Topic: General Photo

Wedding hints…

I’m not a pro, though I’ve shot more weddings than I’ve ever wanted as favors for friends. Some things I’ve learned are:

  1. Figure out in advance when you’re going to take the posed shots and make sure that time is solidly allocated and your subjects aren’t going to be agitated because they want/need to run to something else.
  2. Ask the client up front what shots they want to make sure you don’t miss something they specifically want. Plan out in your head what’s coming next – the kiss, the cake cut, etc. so that you’re not fumbling with battery or media changes during a critical moment. Fire like crazy when those shots come up because it increases your chance of a good hit.
  3. Put a wide lens on one camera and a long one on the other. You need to be ready for any situation. That also allows you to swap the lenses if needed.
  4. Check with both the pastor/priest/etc. and the client before the wedding to find out what you’re allowed to do during the ceremony. Nothing rots worse than to find out that you’re not allowed to use flash or have them annoyed because you got too close to the pulpit. Find out and be prepared (incidentally exactly both of these have happened to me).
  5. Check out the lighting situation before the wedding to make sure you know how you’ll handle the light or lack thereof.
  6. Be prepared to be treated like “the help”. You may be the bride/groom’s friend, but most people probably won’t know that. Usually someone thinks you’re getting paid and treats you accordingly.
  7. MAKE SURE YOUR CAMERA CLOCKS ARE SYNCHRONIZED! If not, it can be a lot of work to fix and totally breaks the image sorting later.
  8. Be prepared for a lot of post-processing fun to try to match up a images if you’re shooting with two different makes of cameras. The sensor output (“look”) can be significantly different between models/makes and placing them in the same album can be problematic.
  9. Batteries, batteries, batteries! I suggest using rechargeable because they recycle much faster, but regardless, make sure you have enough of them and if rechargeable, a plan on how to recharge them.
  10. Memory – it goes fast. Make sure you have enough. Consider getting a portable backup hard drive unit. Personally I back up to two separate ones to make sure that if one chooses to die, I have a second copy.
  11. Figure out where you’re going to station you equipment. You’re going to potentially have a lot of expensive stuff and it can either be in the way, not convenient, or causing you to be distracted because you’re worrying about theft. Figuring it out on the fly can be a major distraction.
  12. As soon as you’ve downloaded the images, back them up securely to additional media. Nothing can cause a group of people to hate you more than to screw this up. Remember, this is someone’s wedding, you get it wrong and your name is “Mud” (and/or will be known as the person who “ruined” their wedding).
  13. Make sure you have good flashes. You’re going to need the output.
  14. Don’t practice high ISO shots for the first time during a wedding. Make sure you understand the pluses and minuses and what works and doesn’t work. High ISO can be a savior, but particularly in high contrast shots, it can look ugly as all get out. It also is difficult sometimes to match to other shots in any album.
  15. Take many multiples of group shots, frankly any posed shots. The LCD preview is a good start, but too small to catch all the possible ways your subjects can screw up an image. Those eyes may look open, but they still look ugly and off.
  16. Constantly check that you haven’t bumped or accidentally changed your settings. Nothing sucks more than to realize you’ve been set at maximum aperture with no depth of field because you didn’t realize you knocked the command dial. ALWAYS keep reminding yourself to set back any custom changes like exposure adjustments or ISO changes. It bites to realize you’ve been a half stop down on every picture 200 shots later. This leads to…
  17. Shoot RAW. You have a lot more options and hope if things are off or you screw up. JPEGs do not have a lot of latitude. Of course if you shoot RAW, plan a weekend worth of adjustments and processing!
  18. Test all your equipment well before and the day of. It really sucks to find you’re one flash down 20 minutes before the wedding. A stupid little forgotten cable can throw a huge wrench in your plans (or mounting plate, as was my case).
  19. Figure out where you’re going to take the posed shots and what poses you want. You look like an amateur if you’re doing this on the fly.
  20. Act confident and your subjects will believe you actually know what you’re doing. Don’t act confident, and things can get out of hand.
  21. Make sure your deodorant is up to snuff, you’re going to sweat running around in a suit.
  22. Figure out as early as possible who’s with the bride, who’s with the groom, who’s the mother, the father, the best man, etc. etc. You’re going to need this information to properly case the shots. Doing this on the fly risks error and even possibly insulting someone and can certainly make you look like an amateur.
  23. Make sure you don’t favor one family or another in your shots. At the reception take advantage of the seating to make sure you get just about everyone. That way they won’t complain that precious old Uncle Arnold got missed or have one of the families complaining that they were ignored.
  24. Have a sense of humor. You’re going to need it. It also helps lighten the mood and get people to smile, which of course is half the battle.

