The Digital Photo Guy

Monitor Calibration

by on Dec.28, 2013, under Articles, gear, Lightroom, Monday Morning Tips, Photo Editing

A Boring but Necessary Chore

I recently replaced my 6 year old colorimeter with a new Datacolor Spyder4Pro from B&H Photo Video and was amazed at how much the technology has improved. I lucked out and stumbled across it during a sale and got it for US$125 versus the regular price of US$169 but I can honestly say it it’s worth every penny of US$169. Currently, B&H is offering a memory card worth $30 if you buy the Spyder4Pro.

This was prompted by problems I was having printing a photo for a friend. It’s a sunrise filled with subtle yellows and reds and, no matter what I tried, the colors just weren’t printing correctly so I wanted to be sure my 4 year old monitor and 6 year old colorimeter were correctly displaying the image. Also, a new colorimeter was cheaper than a new monitor. Monitors and colorimeters are prone to drift as they age. Like people, an old colorimeter or monitor doesn’t work as well as internal parts begin to age and degrade. Lastly, software is a key component of colorimeters like the Spyder4Pro. As you might imagine, vast software improvements have occurred since my last consumer colorimeter was introduced 7 years ago.

The following screen grabs show some of the features in this low-end colorimeter. The first image is the opening splash page that shows the different info and test modes. The first time you’ll need to do a Full Calibration (FullCAL) where the software requests basic info about the monitor and checks the monitor’s capabilities. After that, it’s only necessary to do a Recalibration (ReCAL) as all the basic info is already in the software.

spyder4Pro_screen1   spyder4pro_screen2   spyder4pro_screen4

spyder4pro_screen5   spyder4pro_screen6

The next three images show one of my favorite features, selectable test images that can be enlarged for closer inspection. Clicking on the 4×4 matrix enlarges a 2×2 segment. Clicking again on one of the four images displays a single image at full size. For my purposes, I tend to check the Gretag-Macbeth Color Checker because I have one and can compare the screen directly against the “real deal.” I also like the four people images in the upper right corner because skin tone is universally understood.

The final image shows a graphical representation of gamut. My LG E2250T, a relatively inexpensive TN (twisted nematic) LCD monitor can display about 90% of all sRGB colors and 69% of Adobe RGB 1998. This type of chart helps me visualize what I can or can’t see on my LG. When I bought the LG about 4 years ago, TN was the most cost effective technology but IPS (in-plane switching) produced the widest gamut and best color representation. Unfortunately, IPS monitors were very expensive at that time. Today, good IPS monitors can be had for less than $500 with some in the sub-$200 range. My next purchase will be a good IPS monitor but, for the moment, the LG is still working well enough and the Spyder4Pro confirmed that for me.

The biggest problem with the Spyder4Pro is the lack of a manual so, if you buy one and run into difficulties, either view one of the videos on YouTube or, if you’re desperate, e-mail me and I’ll try to help.

Gamut, Color Space, Monitors and Oh My!

I’ve been spending a lot of time researching, reading, studying and trying to understand how colors captured by a digital camera sensor are handled inside Lightroom and, most importantly, how is color displayed on different output devices ranging from monitors to televisions to projectors to prints. Normally, I’m the sort who likes to tackle the whole gamut (pun intended) of issues at once because what I learn in one area can often trigger an idea or understanding about another aspect. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been practical for these subjects because 1) this has turned out to be a HUGE area of study and 2) my brain can’t keep up with complex, technical details anymore. I hate to admit it but I can no longer keep multiple (6 to 10) complex thoughts or details in my mind and retrieve them on cue. If it gets much worse, I’ll probably have to report to the Soylent factory! (If you’re too young to know about Soylent Green, Google it. You may be surprised how much us old fogies knew about the future.)

Anyway, I’m writing a future article about color space in Lightroom. I’m sure anyone who reads this blog is aware of sRGB, Adobe RGB 1998 and ProPhoto RGB. Well, allow me to throw out a few tidbits that I’ve learned in my research. Lightroom histograms use Melissa RGB, a ProPhoto variant named for Melissa Gaul, one of the original Adobe LR team members. This is the same team that included George Jardine, the LR instructor from whom I’ve learned more than any other instructor, period. Melissa RGB assigns a gamma of 1.0 instead of the usual 2.2 because 1.0 is the native gamma for most digital cameras. However, the LR Develop module uses ProPhoto RGB with gamma 2.2.

