Sunday, January 20, 2013

Are Classic Metering Modes Obsolete?



Also in this issue...

  • Interpreting the Histogram
  • Seminar Updates: Singapore, Seattle, Vancouver
  • Some upcoming books 
  • E-reader Hell

Are Classic Metering Modes Obsolete?

Remember when you first learned about your camera’s different metering modes?  (You know, spot metering vs. center weighted vs. multi-segment?)  Remember how confusing it was, especially knowing what mode to use in what scenario?  And the disappointment you first experienced because you couldn’t get the tools to create the image you had in your mind?

Not many people realize it, but these tools are pretty much obsolete now.  They (and the concept of bracketing in 0.3 stop increments) are throwbacks to the days of shooting film, when you were literally shooting blind.  Well, with digital you’re not shooting blind anymore.  (Just look at the picture you just took, and if you’re not happy with it, use the exposure compensation control to Make it Darker or Make it Lighter.)


Better yet, if you want to conquer difficult light with no real effort, get your hands on a camera that has Live View.  Live View, in conjunction with exposure compensation (and optionally live histogram), are all you need.  Using these tools you can see, in real time, what your image will look like before you shoot, and if you don’t like what you see you can use the exposure compensation control to make it darker or lighter.  (And if you’re outdoors on a bright day and can’t see the live view display very well, then the live histogram will save you.)

Many people may be surprised to learn that there’s nothing that the older methods offered that can’t be duplicated with these new tools.  Best of all – the Live View method is intuitive and easy to learn.  Never again be frustrated that your camera’s automatic exposure meter can’t handle difficult light!

I’ll bet you want an example right about now.  Let's use this difficult-to-expose-for shot of wedding photographer Grant Corban (www.grantcorban.com) I took back in 2011 when he was giving a talk about how to make it in the wedding photography business.  Because I was using an A900 (an old-school camera with an optical viewfinder), I had to rely on the old tools: I switched to spot metering, filled the center circle of the viewfinder with his face (using a zoom lens), hit the Auto Exposure Lock (AEL) button, zoomed out, recomposed, and shot.  Naturally, it came out perfect.  How would live view help you nail this shot if you weren't already familiar with the old tools?

To get these illustrative shots I brought up Grant's picture on my computer monitor and pointed the A99 toward it.  First, let's see how a camera would normally handle this kind of difficult scene while in Auto Exposure mode:


Yup!  Auto exposure tries to make everything look 18% grey-ish, resulting in a picture which looks horribly over-exposed for this non-average scene.  To fix this, you can use either the +/- control (exposure compensation) and set it to something like -2 or -3, or you can put it into manual exposure mode and adjust the f/stop and shutter speed until the image looks the way you want it to (below).



That's the ticket!  Fast and intuitive, and nothing complex to learn.  (You can stop here if you don't want to hear me discuss how to interpret the histograms on these two images.)

Interpreting the Histogram

There will be some instances out in the field where the ambient light will be so bright that it will be hard to see just when the exposure is "perfect".  (This is true whether you're using Live View or reviewing the image you just took on your rear LCD screen).  For these occasions the Live View Histogram can save you.  Let's start with the overexposed example two images ago  (Click on the image to make it bigger, and pay attention the red square).  The vast majority of this picture is comprised of dark tones, which is represented by the large mound in the center of the histogram.  (If it's in the center, that means it's being rendered as grey.  If we could shift it to the left, then the same information would be rendered as black.)  A tiny amount of this picture is comprised of light tones -- specifically, the speaker's shirt and face, and then less bright tones, like the speaker's jacket and the words on the powerpoint slide.  All of these are tiny compared to the amount of dark tones, and that's why they show up as tiny spikes on the histogram, and because they're blown out in this image, you can see them very far over to the right (inside the red box).

Now click on the second image.  You can see that the same information has all been shifted to the left on the histogram (which is what happens when you underexpose) - the black parts that were rendered as grey have now moved to the left - so far to the left that they're now being rendered as black with no shadow detail (which is perfectly OK for this particular shot).  And the small amount of light from the subject that was so far to the right that it was being blown out is now safely in the center of the histogram (inside the red rectangle), where you want a neutral tone subject to be placed.