I learned many of these the hard way, which is why you couldn’t pay me to do weddings!

Unfortunately people don’t, but I do them anyway…

Fantastic wedding site…

This is some of the best (mostly) natural light wedding photography I’ve ever seen:

http://meninenuotrauka.lt/

Somewhere in Lithuania I believe. Very impressive.

Motorcycle photos…

Here’s a friend’s motorcyle photo web site:

http://www.vintagefocus.com

He goes to all sorts of motorcycle shows and takes pictures of vintage motorcycle photos, giving a people a chance to see all sorts of cool motorcycles that you wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to.

Worth taking a look at.

Cool Life images

LIFE and Google have teamed together to create an archive of millions of LIFE images stretching from the 1750s to modern times:

http://images.google.com/hosted/life

The images are stored at remarkably high resolution and most were never published.

It really is a pretty astounding archive.

On the other hand, it looks like LIFE will be creating some sort of archive of their own here:

http://www.life.com/Life

Perhaps the two will be merged someday…

Passport photos

One of the advantages of digital photography is you can shoot and print your own passport photos. However it’s not always clear what the rules are. Fortunately the State Department has a useful site on this:

http://travel.state.gov/passport/guide/guide_2081.html

In particular you need to know how to place the “face” in the image, which is outlined here:

http://travel.state.gov/passport/guide/composition/composition_874.html

This is also useful because the same format is used for things like International Licenses.

Great Slide/E-6 processor

If you live in the Upper Valley, or even if you don’t since they do mail order, a great company still handling slide/E-6 processing is “Slide Specialists”:

http://www.slidespecialists.com

They also handle C-41 (negative) processing, artwork photography, drum scanning, large format fine-art giclee printing, and other digital printing.

Most of all they are an extremely friendly bunch and a great source of photographic knowledge. I’m not sure exactly how long they’ve been in business, but they’ve been a great source as long as I’ve been shooting (20+ years now). Highly recommended.

Enabling Firefox 3 Color Management

One of the great features of Firefox 3 is that it now natively supports color management. However, for some reason by default it is disabled (well, it actually makes sense – see caveat below).

To enable it:

  • Enter the url “about:config
  • If prompted that you are risking Armageddon, say “Ok” anyway.
  • Find the key “gfx.color_management.enabled”.
  • Click on it until it changes to “true” (note the line should turn “bold” when enabled).

Note this caveat from the mozillaZine entry on the subject:

Without a properly calibrated monitor and a correct color profile, color management may actually make colors look worse.

For those of us with calibrated monitors, it’s pretty handy though. The only problem is you’re definitely not going to see what uncalibrated users are going to see if you’re posting photos et al!

As an additional note, you may want to investigate the variable “gfx.color_management.display_profile” as well. According to the mozillaZine entry by default the color profile used is the system default, or if not set sRGB. If you’re doing something funky (ie: not setting the system default) you may need to muck with this.

You will need to restart Firefox after you make the change(s).

UPDATE:

There’s actually an easier tool (plugin) to work with here:

https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addons/policy/0/6891/30686

to change these settings without going into “about:config”. The only problem is because it’s beta, Mozilla.org requires you to register first. Also, it’s not totally intuative how you actually use it. Once installed (I’m going to assume you know how to install Firefox plugins) you actually have to:

  1. Select “Tools / Add-ons”, which bringsĀ  up “Add-ons” window listing all your Firefox plugins.
  2. Find the “Color Management” tool (should be on top since you just installed it).
  3. Select “Options”, which will bring up “Color Management Preferences”.
  4. Select (check) “Enabled” and if necessary, fill in “Set Color Profile”. Usually you don’t need to set the later since your default color profile should already be set when you ran your profiling/calibration software.

I would also note that turning on color management has its minuses. Any image that doesn’t have a color profile embedded (which is most GIFs for instance) will be converted into your default monitor color space. That may create a ugly color shift you’re not expecting. For things with profiles embedded, you’ll see what the author intended, but otherwise, you may not!

Very cool antique/old photo site

If you haven’t checked out this site, you ought to:

http://www.shorpy.com

This is a great collection of antique photos from all sorts of genres. In particular some of the large format Kodachromes are amazing.

I’m hoping to contribute some myself when I get a chance.

Digital Focus Hell

One of the biggest new issues with digital photography are problems with auto focus. It’s not exactly clear why, but digital cameras (DSLRs) seem to suffer from focusing issues far more prevalently than film cameras. It might be that we tend to look at our images more closely than film, with 100% pixel peeping. It might be the sensors are just more sensitive to focusing errors.

In any case it is prevalent, with some cameras like the Nikon D200 being notorious for it.

