Yikes! A vacation video: with a post title like that, I wouldn’t blame you if you ran in the opposite direction. If you suffer through it however, you’ll see my first attempt at video production using footage from the Sony DSC-RX10 iii camera. I’m impressed. Some clips are shot at ISO 1600 and you can’t really tell easily from the results. I obviously have to work on technique and get a bit better at editing but not too bad.
There are three things in common with the group of images below:
- All were shot in the Adirondacks of upstate New York State.
- All were shot of or from Hornbeck ultralight New Tricks double-paddle canoes. (On Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/HornbeckBoats/.)
- All are cropped frame grabs from video clips.
While on vacation we paddled a total of about 20 miles on 9 ponds and 2 rivers and thoroughly enjoyed our canoes. They’re easy to manage, very maneuverable, a pleasure to portage, and just right for the mix of ponds, lakes, and waterways in the Adirondack mountain area. We don’t miss our big heavy touring kayaks (although they handled camping and nasty weather beautifully).
I was a bit surprised how nicely the video frame grabs came out. You wouldn’t print large from the size but it has plenty of resolution for Web use. Video clips were shot from a Sony RX 10 III working out of a Pelican case sitting in my canoe. It worked out rather well although there are tweaks I’ll be trying in later efforts.
Lori has been a bit distressed about marking her 60th birthday: she’s reached middle age. (She plans to live at least until 120.) I wanted to commemorate it with a photo that emphasizes the spirit of how I would like her to approach it: with equanimity or indifference. She’s too busy enjoying life to pay much attention to arbitrary chronological milestones.
I was a bit surprised when she agreed to the concept as I described it. A cigar and glass of bourbon were always part of the narrative but the venue changed from field of daisies to woods due to uncooperative weather.
A moderately wide aperture reduced depth of focus. A low ISO and 1/250th shutter speed enabled darker tones in the woods so that some lighting would help bring the subject out a bit more.
Lighting was via two studio strobes. One was camera left in a pan reflector for a slightly diffused overall subject lighting. Another strobe in a grid high camera right behind Lori brought up a little separation on her shadow side. Both were at very low power because of the wider aperture.
We are pleased with the results. At least photographically. We got many good poses to pick from. Unfortunately the cheap cigar made Lori ill and it took her the rest of the day to recover from all the puffing to bring the shot to life.
So, aside from poisoning my wife on her birthday, I would say things went pretty well. Lori may differ.
I’m consolidating and getting rid of decades worth of photographic gear, partly to simplify, partly to raise some cash to cover the cost of my new system. (More on that later.) My best option is to sell on eBay but it requires a bit of homework to make it worthwhile. I have to do the research to find the value of each item and then prepare photos and descriptions of each one for sale.
Preparing the photos for sales is relatively easy and a little care makes the results more appealing than most other eBay posts. It seems a bit odd when people put fine photographic equipment up for sale with crappy pictures–it affects credibility.
After a little tinkering, I settled on a lighting setup I can use for a variety of product-style shots that look good for the eBay listings.
I use two LED light sources. Key light is through a diffusion panel camera left and a background light below the table is reflected off a white fabric panel behind the table with the subject. Items are placed on a piece of white tile board allowing for a plain background letting the eye concentrate on the actual items for sale. An aluminum foil reflector, camera right is used for fill.
The setup is in a corner of our basement and allows for the tedious but efficient processing of the photos required for the listings.
The results from this particular setup shows how the items for sale are featured without any other distractions and the lighting shows off the items in enough detail to illustrate the condition.
Here’s a sample of some of the images made with this simple but versatile setup:
In addition to shooting some decent quality images for the sales, I had a few other things going for me:
- Most of the items are higher quality and performance with well-known specifications and track records.
- I’ve taken very good care of all of them; they’re in uniformly excellent condition.
- I’ve researched selling prices for each one and assigned reasonable prices near the upper end of used market selling prices.
- I include bonus items when it makes sense (e.g. lens plates, memory cards) and I offer free shipping to keep the transactions simple. (I build average shipping cost into the asking price.)
- I strive for accuracy on the descriptions including being meticulous about any flaws like scuff marks, missing peripheral pieces, etc.
