Photography and Art

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Few Observations on a Rainy Day

The U.S. Open golf tournament is about to start tomorrow and they're expecting a lot of rain. There will be more than 50 squeegy people waiting to get the water out of the greens in an emergency. Photo journalists have a hard enough time lugging big expensive cameras with big expensive lenses around hilly golf courses without having to cope with miserable, wet weather. Covering golf events sounds like a great job until you see a photog burdened down with two pro bodies and three huge lenses running between holes to get in position to take yet another photo of Tiger Woods. Add in some mud and a few torrential downpours and you can take that job and shove it!

Speaking of emergencies, I've been reading a lot of camera reviews lately where the reviewer says something like the following: "the Acme 300SX takes great pictures up to 400 ISO. Beyond that, the amount of noise starts to become and\ issue. The claimed maximum ISO of 64 million is good for emergencies only". What kind of emergencies? I'll be damned if I can think of any good reason for having an inflated ISO level that makes subjects look like they have the plague. Perhaps they think we'll all have the presence of mind, when being mugged in a dark alley, to pick up our camera, turn it on, select the highest ISO setting and shoot speckled photographs of our fleeing accoster. Or is there some other "emergency" that I've missed?

We have a hot new camera poised to hit the marketplace. The Olympus E-P1 adds its name to a small stack of contenders for what Mike Johnston calls the DMD or Decisive Moment Digital Camera. These are cameras that are small, preferrably pocketable, responsive and able to produce high quality images. Here are some of the contenders:
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2 and LX3. I have an LX2 and find it a decent compromise. It is capable of good quality (it has a Leica zoom lens), but suffers from shutter lag and poor high ISO performance. The LX3 has a faster, wider lens that makes up somewhat for the poor low-light performance. Great for city landscapes, poor for taking photos of anything moving. As a DMD, it is more of a miss than a hit.
  • Sigma DP1 and DP2. The DP1 has been available for a while and the DP2 just came out. Reviews have been mixed. Picture quality has been praised, while general responsiveness has been panned. Auto focus is poor for both cameras and build quality is low for the price (just under $900). If all you desire is DSLR quality images in a small format, then the Sigma delivers. However, it is not a DMD because of the slow auto focus and response.
  • Olympus E-P1. This newest entry to the DMD sweeps has a nice-sized 4/3rds sensor and supports interchangeable lenses. There aren't any reviews out yet, but the previews suggest that auto focus is crisp in normal lighting conditions and that shutter lag is minimal. I would guess that image quality would be on a par with Olympus DSLR's (i.e. very good). Pending the availability of hands-on reviews, this sounds very much like a DMD contender!
One thing to note about these DMD wannabes is that the optical viewfinder is a thing of the past. I've often thought that digital cameras are undergoing a slow transformation a little like cars did at the beginning of the 20th century. If you recall, the first cars looked like carriages with engines mounted on them. Similarly, the first DSLR's looked like film cameras with the sensor installed where the film used to be. Now, with the micro four/thirds system, we're starting to see radical changes. The mirror and the optical viewfinder are going away in favor of using the LCD to compose photos. Fast microprocessors are automating adjustments for lens distortion and noise reduction. ISO has been elevated to the same variable status as shutter speed and aperture instead of something you set and forget. It won't be long before the camera automatically generates composite multi-exposure images to obtain more dynamic range and greater depth of field.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Microsoft Bing? Booooo!

Microsoft has released its new search engine Bing and, purely from a selfish point of view, I'm not impressed. I'm very anxious that anyone who searches for my name and photography can find one of my web sites (either my blog, my website, my pbase site or my flickr site).

The good news is that Google finds all of these sites (and more) on the first page. You would expect that out of a search engine. Huw Morgan is not a common name and, as far as I know, I'm the only photographer with that name.

Bing doesn't seem to get it. None of my sites is on the first page. Not one! There is an obscure reference from another blogger's site, but nothing about my sites. Nothing shows up on subsequent pages either. I seem to be invisible to Bing.

Maybe Bing does well for common search terms, but for obscure photography bloggers with unusual names, stick to Google!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

White Balance and Gray Cards

One of the big attractions of capturing your images as RAW files is that you can adjust white balance afterwards so that your images don't have annoying colour casts. There are several ways of adjusting white balance using a tool such as Adobe Lightroom:
  • If the image has a gray or white area in it, you can take the white point eye dropper tool and click on that area in the image. Lightroom will automatically adjust the red, green and blue levels to make that area neutral.
  • If you have a handy gray card (like the WhiBal) and remember to actually photograph the gray card during your shoot, you can use the white point eye dropper tool and click on the gray card to get the appropriate white balance. This white balance can then be applied to all the other images in the shoot using Lightroom's sync feature.
  • The final technique is to use Lightroom's white balance adjustment control to set the white balance to something that looks pleasing to the eye. This technique only works if you have profiled your monitor. It's no use setting a white balance on a monitor that has a colour cast to it.
I was reading Tim Grey's daily e-mail today and he makes a great point about white balance:

"in most cases you are not trying to neutralize the color temperature of the lighting under which you were photographing. Quite the contrary, in most cases you were photographing when you were for the express purpose of capturing the warm lighting that was present at the time. As a result, in most cases it is not helpful to use a gray card as the basis of a white balance compensation. Instead, I would either use an "auto" setting for White Balance in your camera, or use the setting that seems to best match the existing conditions with the understanding that in any case you may need to apply a compensation in the RAW conversion in order to produce the most accurate (or desirable) results possible."

I don't blame you if you are confused at this point. When do you use a gray card and when don't you? Here's some guidance on when you'd want to use a gray card or adjust white balance using the eye dropper tool:

  • If you are taking indoor pictures of people or outdoor photos of people at sunrise or sunset and want a natural flesh tone, then you must use a gray card. Artificial light is notorious for fooling the auto white balance setting of the camera. Quite often, lights sources are mixed (e.g. flourescent combined with flash) and the camera won't know how to adjust for the resulting colour cast. Similarly, photos at sunset result in orange flesh - not a good look!
  • The inverse is true - if you are taking photos of a rock band with a light show, then you'll want to preserve the colour of the lighting and may not want to adjust light balance.
  • If you are taking photos of a sunset or sunrise, you might want to take a photo with a gray card so that you know what neutral lighting looks like. If you are adjusting white balance manually to taste, then it is nice to know the boundaries and neutral will be at one end of the spectrum. However, to emphasize Tim's point, neutralizing a sunrise makes the effort to get up in the morning pointless.
I hope this helps with this confusing topic.