The choice of camera equipment and photo processing software depend on the kinds of applications. While it is possible to develop a "does everything" kit, that has not been my approach in recent years. Evidence of this change has been my shifting from zoom lenses to prime lenses; I often go out with just a single lens so that I'm capturing the place or event from a single, pre-determined perspective.
Intrinsic to my approach to photography is the definition of Skills and Behaviors at different levels for each type of photography.
I call my overall goal "Seeing the Unseen." It generally consists of taking and processing photos so that the images reveal characteristics of the place, object or event that would be hard to see in real-time.
Here are a few key links:
Photographic Manipulation Software
This is my current toolbox. The comments capture the role of each program in my workflow.
- DxO Optics Pro (used a lot for converting RAW files) and ViewPoint (for geometry correction)
- Adobe Photoshop CS6 (what I use most of the time for photo editing) [Monthly subscription to all Adobe CS products]
- Nik Software: Viveza 2, Dfine 2, Sharpener Pro 3, HDR, Color Efex Pro 3 (used a lot inside Photoshop)
- Kodak Digital ROC 2 (rarely used, but an essential filter to renew scans of very old photos and slides)
- Focus Magic (not used much as I am still developing my hardware configuration)
- Anthropics Portrait Professional Studio 9 (infrequently used but it is fantastic when a face needs "attention")
- Kolor Autopano Pro/Giga (heavy use for panoramas) and Neutralhazer (to get rid of environment haze in landscapes)
- Camera Bits Photo Mechanic (rapidly becoming an essential element in my workflow)
- Breeze Systems DSLR Remote Pro (a new addition that will soon be used)
- 1-4a Rename (essential for file renaming)
- Altostorm Panorama Corrector 2 (specialized tool for doing perspective corrections)
- Vertus Fluid Mask 3 (new and it will finally force me into using Photoshop layers)
- HDRsoft Photomatix Pro 4 (lots of use with HDR, which is the norm for lots of my photos now)
- PhotoAcute (for a number of multi-photo tasks, such as resolution increase, noise reduction and focus stacking)
- Oloneo PhotoEngine (excellent for HDR, especially as it does quick batch processing)
Large Panorama Photography
GigaPan images provide a unique way to capture, store and view
photographs, particularly landscapes and macro-photography. Each panorama consists of dozen to thousands of images that have been merged into a seamless whole. There are several ways that the panoramic images are used. Most are stored in an on-line system that allows for viewing at many scales. This lets you see an entire panorama on the computer screen and then zoom into any area of interest. Alternatively, large (e.g., 12 ft wide) prints can be made and hung on the wall.
- On-Line Panoramic Images: Visit the GigaPan site to see lots of examples. Search for "kim" to find my images (and those that reference me).
- Large Prints: Visit GigaPan Prints for more information.
- GigaPan Photography: Information on how to make GigaPan Panoramas, and related issues, visit Bridges GigaPan Info.
- Software: Autopano Giga
- Print Hanging Hardware: Mounts on FoamCore seem to be best
High-dynamic range (HDR) photography uses either one image that has captured a wide range of luminance (such as RAW) or several photos that have been exposed differently so that they together cover a wide range of luminance. Image processing helps to reveal detail in both the highlights and shadows.
- Information Resources: Find out what experienced professionals are doing.
- HDR software: A number of different packages are being used.
- HDR hardware: A Promote Systems controller is being used with a Canon 5D2 camera to automate the process of capturing a large number of images with different exposures. (Review)
- HDR hardware: TriggerTrap (both the TT box and the Android App)
- HDR tutorials and examples
- High-speed HDR (if you have a camera that allows it); see this for more of their HDR advice.
- Software: Oloneo PhotoEngine, Photomatix Pro, Nik Software HDR (see above for links)
Confocal PhotographyThis photographic technique overcomes the problem of a small depth of focus, particularly in macro-photography. The basic technique is to capture a set of photographs of successive layers. Only a small portion of each image will be in focus. Software is then used to extract the "in focus" areas and to combine them so that the resulting synthetic image is completely in focus. The software has to deal with more than problems of focus, such as image scaling and alignment.
