Thursday, August 23, 2012

Grease The Engine...

Here we go; back to the old life pace, and old fashions, and the old life style. Ramadhan is over, and now I have to work again on forcing myself to keep being awake in the afternoons after a period of a month of hibernating after work, everyday.
Many events took place here: My Birthday, Eid, and (most importantly) Speedlite experimenting. I'll show those slowly now!

I. Enlighten Me!

First things first. Still experimenting with my Speedlites, and I guess I didn't include some images that were done already before the last post. I think working with flashes or Speedlites is sort of an addiction-drag; once you start, you want to get more and more. This is said from someone who used to hate working with the flash (even though I had one already back then). Of course, I'm not saying all situations would require flashes, but, having 2 Speedlites at least is something awesome!

Pasión Pasando
Canon EF-S 18-55mm @46mm, f/5.6, 1/250 sec.
ISO 100

Pasión Pasando II
Canon EF-S 18-55mm @46mm, f/5.6, 1/250 sec.
ISO 100

Even though in both of these experiments I've gelled the Speedlites with blue and red gels, but the blue hue was weak (problably because of the WB, which I've set to Flash). The experiment was done in High-Speed mode, but the shutter speed in fact didn't exceed the sync speed (1/250 sec). I had some trials trying to adjust the power ratio (as I was working in Manual mode for the Speedlites and not E-TTL). Well, can't remember exactly what are the ratios, but seems I've set the 430EX II (on the left) to some power level higher than the 580EX II (on the right).
In the first image, I had to edit a bit and fix the colors as the blue gel didn't give a strong effect, while the second version was directly out of camera without any editing in the RAW file. I do like the second one though, not because it was not edited, but because of the smoke's shape. My aim was to have a smoke in the air going upward, but the ambient air didn't help (Central AC) and the smoke, any smoke, would automatically point downward because of the air movement in the room!

Explosive Candle
Canon EF-S 18-55mm @55mm, f/16, 10min
ISO 100
In a different day I've decided to work with the candle again (well, another one), and this time do some long exposure. An experiment I've done before, before I get the knowledge about the timings as I do now. This time, the atmosphere must be dark and I've configured the flash on second curtain sync just to give a pulse at the end of the exposure to emphasize the candle's body at the end. Here, unlike working with High-Speed, I have to turn off the lights and turn on the candle a bit to take some metering reading and do the calculations.
The meter was done to the area adjacent to the initial flame. Of course it was fluctuating and the metering reading was changing constantly, but of course an average or a value in the middle of the range would do. Now, I don't remember how much was that, but I needed 4 stops to lengthen the exposure to 10 minutes, so I'm expecting the value was somewhere around 30 seconds.
If you ask why the metering was done beside the flame and why not ON the flame itself or even on the body of the candle, well, I needed something with a medium luminance between the two areas; not so bright like the flame, and not too dark like the body of the candle. Simple logic from my side that I'm not sure it is quite correct, but it did work out in the final result (with some editing of course).
Editing was aimed at lightening some areas and darkening some, and emphasizing the edges of the flame by darkening or burning those areas, with some contrast addition of course. At the end, noise reduction, as usual.

II. Don't Cool Me Down!

Unfortunately, still till this very moment, my trials to cool down the sensor are not going well as planned. But, however, it gives me some further ideas that I might consider working on. All what I need now is someone who got some expertise in electronics! Anyway, no need to unfold this by now.
Just before the Eid (feast), or the end of Ramadhan, I've headed to the beach for one more trial in a long exposure on the beach, as usual.

Shooting Stars
Rokinon 8mm, f/16, 53min.
ISO 160
Because of the moon's disappearance the exposure was quite a long one - REALLY long one. Initially, the estimated time was to be more than one hour, and I had to do many adjustments and re-calculations to come around one hour exposure. However, just before I start opening the shutter, I've decided to increase the ISO for 2/3 stop, that is from 100, to 160. This is just to increase the chances for recording more highlights than shadows. I've wrapped the cool pad at the back of the camera sticking it to the LCD by rubber bands, but after 30 minutes only, I've realized that the cooling pad was already warming up. I think big portion of this freezing point was lost due to the fact that I needed 30 to 45 minutes just to adjust the camera. I've expected at this point that the chromatic noise will be peaking.
I've ended the exposure 6 minutes short from one hour, at 53 minutes, and as I've expected when I've uploaded the image - it was full of chromatic noise.

