Life Lessons From a Photograph

Looking at a photograph from a recent trip, I realized something. The photograph shows the Lake Michigan shoreline, and looks very peaceful. As is often the case, looks can be deceiving, as the waves were crashing to the point that I was getting splashed regularly standing 10-15 feet above the water. But a 2 minute exposure smoothed the waves to the point that they look like little more than haze around the base of the cliffs. As big as any wave was, it made only a faint impression, that over time averaged into something serene and beautiful.


In life, we are often battered by the waves of adversity. Problems at work, school, or home can seem insurmountable at the time, but we usually find that with the passage of time the insurmountable becomes a distant memory, and usually even weaves into the beauty that is our life. Just like the photograph, things that look huge in the moment look small and dim in the context of our lives. Looking at your problems in the light of this longer time frame can reduce stress and get you through the challenges of life.

So if you are faced with problems, or are looking at taking a risky step, look at it in the context of this year, or better yet this decade, or your lifetime, and you will realize that problems are almost never as big as they seem, and that risks that won’t kill you.

But as I was thinking about the first part of this, another observation hit me. It may seem contradictory, but I think they are complimentary, and work well together. 

In today’s celebrity culture, it is easy to compare ourselves to TV and movies stars or the latest social media sensation, or even the most popular kid a school or someone at work. Their lives looks so perfect that we can never compete. Just remember that we are seeing photographs separated from reality by plenty of time and distance (and probably some retouching.) The waves are there, too. Don’t ever think that someone famous has it so perfect that your life can never compare. They have struggles too, but the distance masks that. Don’t punish yourself by trying to match something even they can’t. 

10 Capture One Editing Tips

After using Phase One’s Capture One for most of my photo editing, I have come up with a few tips to help get the best results. Hopefully these can help you, too.

1: Setting Black and White points.

If you use Lightroom, or watch any tutorials, you have probably seen the tip to hold down the Alt/Option key while setting the white and black points. You can use the Exposure warnings in C1 the same way, but make sure that Shadow Warnings are enabled (Preferences > Exposure > “Enable Shadow Warnings” checkbox”).

I normally don’t use the warnings much, I start by setting the points to edge of the histogram, and adjusting by sight from there. When you are setting the black and white points, don’t be afraid to have some areas that are in warnings. The sun, specular highlights, and lights will often be entirely washed out, and will look wrong if they aren’t, and some shadow areas should probably wind up black.

2: Dodging and Burning.

When using local adjustments to selectively lighten dark areas, or darken light areas, using highlight or shadow recovery can render more natural and pleasing results than using the exposure slider.

If the section is too far into the mid tones, or it does not work for some other reason, you can use the HDR tools to soften the effect.

3: Overdoing Effects

Ever need just a little more shadow recovery or something? Applying a selective adjustment mask to the whole picture allows you to add more of many maxed-out adjustments.

4: Customizing Your Tools.

This one isn’t really a secret, but C1 lets you create custom tool tabs. I have one that contains Base Characteristics, Rotation & Flip, Exposure, Levels, White Balance, High Dynamic Range, Clarity, Sharpening, and Black & White. I spend 90+% of my time in the browser tab and my custom one.

5: White balance in Black & White?
Yes! Adjusting the white balance in B&W photos can drastically alter the look. The white balance is applied before the B&W conversion, so adjusting it can act a lot like the sliders in the B&W tool to adjust the levels of individual colors. It is less predictable, but can sometimes make adjustments that are difficult with just the color sliders. Setting the white balance can also add separation for some colors, so I would recommend setting white balance before you do the B&W conversion in any case.

6: Try some non-conventional adjustments

Highlight recovery not looking quite right? Try lowering overall exposure, then using shadow recovery to lighten the shadows. There are a number of maybe counterintuitive things like this to try. It can seem weird, but like they say in audio “if is sounds (looks) right, it is right.”

7: Smoothing Colors

The skin tone color editor tool has additional tools to smooth out colors, however, the tool is by no means limited to skin tones. You can use it to smooth any tones in the image, and since it is available as a Local Adjustment, it can be applied to multiple tones in an image.

8:  Enlarge tools

Some tools, like the Color Balance tool, can be difficult to use at the size it is on tool palate. If you click and drag the top of the tool off the palate, it becomes a floating window, and can be resized. Just drag it back onto the palate to dock it again.

9: The many ways to adjust contrast

There are several ways to adjust contrast in an image, including the contrast slider, Levels tool, High Dynamic Range tools, curve tool, and even the Color Balance tool. Play around with them all, and learn their strengths and weaknesses.

