Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cuvaitum At Work...

My mood has been off lately. Trying to smile and laugh just to cover up for the bleed. Ah well, who cares anyway. At least I had the chance to play with my camera and catch a panorama in day time, away from the cops and security people. An experiment that I might be willing to do again, some time...
Previous weekend was specially weird. I did sleep so early. So early that I won't be sleeping like that for work itself! And wake up early too. I didn't want to miss the chance here so I went on to have breakfast on the beach and look for something to capture. I took my tools including my Manfrotto 303SPH VR-Head (was it a coincidence?) and drove along the beach. It was around 7 a.m. or a bit before that when I settled behind Kuwait Towers and started to do my job in a hurry fearing the usual. One panorama was enough to keep me busy for a while now. There are lot of things to do with one panorama, as different viewing angles do make a difference now and I won't let go, from now on, of a panorama until I exhaust my options with it. However, I didn't miss the chance to take some single clicks here and there. It's nice to add some icing to the cake isn't it?
Just before going on, I would like to talk about my previous "homework" in my photography class.

I. Homework #1:
It was our first homework in the Photography Class L1. The main point was to criticize the images in general. Along the years that I've been working with my camera and specially in the field of HDR techniques, I've faced many useless comments and criticism that just don't consider what I'm trying to say in the image. Anyway, I think my mind now has developed a sense of what is a "real" criticism and what is "trash". For this reason, I tried my best to do the shots in JPG only without RAW and without any adjustments at all. Since my teacher is the one who will criticize me, then I have no problem at all and I would learn here, instead of putting up with depressive non-sensical comments. Anyway, our homework was to take 4 shots, and I did take several shots for same scene and then picked the best as I think for this homework. Some people brought 5, 6 and even 10 shots. I wonder if they have problem with mathematics!?

Nail in a Wall

My first shot, nail in a wall. I don't know what happened to this nail, anyway I was surprised for its shape. The fact is I had only 2 hours probably to take the shots before my class starts, thus my mind went on thinking so fast about a solution. The idea was to have a long shadow of the nail but unfortunately, the sun was not in the proper angle in the afternoon. I tried to fix the proportions according to the law of thirds as much as possible, as shooting in this angle was hard. The nail is on a column and a bit high from the ground level, and also on the edge of a small stairway. I had to play around with my tripod until I made it stable and high up above the stair steps and the ground. My teacher said he likes the texture but because he didn't want to announce the names of the photographers when he viewed the pictures, I decided to keep silent and not explain my motive and the things that went wrong for me. The main concept of this image is loneliness, and if there was a shadow it would complete the meaning I had mind. Loneliness vs. Greatness.

Metallic Design

The second picture was taken for the rail of the stair way at home. After taking the image and uploading it to my PC I've noticed that the front portion (top left corner) is a bit blurry which is something I didn't want in fact. Anyway, my teacher liked the concept but, like I thought also, he said the door and the books on the left were a source of distractions. Unfortunately, I can't remove them, and if I was to take the shot in portrait I believe more distractions would be included. He liked the angle and the blur effect (shallow depth). I would crop the distractions but as I said, I wanted the images untouched as much as possible.

Floral Design

The third image, Floral Design, was also from the stairway rail. I had this idea long time ago (but thinking of a panorama for the stairs alone actually). The image was taken with my Tamron 70-300mm, and probably at 200mm or close to that. I was pointing to the rail from a distance of around 2 or 3 meters (~ 6-9 ft). The reason for this is simply, from a close distance I would be able to put my tripod calmly. Because I didn't use a timer here to take the shot, seems the image was shaken a bit, or it was blurred slightly because I used manual focus (always use it with my Tamron). My teacher noted that there is a little shake in the image when viewed in 100%. At this point, my teacher said that apparently this person (i.e. me) likes textures, which is true. I'm not so fond of portraiture.


I don't remember really what my teacher said about the fourth image, Qul, but the image you see here is actually the adjusted RAW and not the direct JPG that was viewed in the class. Anyway, it is simply a zoom into some Arabic calligraphy engraved on a wall clock in the main hall (living room). Tamron was also used here and I had to raise the tripod higher than my head. The play was in the WB to give more golden streak to the whole thing. I think it was Flash WB.

The clock in the hall (old picture with illusional adjustments)

My teacher is a school by himself, and I guess I'm lucky to be one of his students. Trying patiently to wait for the big bites of info that will make my brain jump a bit. So far, in Level 1 now, the info encountered are mostly well-known to me. Left to say, all of the images except of the first one were submitted to stock sites, but after RAW adjustments. No HDR this time.
My teacher has an impressive photostream on Flickr. Give it a try. He's a genius! As for me, I still hate Flickr for some reason I don't know. I just reject it mentally!

