., 5 June 2010, 19:40 PDT. Canon 20D, 1/200s at f/6.3, ISO 800, 200mm.

Old photos

I mentioned earlier today that I've got a new film scanner, which makes scanning negatives leaps and bounds easier than my old flatbed scanner did. As threatened promised, I've started sending people some copies. But unless someone spontaneously grants me publication permission, I'm going to restrict myself to posting only shots of subjects that have no privacy interests. Like this creek, for example:

My notes have that one at the Walters Ave. bridge in Northbrook, Ill., looking south, mid-November 1985.

Why do people think beavers and dogs work hard?

I am neither a beaver nor a dog, so I don't get to sleep through the winter nor do I get to lounge around all day and eat free food every night.

Which is all a long way of saying my blogging velocity might drop a little for the next week or so.

I've also gotten a new film scanner, and I've started scanning some of my negatives from the 1980s and 1990s. So if you went to school with me, you might get some frighteningly old photos over email in the next few weeks. I've discovered, after calibrating the scanner, that Kodak Tri-X and T-Max held up really well while Fuji FR-1600 did not. Fuji films had a reputation in the 1980s for weak magenta dyes, and after 20 or 25 years they've gotten even weaker, yielding greenish photos. The Kodak VR-100 looks pretty good.

Of course, a lot of the Tri-X that I shot from 1985 to 1992 came in 400-foot bulk packs, which I cut by hand and rolled into reusable film cans, and usually developed myself. The scanner dutifully records all the flaws, streaks, pits, and developing errors that never quite showed up on the proof sheets.

York York York!

I met one of my oldest surviving friends in York this afternoon, thanks to the fast and cheap railways they've got in the UK. It's one thing to stay in a hotel built before my home town was founded; it's quite another to walk along a wall built over a thousand years before that.

First obligatory photo: York Minster, which opened as a small wooden church in 627 CE, and achieved this form somewhere around 800 years ago:

We also took advantage of an open house hosted by the York Glaziers Trust, who work to restore the stained glass at the Minster. I snapped this before seeing the "no photographs" sign:

That's one panel of the 120 or so that make up the east wall of the Minster. John Thornton installed the windows about ten years before Columbus got lost in the Atlantic, or about 300 years before my country came into being. My friend and I both wondered if they'd ever dropped a piece of 15th-century glass, but we were both too chicken to ask the conservationists.

Getting out of York required jumping forward to the last few years, when York restored its Victorian-era railway station:

I've got one more day in the Land of Uk, so tomorrow look for some nighttime shots.

(About this post's title: for some reason I keep hearing the Swedish Chef in my head.)

Seen over Chicago

I'm really, really tired, but I just had to post this:

Did I mention how much I love my new camera?

In fairness, my old camera could have done that, too. It's a 200mm lens on a 1.6x digital image chip, ISO-100, f/5.6 at 1/500. My old camera wouldn't have had the detail the new one has, but really, the trick to the shot was the tripod I've had since 1983. (Seriously.)

The moon is actually pretty bright. Its albedo—the amount of light its surface reflects—is about 9%, or about half of an average surface on Earth. So in full sunlight it should read about 50% of the light that it would read at noon here, and, would't you know, it does. In noon sun in the park I would expect about the same exposure. So in reality, the moon is a much duller grey than this photo shows.

OK, I'm off to sleep now. Tomorrow I'll reveal what became of my car while I was in Connecticut.