Why the difference? We have to understand the purpose of each. Histograms are literal representations of the pixels in an image. Therefore, mucking (a technical term) with gamma can change the actual histogram. However, in the Develop module, we’re trying to adjust the photo for human consumption.

Human eyes see things differently than a camera sensor. If a camera captures a scene that is twice as bright, it duly records twice as much light. A human eye, on the other hand, automatically compensates by toning down the bright scene to preserve shadow details. In order to produce an image that mimics what a person sees, a gamma curve is applied to tone down bright areas and bump up dark areas. Ergo, Melissa RGB produces an exact representation of what the camera captured but ProPhoto RGB produces what the human eye would have seen.

Sorry I don’t have “purdy pitchurs” to illustrate my points. I hope to have some by the time I finish the article. Also, sorry if this is too techie, geeky for you but I’m only writing about what interests me anymore. Have a great 2014.

 

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Score! in Bishop

by on Dec.22, 2013, under Composition, Lightroom, Monday Morning Tips, Photo Editing

Small Town Service at It’s Best

If you read the last two posts, you know we started this year’s Eastern Sierras trip with a broken right rear turn signal on our toad (towed vehicle.) Towing without turn signals and brake lights is both dangerous and illegal. I knew the part I needed but no one seemed to know what I was talking about. We stopped at several stores on the way with no luck. Here’s Arbey (RV, get it?) and R2 (toad) at Tuttle Creek BLM campground overlooking Owens Lake.

Arbey & R2

In Bishop, I stopped at a local trailer shop. The owner gave me one to take back to the RV to see if it worked. If it did, he said, “Come back tomorrow and pay for it.” I was flabbergasted but took him up on the offer. Back at the RV, I scoured the Web to learn how that adapter worked and decided it was wrong for my needs. The next day, when I returned it, he pointed me to a local U-Haul dealer who also worked on RVs. BINGO! That was the key.

The owner of the U-Haul dealer, a bushy bearded gentleman with the demeanor of a crotchety curmudgeon but who turned out to be the nicest guy, knew exactly what I needed before I finished explaining my dilemma. For less than $30, I was set. Upon returning to the RV, it took less than 30 minutes to install the part and “voila” all was well with brake & tail lights! The whole episode made me feel so warm and fuzzy that I went back the next day and bought another $100 worth of RV accessories I’d been putting off.

In a small RV like ours (24 ft) we need to hook up every 4-5 days to take on fresh water and dump our waste water tanks. This year we tried the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Bishop. At $25/day for full hookups (electric, water, sewer) plus the best, cleanest bathrooms and showers I’ve ever seen in an RV park, this place is a bargain. From the fairgrounds, we scouted the Bishop area for photo ops but didn’t find much. Despondent over my lack of good photos up to this point, we headed to Lone Pine and Alabama Hills. By now, I was beginning to feel tired and had a scratchy throat. By the time we got home, I had a full-blown cold and sinus infection so I didn’t immediately review my photos. When I finally got around to it, I was appalled at the lack of creativity and composition.

In the process of setting up my new laptop I came across several Topaz Labs plug-ins that I had tried over the years. Since I had nothing to lose, I played around with several photos in Topaz Labs Adjust and Simplify. Here are the results. Let me know what you think.

Bishop-1   Bishop-3   Bishop-4

TL_BW@-2   TL_BW@-1   TL_BW@-3

All were done in TL (Topaz Labs) Adjust and Simplify but I don’t recall which was which. Also, don’t ask what I did because I don’t recall. The artistic term for my technique is “futzing around.” I just wanted to make each look like a painting. All started with some version of “Painterly effects.” I tried to make the first one (Grand Army of the Republic Highway) look like an oil or acrylic but, to me, all three look like watercolors.

The next two are well outside my comfort zone. The last image is where I started, an uninspiring photo of arches at the Gunga Din movie location in the Alabama Hills. If you look carefully, you can see 3 or 4 combined arches near the top middle. IF I hadn’t been feeling like something the dog threw up, I would have changed lenses and waited for the sun to better illuminate the scene. IF I had felt better, I would have climbed up for a better look. IF a frog had wings, it wouldn’t bump its butt every time it jumped.

My first inclination was to convert this to black & white but a lousy photo is a lousy photo regardless of whether it’s color or B&W. While futzing around in TL Simplify 4 I came across a preset titled Colored Pencil Light on Black. Using that as a starting point, I played around until I got to the first version which I titled Neon Rocks. Playing around some more, I found a Transparency control. Increasing that gave me the second version which I haven’t yet titled.