Brief Notes

Seminars – Singapore, Seattle, and Vancouver are now open for enrollment!  Here's the current schedule:

SingaporeMarch 23-24, 2013Learn more and sign up!
Seattle, WashingtonJune 22-23, 2013Learn more and sign up!
Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada)June 29-30, 2013Learn more and sign up!
Australia and New ZealandSeptember 2013Click here to register interest for AustraliaClick to register interest for New Zealand


More information about these world-famous seminars (including the one key thing it covers that nobody talks about anymore) can be found at www.FriedmanArchives.com/seminars .

The Spanish version of the RX-100 ebook is out!  (And if you’re a member of a Spanish-language Alpha online forum, please email me at Gary at Friedman Archives dot com.)

Cameracraft – My favorite article from last quarter's issue was the story behind the portrait of eccentric stargazer (and U.K. equivalent of Dr. Carl Sagan) Sir Patrick Moore.  Apparently he drank a lot and offered his photographers more than a few pints, after which they dutifully passed out.  (Hard to shoot a portrait in that condition!)  Subscribe today to see what happened after that.  It’ll bring a smile to your face. :-)  www.friedmanarchives.com/cameracraft

A99 and NEX 5R/6 ebooks (the latter being co-written by Mike Hendren) are both going well and our target release date is “sometime in March” for both titles.  Let me know if you'd like to be notified when either of these are ready.


E-reader Hell

Imagine you bought an original Macintosh and LaserWriter back in 1985, and you wrote your first book on it (as I did), and the book had lots of illustrations and photos.  But what if in order to print it out, you were expected to hand-code your book in Postscript (Adobe’s page description language that first appeared on the Laserwriter)?  Sounds ridiculous, right?  Well, that’s kind of where the e-reader world is today when it comes to authoring content.

In a perfect world it would be possible to edit your document and just say “Export this as an e-book” and be done with it.  But the only tools that claim to do that only work well with purely text-based books.  There are currently NO tools available that can do that with complex-layout books such as mine.  (None!)  Every tool I've tried just results in disastrous layouts – the tables and figures are not aligned (and some roll right off the right edge), and the table of contents is anything but tidy.  Since my customer base is switching to iPads and e-readers en masse, my only options were either to pay an outside firm gobs of money to make the conversion (by hand!), or learn how to do it myself.

So I've been on a mission for over a year to learn the inner structures of e-book formats like .mobi (for the Kindle) and .epub  (for all other e-readers).   There's nothing straightforward about it, and the only tools that are out there for formatting content are quite primitive.

So to meet the ebook format halfway, starting with the A65/A77 book I've converted to a vertical format to make the transition a little easier. (My books were originally horizontal because they were designed to be read on a computer screen.)  Figures and tables had to all be re-done since epub can’t handle either.  Lots of scripts to clean up the resulting HTML were run.  I spent countless hours uploading various versions to various e-stores, all of which have their own .epub format checkers (and their own bugs) and NONE of which provide meaningful error messages. ("Cannot process file. Bad token").  After all this effort, I’ve got it to a point where the files are readable on their respective platforms, sans some minor functions (like taking notes or looking up words or keeping internal hyperlinks).  You're welcome. :-)

So, why aren’t my titles showing up in any e-reader stores, like the iBookstore or the Kindle Marketplace?

Here's the thing about the Kindle store that you may not know.  They have two pricing models: If you price your book under $9.95, Amazon lets you keep 70% of that revenue. (That translates to $6.95 for me.) But if you have the audacity to charge something higher than that, Amazon takes 70% of the revenue! This means you can pay $26.45 for my A77 ebook and I get to keep a whopping $7.93.  I feel so privileged   And if you go through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform, they try to lock you in for 90 days and not allow you to sell your ebook anywhere else.  How do I benefit from this again?

Amazingly, Apple’s iBookstore isn’t nearly as greedy, but in order to get listed there you have to go through an aggregator like Lulu.com (who uses an old and bug-ridden epubcheck version to weed you out) or Smashwords (who can’t accept manuscripts larger than 10 MB in size (mine are significantly larger)).  You are also forbidden to mention the words "Amazon" and "Kindle" in iBookstore ebooks.  I tell you, it’s murder being a pioneer!

