Thursday, February 7, 2013

Loud and Silent...

It was a week highlighted with anger and relief in the same time. Something weird, but well, not so weird when I look back at all my problems with the future engineers I've met in my college days. But anyway, after being shown on TV twice in a week almost, maybe some awkward people that I've dealt with this week would reconsider when they deal with me personally, or with the group in general.

Earlier this week, and during the Cultural Festival in Kuwait University, the group received some phone calls about a request to prepare for an expo. In the beginning I didn't realize what is it about or where. Later though, I've realized it would be in the faculty of engineering (i.e. college of engineering). It is a place, allow me to say, I despise.
I can make out a novel about this event and all the bad surprises I've met, but I'm going to follow up with some points to make writing this a bit easier:
  • Failing to describe the location of the expo perfectly. In the beginning, it was a corridor, then suddenly they told me it's a hall, and then back to reality; it was a corridor. A corridor outdoors is a bad location and I would have said NO, but we were entwined that we had to do it anyway.
  • The group's organizer invited one of those so-called organizers for this event to check our gallery in the cultural festival in Kuwait University for a whole three days of the festival and he didn't come to check if the photos are appropriate. He didn't bother himself to come and check. Amazingly he had the guts to lie even and to tell me that he made a contact with our organizer before 2 weeks!
  • We were surprised to discover that the event would be just 4 hours and for one day only! Information about the time span was not exposed to the group's organizer as it seems, because he was surprised as I was!
  • For such a small event in such small time span, I was so much bugged with phone calls and rush from their side (typical attitude for engineering students).
  • Preparation time was changing from afternoon to night and back to afternoon time, and then finally I got a flood of phone calls to come and prepare (and urged to fulfill a promise and agreement as if my word for it was not enough).
  • On preparation at night, a friend and I headed to the location and worked (with a bad tape) to fix the images, but before that the so-called organizer swept through the images on the ground as cheap prints. 
  • He was begging for pictures of cityscape. Seems he thought that making such photos and printing them is as simple as building a house out of LEGOs. What surprises me is the childish tone used to beg. As we say in Kuwait: A beggar, and putting on conditions!
  • I was aware that tapes used to hang the photos are not good enough, thus next morning I came as early as possible with a staple gun to work out on the photos and fix them on the stand by stapling the corner without puncturing the mat board itself. Also, I brought 2 of my framed panoramas with small stands, just to show good will and that we are still want to achieve something good in this event (since he was begging for urban imagery). Anyway, later in the day I had to look for someone to move the stands outside and when this was to be done, they almost crushed my Grand Mosque framed panorama and the stapled photos fell down like leaves in autumn.
  • Despite my warnings the night before about the power of the wind in such a passage, yet the future-engineers claimed there is nothing to be afraid of since there are buildings and trees to lessen the power of the wind. The result? Prints flying over my head and on the ground while stands falling down with the slightest blow of wind. One them almost fell down on my head even!
The mess inside the show room after fixing the prints in the morning before moving them out.
 After all of this mess and even more, I got mad and I phoned our leader and he gave me the green card to withdraw and leave them without a photography section. When I left the place (heading home to keep the prints there away from the sun), I felt some RELIEF to end it that way after all the humiliation and the lousy work and arrangements.
After such events, I've started already to plan for some kind of a show in my own work place, the faculty of science - the faculty of engineering's neighbor. The primary negotiations seem promising and I went into the public relations office with one idea and I went out with two ideas or more. A new challenge now arose after the little meeting: creating art from environmental topics and concepts in a form of photography. Hopefully, we will be discussing the matter with the group and see what can be done.

Silent Night:

It was such a quiet (and long) night. Woke up around 10:30 p.m. on Thursday's night, and it was such a long sleep (from 4 p.m.) which I thought it would be simply, a nap. Apparently, my body was so exhausted. As it stroke 3:00 a.m. Friday, the blood was pumping urging to go out in such a night. Tranquil as it may seem, and filled with eerie atmosphere as well.

Rokinon 8mm, f/22,
121 sec, ISO 100.

My target that night was the usual gazebo on the seaside - around 10 minutes driving (with traffic lights) from home. This is when the road is quiet of course.
One thing that was absent from my own chain of thought back then: the light pillars. I was heading there in hope of doing long exposures because this is something I was planning to do for a long time now, but the pillars screwed my plans for real! What to do now?
My only solution to this situation was to use the Rokinon 8mm fisheye lens, as it allows me to approach the subject up real close. So, I've simply went to the gazebo and stood between it and the light pillars. The problem? I can't use any filters. Thus, I had to work out my exposure depending on the readings taken from the gazebo and from there I would decided on the total exposure time (with very small apertures). Another problem that proved to be prevalent later is the distortion which was hard to fix with a suitable outlook to the whole scene - at the end I had to leave images like Himmelsweg and the others without much distortion fixation.

