Saturday, May 17, 2014

DIY Wireless Remote Control for DSLR: CamRanger functionality, 1/10 the price

If you have a portable device running Android OS and have always wanted to do wireless remote control of your Canon or Nikon DSLR, but found the $300 cost of a CamRanger a bit too steep, well, have I got a solution for you! A $35 solution, in fact.

There are four components to this - an Android device, a supported DSLR, an app called DSLR Dashboard, and a portable, battery-powered TP Link. MR3040 mini router. If you want to hardwire this directly to the Android device, then you would need a USB OTG cable, which would add about $6 to the total price.

Many medium to high end Nikon and Canon cameras have the capability of connecting to a computer via USB cable for tethered operation. Some software, like Lightroom or Capture One, will allow the capturing of images and saving them to the hard drive. Other software like Nikon's Camera Control Pro 2 ($179) will allow full control of all camera functions, and you can download/upload different settings for specific shooting conditions. This is all very cool, but none of these address the wireless part, and none provide a touch-screen interface.

After looking at length at the Camranger solution, which is actually very good as it addresses full camera control, remote operation and works with iOS and Android, I seem to remember seeing their little wireless interface at some point in the past. After a little research I came up with what appeared to be a dead ringer for the CamRanger interface - the TP-Link MR3040 mini-router. It even uses the same battery.

After a little more Googling for "diy wireless remote control of dslr" and scrolled through all of the CamRanger propaganda, I came across this wonderful YouTube video tutorial on how to make it all come together.

The tutorial is extremely detailed and easy to follow, and the entire process to set up the router for this takes but a few minutes.

DSLR Dashboard Main Remote Screen

The software is very well thought through. In addition to the camera functions, it also adds automatic focus stacking, automatic HDR, and using the Time Lapse control you can even have the software adjust exposure. This feature is great for time lapse sequences of sunsets, and day to night, where lighting changes dramatically.

Other features include:

  • burst mode - where you can specify how many images will be captured in sequence
  • expanded exposure delay - from 1 to 3 seconds in 1 second increments
  • finger tap focus - select focus point and acquire focus with a single touch
  • mike monitor - shows audio levels for microphone
  • multiple image review options - you can choose to review jpg and/or raw after capture, or disable review
  • built-in image browser - for viewing low-res previews of captured images
  • key camera/lens data reporting - shows focal length, aperture, shutter speed, remaining shots, which memory card is in use, which autofocus sensors are in use, flash mode, exp comp,  focus mode, meter mode, metadata copyright info, etc
  • image comment function - it is easy to key in a comment about an image using the device's keyboard.
In the few short hours I have had with this it has been a total pleasure. It is very intuitive and all functions are readily available without having to page through menus or subpages. There is a simplified or "Lite" screen with only basic adjustments visible, as well as a full-screen view.

For space and performance issues, with a D800 or other similar camera that produces very large files it is best to not review images after capture, and not download the images to the tablet/phone.

There is always the option to use this with a cable. The D800 is a USB 3.0 device, as is the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2, which is what I have used for this review. File transfers are actually pretty quick, all things considered.

This is an excellent, low cost solution to remote camera operation. It has many applications, such as in studio, (though wired-tethered to a laptop or desktop machine will be a better option), closeup and macro photography (using the auto focus stacking control), real estate photography where you need to place the camera either on a pole or in a place where you cannot easily trigger the shutter, low angle shots, so you don't have to worry about getting your clothes dirty (using the touch focus mode), backyard bird feeder shots (where you can use a faster shorter focal length lens to get in really close - to mention just a few.

I hope you have as much fun with this as I have.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

An Update! My experience with OnOne MUCH better than expected!

In my past post I described the soon to be released Perfect Photo Suite 8 from OnOne. It was released at the end of November, and it does not disappoint. For the majority of users, this software shortens photo editing time to minutes per image. It has become a permanent component of my editing workflow - which includes Lightroom and Photoshop.

I do like to push the envelope, however, and in the middle of processing a 1.3gb panorama, I ran into some performance issues. And this is where I am so glad I purchased this suite. I sent an email to OnOne's technical support people, and described in detail what I was experiencing. Within a day they responded that they would like to see the file, and invited me to share a Dropbox folder where I could place the file for their analysis. This all took place in less than 24 hours.

Their response is unusual in today's IT world - with most of the big companies outsourcing their tech support overseas. Try and get a meaningful response from Adobe, for instance. Not that I am bashing Adobe, mind you, but technical assistance is not one of their strong points.

Even if the issue is not immediately resolved, I am certain that I will be satisfied with the result, based on the  manner in which their tech support and customer service departments have so far responded.