I'm not Stephen King. The audience for my books is quite limited and I pour a lot of sweat into making them.  I believe the books offer an outstanding value proposition and I believe I've earned every penny that I charge. Amazon, in contrast, has not done anything to earn a 70% take.  So, for the foreseeable future, none of my e-books will be available in any of the e-reader marketplaces.  I still continue to bundle the .mobi version for free with the original .pdf download, so Kindle owners can still enjoy the book on their device.  And those with other e-readers can email me to receive their own .epub version.  You paid for the content, and you should be able to consume it on any device you own.  Sometime after the A99 book is finished, I'm going to experiment with putting out the first three chapters for $0.99, and if you like it you can follow a link to purchase the full version (less $0.99, of course).  We'll see how that goes.

But really, making your work available as an ebook shouldn't be so hard.  Epub making should be a what-you-see-is-what-you-get affair, much like word processing (or photo editing!) has become, and expecting authors to tweak the underlying HTML code by hand is just unnecessary.  (Hey!  I smell a business opportunity!)

P.S. – I’m not the only one to blog about these problems.  If you want more detail of another author’s experience, I highly recommend this 2010 entry from Henry Melton, an independent Science Fiction writer: http://henrymelton.blogspot.com/2010/04/getting-into-apple-bookstore-with-epub.html 

P.P.S. - : 1) Yes, I know about Sigil, Calibre, and Jutoh.  None of them solve my problems, although I do use the first two to get 90% of the way there.  2) Yes, I know InDesign’s claims to handle this effortlessly.  They’re lying.  I have proof.

Until next time...
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman

32 comments:

  1. Hey Gary.

    I know you probably want to sell your ebooks to both Amazon and the iBookStore but did you have a look at the iBooks Author app that Apple released a little while ago?

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    1. I tried it the nanosecond they released it. It choked on my complex layout. Back to square 1...

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  2. Hi, Gary. About the metering, I almost agree; I think it's time for a new type. As an example, I was shooting in the Philly Zoo last week. There was a great scene with 3 mostly-charcoal-colored monkeys on a horizontal yellow girder, with a great background that was a very light color interspersed with some forest-green artwork. In exposing for the monkeys I'd blow much of the background (something I didn't want to do). So in this case I would have liked a kind of hybrid exposure that metered correctly for the monkeys but protected the rest. DRO certainly doesn't do it for me (even if I wanted to shoot JPEG) and the only option would have been an HDR bracket series and some PP. While I like the EVF most of the time, I'd love a "spot but save the rest" metering option.

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    1. That metering option you want can't exist, because the camera is designed from the ground up to capture less of a dynamic range than what your eye can see. (There's good reason for that... attend one of my seminars where I talk about it at length.) Your only options are A) the Hollywood approach - bring your own light, and light the scene so the darkest and lightest amounts fall within what your film / sensor can capture. Option B: Fill flash if you're close enough. Option C: Meter for the monkeys only.

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  3. Kindles that render in color may be able to display a PDF file as is. I copied your Alpha 65/77 e-book which I purchased onto my Kindle 3 just to see how it is, and it faithfully displays the pages as images so formatting is not an issue. With a color reader, you are good to go. With a gray-scale, the only thing to watch out for is the color of the text which will be rendered in matching gray-scale, which might make the text hard to read depending on the color.

    Hope that moves you to Purgatory. :-O

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    1. Good to know! For everyone else, going forward all my ebooks will have one font and one color. (Printed books will look more boring, books on B&W e-readers will be easier to read.)

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  4. Gary, I appreciate that you've been publishing attractive books with carefully optimized layout, and don't wish to backslide, but would it be a good "80% solution" for you to generate HTML versions that would look sort-of-okay on most platforms? As you know better than I, you could create internal hyperlinks for figures and tables, display them in additional windows, and let the user decide how to array the multiple windows. Ten years ago I considered it a privilege to be able to read text and consult the referenced figures side by side -- I would still be quite satisfied with this. You're a photographer (I was a collaborative industrial scientist) and neither of us should be bleeding creative time wrestling with ever-changing display formats.