Working with RawTherapee, I've managed to eliminate a big portion of the chromatic noise and again cleaning a bit of noise when editing the file in ACR. I've tried many methods around as well with DxO, but after all, maybe the best result was the first one I've made. However, it is not something to be made into a large print! A4 size is enough I'd say to have a normal-looking image! Lot of features and sharpness got smudged out because of the noise filtering - luminance and chromatic noise altogether. This said, I need to have a serious step to reduce the heat. Winter is coming, so in hope that I will try more long exposures for comparisons.

III. Digging...

For the many activities on Flickr, and the new capabilities with DxO, I've been digging back at old shots and been investigating new capabilities, if possible. But as a beginning, I have to begin with a shot that I've done 2 weeks ago almost from the Free Zone.

Lines, Blocks, and Colors
Canon EF 100mm Macro, f/8, 1/160 sec.
ISO 400

Despite the excessive cloning, it is still an image that could rejected from some stock sites for some trade mark signs (I think the red label on the red container). Anyway, it is a close shot to my heart despite all the hardships, like the ISO 400 which added to the noise level - beside the problem with the perspective point on which I've spent a significant time trying to fix. Well, this is not a deep dig out from the past, it is just something I had to share from the last post!
Most of my dig out were from Ireland's archives, from 2009 and 2010.

Canon EF 55-200mm @140mm, f/5.6, 1/160 sec.
ISO 250

Digging out images from the past is not necessarily something I've done to check on new capabilities of those programs and software, but there was a great push forward to do this by the fact that I have a Flickr account now and I want to give some feed to that account.
Images like Bleak for example, was done into HDR and tone-mapped. Back then I did like that version but now when I look at it again, I don't feel a thing; I do even hate it!

The HDR version

Thinking about it, I really don't know how did I like the HDR version, or why I did it that way. A simple explanation is, my feelings were just like that! However, in the new version, Bleak, and after editing the colors in DxO, I've decided to do the reverse of the color splash technique, where everything is black and white and only the subject matter is colored. In Bleak I've made the subject matter black and white while the rest of the scene is colored. I'm not that happy about it because of the distractions in the background, but it was some happy experimenting to break down the typical rules of editing and doing effects, like color splashing (or as I like to call it sometimes, selective coloring). It is all a matter of feelings and how your mood relates to the image at hand. At the end I've added just a glamor effect (one of the old tricks in my bag) to add a contrast between something angelic in looks and yet bleak. How would you relate to such contrast? I'm regretting now that I didn't color the pot and keep the flowers in black and white. I might work again on it when I get the mood to work further on this image.


But maybe one of the most intriguing dig-outs is a panorama that I've totally forgot about since 2010. Generally speaking, this panorama had a lot of problems that made me just forget about processing it. Taken with 15mm fisheye lens on 4 vertical levels (4 shots that is), this panorama had a strong chromatic aberration, and perspective problems. Chromatic aberrations specifically were exaggerated because of the HDR tone-mapping. However, looking back at the slides, I've realized there is a potential in the sky. Many ideas raced through, and all lead to one answer at the end: Black and White.
First of all, the first problem to fix is the perspective. In PTGui it was a struggle somehow, and in fact I didn't even imagine that I could align the base line of the church in that way. To make a dramatic effect, we need a dramatic light, and here comes the HDR tone-mapping. The rest was a play of adjustment layers then and converting to black and white. The noise specifically was hard and with the help of layer masks, I've managed to blur the sky slightly, while sharpening the structure of the church itself (by NIK plugin) to extract more details. However, I'm not sure this would make up for a good large print; I'm not quite sure of how this would look. I have to add that the Gothic architecture here did help tremendously in the process and adds to the feeling of mystery and being ghostly if I should say.