  • Contrast: Very easy, but little control. Prior to version 9, it effected the saturation of the image too much to make very large adjustments. With the engine updates in 9, you can use it a lot more, but may need to add some saturation.
  • Levels: This sets your black and white points. I usually start by dragging the bottoms of the bars to the ends of the histogram, and a little past if it looks good. Once you pass the ends of the histogram, the image starts clipping.
  • High Dynamic Range: These only reduce contrast, but you can “overdo” some of the other tools, then soften it with the HDR tools.
  • Curve: The most control, and the easiest to mess up. An “S” increases contrast, the reverse can be used to bring out highlight or shadow detail. Use the Luma curve for less impact on saturation and color.
  • Color Balance: I haven’t used this much, but you can adjust the brightness of highlights, midtones, and shadows.

10: Selective saturation adjustments.

One of my biggest uses for the Color Editor is to tame the saturation of greens in an outdoor image. To do this, I increase the overall image saturation, then bring the greens down. You could also select the greens, invert the selection, and increase the contrast.

One thing to be aware of is that the overall saturation is applied before the Local Adjustments, so if you desaturated the image, you may not be able to add saturation back in.

I hope these give you some ideas to improve your editing.

Do you have any tips or tricks? Please leave them in the comments.

Thank You

Over the last 240 or so years, many thousands of young men and women have decided that there was something out there that mattered more than themselves. More than their hopes and dreams, more than life itself. They left behind home, family, friends, and the familiar to fight for their country. From the American Revolution, The War of 1812, the American Civil War, two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm, through the current global war on terror, and countless smaller operations throughout the world, they have fought and died so that Americans and others can enjoy the freedoms we have. 

They left behind mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends and children in the hope that they and their loved ones could have a better country and World to live in. Although many of them came home to enjoy that life, many others gave the ultimate sacrifice for us. They forever rest in cemeteries throughout the world, or in the fields or seas where they fell. 

My family has been blessed, the nearest relative I have lost is one of my grandfather’s cousins, Harry Peter Holdmann, killed in action in the Second World War, 36 years before I was born. I thank the Lord that we can remember the service of many other family members and friends on November 11th, instead of today. But that thankfulness is tinged with sadness, knowing that many families have lost loved ones. 


So this weekend, take a few minutes away from the barbecues and family gatherings to remember those who can’t be here, and to be grateful to them, and those who loved them. 

Why I Shoot RAW

The other night I took a little detour on the way home to photograph a small church near my office.

It was sunset, and the church was silhouetted against an interesting sky. The photo below is default off the camera. Capture One makes a couple changes by default, so it’s a little different than a camera JPEG would be. This is pretty much the photo I saw, and wanted to capture.

The image was captured at 1/400th of a second, I think at f/11. The camera was a Nikon D610 on a tripod, with a PC-Nikkor 28mm F4. The lens does not record aperture information, thus the “I think” on f/11.

The original

I used Highlight recovery to bring out more detail in the sky.

Highlight recovery

Using shadow recovery, we are able to bring a lot of detail into the foreground. In the original, almost everything below the skyline is black, with the shadow recovery, we have a lot of detail that was hidden before.

Highlight and shadow.

For a comparison, I created a highest quality JPEG with Nikon NX-D, using the vivid picture control, which is probably what I would have used for this image shooting JPEG. As is, it looks fine, pretty much the same as we got out of the default settings in Capture One.

The original JPEG export

But as we start to bring the shadow and highlight recovery in, you can see how much is missing in the shadows. The blown out area around the sun is also larger than edited RAW. This is with the same settings as the RAW, with highlight and shadow recovery both at 100.

Initial JPEG edit

I tried to replicate the results with curves, and that ended up with some more shadow detail, but killed the sky.

Adjustments on a JPEG

Here’s the final version of the RAW, with some punch clarity added. Some comparison points: the color in the sky, the chimney is “eaten away” by the blown highlight of the sun. You can also see fairly severe posterizing in the shadows on the JPEG edits at full size.

Adding Clarity to the RAW conversion.