So, how is it going so far? I posted the first 5 items (4 lenses and a camera body from the sample images above) and sold 4 out of 5 within 24 hours and the fifth in less than a week. I’m maxed out on my eBay selling limit for a month but have the next batch queued for listing in the next cycle. I’m divesting my unused equipment and buyers are picking up some excellent quality items at reasonable prices. So far so good.
Combining focus-stacking with wide-aperture (shallow depth-of-focus) images can create some nice effects. I wanted this alstroemeria blossom to be completely in focus but the background blurred. By using a wide aperture (f/2.8) and 12 images varying the focal point, the stacking operation enabled nice crisp focus on the entire blossom but the out-of-focus background remained soft, almost watercolor-like. It’s a combo you won’t be able to get with a single image.
Outdoor photography on a cold winter day can be challenging trying to balance keeping hands warm but allowing the dexterity to work the seemingly-ever-shrinking controls on cameras and lenses. I picked up a couple rechargeable hand warmers to try and they’re working out great. I keep a warmer in a coat pocket along with a spare camera battery. Wearing light polypropylene glove liners, I can work the camera with little trouble and then just slip my hand in the coat pocket and grasp the warmer to get the fingers toasty in no time. Keeping the spare battery warm in the pocket keeps the camera battery viable when it needs to be switched into duty.
The MJ Gear warmers I picked up are rechargeable via USB. They have some extra features that are handy as well. You can use one as a source of power to recharge your cell phone or other USB-rechargeable device, it has two power settings for the warmer (I’ve found the low setting is all that’s needed most of the time), and it has a powerful little LED light that could come in handy. This combination of features makes these hand warmers more appealing than the chemical pack or lighter-fluid powered alternatives.
Frostbite and photography don’t work well together–hand warmers keep things comfortable on those cold outings.
I had some time to kill recently when Lori was out grocery shopping. What to do, what to do. Then it hit me: Of course! I’ll cut open an Eastern yellowjacket wasp nest.
A handy wasp nest was built under our deck this last summer so I carefully cut it away and then sliced it open with a bread knife.
These are amazing structures that are beautifully engineered. The ball-shaped wall is multiple nested shells of paper with an entrance hole in the bottom. The walls protect the interior from the elements. The core of the nest consists of a suspended set of disk-shaped combs used to grow the pupae. There’s enough room between the combs and around their sides for the wasps to move around and tend to their chores. Each comb is suspended in the middle from the one above by a paper-like string wad. This particular nest had four of these combs with the bottom one being the smallest.
The dozen or so wasps still in the nest were too sluggish from the cold to be a threat, giving me plenty of time to admire the extraordinary design and construction of the nest. Then I chucked it into the woods.
- Vignetting 1: Overview
- Vignetting 2: Parametric Correction
- Vignetting 3: Correction Images
- Vignetting 4: Photoshop Divide Layer
- Vignetting 5: A Pathological Example
- Vignetting 6: Other Options and Summary (this post)
For a little perspective on what we’ve been dealing with, we can posterize high-contrast versions of our flat fields to better appreciate the topology of vignetting in different circumstances:
Far from exhausting the possibilities for vignetting correction in this series of posts, there are many other options to consider. Here are a few:
Capture One Pro
If you are using Phase One’s excellent Capture One Pro to process your images, the Lens Correction Tab includes tools to not only correct images for lenses in their database but you can create and apply LCCs (Lens Cast Calibration) images. It uses flat field images like we’ve been talking about, to enable you to selectively correct for Color Cast, Dust Removal, or Enable Uniform Light in any combination. It works really well. The tab also includes the more conventional parametric sliders for vignetting.
Hugin is freely-available panorama stitching software that has a number of tools available for image corrections. The fulla command-line tool in the package enables a couple of different ways to address vignetting. One way is to use the –flatfield command line option to specify a flat-field image used for a division operation very similar to what we did using ImageMagick commands in an earlier post.
Another option offered in fulla is the –vignette command-line option used to specify 4 coefficients for a 6th-order polynomial describing the fall-off curve for radially-symmetric vignetting. I’ve used it, it works quite well, but it’s probably not for anyone who recoiled when I mentioned 6th-order polynomial coefficients.