II. Cuvaitum:
One of the surprises that I've encountered this week is, when I wanted to name one of my pictures in Latin, I've discovered that Google Translation engine did include a translation for "Kuwait" in Latin. I didn't know there would be any translation for it really, as mostly the name, specially Kuwait's, is copied as it is in English into various languages. Kuwait was translated as Cuvaitum.
Last Friday morning, and because of the amazing adjustment in my sleeping time, I woke up in the very early morning (with ease), something that doesn't happen when I think of going to work! Anyway, I didn't want to miss the chance and picked my tools, and specially my VR-Head. I can say, I picked it up half-intentionally. I was hoping that I will do some panorama, but I didn't know just yet for what. After having breakfast I was staring around trying to find something, and even drove along the seaside trying to search for a potential. Finally, my eyes was set on a location that I deem, usually, a taboo. I did take pictures from there before but this location is always dangerous to me (me, being someone with past experience with cops). Kuwait Towers.
Now, Kuwait Towers are a pretty nice target for photography at night more than it is in day time (probably only in very early morning or at sunset when you get some special light qualities). I did take some shots long time ago for the towers when I was experimenting back then with my Canon 350D. Sweet old days.

Humid Towers

Kuwait Towers in A Windy Day

But this time the circumstances are different. Completely different. Day time, early morning, the sun is rising and, a panorama. Maybe one thing is common between the old and the new images: all are HDR, and all were manually tone-mapped.
Since I'm working with a panorama, I had to do it as fast as I can for fear of any "undesired" visitors in the early morning (a bit before 7 a.m.). I skipped working out with the nadir and took only direct shots that I didn't use later on. One panorama, many opportunities...

Towers of The Rising Sun

I know that Japan is the land of the rising sun, but are there towers for the rising sun? Oh well. The main difficulty here lies in cloning out the lower portion. I've cropped a bit from the lower part where the VR-Head shows, but this was not the difficult thing to do. It was my shadow with the tripod. Because the ground had a pattern in formation, it was so hard to make it unique, or maybe I'm out of patience to finish this and I couldn't bear in mind working slowly and copy brick by brick. It is possible to make it unique but it's not for me now. I don't have all the time in the world nor the power (cloning work is done in HDR mode, meaning more processing power). I approached the situation with many tricks, the last was to copy a portion of the right corner and paste it over the left portion where my shadow was (after cloning it already) and then do a layer Blend as in stack focus.
The tone-mapping was done manually, i.e. in Photoshop itself and playing around with the curve of the histogram myself. I've been a good boy here and didn't touch other slides like the Threshold and the Radius which caused me grief in the past, and will never learn how to do them adequately. But before tone-mapping, I had to reduce the luminance of the sun and that was done simply by adding Exposure adjustment layer, and with the White dropper I click on the disk of the sun. The image appeared darker in the beginning while the sun was like a dot in the sky (which is the thing I want actually). You have to bear in mind when you work in this way that this is HDR. The luminance data are there and not gone; maybe shifted, but not gone. With this simple correction in Exposure, I've moved to tone-mapping. All the later versions of this panorama, were tone-mapped in the same manner, but maybe the fixes for my shadow were different a bit.

Planeta Cuvaitum

The great advantage here in tone-mapping with Photoshop (which is something I rarely do right now) is that you have a control over certain areas, even though Photoshop's tone-mapping algorithm is considered Global, meaning it effects the whole pixels in the image in the same time. However, with the help of the curve and the histogram. This way, I was able to make the sun as a disk with a halo around it by doing a "U" curve at the end of the line. This "U" curve simply means "high-low-high"; now imagine this to the sun disk (out-middle-inner part) and you will be getting a bright circle, then darker circle, then bright spot in the middle. Are you following? Hope so! Such control is not possible in Photomatix and I did try indeed doing some effect but nothing worked to my taste.

Although I almost chose my location randomly in the area behind the towers (and hoping to keep me a bit hidden from the eyes wandering on the street in the front), I think now I was lucky to pick this location! This was apparent when I went on doing a TV (Tunnel-View) effect for this panorama...

Crescent Sun Towers

The shape of the crescent was indeed random. I didn't plan it. It just happened to be there when I twisted the panorama. Only one thing is annoying me here though; the patch in the sky. Cloning problems are apparent here as you see. Cropping further to hide my shadow or the bad cloning would cut out the fun from the rest of the images with nice patterns made by the pavement, so, I guess I have to bear it as it is.

