Category: Do’s & Dont’s

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Dynamic Range Adjustment on Fujifilm cameras and how this affects darktable

Dynamic Range Adjustment on Fujifilm cameras and how this affects darktable

A real quick post here guys as this issue was stumping me until I found this page – https://www.darktable.org/2014/08/using-x-trans-cameras-with-darktable/ – at which point it all became a little clearer.

Basically, and as you can see from the image below, my jpeg and RAW files when read by darktable are light years apart. The jpeg is reasonably well exposed while the RAW file is much darker.

On the left is the jpeg SOOC while on the right is the RAW version as seen bydarktable

Now, in some respcts this is unsurprising as the jpeg has been processed in-camera, in this case a Fuji x-T1, following either a standard base recipe, or in the case of applying a specific film simulation, what ever that receipe looks like. This is generally what Fujifilm shooters like to do as the film simulation options provided by FujiFilm are one reason why so many photographers choose Fuji eco-systems and why Straight Out Of Camera (SOOC) jpegs are so highly regarded by the Fujifilm community. Anyway, I digress.

From what I have learned, what is happening here is that because I generally apply dynamic range adjustments to my images, I often choose to use DR400, this is applied only to the in-camera jpeg only. My RAW file by contrast, which is basically what the sensor sees, has been under-exposed by 2 stops since this is how dynamic resolution works on Fui cameras. Had I used DR200 then my RAW would be under-exposed by 1 stop. In truth I do tend to push EV when I am using DR400, for example ev +0.67 however this still leaves my RAW files under-exposed by 1.3 stops. So, how to overcome this issue?

The obvious and quick answer is not to use dynamic range adjustments as a catch all in my photos. Just set the camera to DR100 (which is off) and have done. I can then use ISO 200 rather than ISO 400 or ISO 800 and I don’t need to worry about dialing in some exposure compensation. What I’ll get is a perfectly usable RAW than can be processed with darktable or any other editor I choose to use. Interestingly, this problem does not appear to manifest itself in On1 PhotoRAW or Affinity Photo, my two other go-to editors and I have also not seen it on Luminar although I haven’t used this software in some time. Even with dynamic range applied, it seems that these editors are able to figure out the correct settings for viewing the RAW file on import.

Another alternative is to look at somehow modifying the RAW file by applying a different base curve to the imported RAW. From what I have read, this seems possible but with only five or 6 days experience with darktable under my belt, yep, you read that right, I feel I might have to research this a little more!

So, there you have it. If you are using darktable and your Fuji RAW files are way darker than your jpegs, check to see if you have dynamic range adjustments applied in camera. Pound to a penny, that will be the culpret.

If you have any comments, advice or solutions, please feel free to write a comment below.

Remove A Colour Cast from Your Photos

Remove A Colour Cast from Your Photos

One of the most annoying things associated with photography is getting the white balance (WB) wrong, especially at night or under artificial lighting. While auto WB should help to overcome most lighting issues, it does pay to make sure that you use the right WB option available to you in camera for the situation you are filming in. But what about if you don’t make the adjustment there and then? Is it game over? Can you recover a scene that has a strong colour cast for example? Well, yes, in general you can and it’s all thanks to the power of the Curve tool together with a little help from our old friend WB. These two tools are found in practically every decent photo editor available today from Snapseed on your mobile phone through to Photoshop, Affinity Photo and Gimp.

What’s a Colour Cast

A colour cast is basically where the underlying colour tends to shift towards a particular tint. It’s most often seen in night shots where photos can adopt an orange tint or in the studio where the WB is not corrected for the types of light being used. While in some night shots a golden orange tint or glow can enhance a photo, it certainly doesn’t look good in studio photography or where age has spoiled a family heirloom. This article presents some ways for you to improve your photos where a colour cast is spoiling things.

EXAMPLE 1 FIXING THE COLOUR IN AN OLD IMAGE

Let’s start with an example on how to remove the colour cast in an old photo.

Copyright unknown. Image used purely for educational purposes

As can be clearly seen, this image has a very strong orange colour cast. It’s also not helped by the fact the predominent colours in the image are earthy tending towards browns, red and orange. Even so, bringing out the blues and dropping the reds and browns has to be a good start in making this image look more natural.

To recover this image I have used two techniques. The first is to identify an object in the photo that should be white and then to use this information to find other areas within the image that should also be moved towards white. Here the most obvious white colour is in the boys tee-shirt. In the first photo above this has a pinkish tinge especially around the neck. In this technique we create a rectanglular box, colour pick the pink tint from the teeshirt and apply it to the box. We then pull out the handles until the box completely covers the image. Setting the blend mode for that layer to Divide results in other areas of the image that should be white or close to white becoming white lifting the whole image towards more natural tones. Here’s the result of undertaking that process. Notice that the white tee-shirt now looks white while other tones within the image have improved. However, to my eye the photo still exhibits a strong bias towards earthy colours which might not be desirable deping on the intended use.

Copyright unknown. Image used purely for educational purposes

To improve this image still further, especially with regards the peol in the photo, we can additionally apply a curves adjustment to the image to remove much of the red and to better control the greens and blues. To do this we simply shift the RGB values in the image towards what they were more likely to have been. For example, jeans are typically blue so act as a guide here. The resulting image below shows just how powerful the curves feature can be in everyday editing.

Copyright unknown. Image used purely for educational purposes

And below is the final image with pretty much all of the colour cast removed. Applying a white balance correction could improve this image still further but as a demonstration of technique, it pretty much serves it’s purpose.

