Friday, May 6, 2022

Using a Grey Card to Nail Exposure and White Balance

In this issue:

  • Grey card techniques
  • Computational Photography Talk for the Royal Photographic Society
  • Real Letters from Real Readers - Back Button Focusing (BBF)
  • In the Pipeline
  • Next time in Cameracraft Magazine
  • Parting Shots

Using a Grey Card to Nail Exposure and White Balance

A long time ago, photographers used film and were literally “shooting blind” – they weren’t sure if their built-in reflective light meters were metering for non-average subjects properly (like brides with white dresses, or grooms with black tuxes).  Nor were they ever sure if the color balance was “correct” when it came time to make prints from negatives in the darkroom.  In both of these cases, serious photographers would use a grey card to nail the exposure and the white balance – and it would be perfect every time.

Meter off the grey card to nail the exposure in photos that have non-average subjects.  You can also use the grey card as a neutral surface from which to set your white balance accurately.

Today we have digital cameras with Live View, which makes things easier but in extreme circumstances (like really bad or non-white light, or really non-average subjects like brides in white dresses or grooms in black tuxes) the grey card will still nail it.  Here’s how to use this ancient technique:

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Remembrance Photography

Also in this issue:

  • Remembrance Photography
  • Sony A7 IV book is out!
  • Lecture for the Royal Photographic Society
  • Geeking with Gary: Google Bricks their own Product


Remembrance Photography

If you've been following my blog in the past year, you'll know I've been searching for more meaning in photography beyond mere pretty pictures.  What's worth doing?  Why take pictures?  In the upcoming issue of Cameracraft magazine, I profile organizations that offer bereavement portraits at no cost to families who have lost or are losing a baby.  Losing a child at any stage, whether this be through miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal or infant death or of any age is one of the most traumatic experiences any one can go through.  And they have a large network of volunteers in both the U.S. and U.K.  It’s rare that a portrait photographer has an opportunity to make such a lasting and profound impact in a family’s life.  And I can tell you that these portraits become the families' most treasured asset.

In the article I interview program participants, and what the training is like, and what it's like to do this kind of work.  But even if you don't subscribe, I encourage you to email me a for a copy of the article, and also check out the two organizations mentioned in the article:

Sunday, January 9, 2022

The New Studio

Probably the most important thing you need in a studio is not lights nor equipment - it's empty space.  With empty space, the most dramatic images can be had with only one light.  (As always, click on each image to view larger and much sharper.)

One light - overhead
One light in my hand.

One light.

One light.

Surely you get the point by now.

And I never really had a lot of empty space in the old studio.  (An informal tour appeared here.)  My old studio in California was a tiny room and I often felt a little cramped.  And every time I wanted to switch from shooting videos (with continuous lights) to shooting stills (with powerful flashes and a completely incompatible set of light modifiers), it took a day to put the old equipment away and reconfigure everything.  

Monday, December 6, 2021

A Brilliant Way to Find Perfect Portrait Light

In this issue:

  • A Brilliant Way to Find Perfect Portrait Light
  • 1-paragraph APP reviews
  • Pivoting My Santa Gig
  • Announcements!

Pivoting My Santa Gig (*)

Better not pout!

So I was offered a Santa job at a mall in New Hampshire 3 days a week.  I turned it down because, unlike last year, no COVID precautions would be in place.  Even masks were optional.  And even if the kids were vaccinated (a big IF), I would just be a huge asymptomatic super-spreader hotspot, and the kids would take the virus home to their families where either their vulnerable grandparents with compromised immune systems might die from it, or the virus can continue to fester and mutate.  Neither option is an acceptable outcome.

Yet I don't want to waste this hard-earned beard.  So I'm pivoting and offering a safe, online Virtual Santa Visit through the miracle of technology!  

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Better Autumn Photos in One Minute


Also in this issue:
  • Focus Stacking on a Sony?  Two features Olympus got right...
  • My quest for Immortality
  • Next Time in Cameracraft

Better Autumn Photos in One Minute

It's fall everyone.  (At least it's supposed to be, although there's little evidence of it in Massachusetts this year.)

The first trick to getting great results (with ANY foliage, really) is have great light and a contrasting sky.  (Click on any image to view it larger and sharper):

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Which Camera Has The Best "Color Science"?