For those of you unfamiliar with Dropbox, it is a cloud-based data duplication and collaboration tool. When you sign up for the free account you get 2gb space. If you need more space you can purchase a paid account. Another way to increase beyond 2gb and remain free of charge is to recommend others. For each person that signs up for an account based on your recommendation you get an additional 500mb of space added to your account, for a total of up to 16 gb. There are other ways to increase the size of your free account that are fully described on their website,

Saturday, October 12, 2013

OnOne Software's Perfect Photo Suite 8 Public Beta Now Available

Every now and then a new software product emerges to fill a vacuum left by another one. I believe OnOne Software's Perfect Photo Suite 8 is that package.

Adobe's decision to refocus the target of it's entire product line on the needs of the "corporate graphics department" has left such a vaccum. All aspects of their product line - from product functionality and features  right down to its delivery vehicle - has left a substantial number of photographers in a lurch. Unwilling to go along with Adobe's move to CC for political, philosophical or economic reasons, many smaller studios and freelancers, along with students and hobbyists have opted to stay with previous versions of Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. While viable options exist in the form of GIMP, Photoline, and Corel's line of graphics and photo editing products, many have decided to stay with the devil they know, rather than switching to the devil they don't know and having to learn a whole new way of doing things.

Let's face it. Until now, Photoshop has enjoyed it's mostly unrivaled position as THE software choice to use to edit photographs - even though it is much more than that. And therein lies the catch. For the average photographer, Photoshop is way much more than you need with its 500-plus commands and intimidating and often unintuitive processes and cryptic terminology. Adobe's alternative, non-CC, entry-level Elements unfortunately is targeted at hobbyists and beginners, and often falls short of the needs of the professional. A;though the interface is familiar, there are many "photo-editing-oriented"  tools and procedures that are missing from Elements. Adobe has clearly positioned it as a hook to get users involved in order to upgrade them to their industrial-strength product line.

That was the bad news. The good news is that Perfect Photo Suite 8 is positioned to fill in the gap between the two applications - offering a photographer-centric set of tools, streamlined procedures, module-based aggregation of commands and operations that deliver results as good as what can be achieved in Photoshop CS or CC, without all the clutter of 500 commands, and in a common sense, organized work environment. It is developed with the busy photographer in mind - one that has limited time to spend in front of a computer screen to either work in an application or learn one.

It's biggest benefit is it's ease of use and common-sense approach-ability. Challenging operations that often take considerable time on Photoshop to get right, such as masking, color balancing, portrait editing, local contrast, color, and tonal adjustments, hdr, and others - are reduced to a matter of minutes. Saving effects to be used in the future, creating favorites, browsing for files, adding borders and textural overlays, literally take seconds.

This is a professional quality product that provides the photographer with an extremely powerful set of tools to enable the realization of creative vision, without having to take hours of courses and seminars to learn. Mastery is finally at the photographer's fingertips.

The new version 8 offers content aware operations, a more streamlined Effects module, which now includes Focal Point, their lens effects module. A new Enhance module uses a combination of powerful filters and adjustment, masking, retouch and eraser brushes to easily make your images pop with eye-catching beauty. A redesigned Browser is now available to all the modules, making it easier than ever to find exactly what you are looking for. Batch processing further extends the feature set, automating operations that require multiple steps, without the need to record actions.

The only function that is missing is noise removal - as it stands, you will need to go to another application to do noise abatement, then open Perfect Photo Suite -

As in previous versions, Perfect Photo Suite 8, work either as a fully functional stand alone program, or as plug-ins for Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture. The target date for final release of version 8 is November 26, but you can download the public beta right now at , or you can take advantage of the current special, where OnOne is making their current suite, v7.5 available for $180 for the full standalone/Lightroom/Aperture/Photoshop plugin, and $130 if you don't need Photoshop capability and only $80 if your needs are entirely served by OnOne, and you don't need any plugin capability. In any configuration, you will get a free training video and v8 on its release date.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Some thoughts on Street Photography . . .

Winter scene on Bow Bridge, Central Park, NYC 2013
I am a member of the Westchester Photographic Society, a group of photographers ranging in skill level from beginner to seasoned professional. At a recent meeting the club announced it would be holding a themed competition. The subject matter? Street Photography. My first thought was “Wow! What a great topic for a blog post!” Memories of an earlier time in my life began to surface, when on a typical day I would grab my Leica M4, walk the streets of NYC, snapping pictures of random subjects along the way. I could remember the anticipation I felt as I rushed home as fast as I could to develop the film and print my pictures in my darkroom.
Back in 1969 I was just a novice. When I wasn't out taking pictures, I was devouring the photo magazines of the day - Modern Photography, Popular Photography, US Camera. All provided the latest tips and tricks from the experts. These publications also featured numerous in-depth articles that discussed the classic images shot by the current and earlier masters. Yet, as much as I enjoyed learning about the images of Weston, Adams, Steiglitz, Lartigue, Avedon and others, it was the work of French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson that attracted me the most.