Focusing issues are generally grouped into two categories:

  • Front focusing.
  • Back focusing.

“front focusing” is where the focus is in front of the the object being focused on. “back focusing” is where the focus is behind the the object being focused on. So, for instance in the case of “back focusing” where you focused on the eyes, the ears might be in focus instead of the eyes. With front focus in the same example, the nose might be in focus instead of the eyes.

It doesn’t take much back or front focus to ruin a photo, particularly with portraits, macros, and images with low depth of field (DOF). Stopping down more can help, but DOF isn’t a panacea for accurate focus, and usually it’s evident when focus is off, even with sufficient DOF. It’s sharp, but not exactly the same.

Not all cameras suffer from the issue and often the effect is different depending on the lens being used. For instance on my Fuji S5 (based on the D200 body) my 85mm f1.8 was dead on, while my 60mm f2.8 was about .5 cm back focused. My recently purchased 35-70mm f2.8 was a full 2 cm back focussed!

I say “was” because after sending the camera in to Fuji for warranty repair and the lens to Nikon, it appears to have actually become slightly front focused, but much, much better. Similarly other lenses, like the 60mm look dead on, though I haven’t had time yet to do actual focus tests.

Speaking of focus tests, if you suspect you have front or back focusing issues, there are a number of sites with focusing charts, including:

Usually the tests involve shooting a chart at a 45 degree angle, however lining up a set of 5 AA batteries on a diagonal can be equally as effective, if perhaps not as accurate at telling you the exact distance of back/front focus.

There is also a lot of argument about of whether shooting a flat object for a test is accurate. In fact if you see this post:

http://photography-on-the.net/forum/showthread.php?t=10526

It shows an actual example from a Canon repair center where the focus point is perpendicular to the flat test chart, essentially creating a 3D object to focus on.

My personal experience with the tests seemed to show that the using a flat chart exaggerates the focusing errors. This isn’t a particularly bad thing because it makes the issue more obvious, but it also can convince you the issue is severe when it isn’t. In the end what I’ve done is placed batteries on a diagonal on the test chart lined up with the marks, effectively mixing the two, but primarily using the batteries as my indicator.

So, why do these focusing errors happen? There are a number of reasons including possible misalignment of the mirror box, but according to this post (it’s pretty technical but definitely worth a read):

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1030&message=24839477

most of it comes from an interaction of the focus sensor position and the design of the lens.

There is hope though, with adjustment things can be improved.

Now you might be tempted to use the D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) technique as suggested by sites like these:

Personally I would avoid it because as pointed out in this post:

http://www.nikonians.org/forums/dcboard.php?az=show_topic&forum=147&topic_id=37618

at the manufacturer it isn’t as simple as a mirror box adjustment, which is what these are doing. Yes, for minor focusing adjustments it may help, but in many cases if you break it you bought it and it isn’t really the way to do it. The way to do it involves computers and special equipment.

This is consistent with my conversations with both Fuji and Nikon regarding the issue. Both technicians I talked to indicated that it isn’t simply moving the entire focus back or forth (which is what happens with the mirror box adjustments). In that case, say if you were fixing a back focus issue, you’d be moving the general focus to the front. Thus if you happen to have a lens that unlike your others is tack on, it’s going to become front focused with this adjustment. Not exactly optimal.

However with their computerized methodology, and both vendors indicated this, the lenses that were back focused come into alignment, while the lenses that are currently on, stay on! In fact Nikon even suggests sending your “standard” (most used) offending lens in with the body and they claim, when done, that the camera lens combination will be calibrated together, with the already “on” lenses staying on. Fuji on the other hand indicated that usually only the body is needed. Incidentally the term for calibrating the lens and body together is called “collimation“.

Because computers are involved, though I have no proof of this, what I suspect may be going on is (among other adjustment) is they’re actually programming the camera with lens information. On the D300 you can actually do this yourself through menus, which frankly is one of the more compelling features of that camera.

Sometimes yes, it is an issue with the lens itself, however mostly not. If the elements are misaligned it is possible it could throw focus off, but in most cases where it effects more than one lens, it’s the body.

Interestingly enough, according to Nikon technicians, AF-S lenses can have focus adjustments made to them. This I suspect is possible because they have some intelligence built into them, whereas D and pre-D lenses are more simplistic and cannot have the same firmware adjustments. However, again, if they have a real mechanical issue they can be repaired, which seems to be the case with my 35-70mm. However in general I wouldn’t count on it.

If you make these tests and do find an issue, a repair is likely to be around $120 in the examples I see. That to me seems a deal for the peace of mind knowing the work is being done by a professional who knows what they’re doing.

Well that’s it. Hope that helps.