Rokinon 8mm, f/22(?), ISO 100
Working in the almost complete darkness (while stray cats were chewing on my backpack!), I settled and started to do many exposures with different settings and positions. To my surprise at home though, I've realized that I've created almost an HDR out of long exposures! First, however, I had to work with one exposure which resulted in Himmelsweg.  While working on Himmelsweg and trying to fix the exposure and the WB, I've noticed that with Tungsten WB the body of the gazebo would turn green (because it was slightly yellow from the light pillars). Furthermore, when I've merged 5 exposures (90, 120, 130, 663 seconds) to make the HDR image, and then tone-mapped it, the greenish glow of the gazebo was really pronounced. The funny thing is, I'm not sure that all exposures were done at f/22! I remember changing from f/16 to f/22, but... when? This lens is completely manual and nothing is recorded in the EXIF!
Tone-mapping Geistersnacht was followed with some Photoshop work to add a glow or haze and to add contrast and dodge and burn. The original HDR file, however, was saved before tone-mapping to correct for the yellow tint of the gazebo and to try to retain its gray look.

Rokinon 8mm, f/22 (?), ISO 100
There is one old trick to counteract the effect of a color cast by using a Photo Filter adjustment layer. However, you can also use the Color Balance adjustment layer to fix color casts but this might not be so flexible and not so direct, besides that it won't work in HDR (32bit) mode! I was trying to fix the greenish-yellow cast of the gazebo and yield more naturally gray. However, there is another problem waiting for me when using Photo Filter adjustment layer.
The method of using Photo Filter to balance some cast depends majorly on reversing the sign of the a and b in the Lab panel; meaning: if a is minus we change to plus and vice versa, and the same for channel b (and channel L is untouched). However, in 32bit mode, i.e. when working in HDR environment in Photoshop, the Lab is not present, but only the RGB panels (with floating numbers) and HSL panels.
At this moment, I was stuck a bit but some idea about the color of circles made my life easier and I was able to counteract the effect of yellow.

Circle of Colors

As you can see, from the circle of colors, there is an opposite color for each side (or each color). This circle of colors is the concept for the Hue command in today's programs and image editing software base, and that means supposedly that I can cancel each two colors together and neutralize them by adding them together. This is exactly what I used here: click with the eyedropper on the gazebo (under Photo Filter), and change the Hue by adding +180 or subtracting -180; this way you are moving to the opposite side of the circle! It was as I expected, and the result was as in Träumesnacht, where the gazebo was neutralized and the sky was tinted blue because of the neutralization process (and we have a layer mask to control the areas of the effect, but I didn't use it here).

The Hue Fix

This is a fast guide, which inspired me in fact to write a new tutorial as soon as possible for the group to enhance their photo-processing. I will try to explain here with few screen shots, and of course you can click each image to view the full resolution.

The original section from the HDR slide with green overcast.

With Photo Filter adjustment layer, we can choose a type of filter from the menu, or we can click the other option for optional color. We click the second option and a palette is open and now with the eyedropper I click somewhere on the green portion of the image (or any other areas I want to balance). Notice the Hue value is 106o. Make sure before using the eyedropper that the Layer Mask of the adjustment layer is NOT selected.

We add 180 to the Hue value: 106+180 = 286. We simply put this value down in the Hue space. The result is a magenta color. Simply click OK then. The effect is still not so obvious.

Back to the original Photo Filter dialog box after clicking OK. Here, we increase the Density to 100% to prevail the effect more. Notice how the steps turned balanced and almost with no tint. Remember all this work is done under HDR mode without tone-mapping.

 After the last exposure, I've decided to move in a hurry and get back to my car as the rain started to drop down slowly. Once I've reached the car it started to hammer down faster and faster! Silent night, and a rainy one. Perfect, but with only one thing missing; someone...

Silent Morning:
After finishing with the Silent Night above, I was already excited to have another go the night after, that is Friday/Saturday night. Unfortunately for me, my afternoon nap didn't go well and I've ended up sleeping on and off at late night.