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    1. Actually that's a great idea, except if you're reading it on an old Kindle (where you can't always click on hyperlinks) or arrange windows. And I'd still have to do a proper book layout for the 10% of my customers who pay for the printed version. But you're right, none of us should have to waste precious consciousness on this stuff. :-)

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  5. Firstly, re exposure modes, it's funny how one internalises things. I have been shooting without ever bothering with the traditional modes much since I got my first digital camera (a Sony F505V, way back in 2000) and, out of sheer curiosity, I only recently (last year or so)learnt how to use the traditional methods. It's only now, reading your blog post on the subject that I have been able to break down what it is I am doing and the technical reasons for why it is I am not using the older methods. I do however, find spot metering useful. Interesting indeed.

    As for your ebook authorship, wow!!! Shocking!! I had no idea it was such a chore to publish your work on the various ebook platforms. And the business model of the selling platforms you mention, well what can I say!!!! It's obviously great for their shareholders but with those kinda percentages I am simply amazed that anyone even bothers to publish there. But like you said, one smells a business opportunity; any half decent platform that offers authors a fair cut should, if there is any justice in this world, make a killing.

    Warmest regards,

    plevyaophy
    London, UK

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    1. Actually, the business opportunity I was referring to was the creation of e-pub authoring tool. You can't easily create your own e-bookstore if the companies behind Kindle and iPad don't want to connect to it.

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  6. Gary- As a long time film shooter (starting with my Minolta SR-1) I actually find the different meeting modes very useful on my a700s. Now, I readily admit these do not have Live View so I really can't see what you are talking about but just this weekend I used the matrix and spot meeting to shoot in a woods with ice on tree limbs and partially frozen water. I switched between the modes and used AEL as you describe and got some really good shots.

    So, short of going out and buying new cameras, which I am not going to do as the a700s work just fine, I will still use the different metering modes and get the shots I want.


    Just my 2 cents.
    steve
    Maryland

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    1. Hi, Steve. I didn't say the older methods weren't useful; my point was they're hard for beginners to learn, and what I proposed above could be a useful substitute. I still use the old methods a lot of the time because like you I've internalized them, and therefore they're faster for me to use.

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  7. What about reconfigering each of your ebooks into three or more volumes, and sell each at $9.95 or less? Using the A77 ebook as an example, Volume 1 and 2 will each sell for $9.95 and the third volume will sell for $6.55. If Amazon allows you to do this, then wouldn't you still get to keep 70% or $18.51? The trick would be to reconfigure the ebook into compelling volumes so the reader will want all three volumes. Food for thought. Maybe some to try out in a future ebook?

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    1. I bought Gary's A77 ebook, and I'm glad I did, but I wouldn't buy it or any future ebook on a camera if it was broken up into parts. I do not want to be jumping around between books when reading one thing makes me want to read something else!

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    2. That's an interesting and out-of-the-box thought, Tony, but from a user's perspective it's a nightmare. Consider that in the Amazon marketplace, a user is most likely to find me by a random keyword search, not by reference or by reputation. Couple that with the sticker shock that most Kindle readers are faced with, and follow it up with the frustration of having to jump from one volume to another when trying to follow a hyperlink (or just "go to page 137".) It's not a formula for making extremely satisfied customers, which is the only kind of customer a business like mine should have.

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    3. I'd actually buy more of your body-specific ebooks if they were broken in two: the camera-specific guides vs. the photography guides. Your ebooks are great values re: number of pages and camera-specific information, but it seems there's a lot of photographic info that gets repeated in one way or another. So I'd vote for separate body and photography ebooks, maybe with an update subscription on the latter.

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  8. haaa that might explain why it is all wrong on the cheap e-reader I bought at Wallmart ..... fine on laptop but mix of text fonts and can't scroll down. I blamed it on the reader (A77 ebook)

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  9. I sure cant wait until March for the a99 book. It seems that the video is a bit of hot potato but now Kirk Tuck lauds it on the dpreview forum.