Final image with curves applied. Copyright unknown. Image used purely for educational purposes

EXAMPLE 2 PROBABLY THE QUICKEST FIX THERE IS

In this example we are going to use the very simple technique discussed above of applying a colour picked rectangle over the image and setting the blend mode to Divide. This only works if you can identify an area within your original image that should be white. Here, the jacket does have some white so I have carefully picked on this shade (see image 2) in order to colour the rectangle that covers the image. As you can see in image 3, this is a distinctive shade of cream rather then the white it should be. In the final image I have set the Blend Mode to Divide in order to neutralise all of the colours in the image bringing them quickly back to what they were on the day of shooting.

As the final picture of the series shows, this is a remarkably quick way to compensate for a colour cast in your images where you have a known area of what should be white. To work though your editor must include the Divide function within its Blend Mode options. On1 for example does not have this option so this is not a teqhnique that will work if you have On1. In such cases I recommend using curves and white balance modifications which I describe in more detail below.

EXAMPLE 3 RECOVERING FROM WHITE BALANCE ISSUES

Here’s another example. In the first of these photos the image again has a very strong orange colour cast. Here the colour cast is caused by an incorrect setting of the white balance in camera during a photo shoot. The second image shows how easily the image can be recovered using the simplest of work flows.

On the right hand side of the above image you can see the various layers applied to the photo. Firstly I duplicted the image, just is case I do something stupid which affects the integrity of the base image, then I used a Curve to modify the colours in the image. After this I used an Unsharp Mask to affect a little increased sharpness in the eys, hair and pearls and finally I took the opportunity to remove a few tiny flaws such as flyaway hairs etc in the overall portrait. An alternative strategy could have been to complete the basic work up to and including the Curves adjustments and then to take the image into say, On1 Effects Ai and or On1 Portrait Ai to apply some adjustments. To be honest, Affinity is excellent for portraiture so I’m not convinced there’s a huge lot of benefit of going into On1 to achieve a better resullt. I also have the option though of using Anthropics PortraitPro but again, here I didn’t feel the need to do this.

So, let’s now look at what the tone curve would need to look like in order to achieve the above result.

This is a pretty simple curve adjustment but of course, for each RGB channel ie Red, Green and Blue as well as the Master channel you can apply much more complex curves in order to achieve your required goal. As it is, these simple modifications work pretty well although as mentioned, I did also reduce the temperature in the white balance to add a little more blue.

So, that’s pretty much it really. In some cases, particulalry where the lighting is used to effect a particular artistic look it is much more difficult to return the image to a neutral colour pallet because this actually doens’t exist. It can also be difficult where orange, green or blue lighting is used to create an effect, for example on buildings at night. However, where your camera misunderstands the colours due to processing confusion as in the above example, it is really quick and easy to return it the neutral colours which actually existed.

This final image of Sarah, from the same set as those above, has been further processed to illustrate additional ways to enhance the basic image. As above, the original image was also colour tinted orange and has therefore undergone a similar transformation.

Model: Sarah Dowrick. Image copyright Dave Collerton

I very much hope this short introduction to colour correction using very basic tools available within any quality editing suite has been helpful.

Dunked your camera? It’s not all over, you’ve got a fighting chance to save it!

First off let me say that the experience of falling in water with your camera around your neck is not the best fun you can have. My personal attempt did result in good scores from all judges especially as I bounced on some fairly large boulders before hitting water. Sadly, my Fujifilm x-T1 also saw action and while I have now dried off, and indeed so has the camera, the 18-55mm f2.8-4 lens that was attached to it is proving to be a little stubbon. Here’s what I have been doing to recover from this semi-disasterous situation.

Your Next Actions Make a Difference

Firstly, let’s rewind a little because the actions you take when this sort of thing happens really matter. So, while still lying in the water I had the presence of mind to pass the camera to a passer-by who came across to help. That move was practically instantaneous which meant that while the camera was under water for a few seconds, it was not in water for minutes. It was also turned off, another plus point. The other big plus point here, if there can be one in this situation, is that the water was practically pure as well as being fast moving as it was generated by a cascading waterfall on Dartmoor. Had the camera fallen into seawater, or a murky algae laden pond I would not be as confident that I can recover the camera or the lens. So, what can you do to improve your chances of a successfull outcome?

  • Turn the camera off or keep it off
  • Remove the battery and memory cards
  • Wipe down the camera with some form of absorbent cloth as soon as you can – inside and out (not the sensor though)
  • Wipe down and dry the lens as much as possible
  • Open all of the comparment doors to enable them to circulate air into the camera
  • Protect the sensor with a body cap or use another another lens
  • Get the camera and lens into a dry, warm environment as soon as possible
  • Do not be tempted to turn on the camera for several days. Put it aside and leave it alone!

The Camera Body

Firstly, let’s talk about the camera body. Although emersed for a few seconds, all the compartment doors were at least closed and the camera was off. Once I was back on my feet, and although drenched, I immediately removed the lens, the battery, the memory card and I opened up all of the compartment doors. I was fortunate in that I was carrying a microfibre cloth and although my canvas camera bag did get a little wet, it didn’t get soaked. That was lucky because it also had two spare batteries and a Viltrox 23mm lens inside. First job, remove every drop of water off every part of the camera body I could access. Amazingly, no water had got into the sensor chamber, it was bone dry thanks to the 18-55mm that was attached. There was a little water in the various compartments but overall it cryed off externally very quickly due in no small part that it was a nice dry and warm day. Normally I would have hightailed it home at this point but as it was a family day out and we had our grandchildren who are only three and five, I decided to trudge around for the next hour or so. In fairness, other than being drenched and a little sore I came off pretty lightly and my youngest grandson George was a delight helping me up and down the routh terrain at every opportunity. As I walked, I allowed the camera to sit in the breeze with all the compartment doors open. I had fitted the Viltrox 23mm by this point as I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire by allowing dust and debris into the camera body via the open sensor compartment. Ideally I would have used a body cap but of course, who carries one of these around just in case you fall in a river, stream, pond or the sea!!