Both versions still need work. For example, I automatically included a bit of the sky in the upper left corner but that’s totally superfluous in these TL versions so I need to crop that out. Please note, I am not claiming these are “real” photos any more than I claim my HDR efforts to be photos although restrained HDR is actually closer to a real photo than SOOC (straight out of camera) since it tries to emulate the wider dynamic range of the human eye. In fact, what we call “photographs” are nothing more than a sliver of what our eyes actually see and must always be interpreted in some manner.

Protecting Yourself from Internet Creeps

Have you ever searched for something on the web and soon noticed ads for that exact or similar products/services popping up on all your other sites? For example, if you search for Termidor, a termite eradication chemical, you’ll suddenly be bombarded with ads for termite services or other termite chemicals when you visit a news site or Amazon or Yahoo. Search for tires and suddenly, you’ll see ads for Big O, Bridgestone, Sears, Tire Rack and Discount Tires including a bunch of stores located 3000 miles away. If you find that a bit creepy, have I got a tip for you!

Install Tunnel Bear, a VPN (virtual private network) that keeps sites from knowing anything about your web surfing preferences. The basic service is free for up to 500MB of data. Depending on how much you use the Internet, that may or may not be enough for you. Since I practically live on the WWW, I ran through 500MB in about 2 days. In two days, I was so impressed with TB that I paid US$5.00 for a one month trial that allows unlimited bandwidth. If all goes well, in January 2014, I’ll upgrade to an annual subscription for $50.

The only downside is that your connections may be delayed by 1/2 to 2 seconds because your requests now go through TB servers to first be stripped of all personal information. On the flip side, when the site serves a page (displays it on your screen,) it first goes to TB so the site has no idea who requested it. A really cool advantage is when surfing limited view sites that cut you off at a preset number of views. For example, I read the Washington Post (a long-haired, hippie-type, commie, junkie, pinko-sympathizing liberal lame stream media site.) WaPo limits non-subscribers to 20 articles per month. Using TB, WaPo has no idea who is reading their site so I get unlimited access as long as I also disable cookies. A tip of the fedora to my smart, long-suffering wife, Mary for this idea.

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Progress Comes to Bodie

by on Dec.18, 2013, under Articles, gear, Lightroom, Monday Morning Tips, Photo Editing, Photos

First, a word from your sponsor…

While I appreciate all e-mails, I appreciate even more using the Leave a Comment link at the bottom of each post. That way, everyone sees all other comments and all questions are answered once. Thanks.

Onward to Mono Lake and Bodie

After the Ancient Bristlecone Pines Forest bust, we moved on to Mono Lake and Bodie. Since we had our toad (towed vehicle) this trip, we set up camp at our favorite boondock site overlooking Mono Lake (below photo) and drove to Bodie for the day.

Mono Lake sunset

In Bodie, we found the parking lot filled with construction crews building new restrooms and pouring concrete. Since the old vault style restrooms were in good working order the previous year, I was puzzled. The concrete walkway leading toward Bodie seemed incongruous but the significance didn’t strike me until I spoke to a ranger. It turns out Bodie is a victim of the ADA/PC police. The vault toilets were being replaced with ADA compliant toilets, the dirt path into town was being turned into a concrete sidewalk and other ADA changes were being added. I don’t have a problem with ADA compliant toilets. The concrete walkway into town will require some creative composition and/or editing and, in general, I support ADA “when it makes sense.” What concerns me is the wording of the RFQ (Request for Quote) issued by the CA Dept of Parks and Recreation:

“Construct a new Comfort Station, boardwalk replacement, ADA parking upgrades, ADA upgrades to path of travel and various ADA upgrades throughout…

“Boardwalk replacement” and “path of travel” are vague while “…various ADA upgrades throughout…” sounds suspiciously like, “All other changes, modifications or whatever we want, as assigned!” Look at the photos below and tell me how concrete sidewalks can be blended in without creating jarring inconsistencies with the very essence of Bodie. The ranger also hinted that a proposal to build concrete, wheelchair accessible platforms in front of several building to allow wheelchair-bound visitors to see into buildings was defeated, for this round. Look at the photos below and imagine concrete platforms in front of the iconic buildings. The last photo is the only photograph I made at Bodie this year. It represents how future visitors wanting to visit a genuine ghost town will feel.