Note that there appears to be some progress in controlling the focus of DSLR cameras through software links to PCs. This could be very interesting as a way to control the creation of focus stacks.
- Primary Software: Helicon Focus
- Hardware: Really Right Stuff Focus Rail
- Software Alternatives: Zerene Stacker, PhotoAcute Studio (purchased), DSLR Controller
In a nutshell, Tilt-Shift is the use of a specialized lens or lens mount that emulates the functions of a view-camera. This lets you move the lens without moving the image sensor (i.e., the camera body). This is used most in architectural and interior photography but also helps in landscape and close-up photography.
Tilt and shift are two separate functions and they are not always linked together in a single camera lens. Shifting vertically is probably the more widely used function as it lets you keep vertical lines parallel. An example is the sides of a building. Without a shift, the building appears to get narrower at the top. Horizontal shifting lets you take panoramic shots (with a limit of about 3 separate images) that are free of distortion and, therefore, easily stitched together.
I am working on the tilt function. This lets you move the plane of focus. An example is an ability to get focus from very close to infinity in a landscape shot while using a large aperture setting. Close-up photography also benefits from the same capability, although at a much smaller scale.
Tilt and shift lenses are a lot of work. You need to do manual focusing and getting the correct exposure is a challenge. On my Canon 5D2, I need to use Live View. The Letus Hawk viewfinder is pretty essential.
The Rodagon lens is long (105 mm) and very flat (as it was designed for a photographic enlarger). This makes it a good close-up lens for use with tilt work. It is the Zork adapter that does the tilting.
Canon TS-E 17mm f4/0 L lens
This lens does both the tilt and shift. It is a super wide-angle lens. And it is a wonderful (heavy) lens.
- Hardware: Sony GPS-CS3KA [works with SD cards]
- Software: Geotag (open source; note that it uses EXIFtools; once loaded, use Java Webstart to run)
Orton Effect (2 images, one focused and the other not; painterly result)
Airphotos and 3D Reconstruction
Canon 5D2/3 Video
The Canon 5D2 is quite a respectable video camera, in addition to being a superb still camera. Making the transition to video is not easy. There are some things that need to be done. I'm working on this, so the points below are a work in progress.
Notes on what I am currently using -- or would like to use -- are on the following link.
These are very small video cameras (i.e., helmet cam) that can be mounted in interesting locations and operated in interesting ways. I am experimenting with two models. The Contour Roam is used on a hard mount in my Smart Car. This will let me do video "transects" while driving. The Contour GPS is more general purpose. It records images and GPS information. I have purchased a tripod mount, extra battery, view card (so setup can be checked on a tablet) and a small case to make this a more versatile camera. The GPS version has a button that lets you select between two modes. I use this for video and time lapse. The GPS version is part of the Plan B travel package, along with a small Gorilla Pod tripod.
TwoRed (i.e., Smart car) Mount: The car has an Xtreme View adapter on a hard-mount near the driver-side roof post take a wide-angle video of what is seen out of the windshield. The Contour Roam camera shoots HD video and can be set to do time-lapse, too.
Steadicam Smoothee: A special mount was developed so that video can be made while walking (e.g., along a forest trail). There is no standard mount for this camera on the Steadicam Smoothee, so that is being custom crafted in collaboration with Xtreme View.
Time-Lapse: Longer term time-lapse is being investigated. This required the purchase of the special USB power cable so that a small "brick" battery can be used as an external power source. In addition, assembly software (HandyAVI) is being used to put together the separate images.
Magnetic Mount: This mount will let me place the camera outside a car (e.g, rental car) so I can take time lapse videos of new places. (Can't do this with the Smart Car as it has plastic panels.)