Over the next couple of hours the light breeze dried off the camera a treat and I eventually made it home about three hours later. When I did, the first thing I did was to remove the Viltrox 23mm and to put some cling film over the lens apperture. It was still bone dry so I think I got really lucky here. I then opened the window and hung the camera on the window pole to gently continue to dry out in the breeze. By this point in time there was no water apparent anywhere so I thought this was perhaps a good first step. I left this overnight and then in the morning, I put it on a radiator (this was on very low setting) to allow a little more heat to access the internals. I didn’t however put the camera directly on the radiator, I lifted it up about an inch to allow the warmth to envelop it. All the doors remained open, including the LCD panel which I had pulled out earlier to dry off and had kept it there. After a day and a night more of doing this, I decided to test the camera. Interestingly, the on/off switch, which on the x-T1 is part of the shutter button, was really stiff which worried me a little. However, with a little persuasion it moved and turning it on and off a few times (with the battery out) resolved the problem. I also checked all of the other dials and buttons for similar problems but these were all good, no stickiness as far as I can see.

Did the camera fire up? Amazingly it did, without issue other than it looked like the damp had forced a factory refresh as I needed to reset the language, the date and the time. All of my eight Presets had also been wiped but no big deal, I only really use two slots and I know the settings off by heart. Having shot a few bland test shots I turned off the camera and set it to one side. It’s being sitting in the corner since then and I’ve just tried it again and it’s working fine.

The Lens

As I mentioned, the Fujifilm 18-55mm really didn’t do well in it’s encounter with water. Unlike the camera it was sopping wet. The worry here then is that even if I manage to dry it out, it is very likely that despite the water being really pure, there are going to be some water marks on the internals of the lens etc. It is also a toss up as to whether the electrics will ever work again. Now I’m prepared to sit it out for as long as it takes to dry it out totally as I still have the gorgous Viltrox 23mm working perfectly on the x-T1 plus I have the Samyang 12mm manual to play with which is huge fun. All in all, and while I might miss the 18-55mm, I can still shoot perfectly well with what I’ve got. Anyway, let’s talk a little now about what I have done to try to recover this lens.

The first thing I did was on the way home we stopped off and bought a huge bag of rice. Rice is brilliant for sucking up moisture so it’s a good first step, after drying the lens externally, in sucking up the moisture in the lens. Now, given the amount of water drops I could see on the internal lenses, this was never going to be a quick solution. It could take days if not weeks to remove all of the water, even in a warm home. Anyway, I popped the lens into a plastic container completelysurrounded by the rice. I used a fair amount of rice for this as it’s cheap and plentiful. I then put a cleanfilm over the top and let it sit for 5 days before sneaking a peak. Interestingly, the top lenses were dry, or at least appeared so, while the lens closest to the sensor, which had ben bone dry whan I started drying out the lens, was covered in water drops. This tells me that water is moving freely around the lens and that the process is working, albeit very slowly. In order to try to speed up the process, although why I don’t know, I have now put it on the radiator, which is only slightly warm, to hopefully help with the process. I also felt it wouldnt hurt to move the rice around. I’ll add some photos later to illustrate the process of camera and lens drying.

Initial Conclusions

So, as it stands I have at least achieved some success. My body is repearing itself nicely and the x-T1 appears to be working OK, no apparent problems although time will of course tell how it fairs in the longer term. The 18-55mm although initially not looking particularly healthy has now, and this is after 9 day sitting in rice in a warm environment, dryed out significantly. It might actually be bone dry but you know what, I don’t need to push it and while another few days won’t affect me it might be good news for the lens. Examination today shows that there are some marks on the lens surface, but these aren’t substantial. Whether it will ever work again, I still don’t know. The chances 50/50 I’d say. If the electronics work I have found an interesting article on dismantling and accessing the top two elements to clean them which I will try if necessary. I suspect that this will be some time yet though. Whatever happens I will update this blog post and let you all know how things turned out.

I hope that this article is helpful. Having a good plan of attack in such circumstances is key to success. You also need patience. Everything has to be 110% dry before you even consider turning the camera on and that probably means waiting the 4 or 5 days as I did.

Cull or Keep your Images – now that’s the question!

When I first created this post I called it “Don’t be afraid to Cull Bad Images”. However, as the post evolved I felt that I needed to look at keeping versus culling in the round. This article therefore discusses my take on what stays and what goes in my photography.

Now, I’m pretty good at deleting images that say nothing of interest. To me they are obvious to spot, they either suffer from poor composition, a lack of meaningful content, duplicate others that are better or just fail for some technical reason, for example poor focus, blown out highlights or over or under exposed. However, I know that many of my photographer friends struggle with this important process with the result that they fill hard drives at a frightening rate with images that really should be binned. While you may have a dozen SSD disks to play with, I prefer to work light so I rely on just two drives for my archives. As such, drive real-estate is at a premium.

The key here then is to be able to make conscious decisions about what has any real value and what is simply clogging up my drives. This basically means is it good enough to share with others. That might be in the form of a photo book, a project, a competition or even as a give away under Creative Commons. This latter option is something I have recently started to do as I know that bloggers etc often need access to images. If the image fits none of these then the axe needs to fall and fall swiftly. Having said all of this, there is one last check that I do undertake and this to ask the question – does the image have any mitigating features? For example, is there a picture within the picture or does it have merit if converted to art. That has to be done on an image by image basis and for me at least, it’s the last throw of the dice!

Now, the first of these tests is obvious. I will know immediately if I like an image enough to consider it suitable for books, projects or competitions. If you are a club photographer then you will know that this doesn’t necessary mean that someone else will like it, just that I like it sufficiently to use it in one or more of the contexts mentioned.