    When one looks at all that pro Sony video gear you have to wonder about cross pollination. I hear that's a huge division.

    I hear your publishing pain. I learned troff and xroff

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    1. troff and xroff? Those bring back memories. I'm waiting for someone to come on here and start extolling the virtues of TeX. :-)

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  10. Regarding metering modes, I have an A77 (and your A77 book) and often meter just as you say. However, I shoot BIF's and wildlife and there's no time to tinker with EV compensation when you barely have time for one burst.

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    1. That's why you have a camera with autofocus and autoexposure! :-) Just make sure your light is good and your scene is of average illumination, otherwise Auto mode might disappoint you.

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  11. Hi Gary... since we are talking about ebooks, I was discussing with you last year via email regarding your A33/A55 book did not appear properly on my HP Touchpad (fonts in particular). We discussed briefly the possible remedies that might fix the issue; however, I have heard back from you - I can understand that you have been busy with various things.

    Since then I took your A33/A55 v1.2 PDF file , and load it into Nitro PDF, and use Nitro PDF to generate a PDF/A version of the file (no other changes were made to the file).

    I loaded the PDF/A version of the file to my HP Touchpad and found the issues no longer exist - all text now appeared properly.

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    1. Hi, RGL! I apologize if I let a conversation lapse in the past... and I'm glad to hear that you found a way to re-format the .pdf file! I'm sure both HP Touchpad owners will be happy to hear this. (:-) Just kidding. But absolutely nobody else complained about this issue, and since I wasn't sure what the problem could be I couldn't fathom a solution. Glad you found one!)

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  12. re: Amazon/iTunes business models... Have you made contact with either to discuss the pricing models they use? I'm not familiar with their administrative structure, but a credible author of tech-books such as yourself should be able to get to the right exec in order to negotiate a separate pricing agreement.

    In that context, perhaps you and they might consider a sliding scale for > $9.95 eBooks that allows you to use your current pricing and get an acceptable return till the total volume increases to the point where (here's where you have to estimate your re-cap) you start sliding toward their preferred split. Their current pricing models don't consider the intense formatting issues surrounding text + image + table + link + limited market (owner-only) eBooks. If you can get to the right person, they may consider a unique pricing model for authors of your sort of tech-book.

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  13. Gary, thanks for explaining .epub and .mobi and your efforts to publish. But for me, your a77/a65 .pdf that I purchased from you at a very reasonable price works just fine! And, it's an excellent book that has obviously taken you many hours to produce.

    Thanks for your contributions!

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  14. Hi Gary, I like the old idea of just printing your book from PDF. I have your A100, A700 and now I'm waiting for A99 book and I don't see a better way than having it all on paper! :)

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  15. Gary,

    Bravo re metering. And I think that camera mfgs. should have two histogram modes; one for jpeg settings currently selected, and one for RAW capture. Those of us who shoot RAW have to try to compensate for jpeg-based preview and histogram. It would be nice to have both.

    Rand
    SoCal

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  16. Gary, I bought your A77 book and I don't even own the camera. I was thinking of getting it and never did. May still happen, or more probably the A99.

    Your book was excellent and I can see where current ebook formats don't meet your needs, and publishing models to some extent. I think you deserve more then 7 bucks a book!

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  17. Gary,
    I'm guessing you looked at Apple's free iBookAuthor software (free from Mac App Store). Of course, this is for the Apple universe only but it will hand the rich layout/content issue you face with the epug/mobi crowd.

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    1. No, it won't. See my reply to the first comment.

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  18. I wonder if Scrivener would be worth a look for you. It is very reasonably priced. I use it on the Mac, and am quite pleased. It is sort of a database for text/documents. You can have each section/piece as a separate document, allowing you to move content around quite easily. Then you tell it to produce the output you want, in the format you want. You can toggle sections on/off, and the output formats are quite varied: docx, rtfd, odt, dpf, epub, mobi, iBooks Author, html, tex, etc. You have control over quite a bit, both in editing as well as in the final output. I do not know how well it will handle graphics and the kind of placement you may need to do, however.

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    1. Looks like a nice program, but I don't see anything about formatting (especially for epubs) in its list of attributes. GF

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