   Defying the Elements   The Good Ole Days   Screwed-1

Back at Mono Lake…

My mood was as cold and dark as the 17°F nights. Back at Mono Lake, we futzed around Lee Vining for a day and spent a few hours at the beautiful Forest Service Visitor Center where I learned useful tips for kayaking to the islands in the middle of the lake which I’ll try next summer but, overall, it was just too darn cold to make the same photos of tufas under clear blue sky that I’d already made several hundred times. It was time to beat a retreat back to Bishop.

Robson’s Mining World

Before leaving for the Eastern Sierras, we visited Robson’s Mining World near Aguila, AZ with the Wickenburg Art Club. Basically, it’s a recreated western mining town, like dozens of others in Arizona. In fact, I had visited another one, Gammon’s Gulch, near Benson, AZ last year. We plan to revisit Gammon’s Gulch in January 2014 when we go to the Chiricahua Mountains for images of snow covered rocks. I practiced my HDR techniques at Robson’s so here are the few acceptable photos I made at Robson’s.

Robsons-1   Robsons-2   Robsons-3   Robsons-4   Robsons-5   Robsons-6   Robsons-7   Robsons-8

I tried to stay on this side of realistic but a few strayed over into the Ben Wilmore Old School Hyper Grunge space. I promise to exercise more restraint in the future.

All the photos were made with either a Canon 7D (my go-to body) or Canon 5D MkII with either the 24-105/4L or 17-40/4L. Most were on a Gitzo tripod. All processing was done in Lightroom 4 and HDR software is Photomatix Essentials. Next post, I’ll be showing some photos that are definitely outside my comfort zone with Topaz Labs Adjust, Simplify or B&W Effects.

2014 Plans for Eastern Sierras

Mary and I are going back for Bishop Mule Days in May 2014 with her old church RV group from San Diego. I’m really stoked because I’ve identified Sky Rock as well as what I believe is a real photo of Methuselah tree in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. I’m hoping to scout both areas and come away with photos to study before next fall’s Eastern Sierras trip.

Thanks for reading and, as always, all comments are welcome and appreciated.

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Trip to Eastern Sierras

by on Nov.26, 2013, under Lightroom, Monday Morning Tips, Photo Editing

Wow! It’s Been a Zoo-y Two Months

We left for the Eastern Sierras on Oct 25th and arrived in the Ancient Bristlecone Pines Forest on Sunday, October 27. Just getting there was an adventure. First, the right brake light on our toad (towed,) a Geo Tracker, didn’t work. I immediately diagnosed the problem but no one had the part or knew where to buy one. Assuming we could find the part along the way, we departed for our first overnight layover in Beatty, NV. We never found the part nor even anyone who knew what I was talking about.

Along the way, we stopped at REI in Las Vegas to buy Mary’s birthday presents (it was the xxth anniversary of her 29th birthday!) Since Mary is an avid hiker, we got her a Magellan handheld GPS and my favorite, an ACR Electronics ResQLink 406, aka, personal locator beacon. In theory, it signals the nearest sheriff/police/SAR (search & rescue) office via satellite in the event of an emergency in the back country. Hopefully, she’ll never need to deploy it but it makes me feel better knowing that Mary has it.

We got to Beatty late Saturday night and found the town has banned all overnight RV parking except at RV parks charging exorbitant prices for a place to sleep for 6 hours. Rather than submit to their extortion racket, we pressed on to Lida Junction where US 95 and US 266 intersect. There, we simply pulled off the highway, deployed the slide and spent a quiet night.

AncientBP-1

The next morning, we drove into California to the intersection of US 266 and CA 168 where we unhooked the toad for the ascent up the White Mountains. That’s when we realized the toad had about 2 gallons of gas and Big Pine, the next gas station, was 38 miles away. The toad gets 18mpg on the flats so climbing a 6800 ft summit seemed a bit dicey but we didn’t have a choice since the 5 cylinder diesel in the RV wasn’t going to be able to tow up 7 and 8 percent grades. The toad made it into Big Pine with less than 1/10 of a gallon in the tank.

We saw the above tree on the way into Big Pine. We went back the next day and made the photo. FYI, you’d think making a photo of a tree would be a slam-dunk but I have about a dozen other photos to prove otherwise. The tree is beside CA 168, about 2 miles outside Big Pine. While trying to keep an eye on drivers who were gawking at the tree, I made several photos that, when straightened and cropped, didn’t leave space between the tree and one side of the frame. Others were ruined because I wasn’t watching the sun angle and more were culled due to plain bad composition.