Two projections though, didn't appeal much to me but I had to do them after all just to make things complete. The Vertical and the "Wide View" or WV. The WV is a term I've made out myself really, since I didn't find any proper names for it. It is a manipulation of the Little Planet projection by changing the angles of Pitch and Roll mainly and fixing the orientation with the Yew.

Nos Regulam Solis

Cropping the sides in this vertical panorama was a hard issue for me and I'm still not satisfied with the final product here. I felt cropping was screwing the balance of the image in general specially that the sun and the towers are not exactly on the same alignment. I had to do the cropping to the side to remove the highly stretched pixels (which is normal in such type of panoramas of course). I think what makes it so hard to decide with the crop is the diagonal lines in the image itself which, if straight, would make for a unidirectional look on the whole thing.

Dancing Towers

Not one of my favorites really. The Dancing Towers is supposed to be something with a comedy twist after all. The twists in the tower were made in HDR mode before tone-mapping by using the Wrap option in Photoshop. The tone-mapping (and adjusting curves later on) didn't help me to add some strong contrast but rather darkening the ground. The other problem was that the ground and the sky portions were too much compared to the main subject: the tower and the sun. I had to crop and cropping here wasn't easy either. The subjects of interest are nudged to the left rather than the center or one of the points of the law of thirds.

I was drooling to do a QTVR out of this panorama but unfortunately, things were not easy. The fact that the panorama was tone-mapped manually in Photoshop made me lose one key option here, which is very important for making a QTVR: the seamless blend. In Photomatix, this is simply done by ticking one option while tone-mapping; the "360 panorama" option. I don't know yet how to blend the left and right side seamlessly still using Photoshop as my search on the net was in vain. I even tried to put the final panorama into Photomatix and stabilize the sliders as much as possible to keep the look (changing only the Gamma to fix the contrast) and turning on the 360 panorama option, but even that was in vain. Probably the only real benefit that I've gained so far from such search is to know how to add a label or a logo to my panorama instead of the nadir point in more comfortable way, using PTGui. You can find the tips here in the Support/FAQ webpage of PTGui (with many many other useful info that I didn't read before). The QTVR might need some time to load, plus, of course, the QuickTime plugin.

III. Land, Paper, Wall:
On land, it was the ruins of Hore Abbey, which moved to my camera's sensor to be printed later on. Mom desired something to fit in the living room to change the scenery and she was so fond of Ashford castle in fact, an awkward handheld panorama taken back in 2009 in Co. Mayo, Ireland.

Ashford Castle

Unfortunately, when viewed in 100% I've found that the middle portion of the image is out of focus. Probably I was working in AF mode (a big mistake in panorama venture). The greens also don't appear as they are when converted to CMYK system. I had to convert because of previous experience with this printing shop which seems RGB is not appreciated much (although an expert told me that it is a single print and they should be able to produce it properly in RGB). Anyway, the mistake with the focus was a killer enough to abandon the idea. So, mom picked another shot, the ruins of Hore. I have to say I'm really proud now that she picked my stuff!

Ruins of Hore hanging on the wall of the living room.

The print and the frame prices were fair I'd say, but while watching the process going on (in 2 days) I really wished to have my own tools. I fell in love really with the HP designjet 800ps in the printing shop, but unfortunately it is discontinued, and for sure it costs a fortune!
My signature. Still think it sucks!
However, one of the things that I was limited with is, the type of paper that I could pick. In fact, there was only one variety. I'm sure there are several papers out there that are better (and more expensive, I know), but there was only one type so I had to put it down with that. I wasn't ready to move around to other place to check.
The next thing was, after the print and checking the colors, I went to the framing shop. As I expected they were not that professional I would expect but they did a good job with the frame. I was a little upset about it because when I went back to the framing shop to give them a leaflet with my own signature, the print was rolled up and kept between other stuff. I was a bit angry inside because this is not the way to deal with a print. Also, the matting they provided was not thick enough and seems merely like a cardboard. The leaflet I brought was not stuck or anything but merely fixed, and I didn't get the chance to sign on the matting myself. Anyway, after all, mom is happy with it. I only wish if I have the money to get all these stuff together in one place and do my own prints. My printer supports A4 size maximum, but I wish to have one with A3 size capabilities. Would be awesome and in fact, more elegant to frame in that size I think.
Color Management in Digital Photography: Ten Easy Steps to True Colors in PhotoshopI'm trying now to finish this lovely thin book which my friend got me for my birthday (but didn't get the chance to give it to me in time). It is a practical book and to the point, for beginners. I want to write something for now, but I don't know what. So much is gushing out, yet little words are coming in my mind. For one moment I just wish if I can sit down, one leg on the other, and my palms behind my head, and stare into the world... maybe thinking of No Other Worlds...

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