In this image, I might leave the foreground in silhouette anyways, but I wanted to demonstrate how you can squeeze a lot more dynamic range out of a photograph. For a scene like this, there really isn’t a “proper” exposure that would include the whole image. But with a few minutes of RAW editing you can have very good images with an extended dynamic range, without having to use HDR stacking techniques or the like. Using the dynamic range built into the RAW file avoids having to keep the camera still through multiple exposures and the problem of moving objects in an image. I have also run into situations where light washed into the darker areas of an image on stacked HDR that looked very unnatural. This, on the other hand, captures an image very like what I saw when I was standing there. Using JPEG, on the other hand, throws away a lot of image data that it deems unnecessary, and while some recovery is possible, it is much more limited.

Shooting the Blood Moon

Here is a little bit of the story of how I took the picture of the Blood Moon on 8 Oct 2014.

The eclipse was full around 5:30 – 6:30, and I happened to be awake at that time, so I headed over to the parking lot of a church near us, where I figured I could get a good view. I took the D610, and swapped between a Nikkor 70-300 4-5.6d and a Vivitar Series 1 600mm catadioptric (mirror) lens. The Vivtar is a fixed f8 aperture, and is pretty hard to focus when it is that dark out, so I did most of the shooting with the 70-300.

While I was out there, one of the people from the church came out to see what I was doing, since there was a random car in a back corner of the parking lot. Once he saw I was photographing the moon, he was really cool about it, and left me to it.

Listening to a Martin Bailey podcast recently, photographer David Kingham talked about the “500 rule” for shooting the night sky. Basically, the rule says that to avoid motion blur in celestial bodies, your maximum shutter speed should be 500/(your focal length), or in this case, 500/300, or less than 2 seconds. If I was shooting with my 28mm lens, I can drag the exposure out to 500/28, or about 17 seconds, before you start to get star trails. This image was right at 2 seconds, and did not seem to get the motion blur, but anything I shot longer than that quickly did. That also means that the 600mm lens has to have an exposure of less than 1 second at f8, which means pushing the ISOs really high.

This was set up on a tripod (I use a Manfrotto 190CXPRO4 4-Section Carbon Fiber Tripod with a ball head) and fired with a Nikon Wireless Remote to minimize camera shake.

Once I had the images, I imported them into Capture One Pro 8,  brought the white and black points in and added “punch” clarity to the image, and added some positive vignetting to correct the vignetting in the lens.

 

 

First look at Capture One Pro 8

Phase One released version 8 of their Capture One software. I downloaded a copy, so let’s take a look at some of the new features, and some thoughts on the new version. This is a first impression, I reserve the right to amend my opinions with more time working with the software!

New and notable:

Film grain emulation

I don’t normally add grain to my images, but Capture One’s new film grain might tempt me to use it more. There are 6 options: fine, silver rich, soft, cubic, tabular, and harsh. The following are examples of each, 100% crop and 60% grain added. I like the fine and silver grain, it adds a little depth and character to the image without being overpowering. The others seem good, but would probably see less usage in my work.

Fine Grain
Silver grain
Soft grain
Cubic grain
Tabular grain
Harsh grain

Clarity

Phase One added a Natural option to the clarity tool, which seems to mess with colors a lot less than punch, more in line with the classic and neutral options. Which one you use would depend on the image and the effect you are looking for. The images below are cropped to 100%, and have 60% clarity applied, more than you would with most images.

No Clarity Enhancement
Punch Clarity
Classic Clarity
Natural Clarity
Neutral Clarity

Clone and Heal Layers

These add a lot of power for retouching images. This isn’t a Photoshop beater for the professional retoucher, but can probably let you avoid going to Photoshop for a lot of the lighter blemish removal type tasks. The clone layers are similar to the stamp tool in Photoshop, copying one part of the image to another. The Heal layers also work similar to the Photoshop healing brush, adding additional processing to blend the cloned area with the area you are covering.

The biggest limitation I see is that the relation from the healed spot to the area it is cloning from is fixed for each layer, and you are limited to ten layers. So if you take a sample a little below your fix, each spot you retouch will take a sample the same distance below the fix. So the layer might work great on the top of someone’s forehead, but lower down you would catch the eyebrows, necessitating another layer. This limits some of the larger retouching jobs, but it is an important feature, and executed pretty well.

Also improved:

Phase One also lists improvements in the processing engine, black and white processing, keyword tagging (more on that later), adjustment layers, scripting (Mac only) and other areas.

Keywords are defiantly better, but I want to be able to select a range of photos, type in a keyword, and have it apply to them all. As far as I was able to tell, it only applied to the first one. However, it is easier to copy and paste them, so there is that, which is nice.

Rants:

No map-based geotagging like Lightroom. I don’t use it that much, but it is something I would like to do more of.