AncientBP-5   AncientBP-6   AncientBP-2

AncientBP-3   AncientBP-4     

We had originally planned to camp at Grandview campground, about 5 miles from the Ancient Bristlecone Pines Visitors’ Center, but the weather looked iffy so we stayed at a nice county park in Big Pine. That turned out to be prescient because that night, the wind was so strong, we thought it was raining when falling leaves pelted the RV. I can’t imagine what the winds must have been like at 10,000 feet.

The reason I went so late in the season was to, hopefully, make photos of bristlecone pines in snow. Well, it had snowed about two weeks earlier but no new snow was forecast. I had hoped to hike the 4 mile Methuselah Trail in search of its namesake tree, the oldest certified bristlecone pine but it started to snow. The first photo is Mary and me about a mile into Methuselah Trail.When it started snowing, Mary, who is a much more experienced hiker than me, decided it was too sketchy to do the entire 4 miles so we cut off onto what was supposed to be a shortcut back to the trail head. It was shorter but steeper. After about 6 or 7 switchbacks that became increasingly steeper, we finally crested the ridge to find the sun coming out, bummer.

The second photo is my favorite from this session. I titled it, “Squaw Among Bristlecones.” I know the word “squaw” has fallen out of favor with the PC police but I felt it had the right connotation for this photo. Besides, the word is thought to be derived from an Algonquin word. In any case, I saw the pattern in the tree and thought it would translate well in HDR and I think it has. The other three photos are just random samples of various trees I saw. As you can see, I went a bit overboard with HDR this trip.

Manzanar

I often noticed Manzanar on my trips up and down US 395. As an American of Japanese descent, I had heard of Manzanar but never paid much attention. The Japanese ethos of “shigataga-nai” (can’t be helped or, in the vernacular, “sh*t happens”) kept it blocked off as just one of those bad things that happen. Two years ago, I stopped for a brief visit but didn’t see much as it was closing time and I wasn’t really that interested.

This time, we took two hours to view the museum and drive around the remains of the camp. The 20 minute video was very well done, narrated in the words of actual internees (prisoners.) I saw the whole event, not so much as a shameful period of American history but, as a teachable moment. I felt a detached curiosity as I viewed the exhibits. Afterwards, we drove around the camp and came across the old cemetery. Most of the remains were moved to cemeteries closer to home when the camp closed. Only five graves remain. As I walked among remaining graves, the one below caught my eye.

Manzanar-1

In a moment, my detachment disappeared and I was overcome with sadness as I thought about Baby Jerry Ogata, an American citizen, born and dying in a concentration camp run by his fellow countrymen, buried in a grave and left behind by his family. I wish I knew more about Baby Jerry Ogata.

More Photos to Come

I caught a bug during this trip and have been laid up for nearly a month. I still have about 450 frames to cull and process. On top of everything else, setting up my new laptop has proven to be a challenge. At this point, I’d like to severely beat the guy who came up with Windows 8 with my tripod.

All these photos were made with either a Canon 7D or Canon 5D MkII with either the 17-40/4L or 24-105/4L and processed in Adobe Lightroom 4. HDR photos were processed in Photomatix Photo Essentials. I also used Topaz Labs Adjust 5 on some.

As always, your comments are welcome and appreciated.

 

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It’s That Time of Year!

by on Sep.24, 2013, under Articles, Monday Morning Tips

Annual Eastern Sierras Trip

This year, my goal is to find Methuselah, the second oldest living tree in the world at 4845 years old. It’s located somewhere along Methuselah Trail, near the Ancient Bristlecone Pines National Forest Visitor Center. The oldest is also a bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) recently dated at 5062 years old in the same area. This newest oldest tree was, in fact, cored in the 1950s by Edmund Schulman but undated until 2012. Both trees are still living but unmarked to prevent modern day neanderthals from cutting off pieces for souvenirs as some aformentioned neanderthal did with Metuselah.

Indigestion   Woots   King Of the Hill

The above photos are from 2010 and are among my favorites from the White Mountains. This year, I hope to photograph Methuselah. Time permitting, I also plan to drive the extra 12 miles to Patriarch Grove to photograph Patriarch, the largest bristlecone pine in the eastern sierras. At just 1500 years old, Patriarch is a relative youngster.

From the White Mountains, I plan to check out Bodie to see if conditions warrant waiting a few days for snow. If not, I’ll head for Alabama Hills to find and photograph as many arches as I can find in a few days. Along the way, I’ll look for opportunities along McGhee Creek, Mono Lake and Bishop.

Lathe Arch   Mobius Arch   Mono Lake Sunrise

If anyone would like to join me, send me an e-mail and we’ll make plans to meet somewhere along the way.

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