Starting with The Good

So let’s start with something I do like. This example, from a fairground shoot at the weekend, combines a lot of elements that I like. For example, here we have the juxtaposition of static and dynamic items within the frame, the inclusion of people (one of my favourite subjects) and muted colours rather just B&W. That being said, I really don’t think that this image is going to win any competitions, judges with their strict guidlines just won’t get it, but I can see it in a photobook or perhaps as a future project. It’s also the type of image that could be post-processed in a mirriad of ways so again, it has merit.

Now the Bad

Now let’s take a look at an image, which apart from being shown here, has been discarded. Timing as they say is everything and this image demonstrates a complete lack of timing alongside really poor composition and, I hate to say it, poor technical skills. The content is OK, perhaps a little busy and if I had panned left to include the leading lines of the path along with the fairground items to the left of this ride, then perhaps things might have turned out better. However I didn’t and so alongside the blown out sky, which is unforgiveable, the overly busy composition and poor subject matter really didn’t help this one. RIP. By the way, on the issue of the blown out sky, you might like to take a look at my article on highlight roll-off as this is one way to combat digital burnout from bright lights, sun etc.

Of course, bad photos aren’t limited to tricky locations. You can take a bad photo anywhere – I often do! So let’s look at some more images where to be honest, nothing really works. In the first image below there’s plenty of potential and some technical skill in freezing the water. Sadly though, there’s nothing of interest beyond this but fortunately, I did shoot better on the day. The second image fares pretty much the same, nice but bland and unexceptional and again, I certainly have better in my archives. The seaweed image could perhaps be saved – I often photograph objects – but once again, on that particular day, and from other days I had much better beach dendritus shots. The last two images simply lack good composition even though the subject matter, especially of the first of this pair, has some merit. As they are they though, they are simply fails.

Let’s Finish on a High Note – Some Examples I Enjoy

In this next shot I think I have nailed what makes a good photo. Here, we have an almost perfectly symmetrical image, which the eye loves, great colours, an analogue feel plus movement in the chairs which creates an excitement and a contrast to the perfectly still framework. The other thing I like is that I can dive into this image and take out snippets, for example some the riders on their chairs. It just depends on the resolution of the camera being used and the IQ of the RAW file.

This next image is something that I really liked when I shot it, but was not so happy when I viewed it. The colours really detracted from the subject which is clearly the guy in the middle playing with his mobile phone. I couldn’t however bring myself to delete it, too good for that so I decided to try B&W as a way of removing some of the complexity created by the colours in the shot. My go-to favourite for this type of work is Nik Silver Efex and while I don’t think Nik saves it as a competition photo, it works really well for a photo book or for use on the web. Well, to my mind anyway.

In this next set of images the composition is good, the content is good but it’s not quite working for me. I feel, as I so often do, that the colour is making it difficult to see the story. I am so focused on the bright greens and yellows so as to forget that the piano player is the star of this shot. Again then, B&W, with a little brightening of the face, saves the day by forcing attention on the piano player and away from the bright background. An easy but effective fix.

Earlier I talked about how the seaweed image for me just didn’t work. Well, on the same day I captured that shot, I also captured a few others which I have kept and which form part of my archive. Here are those images for reference. Hopefully you’ll agree that these are somewhat better shots.

A Note On Post-Processing

All of the images shown above, except the B&W versions which were edited in Nik Silver Efex, were created using On1 film presets. I personally love analogue film and when shooting digital, I strive to achive this look both in the SOOC jpegs out of my trusty Fuji x-T1, or by converting the RAW images to something less digital as here. For those seeking to do the same or similar, these images were all post-processed using a Classic Chrome in-camera film simulation that I created for SOOC shots. IN some cases here however I chose to use RAW images passing these through a Classic Chrome preset.

That’s it for now, I hope that you found the meanderings of my mind of interest. Either way, drop me a comment below and let’s create a dialog on how you guys deal with the images you take.

Nailing the Film Experience

Nailing the Film Experience

Not being able to accurately digitise film makes it pretty difficult to work out if you actually took good pictures or not. Was the focus off, was the lighting good, was the subject matter sufficiently interesting to even bother! This is exactly the position I found myself in recently when I decided to experiment with B&W film and an old Pentax KM SLR that had been sitting in the cupboard for 40 years plus. Truth was, I was really keen to experience the whole emotional journey of taking the photos, developing them and finally, digitising them.

Now each part of that journey has challanges. For example, taking the photos is not quite as simple as pointing a modern digital camera at the scene and pressing the shutter. For those of you you that have experimented with the manual settings on your digital cameras you’ll know exactly what I mean. There’s a lot to think about with an SLR, especially if you have a fully manual lens attached. Firstly there’s managing the light. Old SLR’s such as the Pentax KM expose for the average light entering the lens. That means that providing the light is well managed the highlights aren’t blown and darks aren’t too dark. However, all too often the sky loses detail and the shadows can be a little too dark. Unlike digital though, it’s really difficult to pull any details out of areas that are too dark or too light. Getting the right exposure then becomes an art form and it’s the reason you used to see good photographers use external light meters in order to work out the best exposure for the scene they were photographing. The second problem is capturing an image worth the effort. With digital we are in “a throw away society” and any image not up to standard, whether through poor composition, poor exposure or poor subject matter, is tossed in the bin. Follow that same approach with film and I guarantee you that you’ll have only 5 or 6 decent images out of 36. You simply can’t leave anything to chance with film. Finally, there’s any number of things that can go wrong from poor focus through to incorrectly developing the entire batch. Trust me, you need nerves of steel to get something good with film.