The "Father of Street Photography"
Henri Cartier-Bresson and his Leica
Henri Cartier-Bresson's tool of choice was the 35mm Leica camera. His specialty was Candid Street Photography or, as he coined it, life reportage. Cartier-Bresson captured life in the streets as it was unfolding, as an observer. He took great pains to ensure that his presence with his camera did not exert any influence on the final image. He even covered his chrome-colored camera in black tape to disguise the fact it was a camera. Trained as an artist, he used his sense of composition and understanding of tonal values to bring form and balance to his images, yet he was able to capture, with great precision, the fleeting moments that make his work so unique. He was a master of capturing the "Decisive Moment." His images bore witness life as HE saw it, but not in the same fashion that a photojournalist might. Cartier-Bresson’s images reflected a highly personal point of view. Documentary or photojournalistic photography tends to be less about the point of view of the shooter and more about recording an image for an employer and a specific target audience. Understandably, either kind of image can sometimes straddle that often fuzzy line between the two disciplines.
The technical aspects of Henri Cartier-Bresson's images were secondary to the content. The images reflected a lot of rule breaking when it came to exposure, focus and framing. He was the master at combining a raw "feel" with a finished "look" in his images. His approach to photography was something both the amateur with a Kodak Brownie camera as well as the pro with the high end gear could embrace. His work became a source of inspiration to scores of photographers, photojournalists and just about anyone with a camera. One cannot talk about street photography without bringing up his name - clearly his ground-breaking work was the cutting edge at the time, and has earned him the reputation of "Father of Street Photography."
Henri Cartier-Bresson's Original Leica
Street photography as a discipline is as old as 35mm film itself. An optical engineer and designer at Ernst Leitz Microscope Company in Wetzlar, Germany named Oscar Bernack, really kicked things off when he invented the 35mm Leica camera and the film to go with it back in 1913. Up until then cameras were large, heavy and required a crew to set up, pose the subjects and shoot a picture. The media was typically glass plate or large piece of sheet film in a film holder. Shooting a picture was a painstakingly slow process. If an image had the appearance of a candid capture, more than likely it was staged to look that way.
Ad for Kodak's Folding Roll Film Camera c1910
Kodak had been toying with smaller roll film folding cameras, but you can see that they were large, and needed to be unfolded before use - hardly a quick grab and shoot situation. But once  Bernack’s tiny Leica showed up it changed everything, "miniaturizing" both the equipment and the medium and eliminating the bulky tripod, camera and boxes of plates or film holders. Being able to reach in one’s pocket, whip out a camera, quickly snap a picture was ground-breaking. To be able to do so repeatedly 24 or 36 times before needing to reload the film was a wonderful thing. And being able to carry multiple rolls of film to capture hundreds of images really opened up a multitude of creative possibilities.
Street photography, unlike any other specialty, provides both the photographer and the viewer with an extraordinary window into the ordinary daily routine of average, and sometimes not so average subjects. When executed correctly, effective street photography draws the viewer into the image, allowing the viewer to experience something unusual and making a lasting visual impression.

Bookends Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC 2013
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC 2013
One of the joys of this kind of photography was that one could never really be quite sure of what exactly was going to turn up on the roll of film. It was not uncommon for a photographer to concentrate on a particular element, often unaware of elements in the background or off to the sides. Sometimes a picture would end up being a combination of unexpected elements within that image; often times unnoticed and unplanned for.