Although possibly worthy of another entire post, it should be mentioned that vignetting can be corrected for video in a number of ways too. Besides the usual parametric slider corrections, Adobe After Effects, for example, provides layer blending modes. You can use the same techniques we’ve been discussing to create a correction layer above a clip and change the blending mode to Divide or Multiply, as we’ve previously demonstrated with Photoshop, to get accurate vignetting control.
Contrary to what a 6-part blog series on destroying vignetting might indicate, I don’t have a visceral hatred of vignetting. But vignetting is a consequence of the camera, lens, and settings you use; it’s not a characteristic of the subject you’re shooting. I generally don’t want it to be a noticeable component of an image unless there’s a specific reason for it. Maybe adding some judicious vignetting to an image can improve it but that added vignetting is likely to be of different character and magnitude than the system’s innate vignetting. Vignetting often seems gimmicky and detracts from an image but at least there are techniques available to fully control it on your terms.
There are, like anything else, numerous explanations, tutorials, and remedies on the Internet that address vignetting. Some are even accurate. Much is (possibly well-intentioned) bad advice. For example, there are discussions here and there about creating radial gradients and applying them in layers using Multiply or whatever. These are often accompanied by some hand-waving about tuning with opacity adjustments etc. (to disguise the damage done to the image). Ignore all that. Radial gradients are linear by nature and, as we’ve seen, real-world vignetting is not linear at all. Making a linear adjustment to an exponential problem just shoves pixel values around, improving one thing, creating problems elsewhere. Bogus, bogus, bogus. If you want quick and easy, stick with parametric vignetting adjustments common in almost all image processing software.
There are a few high-level lessons I’ve learned about vignetting and vignette control.
- The best, most accurate, vignetting adjustment is enabled by your creation of good flat field images. Those flat fields can then be used to either determine the optimal settings for parametric slider adjustments or can be converted to highly-accurate correction images themselves.
- For radially-symmetric vignetting (the most common case) optimal parametric settings are usually “good enough”, creating results that the eye is quite satisfied with.
- For most accurate results, or for the occasional oddball non-radially-symmetric case, flat field correction images are the way to go. They can be used in a number of tools in different ways: command-line manipulation in ImageMagick and layer blending modes in Photoshop being two we focused on. (Under the covers they’re doing the same thing.)
- There’s still a lot more we haven’t covered in this series but we have covered some solid tools to address the most common problems. There’s little practical need to get any deeper into this swamp than we already have.
- Vignetting 1: Overview
- Vignetting 2: Parametric Correction
- Vignetting 3: Correction Images
- Vignetting 4: Photoshop Divide Layer
- Vignetting 5: A Pathological Example (this post)
- Vignetting 6: Other Options and Summary
There are cases where vignetting is not radially symmetrical like the examples shown so far. Those cases cannot be fixed with parametric vignetting adjustments such as those in Lightroom or Photoshop. They are, however, handled nicely by the use of correction flats.
As an example, here’s an image shot with a Panasonic GH4 and Lumix 20mm lens at f/2 (which we’ve been using for our examples all along). But in this case a Singh-Ray variable neutral density filter is on the lens as well. The max. setting for the filter does strange things to the luminance distribution for any image.
The abnormal darkening of the sky at upper right is clearly evident. The lower left of the field is very dark as well. Upper left and lower right seem to be okay.
Shooting a flat field image with this equipment combination shows the odd asymmetric fall-off effect caused by the ND filter on this camera.
A graph of intensities along each of the four diagonals running from center to corners gives another view of this mess.
Note how the brightest areas are about ¾ of the way along the upper right and lower left diagonals in the graph, not the center like the more typical vignetting curves we’ve shown.
It’s obvious that the usual parametric slider vignette controls in Lightroom couldn’t possibly deal with this odd luminance profile. However, our flat field correction approach, either using ImageMagick or Photoshop, can handle this with little trouble. Using the Photoshop Divide blending layer approach we described previously, we get good correction for this pathological case.
The moral of the story: pick the right tool for the job. You may think another moral of the story is not to use Singh-Ray neutral density filters at Max. setting. But once you know how to adjust for the side effects, it’s not an issue. Variable neutral density filters are very useful when shooting video and we don’t want to restrict ourselves when we have a workable solution for odd fall-off effects in different equipment and shooting configurations.