Taking everything above into account, the images below are from my earliest experiments with film, in this case Ilford FP4 Plus 125.I chose FP4 because I liked the look of various images I had seen on Pinterest etc so it seemed a good start point. My very first roll had been Kentmere 400 but while I got some images from this roll, I wasn’t hugely impressed, either with my compositions or my focus. I chose to use the Pentax 50mm f1.7 for that roll and I had some difficulties with nailing focus. With the FP4 I chose to use the Minolta 35-70 f2.8-4 and the results from this lens are shown below. I think that here focus was a lot sharper plus the various images had some interest. Hopefully, you’ll agree.

The gear used to achieve these images was as follows:

  • Pentax KM SLR (circa 1980)
  • Minolta 35-70 f2.8-4
  • Ilford FP4 Plus 125 36 exposures
  • Bellini Hydrofen developer & Bellini FX100 ECO fixer
  • Home built flash-lit digitising rig using Nikon D600 and Tamron 90mm f2.8 1:1 Macro lens
Lomography Digitalizer 35mm Film Scanning Mask

Lomography Digitalizer 35mm Film Scanning Mask

I’ve mentioned the Lomography Digitalizer 35mm Film Scanning Mask (Lomography Digitalizer) in a few of my blogs but I thought I’d focus specifically on it for this one.

Firstly, the Lomography Digitalizer is a simple scanning mask which can clamp and hold a strip of up to six 35mm colour or B&W negatives. You could use it for any number of negatives between one and six of course but six is ideal. It consists of 3 parts, a metal baseplate, a plastic hinged frame which clamps the edge of the negative and a plastic central clamp which holds the film flat when you close the frame. Magnets are incorporated into the design to provide the clamping force between the various parts. Basic operation follows the procedure of placing the metal base plate in the bottom of the frame, placing the negative strip in the frame holder, placing the clamp on top of the negative, it has location guides for this, closing the frame and then removing the clamp. Because the magnetic attraction is now broken with the base plate, this falls away and you are now left with the negatives securely held in the frame ready to scan.

Loading the Lomography Digitalizer is a little fiddly especially if the film is curling. If the curl is along the negative strip then this is one problem but often the curl is along and across too so it’s really important to ensure the film is positioned correctly before clamping down the edges. This is where the central clamp does it’s work. However, because this locates on four tiny plastic prongs, it is possible to knock the film moving it slighly in the rebate when loading the central clamp. However, once the central clamp has secured the film flat against the metal baseplate, you simple close the frame and this secures the edges of the negative strip. You then remove the central clamp which drops away the metal baseplate – remember I said everything is secured using magnets. Now, while it is impossible using this technique to completely flatten the film in the holder, it does appear to do a reasonable job. Of course, the flatter your negatives, the flatter they sit in the frame. You are now ready to scan the negatives.

I should have mentioned that before doing any of the above, I recommend blowing off any dust that might be on the negatives. Cleaning both sides of the negative makes for a far better result when digitising.

In use, the Lomography Digitaliser is relatively simple to position but I do recommend either a jig or frame to ensure that you can quickly position each negative frame perfectly with respect to the camera lens. If you don’t do this, you will spend a lot of time fiddling around trying to position the frame in the right place. This is doubly relevent if you are using a 1:1 macro lens as the negative fills the frame so accuracy becomes far more important. There are other products out there that do a better job of negative positioning but they are more expensive, some very much more expensive. You pays your money and makes your choice as they say.

With regards the digitising process, if the negative is held flat, using something like a light box, mine is lit by a flash head, positioned under the frame with the camera set on say F5.6 or F8 at 1/125 or whatever your camera syncs at, ensures that you have a good DOF through the frame. This should result in a crisp, accurate digitised image. I am using a Tamron 90mm f2.8 1:1 Macro which is ideal for this task.

How to win all your clubs photography contests!

How to win all your clubs photography contests!

When you join a photography club it can be for several reasons. You might want to associate with others having similar interests. You might want to learn about photography. You might simply join in order to be able to enter competitions. Whatever your reason, what you need to do when you start your club journey is to park the thought that everyone knows more than you, that everyone else is right, at the door! And that’s because no matter how good a photographer is, no matter how helpful or critical they try to be, they all come with baggage. The fact is that we all tend to like what we like and it takes someone truly exceptional to put that baggage to one side and to see through the eyes of the photographer they are critiquing. Unfortunately, and through personal experience, club judges rarely fall into this category because they are expected to do the job in a certain, well bounded way where the norm far outweighs the unusual, quirly or downright different. In club photography then, what you think will do well in competition undoudtadly will if it conforms closely to what typically and historically does well. Doing well in competitions is therefore less about innovative photography challanging the senses, more about knowing and being able to create a winning entry based on knowledge.

Having said all this, there is absolutely nothing wrong in wanting to succeed in club photography and just like any process, you simply need to learn the rules and to carefully study what historically does well in club competitions. This approach will maximise your chances of podium placings as well as improve your club photography.

So, what does a club judge look for in a winning image. Let’s take a look.

  • Club judges are pixel peepers: When having to differentiate between one image and another they will revert to technical imperfections in order to choose one image over another. It’s a proven technique that works as it provides them with justification to discount or mark down an otherwise good image.

  • Club judges are traditionalists: Unless the competition is themed, club judges will often prefer to stay with stuff they know and stuff they know their audience will appreciate. Landscapes, sports and wildlife all do well for this reason, portraits less so unless the judge has an interest in them (and that can be a little dodgy as they will undoubdatly be looking for flaws) and finally, at the end of the list, documentary / reportage. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this genre of course, it probably comprises most of the published works in history, but it is a genre that judges all too often seem to avoid.

  • Club judges seem to like obviously emotional images: I have seen similar images win multiple contests even in the same season. That tells me that you can’t go wrong in club competitions if you tug at the judges heartstrings especially if the image is technically on point. That means paying real attention to the quality of your post processing. With animals, mother and child shots, especially primates seem to do really well. If you live close to a zoo or wildlife park, this type of capture is not particulalry difficult either. Just remember to pay attention to the details and nail the post-processing.