The photo above and the one to the left were taken within seconds of one another, from the same vantage point. After looking at my captures, I realized that there were at least two images, each very different in feel. Totally unplanned, this was a pleasant surprise. 
For almost the same reasons, computers and digital technology have done for street photography what Bernack’s little camera did 100 years ago. Digital technology has made possible instantly viewable results, providing high quality images, and comparatively more convenience. The Internet allows anyone who is interested the ability to view what other photographers have created, and an almost endless supply of articles and blog posts on the subject of taking pictures.
There are at least two popular schools of thought relating to street photos - hands off and hands on. The average street photographer will use mostly a hands-off, candid approach. However, many photographers are quite successful at creating wonderful portraits after a brief interaction with their subjects. People are the typical subject, but a good street photo can include an animal, vehicle, doorway, shadows, silhouettes, etc - and will often depict some type of involvement between the subject and his/her/it's environment. It is in the randomness of an event or juxtaposition of visual elements, or the unusual way in which the subject is reacting to or with the environment that can make a great street photograph.
Using Cartier-Bresson’s work as a prime example - you don't need a big, fancy, expensive camera to take great images. The Leica rangefinder camera was the camera of choice because it was light and very quiet - and due to its exceptionally good optics, it could record images of great quality on 35mm film. Yet it was tiny enough that could be carried in a pocket, and when used it was seldom noticed.
Today's equivalent would be a camera phone or a point and shoot camera. Small and inconspicuous and completely ubiquitous, one of these hardly raises an eyebrow when used. On the other hand, a digital SLR can be used but it is big and attracts far more attention. The better the lens and body quality, the bigger and more impressive they are to look at, and people do look. This is not to say that you cannot take good street photos with a big DSLR. But you should be aware that when you carry a professional quality camera it is harder to be “stealthy” and you will lose the element of surprise in some situations. Modern DSLRs are also quite loud, so you may only be able to get one or two pics before the subject is aware and moves on, especially if you are in a quiet venue. This “feature” will have a definite impact on how you will shoot your candids, not to mention how many images of a particular subject you will be able to get before you are “made.”
My personal preference is to simply observe the subject and capture purely candid shots, often with the camera at my hip or some other position where I am not bringing the camera to my eye and alerting subjects that their picture is about to be taken. This technique results in completely unposed, casual captures and many pleasant surprises. I seldom interact with the subject, ask their permission or create a “less than candid” situation. While I recognize that interaction permits you to get great shots of very interesting people up close and personal, along with a story to enhance the viewer's experience, I can also miss a totally candid moment or worse - my request to photograph a subject can be refused. A benefit of interaction, however, is that when you encounter a particularly interesting subject, you may get additional future opportunities to take their picture. Both approaches are perfectly valid and will provide wonderful images. In using the stealth mode I really enjoy finding the cool, unplanned "stuff" that shows up in my pictures.
Technique-wise, there are no big secrets.
High ISO settings will provide fast shutter speeds and smaller lens openings for greater depth of field. If you are using a camera capable of full manual operation, set the ISO as high as possible and still be able to produce a decent quality image. On my D700 that would be an ISO 1600 in average, not too-contrasty light, or as high as ISO 3200 in flat light. This will enable you to set a shutter speed to minimize camera and or subject movement, and a small enough f/stop so that you have enough depth of field for just about any shot.
Hyper-focal distance, wide angle lenses and pre-focusing will eliminate the need to focus at the time of capture. You can use a wide-angle-capable point and shoot, or a larger DSLR with a lens that ideally offers a 75 degree or greater angle of view. This would mean a 28mm lens on a full frame camera or a 18 mm lens on an APS-C cropped sensor camera. A small advanced point and shoot like the Fujifilm F600EXR has a 4.4mm lens, which is equivalent to 24 mm, while the Nikon P7100 and Canon G12 have a zoom lens that can get you to 75 degree angle of view as well.
For those of you unfamiliar with these terms I will explain them one at a time.
Depth of Field is the front to back distance in which the subject you are focusing on will be in reasonably sharp focus. This is determined by the focal length of the lens, the lens f/stop, and the distant between you and the subject, (image magnification on the sensor). The closer you are (bigger the image is on the sensor) the shorter the depth of field and vice versa. Using a smaller lens opening will increase the depth of field. Using a shorter (wider angle) lens will also increase depth of field at a given distance. One of the best resources I have found is Don Fleming's wonderful website DOF Master. Here you will find the answers to all of your focus and depth of field questions, as well as an online calculator with an up-to-date camera database, purchasable phone apps, a printable rotary calculator, and tons of useful information and links to other sites. I use the iPhone app all the time. Cambridge in Colour also has a wonderful, easy to understand discussion on depth of field that is worth a read.
Hyper-focal Distance is defined as the distance that you would set your focus to in order to achieve the greatest depth of field. At this setting, the distant objects (infinity distance away) would be in focus, as well as objects at the shortest distance (half the camera to subject distance). In the example above, a 4.4 mm lens on the Fuji F600EXR would have a hyper-focal distance of 12 inches, which results in a near limit of 6 inches and a far limit of infinity.
On a D700 with its much larger sensor, you would need a 24 mm lens in order to provide the same angle of view. However, at 24mm there would be less depth of field compared to the Fuji with its 4.4mm lens. The hyper-focal distance would also be greater. At F11, the 24mm lens would have a hyper-focal distance of 67.8 inches, and total maximum depth of field would be from 33.9 inches to infinity. If it weren’t for image quality considerations, the ideal camera would be that one in your telephone, with its tiny sensor, since just about everything would be in focus all the time. But 33.9 inches to infinity is still very easy to work with.
There is some confusion about sensor cropping and how it affects depth of field. The short answer is that it doesn't. The long answer has to do with circles of confusion, airy disk, the printed image size, viewing distance etc. and is beyond the scope of this blogpost.
Logically, when you use a cropped sensor camera, all you are doing is using less than the full sensor on a 35mm camera. The depth of field that existed before you "masked off" part of the sensor remains, just as if you enlarged the center 5x7 section of an 8x10 print to 8x10. What you do affect is the angle of view, which will give you more "reach" in telephoto situations, and less "wide" when using wide angle lenses. Cropping a sensor will diminish sharpness and expose the "granular" quality (pixels) of an image. Here is something to keep in mind that illustrates the above points. Take two images, at the same sensor resolution, lets say a 12 mp image taken with a full sized sensor (D700) and a 150mm lens, and the equivalent image taken with a cropped sensor (D300) and a 100mm lens (the equivalent focal length), keeping the same ISO, lens opening shutter speed, etc. The image taken with the D700 will show less granularity (pixelation), better pixel-level detail (assuming similar lens quality), and less depth of field - after all, you are using a longer focal length. When printed, this will apparent loss of sharpness and increase in granularity on the image taken with the cropped sensor will diminish as you increase the viewing distance.