Also in this issue:

  • Talk to the Beard
  • In the Pipeline
  • Pretty Pictures

Which Camera Has The Best "Color Science"?

Image courtesy Wikipedia


You see the term Color Science bandied around a lot.  The topic is most important to videographers, as it's important to them that all cameras shooting a scene have the same "look", necessitating that all video cameras come from the same manufacturer.

All Color Science really means is "How the camera renders colors" - Sony is famous for being the most accurate; whereas Canon is known for pleasing skin tones.  The rendered output is determined by the Bayer RGB color array sitting on top of the sensor, plus the demosaicing algorithm essential to creating the color image.

Of course this may be common knowledge to many of you.  If you want a good introduction check out this well-explained video by Gerald Undone.  What's not commonly known is this insight about the different filter arrays posited by the editor of Cameracraft Magazine, David Kilpatrick, who had the gall to proclaim that the camera with the best color ever belonged to -- the Konica Minolta 5D!  

What's behind such heresy?  Here's an excerpt from a comment thread he made on a recent Facebook post explaining his proclamation:


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Computational Photography

This blog post has many beginnings...

Beginning #1

I get many emails from photographers the world over, expressing frustration that they schlep their high-quality equipment, shoot RAW and post process, all the while their significant other shoots a similar image with their iPhone, and then posts it to Facebook seconds after it was taken - and the image looks great, with no post-processing needed.  How humiliating!

Beginning #2

In 1973, Paul Simon wrote a song called "Kodachrome", which he said "...gives you those nice bright colors, give us the greens of summers, makes you think all the world's a sunny day".  According to Wikipedia, "... the real significance was that Kodachrome film gave unrealistic color saturation. Pictures taken on a dull day looked as if they were taken on a sunny day. (To correct this, serious photographers would use a Wratten 2b UV filter to normalize the images.)"

Years later, Fujifilm would produce films that made Kodachrome colors look subdued by comparison.

Today, smartphone images represent the latest in a trend to create people-pleasing images that deviate from how the world actually looks to a raw sensor.  Is it still photography with so much misrepresentation going on?

Beginning #3

When the Light L16 camera first came out, I thought it was genius and I thought that this would be the future of smartphone cameras.  This flat slab of a camera employed 16 small sensors/lenses of various focal lengths and stitched several of them together to create a high-resolution 52 MP image better than what any single sensor could produce.  Different focal lengths were combined to emulate a "zoom" between the fixed focal lengths.  The camera was able to produce a depth map by configuring at least two of the lenses into a stereo arrangement.  You could change the depth-of-field after the fact.  If there was ever a good example of what Computational Photography can achieve, this was it - produce an image of greater quality than just what a sensor and optics can provide.

As great as the idea was, plastic optics, a slow processor, sluggish desktop software, and a high price doomed the first iteration.  The company wisely regrouped and focused (no pun intended) on licensing their technology to smartphone companies, resulting in the 5-camera Nokia 9.  Unsuccessful in the marketplace, the idea died.  

Beginning #4

When 35mm film first came out, the "serious" photographers shunned it, as it offered an inferior quality to the medium-format films being used at the time.  Eventually, convenience won out, as people decided the quality was more than good enough for their needs.

Beginning #5 - Why can't the camera just make it look the way I see it?

In my seminars, I would talk about how the camera and the eye see light differently.  I explain to attendees that the limited dynamic range of our modern sensors is narrow on purpose.  I then show this "devil's advocate" example:


This image was a merged bracketed exposure - perhaps 30 stops in total range; much wider than what the traditional HDR feature on your camera can produce.  It shows everything my eye could see from the detail in the backyard through the doors, to the detail in the shadow under the piano bench.  

But an image that can see everything your eyes can see can look very flat and low contrast, as in the example above.  "One day", I would say to my seminar attendees, "psychologists will figure out what kind of image processing is happening inside our brains, and then the camera would just make it look like it appeared to our eyes."