Über die Steinen
Canon EF-S 18-55mm @18mm,
f/14, 60sec, ISO 100.
However, I pulled myself together by early morning time and tried to reach my favorite spot on the beach (near McDonald's) before the sunrise, but the traffic lights delayed me enough to brighten the sky. Well, I'm there already and didn't want to miss a thing. There were some heavy clouds above my head, and some are scattered in the horizon and I thought it is a good chance to start with some long exposure using NDs. The problem here is, to include more details and foreground, I have to use the 18-55mm EF-S which I hate the most - the sharpness of such lens is not reliable and needless to talk about the shaky situation when using a polarizer or NDs on this lens of the shaky focusing-ring.
After some trials and fixing 7 stops of ND on the lens, and after some planning and framing steps, I think I've came to the proper image (which is not on Explored section of Flickr!), Über die Steinen. Originally the image was a full 3:2 frame, and uploaded to some websites that way, but then decided to make it a square to remove an excessive unused space on the right. Of course, at such morning time my favorite WB setting would be the Fluorescent WB, but it didn't make up much difference since the image was harshly tinted with magenta because of the excessive use of ND filters (3+3+1). Even though I've used the White Balance Shift control in the camera itself to bias the White Balance to the green side (opposing the magenta) but It made out a little experimentation in the RAW editor to fix the white balance and retain the colors back. Apparently, controlling the bias has no effect on the NDs tint. GUYS, ALWAYS SHOOT IN RAW!

Ciudad en Rojo
Canon EF-S 18-55mm @35mm, f/8, 3.2sec, ISO 100.

As the time proceeded, the sun kept going on above the horizon, and I thought "why not try some IR?" After all, I'm trying to increase the exposure time to record the movement of the clouds and the IR filter is a good light stopper, but of a special kind!
After some time fluctuating between landscape and portrait orientations, I've settled with a landscape orientation. The IR and the polarizer were fixed on top of each other, a move that I've done before to add more stops (but gives me hard time unscrewing the filters apart later on). I was surprised though; the exposure took only 3.2 seconds at ISO 100! Then I've realized that I'm shooting a bit facing the sun, and the shutter speed would be have been as fast as 8000-1sec probably if the filters were not used!
On the technical side now, when I started to process Ciudad en Rojo I was going with the typical IR workflow that I've developed for myself. However, since I've realized that Canon's DPP is far better than Photoshop for fixing the white balance of such images, it was natural to start the workflow with this software. The results were not so convincing, so, I switched back to Photoshop and started to edit the RAW file from there. After a glance into the image, and cropping little bit, I did really like the redness of the atmosphere (with a somehow annoying sun). Thus, all what was done is merely a reduction in the Red saturation, and the rest was a regular work of enhancements: dodge and burn, contrast and noise cleaning with the addition of sharpness.
What I really liked about Ciudad de Rojo is the reflections on the sea surface that I didn't notice clearly on location! I'm not sure if it got clearer because of the polarizer and/or the IR filter (a polarizer is more of a candidate of course), but it was a shot of luck indeed (and would have been better with a longer exposure to soften the water surface). While processing the image I had to burn a bit to emphasize the reflections and to my surprise as well, the reflections showed a longer extension downward more than I thought!

Sonne nach Dunkelheit
Canon EF-S 18-55mm @21mm,
f/8, ISO 100, HDR.
Then there was a trial just before leaving (because the rain started to drop down) and it was still with IR filter. This time, the work was bracketed initially to see which exposure RAW would be best to work with (I'm still not used to judging the exposure of IR images on LCD or even histogram). Lately, however, I've realized that I could do with some HDR after fixing the white balance in DPP and convert the files to 16bit TIFF files. Mixing the original RAWs with such hard red tint is not really a good idea for tone-mapping later. However, after fixing the WB in DPP, there were some blue tints within a majorly black and white image (or slightly sepia tinted black and white) and all the resulting TIFFs were merged into one HDR file which was tone-mapped.
The first thing to do then in the processing sequence was to swap the Red and Blue channels (and hence all the blue streaks were turned reddish or yellowish).

 As for now, my queue of books is a bit hovering and my reading pace is slowed down. Getting busy with the group does leave me exhausted most of the time at night time and I can hardly open my eyes and continue reading anything. On the other hand, I have to keep being busy a bit even at home to get further news about contests (international ones specifically). Being busy seems to be an amendment for some issues in my life; as Thomas Edison once said "as a cure for worries, work is better than beer"...
Now, it is time to look for those damn TV tapes!

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