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

Editor's note: This topic is so important that in 2022 I was asked to give a zoom lecture to the Royal Photographic Society in the UK.  If you prefer watching video to reading a long blog post, then you may wish to absorb the information this way:

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 " 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


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?

Geeking with Gary - Cloud Server on a Raspberry Pi

[Editor's note: This has little to do with photography.  I do this from time to time.]

Two Christmases ago someone gave me a Raspberry Pi.  You know, a full single-board computer which runs Linux and can pretty much do anything for a whopping $35 U.S. dollars.  “Hey, I’m a geek, and I hate that Dropbox' free account limits me to only three computers.  I have this single-board computer and a 2 TB hard drive lying around.  I’ll turn that little board into my own personal cloud server, so I can access my files from anywhere in the world - for free!  AND I can configure it to be my own personal Virtual Private Network (VPN) - also for free!  Muahahaha!!  What could possibly go wrong?” 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

A Giant Softbox - for Free!

Also in this issue
Shooting the Northern Lights with Video
Three Ebooks released (and one in the pipeline)
Contest Winners
We're moving (again!)
A Giant Softbox for Free
And much more...

Shooting the Northern Lights with Video

My wife and I were watching a cool movie one night entitled “Under an Arctic Sky”, where a bunch of 20-somethings went to Iceland in wintertime to surf. (Pretty amazing cinemaphotography. You can see the trailer for it here). Toward the end of the movie (and the trailer) there’s footage showing them surfing at night, in darkness, with the Northern Lights painting a picturesque backdrop. “That had to have been shot with an A7S!” I exclaimed, thoroughly annoying my wife who hates it when I talk about technical BTS stuff during a movie.  “That’s the only camera sensitive enough to shoot useable footage in such low light!!”  Sure enough, as the movie progressed you can see them handling the Sony gear, and at the end, you can see that Sony was actually a sponsor.  Ever since the original A7S came out, cutting-edge filmmakers have been using it to shooting things previously unshootable.  The example that really sticks in my mind is this nighttime drone shot (again, the Aurora Borealis) using the original Sony A7S and a 20mm f/1.4 lens.  There's another one called "Moonwalk", also sponsored by Sony.  Just amazing. 

I bring this up as a prelude to my announcement that the long-awaited, most-thorough-book on the Sony A7S III is now out!  (It would have been out sooner had Adobe not moved all of the legacy arrows and shapes out of the shape tool in Photoshop and not told anybody.)  All of the new menus, all of the new video modes, even the new HEIF files are all explained, in 703 pages of insane technical (yet completely understandable) detail.  Get your copy now, available in .pdf, .epub, .azw3, and printed versions!! 

Other e-book announcements: 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Wireless Flash vs. the Adjustment Brush

My first shooting gig in Boston was a cool venture called Backyartists, a company started by two experienced early childhood educators. Backyartists mostly caters to local families with pre-school aged children, but they also ship out seasonal and holiday boxes of open-ended process art and sensory activities for kids ages 3-9.  Today I was taking marketing shots of their Friendship & Love box, for Valentine’s Day.

My goal was to create images they couldn't easily make with their smartphones.  I used an f/2.8 lens shooting wide open so the background would be beautifully de-focused, and had their backs to the sun so that their hair (or hats in this case) were illuminated, giving them a certain glow.  Wireless flash (with my usual paper diffuser) was used to illuminate the faces, completing the look.  If I do a good job, you won't even notice that I used a flash, although you might subconsciously pick up that there was something special about the pictures.  (Click on any image to view larger and sharper.)

Friday, January 8, 2021

Two good reasons to turn off the Focus Assist light...

Also in this issue:
  • Why we moved
  • Two new books out!  (And two more in the queue!)

Reader Bill Gordon writes: "One comment on the auto illumination feature. You and every other author I’ve ever read says there is no reason to turn it off. But there is one place where you need to shut it off. A museum. Generally there is no flash allowed in a museum and this feature will get you yelled at every time. My mother lost a day of shooting once because she couldn’t figure out how to shut it off in the field. Just sayin….."

So now using the Focus Assist Lamp is the equivalent of using a tripod - it gets you in trouble for no good reason.  

There's another reason to turn that feature off, and I was reminded of it when trying to take the above self-portrait (as part of my Quarantine Beard series).  But this shot was going to be different -- this time instead of using studio lighting, the light from my face would come solely from the flame in the faux pipe.  Sony A7C, ISO 6400, 1/10th of a second, f/2.8 using the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 lens, and framed and taken using Sony’s smartphone app.