  • Judges like good post-processing: As I mentioned above, good post-processing is a must if you want to win competitions. This is often why reportage photography (often called street / candid photography) falls down as the capture of the image is often an instant decision and everything else, such as lighting, composition and technical perfection has to take second stage. You can offset these limitations to a certain degree in post with some deft manipulation but be careful as sometimes the post-processing lessons what was captured. So to reiterate, judges love well composed and post-processed images and much of what you hear in their judgmements relates to how well or poorly an image was post-processed.

  •  Judges love good composition and rules: Leading lines, the rule of thirds and odd-numbers are important differentiating tools for judges. If you are able to think about your composition before you press the shutter, that is the way to take a winning shot. Bringing in leading lines with due reference to thirds etc won’t do your image any harm but bare in mind,for many scenarios the judge will have seen it all before. Keep it fresh!

  • Judges hate clutter: If your image is difficult to read due to clutter or being overly busy it is likely to fare badly. Judges love a central subject and the least amount of detail around that subject the better. If your eye wanders around the image, so will theirs! For macro and wildlife eg insects, birds and animals in the wild it’s all about controlling bokah and any spurious foreground objects that detract from the image. For landscapes its all about composition and viewpoint and for portraits, it’s about controlling and manipulating light efficiently. Before entering your images, ask others for their opinions, Quite often we seem images differently and taking on advice before pressing the submit button will often pay dividends.

  • Judges like what they like: I hate to say it but research your judge before entering your images. Your club will often post information on your judge prior to the competition, or at least email you with their name, closing dates etc. All you then need do is visit any resources where they add their own images. This could be the associations they are affiliated to, their own personal website, instagram or facebook. Knowing your judge doesn’t mean an automatic placing but it does mean you are maximising your chance of the judge understaning your work and being naturally drawn to it. Be aware though, judges might often feel that they are at the top of their game and you presenting an image that is close to, equal to or, worse still, better than anything they have done, might not go down too well. Just a thought!

  • Judges like familiar things done a little differently: If you are a judge you are going to see 1000’s of landscapes, 1000’s of wildlife shots and 1000’s of sports images. Differentiating your image from others in the competition you are entering, or from all those that the judge has seen before, is what is going to win you a placing or a spot in the top three. It’s no good choosing that image from your archives on the day of the competition, those decisions need to have been made before you pressed the shutter. Location, position, angle of view, getting high, or low, weather and a whole lot more will come into play here so be thoughtful, be wise and be patient.

  • Judges are taught how to judge: Get hold of a copy of the guidence issued to judges by the various associations they are affiliated to. There will be judging guidence issued by those associations because judges are trained to judge. If you know what they know, then you are better able to consider what of your photography will work best.

There will be other things club judges look for in a competition entry but I think the above guidence, certainly from my experience, constitutes a good start point. Personally, I rail against club competitions because I am less interested in winning than I am about what the photograph means to me. For me, it is often the imperfections and vageries of my images, that would no doubt degrade my chances of success in competitions, that attracted me to press the shutter.

Do I enter club competitions? I have done with some success but as my interests continue to evolve, that need is becoming less and less attractive nowadays.

Digitising Film | The final solution – almost!

Digitising Film | The final solution – almost!

Over the past week or two I’ve been experimenting with ways of capturing digital images directly from film negatives. I’ve been trying to do this as cheaply as possible by using as much of the gear as I have to hand to keep costs down. I’ve already created a couple of posts on this topic and you’ll find these in the March archives if you want to understand more about this journey. So as not to duplicate what I’ve already written, I’ll just tell you that the most successful method I’ve found to date is to use a digital camera and a scanning mask. Now in fairness, you can pretty much stop there as this method really does work and the total cost, given that I already have the camera and lens, was just £32 for the scanning mask (including delivery). This ultra cheap method simply requires a decent lens, close focusing or macro if you have one, the scanning mask, this holds the film flat, and a window for the light source, ideally north facing as you need flat light for this job. This remarkably simple setup captures negatives quickly and accurately although you will need to do some basic post-processing on the captured images e.g. inversion, cropping, basic adjustments to exposure, whites and blacks etc.

The process is simplicity itself, just set the camera on auto focus, although manual works equally well, choose a shutter speed of at least 1/60s and set ISO to 200 or lower. That’s it really. Hit the shutter and you have your digital image in camera. With regards the light, a flat grey day is ideal for this job and you need to make sure that there’s no trees or buildings in the frame else they’ll show on the digital image. A perfect day for this job is a rainy, grey day where there’s no direct sun. North facing windows are perfect but this window is west facing and works equally well.

North windows provide ideal flat light. This window is west facing but on a grey day, it works just as well.
Holding the negatives against a flat light allows you to photograph them with relative ease using a tripod

Another approach that works well is to use your camera and lens with a light box, flash head, trigger and tripod. I made a simple light box from an A4 cardboard documents box with a lid. I cut a rectangular hole in the side, into which I pushed the flash head, a rectangular hole in the center of the top slightly bigger than a 35mm negative i.e. 45mm x 34mm works well. With the flash head pushed inside the box, I had already lined this with some silver foil to bounce the light around, I placed a piece of white paper under the flash head curving up the opposite side,somewhat like an infinity wall as found in a studio. I then popped a diffuser on the flash head. With that all done I set the flash power to 1/64 and, as the flash head is adjustable, I set the ISO to 100 and zoom to 14mm to help spread the light. On test, this setup was perfect for backlighting the negative.

My current digital setup. The flash head can just be seen protruding into the light box.