Hue sliders should show the colors, and they don’t. Edit: Fixed in 8.0.1

Could just be the images I tried it on, but the Incandescent white balance setting seems way too cool. Haven’t done extensive testing, though.

Vignetting still lags Lightroom by a significant amount. Not that big a deal in most of my work, though.

No Express version, except for one for Sony cameras. I have been using Express, and was planning to upgrade anyways, but it is hard to recommend a $300 piece of software to less serious photographers.

The subscription option is too expensive (in my humble opinion.) Subscriptions are $15/month, with in introductory offer of $10/month. So regular price is $180 a year, or buying the software +$60 every two years. Subscription pricing should be slightly less expensive than buying the software and upgrades, not 20% more, and that’s just the first version. If you figure a 2 year upgrade cycle, which is what C1 seems to be on, purchase the full version + 1 upgrade (4 years of current product) costs $400 ($300 for the initial full version, $100 upgrade,) 4 years of subscription (at $15/month) = $720. Even $10/month lands you at $480, and it gets worse the longer you run it. Adobe is offering Photoshop and Lightroom for $10/month, for about 2.5 times the original cost for software ($300 for C1, ~$750 for LR+PS). Not even counting the cost of upgrades, it takes over 6 years to equal the cost of buying it outright. I think $7-10/month would be more reasonable, with a $5 intro.

Raves:

Film grain I would actually use.

The clone and healing layers will replace a lot, but not all, of my trips to Photoshop.

Summary:

While the list of raves is shorter than the rants, it’s only because I am skipping the stuff that was already great, like B&W, highlight/shadow recovery, and (for me, anyways) a better user interface.

I am planning to purchase the upgrade (running the demo now) and probably remove Lightroom from most of my workflow.

All in all a solid upgrade to a great product.

Have you upgraded? What did you think? Please comment below.

Devil’s Lake Hike

Last weekend I drove out to Devil’s Lake State Park, a popular state park north-west of Madison, WI. I originally wanted to get out there for sunrise, but it is a two hour drive out there, and I ended up getting up around sunrise, rather than two hours earlier. It was still a good trip, since it let me scout for another one I hope to take in a few weeks, as the leaves start to turn. I’ll take a little more time to plan that one, and make sure I get on the road in time for sunrise.

I parked on the south side of the lake, so it was a new area for me, basically turning around at the same point I normally do, but in the opposite direction.

Balancing Rock

This image really captures why I shoot raw and like Capture One. This image is the lowest exposure I took to create an HDR, so the majority of the image was a couple stops underexposed. I ended up just bringing the exposure up by .7 of a stop, and added a lot of highlight and shadow recovery in Capture One, giving me an image that I think works as well as a traditional composite HDR image.

I didn’t take a closer picture of the balancing rock, because climbers were using it to anchor ropes, which kind of messed up the shot.

Devil’s Doorway

Another shot of The Devil’s Doorway. I think I like the lower angle in my previous shot, but this is a cool place to come and try some new angles and new ideas. It is often worth going back and revisiting places and subjects you have photographed before, and see how the changing conditions, seasons, or your own evolution as a photographer effects your images.

While I was here, a couple came up, and the woman was going to take a picture of the man with her iPhone. I offered to take one for them, so they could both be in it. She looked at me, with a DSLR, camera bag and tripod, and said “I don’t know, it doesn’t look like you know what you are doing.” I took a couple pictures for them, which they were very grateful for.

One of the Potholes

Devil’s Lake’s Potholes were probably formed by water sometime around the last ice age. Very different to see the smooth, flowing shapes in the normally very angular quartzite.

Sunlight on a plant

The sun was catching just the sprig at the end of this plant. It ends up losing some of the context it had in real life, but I think the picture worked.

Playing with off camera flash for close-up photography

I saw this little plant, and decided to try to use my flash off-camera. Fun little exercise.

Road America Trip

My wife’s family has been involved in auto racing for many years, but we have not been at the track for the last few years. She wanted to go up to Road America to watch the IMSA Tudor United SportsCar Championship races, so we went up for the festivities Saturday, August 9th. Most of the day was practice and qualifying for the main events Sunday.

One of the most interesting cars there was the Deltawing car, one of the prototype division cars. The front wheels are quite close together, and very narrow.

The Deltawing Prototype in practice
The Deltawing team working on the car in the paddock.

The tires on the left are for the front wheels, the right for the rear wheels. I am a little surprised it performs as well as it does, with such narrow wheels, and it’s almost tricycle layout.