Reading the Morning Paper
Bethesda Underpass, Central Park NYC 2013
Focusing. You have some choices here. The hyper-focal distance is the one-size-fits-all approach to focusing in street photographs. Images will have a similar look, with just about everything in the frame in reasonable focus. Those objects/subjects closest to the hyper-focal distance will be sharpest, and those that are up to half the camera-subject distance to infinity will look pretty good. One tends to see the world this way. But with a camera you have the option to direct the viewer's attention to a particular element in the image using focus to separate what is important from what isn't. Here is where you might want to set your camera at a different focus point, maybe open the lens up a stop or two, and try to keep your camera to subject distance within the depth of field determined by your camera settings.
Here is an example of how you might approach all of this. Let's say you are using a D700 with a 28mm lens. At F11 the hyper-focal distance would be 7.67 ft, the near focus point would be 3.8 ft and the far point would be infinity. However, if you open the lens to f8, the hyperfocal becomes 10.8 ft, and the near limit is 5.2 ft. If you want to blur the background to provide some separation, you will need to do two things - open the lens further and shorten the focusing distance. Opening the lens to F5.6 will move the hyper-focal to 15.2 ft and the near limit to 7.1 ft, but the backgound will appear fairly sharp. If your subject is more than 7.5 ft away, everything in the frame starting at the subject's position on backward will be pretty sharp. Moving the focus point closer you will be selecting a narrower zone of focus. If your subject is going to be around 8 ft away, and you set your focus to 8 ft, then your depth of field becomes 11.5 ft. so that anything closer than 5.3 ft or further away than 16.7 ft will be soft - but within that zone things will have good detail and sharpness. You can more or less gauge how far 8 ft is and try to ensure that what is important in the image stays within that zone.
One way you can be precise about all of this is to station yourself somewhere, measure up your distances and focus points, and just wait for people to come by as you surreptitiously snap their pictures.
Framing your shot. It is unlikely that you will have the opportunity to bring the camera to your eye. If you are fortunate enough you might have a camera with an articulated preview screen, allowing you to tilt it up for a waist-level view through the camera. However, looking down at a camera's preview screen is only slightly less obvious than holding it to your eye. If the element of surprise is important, it's best to learn how to shoot from the hip. Not only will you be stealthier, but your point of view will be lower, providing a more natural perspective.
Black Rapid RS-7
I use a Black Rapid brand strap which slings the camera across your shoulder to the opposite hip. The strap attaches to the tripod mounting socket on the camera, allowing the camera to hang upside down. Tilting the camera up for a picture is easy to do and the strap will offer a little extra stability when you pull the camera tight against it. I use a wide angle lens so that I can crop a bit later. The image below is an example where I used this technique.

A Private Moment in a Public Place
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC 2013
Legal and Safety Considerations. It is hard to imagine someone can make a case for invasion of privacy in a public setting, but it can happen. There are other reasons why you might want to think about the subjects you will be shooting. The list below is far from exhaustive, but it should give you a good sense of what constitutes a good idea vs a bad idea. It’s always best to use good judgment and common sense – if there is any doubt, don’t take the picture. Be smart and stay safe.