This is the camera that is focused after you take a picture. Very revolutionary. Lots of people are waiting to try this. The camera has arrived but it has not been tested very much as the software is currently limited to Mac platforms. This is part of the Plan B travel package. The camera itself has been fun to use. It draws a lot of attention.There is finally support for Windows! Yea!!! This is an LCD hood that allows critical viewing in high-light environments when using Liveview and manual focus. I've done some testing with this way to do critical focus and find it outstanding! This changes the way that I compose photos by giving me much more freedom. No longer will I need to put the critical focus location in the middle of the frame. This will result is the need for less cropping. And, of course, I come home with virtually every photo focused exactly right. The Canon 5D2 software has been modified to expand the capabilities of the camera. While much of the Magic Lantern development has been directed at video support, there are also some (very welcome) additions for still photographers. Support for the 5D2 is limited to video additions right now. A unified version is being developed that will merge the video and still capabilities. Contributions to allow the developer to purchase a 5D2 will hasten this effort. This is a kickstarter project that is supporting the development of a general purpose external trigger box that works with the Canon 5D2. There are many forms of triggers that can be used. It finally arrived in July, 2012. The development team appears to be first-rate. Now it is time to try it. Note that this box works as a multi-function trigger (light, laser, sound) and as a time-lapse controller. Hackers will love the open nature, including the "aux" port for other sensors.
I am interested in getting digital imagery from interesting (and unusual) locations. Some of this is related to the Contour camera (see above). Other ideas are listed below.
This is a small box that triggers a text message based on sensor changes. While it is not directly related to photography, it is an interesting kickstarter project. One unit (with three external sensors) has been ordered.
Closing the Loop
One of the difficulties in photography is evaluating the images after it is possible to do remedial fixing. For example, you've left the photo site and it isn't practical to return. If you can see your shots soon enough, it may be possible to re-shoot those that are "almost" OK.
Past practices included using a computer to download and view camera images. The "Plan B" travel systems, however, tries to avoid carrying a laptop computer. The question: Can a tablet allow critical image viewing? Note: this discussion centers around the use of the Nexus 7 tablet (and secondarily the Xoom). Other models may not apply.
The sticking point has been the enabling of the USB port on Android-based tablets. This restriction seems to be removed. There are other things that make this happen and which make it convenient.
- USB cable. This is a special cable. It is not expensive (just a few dollars on Amazon).
- SD/CF card - USB adapters.
- Nexus Media Importer. This app enables the link between the SD or CF card and the tablet.
- Photo Mate. This is an image viewer and editor.
- DSLR Controller. This app controls the camera (i.e., Canon DSLR) through the tablet interface. It also permits viewing of photos.
- Padr Tablet Mount. This allows a secure placement of a tablet on the leg of a tripod. This is particularly handy when using DSLR Controller.
Image editing is now available on Android tablets.
- Snapseed. This brings the Nik Software (now part of Google) to the Android world (yea!).
- Adobe Touch.
- Photo Mate.
I favor ebooks as they are convenient to read on a tablet or monitor, they usually have great color and they are often less expensive.
The Art of Photography
Each of these duChemin books is a wonderful read. I return to them to get ideas and to be reminded that I have to think about what I'm doing when I have a camera in hand. Most of the materials in the books are based on David's blog, Pixelated Image, another good source of inspiration.
David duChemin Vision is Better (Free the Mind, Free the Camera)
David duChemin The Vision-Driven Photographer (Notes on Discovering & Refining Your Vision)
David duChemin Ten (Ten Ways To Improve Your Craft. None of Them Involves Buying Gear)
David duChemin Ten More (Ten More Ways To Improve Your Craft)
David duChemin Drawing the Eye (Creating Stronger Images Through Visual Mass)
David duChemin Chasing the Look (10 Ways to Improve The Aesthetics of Your Photographs)
The Techniques of Photography
James Brandon Tack Sharp: A Step by Step Guide to Nailing Focus
I've been influenced by the Ultralight Backpacking crowd. If this is new to you, read some of the important history (and a critique of the state-of-the-art) in a series of blog entries by Six Moon Designs guru Jeff Moak.