The Deltawing’s tires, showing the difference between the front and rear tires.

Yes, I am an Aston Martin fan. They are (in my opinion) the most beautiful cars in production today. And James Bond drives them.

Nose of the Mantella Autosport Grand Sport division Aston Martin V8 Vantage.
The TRG-AMR Grand Sport Aston Martin V8 Vantage
For more power, the TRG-AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage

And who doesn’t like a Ferrari?

Ferrari F458 Italia engine
Cleaning the nose of the Ferrari

And what is racing without a few crashes? Not something you want to see happen to a driver, but it is part of racing.

Spin
I Fought the Wall, and the Wall Won
One of the great things about open cockpit cars, at least from the perspective of the wrecker drivers.

 

EAA Airventure 2014

For the second year in a row, my wife and I went the EAA AirVenture airshow in Oshkosh. For anyone unfamiliar with it, the AirVenture is about a week long event that brings in pilots and airplanes from all over the world. During that week, Whittman Regional Airport claims to be the busiest airport in the world, based on airplane movements.

The show is a great chance to see a wide variety of aircraft, from home-builts to some of the largest planes in the world, to current and historic warbirds, and see them both up close and personal, and flying.

They also have some other things around, like this Morgan 3-wheeler. The Morgan was driven by Richard Hammond in one of the episodes of Top Gear, and happens to be powered by an engine made by S&S Performance, here in Wisconsin.

A Morgan Three Wheeler. The engine is made by Wisconsin based S&S Performance.

Speaking of the biggest planes in the world, the size of the C-17 is incredible. This shot captures the scale of the tail over the crowd waiting to tour it. (Corrected, previously said C-5)

The massive tail of a C17

The first performer at the air show itself was Sean D. Tucker, in the Oracle sponsored Challenger III biplane.

Sean D. Tucker’s Challenger III Biplane

Sean after his performance.

Sean D. Tucker after his show

An aerobatic rated Beechcraft Bonanza, a 6-seat general aviation aircraft. Doing aerobatics in this is kind of like entering your minivan in a drifting competition. While it can’t do some of the crazy stuff purpose built aircraft like the Challenger III can, it is definitely a  high performance aircraft.

An Aerobatic rated Beechcraft Bonanza

The B-24 Liberator “Diamond Lil,” one of the earliest B-24 still flying. It is one of the aircraft owned and flown by the Commemorative Airforce. As a bit of history buff, especially interested in the World War II era, I love seeing these old planes fly, and even get a little choked up seeing them, knowing what they, and the crews that flew them, have seen in combat.

B-24 “Diamond Lil” in flight

The US Coast Guard came and ran a demonstration of water rescue techniques, except the swimmer couldn’t dive from the helicopter, since it was over ground. This is the swimmer initially being lowered from the helicopter, after which the helicopter moved off, to allow the swimmer to do his work, then circled around and picked the swimmer, and would have picked up the victim with one of a number of options, such as slings or stretchers.

The Coast Guard demonstrating rescue techniques.

A V-22 Osprey shortly after takeoff. The Osprey has a pair of tilting nacelles with turbo-prop driven rotors. The aircraft can either take off vertically, or with a short takeoff roll, which allows for an increased capacity. Once the aircraft is in the air, the rotors are slowly rotated forward, and the plane transitions into fixed-wing flight.

Osprey shortly after takeoff
The engine nacelle on an Osprey VTOL/STOL plane.

The final show was the Air Force Thunderbirds. They were not flying last year for the airshow due to budget cuts, but were back in the air this year.

The Thunderbirds were a great show. They seem to like scaring the audience by getting you to look at part of the team, and then another plane come and buzz the crowd, traveling fast enough to almost outrun their own sound, so you don’t hear them until they are right on top of you.

The Thunderbird Arrowhead Formation
All 6 Thunderbirds flying in a Delta Formation
Thunderbirds solo planes perform a Reflection Pass

The EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) was founded in 1953, and it’s first permanent home, after the founder’s basement, was in the Milwaukee suburb of Franklin, where I live now. They moved to their current location in Oshkosh, WI in 1983. The facility includes the EAA Museum, which houses over 200 aircraft.

I joined the EAA while we were there, since it was only $10 more to join and use the member discount than just getting tickets, and it will allow me free admission to the AirVenture museum, and a subscription to Sport Aviation magazine.

I am looking forward to visiting the museum, and more visits to the Fly In in the coming years.

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