Moving on to the camera, I found that autofocus was problematic so I set the camera to manual focus. The next problem is that without any useful light on the negative surface, focusing was hit and miss despite focus peaking being available. An easy fix is to have a suitable light available to iilluminate the film surface but as I didn’t have one handy, I simply changed the shutter speed from 1/125s (set for the flash) to something really slow like 2s (this is good at night) or Auto if during the day. This lights up the scene allowing accurate focus to be set (using focus peaking) right on the plane of the film. You should also ensure that the mask is dead centre of your lens. Once set, I simply changed the shutter speed back to 1/125s and activated the shutter. The satisfying flash tells you the job’s done. Slide to the next frame and repeat. Here are some examples of images captured using this setup but please bear in mind that the resolution of these images is very poor because of the lens I was using. The best physical size I could create with this technique was 1080 x 760 and of course, dispaying on the web doesn’t help with quality as these are only 72dpi. However if you read on you’ll see I have some good ideas as to how to hugely improve focus, resolution and size and therefore capture the (almost) perfect digitised image.

Low resolution images. Enhancements to my setup will enable me to capture 6000 x 4000 images.

Before discussing “where to next” I just want to say something about converting the digitised images into positive images. I know many out there will be using Photoshop, Capture One or another pricey editor but I have been using On1 PhotoRaw a lot recently. Firstly, It’s a very capable editor and the more I use it the more I like it. It also operates now as a plugin to AffinityPhoto, my other favourite “heavy lifting” photo editor. In fact the two combined are a killer combination matching I would say, Photoshop and Lightroom, albeit Photoshop does have more add-ins and macros. That being said, why on earth would I want to shell out indefinately on a subscription when I bought a perpetual licence of AffinityPhoto and On1 2021 for just £70. On1 also has some really good features, not least image management, presets (and the ability to easily create your own presets) and of course it’s a 1st class editor. If there’s something I can’t do in On1, I simply pop over to Affinity calling On1 as a plugin if I need to in order to finess the final result. For the above images, given that this is purely a test, I created and saved a preset which inverts the negative, crops and levels it, applies a tone curve and then balances the whites, blacks, shadows and highlights. In a second I have my positive image practically finished and all I then need to do to finess it is to push up or pull down exposure or add some contrast and fine tweak the sliders. Getting to the finished image from the film strip takes a few minutes at most.

Having atained some success then with my “Heath Robinson” method of negative film digitising, my next project is to improve on this setup by engineering a more rugged, reliable and accurate light box. Now, I had considered buying a Skier Light box and 35mm mask, about £160 including shipping from Taiwan, but I’m finding that the flash method I am using is working OK albeit that I need to better control negative position and focus. For example, I need to be able to position the scanning mask much more accurately over the cutout so that every image is the same and is always in perfect focus. I also need to be able to capture a bigger image. At the moment I’m using the Fuji x-t1 with an 18-55 f2.8-4. This is capturing an image considerably smaller than what I ideally need due to the fact that this lens is not close focusing or a macro lens. With these points in mind I have purchased the Nikon 105mm f2.8 AF-S D which I intend to use with my Nikon D600 full frame camera. This will give me a full size 1:1 image reducing the need to edit every frame, especially if I engineer the positioning of the negative accurately. The 1:1 ratio will also produce a digital image with maximum detail and resolution. It’s not a cheap solution, £195 on Ebay, but it the best solution for my needs. To improve the light box, I’ve just purchased a wooden box from Amazon, this cost £14, to which I will fix an indexed runner that the Lomography Digitaliser will move against. This will ensure much more accurate positioning of the scanning mask and negative over the cutout in the box lid. While I recognise that the scanning mask is a weak link, and indeed, I have found a much better solution which costs £90, I’m going to stick with my solution for a while to try it out. If I need to upgrade, I know where to go.

That’s about it for now folks. Take care.

Digitising Film | Natural window backlight vs Huawei P20 Pro Backlight

Digitising Film | Natural window backlight vs Huawei P20 Pro Backlight

As I get more and more into using film again, I am learning something new every day. Today, I was trying to digitise some Ilford FP4 film negatives that i had taken yesterday and I was using my Lomography Digitalize 35mm Scanning Mask to hold the film strip over a white screen app on my Huawei P20 Pro. Now, the white light from the Huawei app looks very clean although of course, I knew that there are going to be some issues with colour as it’s unlikely that it’s a high CRI index and besides, I could see some magenta in the digitised images. What I didn’t expect was to be able to capture the actual screen structure, this looks like a patchwork of brush strokes, which was bleeding through the film negative and being captured by my camera. The easiest way to explain this is to show you a zoomed in area of the image, this is 500% zoomed, so that this all makes more sense.

As you can see, the cross hatching obliterates any detail in the image plus it destroys the grain. Now, I hadn’t noticed this previously on other images albeit I was seeing some significant degredation in the image which I put down to camera focusing issues when I took the image. Perhaps not! Now I realise that it is the Huawei that is injecting these artifacts into the image I can start thinking about ways to overcome this. The easiest and cheapest way to create a backlight, although not necessarily the most efficient way, is to use natural light through a window. Now, to get ths perfectly right we are going to need a very flat grey backlight or at the very least, non direct sunlight. That’s not always easy of course, although with the dull weather we have been having here in the UK recently, it’s probably a little easier for us. So, having had a few goes, this next shot, again zoomed in at 500%, is using natural window light to backlight the negatives. The difference is quite stark, far less interference with the base image so more detail.

Where’s this is leading me I dont know to be honest but it’s certainly taking me away from using Huawei P20 Pro as a backlight. I could knife and fork something together to hold my Lomography digitalizer and film against the window and then set up my camera and tripod to capture this this but I don’t feel that this is an ideal solution. I’ll be thinking about this a lot over the next few days so join me again then.