As Caisleán

Now, after the comments I've received for Gothicum, I got encouraged to check on more of those forgotten shots and try to do something about them. One of these shots was a shot taken from one of the rooms in Cahir castle. In this shot, I was specifically aiming for HDR in the first place back then because, naturally, outdoor light and indoor light do not usually mix and to get details from both, HDR usually comes here for the help (or doing a manual blend). I thought of converting to black and white as well but I thought it might not be as dramatic as Gothicum after all, so I just kept it in colors.
The problem with As Caisleán (Out of Castle) is the fact that I've raised the ISO to 250 to compensate for my handshake, and also there is a not-so-negligible movement in between the frames and aligning those in Photomatix in the beginning was not so successful because with a fisheye lens, a slight nudge would make a big difference, specially on the edges. However, DxO came in for the rescue again, specially with the fact that Canon 15mm fisheye lens has a profile already installed in DxO, so technically, I didn't do anything other than load the images and then save them again as DNG files (to keep the RAW data within the files).
OK, aligning was not so perfect as well but better this time and with Photomatix v4.0 and the Ghosting manual tool I could tell Photomatix what areas did show ghosting and it worked like magic; but resulting in a skewed image little bit - easily fixed later in Photoshop.
Now goes the long story:
  • To bring details out of the window, I've used Curves and dragged down the highlights, and with its layer mask, I've applied it only to the window and the small squarish portion at the exit door (where the light comes in through the niche).
  • Gaussian blur is applied to the layer mask to make transition in between areas smoother.
  • With Noise Ninja, some noise was removed but not all to keep some details.
  • With NIK sharpener, the whole image was sharpened to pronounce the details of the walls more.
  • Curves again to adjust the contrast.

Well, it might not be good with a large print as well. I'm not sure if such level of noise is acceptable in large prints, but I think in small size like this here, it is OK to look at, even though the noise level on the wooden door is annoying!
There were lot of other images that I've been checking out but, maybe these 3 are enough for the time being!

IV. Fiesta...

It all came along together, being 32 on August 17th (and how ironic that I will be 33 in a day from this post according to my lunar birthday), then the Eid (feast) after Ramadhan - and also a shoulder pain that almost got me to commit suicide! All in all, they were occasions to do some photography, just so to try those social gatherings and how would it feel to shoot an event (but in a careless manner).

A cake for my sister, my nephew and myself.
All of us were born on August 17th. Bleh.

The Eid, however, was a greater opportunity than my birthday to do snap shots and to try out my Speedlites. The challenge was not in the lighting after all, but it was to carry the bulk of the camera and the Speedlites altogether with a pain in the shoulder and neck!

My Canon EOS 7D,
and 580EX II with 430EX II,
all attached to Vello bracket.
Ironically, no one was there to take a picture of me so I thought of shooting a picture of myself in front of the mirror. I think the weight of the whole set was something around 3kg (more than 6lb). In the beginning, as family members started to come in by early morning, I've tried to use only my 580EX II with a cable. With the fast focusing of Canon's 100mm macro lens, and holding the camera in one hand and the Speedlite in the other hand, I was able to catch some moment with some nice and soft light (mostly bounced off the ceiling). High ISO (mostly at 500) was a must as well.

My niece. She was running as I was shooting this!

I did many shots carrying my Speedlite in one hand, but then I realized I need both hands on the camera for more stability, and also for changing lenses, and that's when I've decided to put on the bracket. Initially I was thinking of just keeping the 580EX II off-camera, but then I've remembered that I do indeed have another Speedlite, the 430EX II! Why not use them both!?
As you can see from the picture above, I've mounted them both and I've kept the cord just to avoid the direct contact between the shoe of the flash and the bracket (which was metallic as well) to avoid firing the flash by mistake - which happened a lot!
Then, and only then, I've discovered for real, why did Syl Arena discuss and dedicated a chapter or a full section in his book about batteries. Batteries were indeed a problem and Energizer was not such a good brand; well, it is good power-wise, but not durable. Only then I did consider having rechargeable Energizer batteries with their specific charger. I've checked some Power Packs; those specific batteries made specially for Speedlites, and ironically, their prices were higher than the Speedlite itself!

V. The End...

Now, after a period of tranquility if I should say, it is time to grease the engine as I am preparing already for my travel on October. I got myself a new laptop with no operating system in order to twitch things as I like instead of having everything ready (and mostly in ways I don't like). There are plans to have a new PC with upgraded specifications, and that means of course a lot of headache (and maybe a period of unblogging). Anyway, such plans for the new PC is not for now or the near future; but most probably I will do it after coming back from my travel in November.
There are some meetings and some projects that roam my head and just don't know where to begin. I need some guidance and a push; a push in merits, but lately I've been doing all of that all by myself, which left me exhausted.
Where am I going for God's sake?

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