Color vs Black and White. Black and white is the traditional medium for street photographs. This is not to say that you can’t use color. I have seen some excellent images in color. However,monochrome images tend to have a more contemplative feel to them and less distraction from the color factor. Below is an example of an image I took that I feel is more effective in color than B&W.

Lobby of Metropolitan Museum of Art,
NYC 2013
1.      Children. You can take pics of kids, but it would appear very creepy if you sat on a playground park bench day after day
shooting images of children. Bad Idea.
2.      Bridges and other points of interest. In today’s times in the United States, the taking
of pictures or videos of bridges and tunnels
can get you arrested. You could be a terrorist, and photographs would provide what you would need to commit an act of terrorism.
Bad idea if you are shooting the bridge, not
as much if it is being incidentally included
in the image.
3.      Illegal activities. Unless you are a private investigator or working for one, stay away
from photographing this stuff. The criminal element will see you long before you take that picture. Just walking through certain areas will get you noticed. Carry a camera and more will notice. The camera can be stolen, or worse, you could end up in an altercation or at the wrong end of a gun. Bad idea.
4.      Law enforcement actions. You are legally permitted to take pictures, from a distance of a cop doing his job. However, not every policeman knows this, and you open yourself to a confrontation with the officer if you do. Use your judgement. If you are across the street and up the block with a long telephoto lens, I suppose you can get away with it. If you are close and looking to get an up close look of the action, you are going to be noticed. If an officer approaches you and demands your camera, be polite and do whatever the officer wants you to do. It will not end well if the cop feels his authority is being undermined. Somewhat ok idea if done with care.
5.      Embarrassing moments. Pictures taken at the beach where nudity is permitted, pictures taken in toilet stalls, changing rooms, cameras looking up women’s skirts or down their blouses – strictly verboten! People do have a reasonable expectation of privacy here. I know it sounds silly, but if it was your picture, you would not want it to go viral on the Internet. Bad idea.
6.      Subways and buses. Nothing wrong with taking pictures in these places. You would be doing nothing illegal. Ok idea.
7.      Museums, restaurants, parks where you pay admission, ski areas, and other paid public venues. Technically you are no longer in public, and the price of admission makes you subject to the property owner’s terms and conditions. It’s always best to check to be sure. Ok idea, with conditions.

8.      Pics taken of buildings where people can be plainly seen through windows. Technically ok if it is a wide angle shot and the view is incidental – this would be considered an urban landscape. It would be considered an invasion of privacy if you are using a 600mm lens with a 2x extender – this would classify you as a peeping tom. The former is an ok idea as long as you use your head.
Here is a blog post by James Estrin entitled Criminalizing Photography that dicusses, in Q&A format, a disturbing trend in the area of street photography vs law enforcement.
Creative considerations: What makes a great street shot? Like any great picture, it’s an image that will slowly reveal itself to you, like a page in a book. It invites more than a casual glance. The viewer may end up imagining a story about it, or simply admiring its visual organization, odd juxtapositions, color or lack thereof - but regardless – a good image is more likely to have an impact and be remembered than one of lesser quality.

If you click on this link, you can view a video where Dr. Shana Gallagher-Lindsay, Dr. Beth Harristhat discuss Henri Cartier-Bresson and the the technological and artistic considerations of his work, in particular as it pertains to his most iconic image. Probably more than any other of his images, this one embodies the concept of the Decisive Moment, a central theme in is work.

Derrière la Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris 1932

 Yeah, I know – this has been a long post with a lot of information, and I have used a very broad paintbrush to describe the essence of a good street photograph. Such is the nature of the beast. Hopefully I have demystified some of the technical aspects of street photography, clarified some misconceptions about how and where you can take pictures, and provided some inspiration to you. So now all that is left is to grab your camera, go out and start taking pictures and start enjoying your results.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

FastStone Image Viewer and EXIFTool Mini Reviews

Several months ago purchased a Fuji Finepix 600EXR on the strength of several online reviews I had read. For $250 I got a camera that had a sharp 15X wide angle zoom, built in GPS with Landmark Navigation, 16 megapixel resolution, a larger sensor with better high ISO performance, full HD video at 30 fps, Fuji’s proprietary EXR dynamic range enhancement technology and RAW file output capability – all in a shirt-pocket sized package. For me, the last feature was most important as I shoot RAW 99% of the time.