===

My friends, that day has nearly arrived.  And the advancements didn't come from the camera companies.  It came from the smartphone manufacturers who had to be clever in order to achieve higher quality results than what their camera's tiny lenses and sensors would otherwise allow.  Yes, the iPhone images can look relatively poor when you pixel peep, and the saturation and HDR might be a little over-the-top when compared to a traditional camera, but if all you do is post to Instagram that difference become meaningless - people LIKE those nice bright colors, and those enhanced greens of summer.  Plus, in my experience, most modern smartphones handle difficult light and HDR much better / more naturally than shooting in HDR mode, and just as good as spending two minutes tweaking the RAW file with conventional cameras to make it look the way your eyes saw it.

What computational tricks are the smartphones using that conventional cameras aren't?  Is it really photography when so much manipulation is automatically applied, or when the image is enhanced to the point of near-fiction?  

Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Best Story I Ever Told...


In the summer of 1988, I was a photojournalist for a pioneering cultural exchange between Soviet and American high school students in the Republic of Latvia.  This was the era of Gorbachev, the era of Glasnost and Perestroika, and the beginning of the end of the Cold War with the “Evil Empire”.  Through the catalyst of a musical play called “Peace Child”, these 15 American and 15 Latvian high school students dealt with the (then) very real fear of nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.  Their play toured through Latvia and brought audiences to tears.  And the participants developed a friendship so strong that they had to be torn apart when saying good-bye just so they could make the departing train.  If there was ever a great way to bring two warring countries together, exchanges like this are a wonderful and meaningful way to start.

The 1988 Peace Child in Latvia participants

Armed with my cameras, a tape recorder, and about 150 rolls of slide film, I documented the exchange with the intent of telling this important story back in America.  The multi-media presentation that resulted has won awards and has moved American audiences to tears as well.  Good stories can do that.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

How to make $$$ on Instagram (*)

The latest in my series
on the Quarantine Beard
(*) Or so I was led to believe.

Also in this issue: 
The Pilot I never showed you
Next Time in Cameracraft
In the Pipeline

How to make $$$ on Instagram

The pandemic was still raging.  I was still in Boston, waiting for my Sony A1 camera to arrive so I could start writing the book on it.  I guess you could say I was "between projects".  Usually when there's not much to do I read a book or two and expand my horizons.  I found one advertised online whose title promised to make a lot of money on Instagram without spending any money and not spending a lot of time.

Usually I'm skeptical of such titles whose outcomes sound too good to be true and come with a steep price.  Especially when it comes to online marketing, where every advertising dollar I've ever spent has been a wasted dollar.  But Instagram sounded like a platform worth exploring for selling camera-specific books, since many enthusiasts hashtag the camera they're using when they post.  They identify themselves.  And, unlike Facebook, you don't have to be "friends" in order to communicate with others with similar interests.  So I sprung for the book and started reading.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Reflections

In This Issue:
  • Why take photos?
  • AUA (Ask Us Anything - a Gary and Tony video event)
  • Seminars, the Next Generation
  • Two new ebooks out!!
  • 15 things about the Sony A1 you probably didn't know (even if you read all the online reviews)
  • More!

Why Do We Take Pictures?
Vietnam, 2018

Well, I can tell you my story.  For most people, the reason is so we can have snapshots.  Snapshots jog a neuron in the person looking at it, and bring back a fond memory (but not to others who don't have the shared experience).

For me it’s a little different.   Like a lot of people, I grew up reading National Geographic and I fell in love with the idea that these photographers were out exploring the world and bringing back stories.  I had built the association in my mind that owning a camera somehow gave you that license to explore – to see places you’ve never seen, and meet people you’d never otherwise have a chance to meet.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

My Last Post about the "Monster Adapter" (LA-EA4r)

The Monster adapter was originally mentioned in my blog post from July, 2020.  It is a printed circuit board designed to replace the one in Sony's LA-EA4 adapter, allowing your Sony and Minolta A-mount lenses to benefit from the new features (like tracking and Eye-AF) found in most modern E-mount bodies.  (The biggest benefit going to owners of the Minolta 500mm f/8).  I've been playing with this adapter since last July, essentially being a beta tester and keeping a private email list heavy on details to those who expressed interest early on.

The product has matured significantly since that time, and just recently I created a video comparing Sony's new LA-EA5 (which only works on 3 camera bodies - the A1, the A7R IV, and A6600) with the LA-EA4r "Monster Adapter" which works on most bodies having phase-detect AF baked into the sensor.  Which one is better?  And will I take on this product personally?