Thursday, November 29, 2012

New Definition...

This week, I've discovered a new meaning for the word Ridiculous. The definition for this word is: trying to send something that weighs less than half a kilo (< 2.2 lb) for an amount of KD 98 (~US$ 347). Thanks to DHL now with their completely unexpected pricing system, I have delayed my plans for sending the prints I've made as gifts to the US. I'm looking for further options now, between FedEx and Aramex, and even the local Post Service even though they have a bad reputation for inbound delivery, a friend of mine said their outbound service is fine and the items are registered. Not sure exactly what they mean by registered, but seems it is some sort of a tracking system; but not online. Instead, it is done by the phone! Sometimes I do wonder, if one day I would be able to see this postal service headbutting the other services from DHL and FedEx. If their prices are as reasonable as I've been told, I do hope they would engage in such activity and grow up in this field rather than just being a local service.

The prints to be sent, after applying glossy spray

Just a note worth mentioning here about the image above, it was taken with polarizing sheet on the lens and the speedlite to subtract the flare of the light pulse from the print surface, since it was sprayed shortly before the image was taken and it wasn't dry just yet. There is a little glare though on the left print and this is because its movement while it was hanging which made the short not absolutely direct (and the light from the speedlite bounced from the surface a little bit).

As I am writing this on Tuesday in hope it would be posted on Thursday, I can tell that my week is getting busier and I'm planning to visit the book fair before it closes down on December 1st. Beside that I have work-related work that I need to pay attention to. I didn't pay attention to such stuff for a while! We are thinking (or more like pushed to) expanding our horizon to offer services, and as a beginning, services for staff members in campus for research purposes. Hope no pressure is coming along the way. Anyway, I'm supposed to prepare a draft of terms and conditions to be discussed later. This comes in a time when I really want to break free. I do feel some disrespect from the admins in my work place and every now and then we have to bear with silly problems that should not have happened in the first place. In my work place, there are no problems - people are.

The plan now for Wednesday is to make some phone calls and check with the post office how to prepare my shipment and whether they do offer packaging. Also, if possible, I will try to head to the book fair and have a fast round. I remember when I used to go more than once in the old days, but now, I barely follow the news and here you go, I've suddenly discovered it's open! Just a note, I'm supposed to attend an Italian musical ceremony on Wednesday, so in hope these pictures will be posted by next week, if any!

Back to my photography and the sluggish progress I've been encountering so far. Being busy with chores and exhausted most of the day (with only 5 hours of sleep everyday), all of that leaves me exhausted and barely able to think of some ideas to photograph - it's even hard to process those images I've taken from the US.

In Kinder We Trust
Canon EF 50mm, f/2, 8000-1sec, ISO 100.

Had been days now with me going to work with some Kinder Surprise eggs (sorry American fellas, it's banned for you). My brain seems to kick back to childhood days now. The final result is, a collection of toys that I've enjoyed assembling and showing. This was the spark for an idea of a photo that made me think about it for some days. The lens of choice here is the 50mm because of its maximum aperture (f/1.4), which was an essential part (even though I somehow regret the shallow depth in the final image). For the purpose of spotlight effect I had to bring my mini-modifiers for the speedlite with me to work (plus the tripod of course and the speedlites kit)... talk about exhaustion from taking stuff out of the car! Anyway, maybe I better summer the setup in form of points:
  • To make a spotlight effect, I needed the honeycomb grid attached to the speedlite. Attaching two grids of 40o and 25o with each other, yields an angle of 16o. I think the perfect angle for a spotlight effect.
  • The office was bright specially with two windows and translucent white curtains, and that means in order to make the speedlite the only factor in the scene, I have to speed up the shutter speed even beyond the sync speed (1/250). Hence, as you can see above, I've used the maximum shutter speed for Canon EOS 7D; 1/8000 of a second. Yet, there are still some traces for light at the back of the scene (on left and right edges, but they are faint).
  • In order to work with such high shutter speed, I have to enable the High-Speed function on my 580EX II, which means in return that I have to use the TTL cord instead of relying on the wireless function. 
  • The white balance was set to Cloudy, even though I could have used some gel filters in the honeycomb grid. However, I think the balance of colors is fine that way after all.
  • After shooting at several angles while holding the speedlite above the set, and after changing the power of the speedlite, I think this was the best shot among all.

And back to my US images, I've been processing lot of square format panoramas (and some cropped single images). This somehow inspires me to put a special folder on my Flickr and also make a mass email including only square format images.

Anybody Home?

One of the panoramas that seems to be gotten a lot of approval from viewers is Anybody Home?, which was done previously (and printed) in a flat format. I was planning to do this with a planet project in the beginning but seeing how much I would have to do to eliminate the nadir point, I've flipped the viewing angle back and transformed the image to a tunnel view projection.
In this panorama specifically, I didn't tone down the reds too much as I usually do (because of the changing color space). The reds were toned down a little only and tried to keep a shiny touch with it. Probably that what made this image specifically an eye-catching one? Or is it the order of the furniture? I'm not sure really...

Source: Amazon
I'm still reading The Art of Photography by Bruce Barnbaum which is a mine of information and a treasure trove. However, lot of stuff I couldn't understand specially the details about working with films, because, simply, I don't have the proper tools to do so. I'm a native digital shooter.
However, I've came across a useful "trick" if I should say which is combining two exposures by layer masks in Photoshop, but by selecting the highlights areas only from one layer and masking it on the other (or vice versa) - the important point is to mix shadows and highlights from 2 slides, with each one of them showing a good highlight, or a good shadow. This technique was known to me in another way and I don't remember it was affective like this one. This technique here is a minimized HDR without the magic - this is my own words to describe it.

Chinese Reflections
One of the images created in that way is the Chinese Reflections. The original image was bracketed (3 shots) but I've used only the first two to extract details from both regions, shadows and highlights.
Anyway, placing the two layers on top of each other doesn't mean no processing is needed; in fact, lot of it is needed here. Mainly because the layer mask after applying a mask (painting in black or deleting a white space) will produce weird shapes and shades, and this is cured by using the Gaussian Blur to some degree. After the Gaussian Blur, the work is continued of course as usual with many adjustment layers to control the contrast and several other things.
This method is really helpful in case that the third shot in the bracket is too shaky to be merged into HDR with the rest. It doesn't yield magical appearances like tone-mapping with Photomatix does, but it saves an image from being neglected!

Now, the latest with the group. Beside the plan to go to the Italian concert on Wednesday night, I've heard some talk about a session of photography out of the country - and probably to South Africa (most probably for wild life photography). I'm not sure I can make it after all the expenses that I had to pull for my vacation in the US, but I have to wait and see. If the travel is going to occur in January or February as I heard, then it's going to be summer in South Africa. Would I really sacrifice the winter here for a summer overboard? It's really a hard decision.

As for now, I have some thoughts and my heart is dangling between accepting some facts or wait for something to happen. But, first of all, two month should pass at least since these two months right now (in lunar or Hejri calendar) are not quite good to do anything. Sometimes I do feel my health is degrading, but it is all just so mental...

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