Part 2: Digitising film with a camera setup!

Part 2: Digitising film with a camera setup!

If you are familiar with this blog you’ll already know that in recent times I have been experimenting with film, film developing and more laterly, trying to get my film negatives into the digital domain. Now, the constraints I have set myself for this experiment has been to use what I have readily around me. I no that to do a professional job I need to spend money but the brief here is to do it with the bits of kit l have easily to hand. If i go down the route of spending money to achieve 1st class results, I will document this with another blog. On y va (let’s go!)

If you have read Part 1 of this blog you will already know that I pursued the scanning route as an easy first option. For these experiments I used an old HP flatbed office scanner and a home made back lighting system to digitise the image to my PC. You can find out how this went by visiting the article here . This second part then is to photograph my negatives using either my Fuji x-t1 or my Nikon D600. Now, I’ve tried various lenses with the x-t1 with the most successful so far being the Fujinon 18-55 f2.8-4 albeit that the magnification of the image is pretty poor as you would expect. That’s primarily because the closest focusing distance is a tad under 12″. Other lenses for the x-t1 that I have tried include the Samyang 12mm f2 and the Viltrox 23mm f1.4, both of which focus closer but the short focal length is tending to cause problems. Before I go on to discuss the inadequacies of these lenses in any more detail, I just want to talk a little about the negatives I am trying to digitise as the quality of these is hugely pertinent to this post.

With regards working with film, in this case Kentmere B&W film, I have noticed several key factors that are going to affect the quility of the digitised results irrespective of the digitising method used. These issues are:

  • The film stock chosen (not all film is created equally)
  • The camera used to capture the images
  • The lighting / exposure associated with the film at time of capture
  • How well the camera focused on the subject at time of capture
  • The quality and consistency of the development process

Developing the film aside for one moment, one of the the bigger problems I have found is that what I thought were good negatives on initial inspection were in fact, incredibly variable across the roll. The biggest factor in this was thinking that my old Pentax SLR was going to behave in the same way to light conditions as my newish Fuji x-t1 digital camera. If I thought that, I certainly need to rethink that now! In addition, I am using a manual camera, the Pentax KM is fully manual, with a manual lens and so nailing bank on exposure and focus, especially with these old eyes, is not as easy as I remember it. I haven’t used this old Pentax KM seriously in about 40 years. As such, it is possible that the Pentax is showing it’s age as much as I am!  The two lenses I have for this camera are a Vivitar 35-70mm f2.8-3.8 zoom and a Pentax 50mm f1.7 pancake. Now, I’m prety sure that these lenses are probably more than acceptable if I have been using them at anything other than f8, which I am pretty sure I have, then I am likely to be on a hiding to nothing with regards image sharpness. For example, trying to use focus peaking on an old SLR is proving somewhat more of a challange for these old eyes than I imagined it would be. This all being said, my concern is that irrespective of the camera and lens setup that I use to digitise the negative, that setup is going to struggle if the base image is poor. More on this later.

Going back now to the lenses I do have access to, while the Samyang has the closest focusing distance of the three, it’s about 9″, it’s really difficult to focus manually especially in a setup where you can’t easily access the viewfinder. The Viltrox 23mm f1.4 has improved on this situation in that it has automatic focusing and is tack sharp at f8 but it’s closest focusing distance is about 11″ so i moving further away from the negative, not getting closer to it. That leaves me with the 18-55mm which has improved on the situation again, especially at f8. The down side to all these lenses is that the shooting speed has been down around 1/4s when I really want to be shooting at 1/30 -1/60 so as to avoid any shutter shake which will undoubtadly make the situation even worse. This is because I really don’t want to push the ISO up, I am using 200 for these experiments, as this will degrade my images. Besides, in order to achieve 1/30s I’d need to increase ISO by 3 stops which would mean an ISO of 1600 and that will mean a degredation of the image and a big injection of noise and that is not something I want to do.

So, given all of this playing around, am I getting anywhere? Well actually yes, I think I am. The results of using the 18-55 @ f8 despite the slow shutter speed produce the best IQ I have managed to achieve so far. Substantially better in fact than the Heath Robinson scanner experments I outlined in my first blog a day or so ago. It’s clear from what i am finding that, irrespective of the quality of the image I am starting with, that using a mirrorless or DSLR camera with a good close focus lens and a suitable, high quality light source and negative holder is going to yield dividends.

The images above are part of a 6 image strip that I have been playing with. I have digitised them using the Fuji x-t1 and 18-55mm setup discussed above. While they do suffer from the shooting defects I have been talking about e.g. poor focus and highly variable lighting conditions, they are better than anything else I have so far managed to digitise. Here’s the gear I used for this experiment.

  • Fujifilm x-t1 mirrorless camera with Fujinon 18-55mm f2.8-4 lens
  • Manfrotto tripod with multi-adjustment ball head
  • Huwaei P20 Pro with a downloaded white backlight app
  • Lomography Digitalizer 35mm Scanning Mask

So, what next? Well, I feel at least that I am on the right track using a camera rather than a scanner to transfer the images from negatves to digital. The problem I have is that it’s becoming clear that I am going to need a decent close focus lens, ideally a 1:1 macro lens. I also need a more robust light source so that I can shoot at higher shutterspeeds as well as maintain f8.  The images above were back lit by my old Huwaei P20 Pro which although doing an admirable job, is not ideal so I need to find a more consistent, high CRI rated light box. Finally, I’d also like to use the Nikon D600 purely because it’s a good quakity 35mm digital camera so the IQ of the image with the right lens should be much better than from the Fuji x-t1. Another reason for wanting to use the D600 is that it is sitting in the cupboard gathering dust so this would give it a new lease of life. Besides, with a decent macro lens it might prompt me to take it out a bit more as it shoots great photos.