And therein was the rub. When I purchased the camera last December, Adobe Camera Raw had just added support for the Fuji RAW file format used in this camera. But unlike NEF – Nikon’s format – I could no longer view thumbnails in Windows Explorer. There was no CODEC available. A CODEC is a software program that "codes/decodes" image and video files - compresses them to store on a drive then decompresses then to view. Without an appropriate CODEC, Windows cannot dislpay thumbnails or open the files in any of the Windows image viewing utilities. 

I like to view thumbnails in Explorer, and sometimes use software other than Photoshop, using a right click and “open with”  to edit images. In my search for a folder-style, Windows Explorer-like quick and easy file viewer I stumbled upon the FastStone Image Viewer. This tight little application offers a veritable cornucopia of useful features that I think many of you will be able to make use of, and it can display RAF files – and just about any other graphic image format I can throw at it.

FastStone Image Viewer Main Screen

I have incorporated it into my workflow, using it to view and cull bad images after importing the contents of my memory card to my computer. It has a very convenient folder/thumbnail/preview screen that resembles Windows Explorer and lets you find things very quickly using the thumbnail view, or in the folder list.

A single click on the preview will show you a magnified view in the preview.

With a double click on the preview you can see a full screen image,

then another click brings you to a 100% view of the image.

As you can see, it can quickly display four different image magifications about as fast as your finger can click the mouse buttons.

Panning and zooming is instant – you only need to left click and drag. The application loads quickly and has an extremely intuitive interface with extensive use of the right click on an image to access key features, making it a very snappy application.

FastStone Image Viewer can read most raw file formats - CRW, CR2, NEF, PEF, RAF, MRW, ORF, SRF, ARW, SR2, RW2 and DNG, as well as graphic file formats – JPEG, BMP, GIF, PNG, TIFF, PCX, TGA JPG2000, PSD, EPS, WMF, CUR, ICO. It can take any of the above formats and convert them to JPEG, BMP, GIF, TIFF PCX, TGA, JPEG2000 and PDF.

Image manipulation tools include lossless rotation/flip, resize/resample, crop, sharpen/blur, adjust lighting/curves/levels/colors,red eye removal, clone stamp, healing brush, etc.

FastStone offers powerful batch processing for renaming, resizing and image format conversion. When resizing for web, the algorithms are so good that it is almost impossible to tell between the low and high res image at screen resolution.

Right Click on Image Flyout Menu
Right clicking on an image reveals a flyout menu that allows you to launch the image editor(s) of your choice, view a full screen image, start a slide show, open the containing folder, delete/copy/move/email/print the image, create a new folder and view file properties.

Tool Flyout Menu

The Tools selection has its own flyout that allows you to access batch convert/rename, change timestamp, jpg lossless rotate, remove jpg metadata, compare images and create a wallpaper image.

The main menu offers a number of timesaving features – image capture from scanner, screen capture, image import, create/edit a slide show or contact sheet, view histogram and file properties, configure and launch the image magnifier, tag images, and a range of useful quick editing tools. You can also annotate and add special effects/watermark/border/frame mask.

This application has become an integral part of my workflow – from importing images from my memory cards, to resizing images for posting on Facebook or on my website. The best part is that is costs nothing for non-commercial use.

EXIFTool by Phil Harvey is another application that serves a unique function that I have come to rely on. When I need to see details about an image, ExifTool offers the complete list, and serves it up quickly. All the particulars of the camera and lens combination that was used to record the image, the metadata, can be viewed for every image that has it attached. It can read, write and edit the metadata, including almost all image tags found in EXIF, GPS, IPTC, XMP, JFIF, MakerNotes, GeoTIFF, ICC Profile, Photoshop IRB, FlashPix, AFCP, ID3 and others from a wide variety of image formats. Data can be output in various formats. You can fix timestamps, rename files, extract saved thumbnails, previews and large JPEGs from RAW files. It has many, many more features that you can read about on Phil Harvey’s site.

For those who are comfortable with DOS-level command line operation, the basic EXE file might be all you need. You can download it here. Instructions for opening and installing the Windows executable file can be found here.  For those of you who prefer a more familiar graphic interface and are using Windows 7, the author has provided a Windows-friendly shell that offers a few more bells and whistles that you can download here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

How to "Miniaturize" A Photo

Is this real or a scale model? Fooled ya, didn't I? No, this is not a scale model you are looking at, but a real-life scene taken at an upstate apple farm a couple of years ago. Using some image manipulations in Photoshop it is possible to create the impression that something is very small using something that is very big.

When looking at a photo, the visual cortex interprets various cues in the image to give the viewer a sense of scale, proximity and space, as well as a sense of live reality. Among them are depth of field, color saturation, the rate of sharpness falloff from front to back, lighting intensity and direction, contrast , point of view - to mention a few.

Depth of field is a big cue. Images of large areas with great depth that are sharp from foreground to background suggest a large space, and you are, in a sense, removed from the immediacy of the setting. Sort of like looking through a window onto the scene. A very shallow depth of field suggests intimacy and closeness where distances are measured in inches and fractions of inches.

Using a point of view  that looks down enhances the impression of smallness, since scale models are rarely seen at what would be ground level (in scale, of course).

Color Saturation is another important cue. In scale models colors are highly saturated and vibrant. Model making materials and colorants usually come this way. But another contributing factor is the intense, directional light that models are often viewed under.

Models of exterior spaces in particular lack the diffuse skylight and "radiosity" that enriches illumination in real life. In simplest terms, radiosity is the diffuse light that is reflected from surfaces in a scene. And this light can be either direct or reflected as well.  Think of sunlight coming through a window - there is a shaft of light falling on a wall or a floor, but the entire room is illuminated, even dark areas under tables and chairs, and shadows are very soft in areaas that are not directly lit. By increasing the contrast the impression is created that there is a single strong and directional light source. Here are a couple of illustrations that might help to explain this phenomenon. The first is an example of ray tracing vs radiosity in a computer generated image, the second is a series of examples when radiosity is progressively applied to a simply lit image.

borrowed from Wikipedia article on radiosity

borrowed from Wikipedia article on radiosity

I've created a simple tutorial that explains how to create a "miniaturized" scene in Photoshop. Load an image that has a high vantage point, some foreground and background, and a focal point in the middle. Here I will be creating a plane of focus that includes the two buildings in the middle left, and the orange tree in the middle right.

I Press Q or select Quick Mask Mode. I use this to define the areas that will receive a lens blur filter and those that won't.

I Select The Gradient tool, or press G. This will apply a graduated mask, with a maximum density that will hold back the blur effect which fades to clear, allowing the full effect to be applied to the image.

I pick the Mirrored Gradient tool option. This will create a blurred area above and below the center, with the effect fading to zero in the exact middle, much as how a lens with limited depth of field would record the image.

The kind of mask I will use will fade the foreground color, black to background color, white. Check to make sure these are correct at the bottom of the toolbar.

I left 00click in the center of the image, the area that I want to be in focus. Holding the mouse button I press Shift to restrict cursor movement to 90 deg vertical, and drag upwards. This will be mirrored, so the amount of movement up is duplicated below the starting point. When I release the cursor, I see a band of red, the default mask color, with the greatest density horizontally across the image at the starting point of the drag and click operation.

I press Q to remove the mask, revealing the "marching ants" designating the areas that will be blurred.

I use the lens blur filter to create a realistic blur in the image.Here its best to play with the settings in preview. A word of warning - the more realistic you want the blur effect you are looking for, the longer it will take to process. The preview really helps here.

When I get it the way I want, I click OK and take a break while Photoshops calculates and applies the effect.

Scale models use materials that have highly saturated colors, so I open the image adjustment Hue Saturation and Lightness command and kick up the saturation a bit. While I am here, I make a slight adjustment to the brightness level.

Last finishing touch is to apply a little vignette in the Lens Correction filter.

It's that easy! Except for the lens blur calculation, it doesn't take much time at all.

Here is another example.

This is a lot of fun, plus it gives you a chance to explore some features in Photoshop that you will be able to use in other situations. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Remove a Color Cast Part II (Threshold Layer)

In my January 27th post I described a way to remove a color cast by using Blur Average to establish an overall average color for a copy of the image, then switching to the original image and using a middle gray eyedropper in a Levels adjustment to sample the averaged image to reset middle gray in the original. This is a simple method that works in many but not all situations. There are times when a color cast is desirable. Sunsets/Sunrises, fireworks, night scenes, etc usually do not need or do not benefit from color balance correction.

Another method I often use actually does two things in one step. It balances the color to neutral and it also establishes a complete tonal range for the image, ensuring that there are black and white areas. The typical candidate for this image is one that has a color cast and is properly exposed, but has a histogram that is completely between and not touching the boundaries. By using a threshold adjustment layer it is easy to find pure black and pure white, then use the sampling eyedroppers in either Levels or Curve adjustment layer to set the corresponding black and white points. In the process of doing this any color cast will usually be removed. The resulting image will have a full tonal range, from pure black to pure white.

Here is a quick how to.

In this image of the Bow Bridge in Central Park, there is an overall warm cast, no black and no white in this image, making it appear dull and drab. In Photoshop, I start by creating an adjustment layer,

Select Threshold type,

giving me a layer that looks like this.

There is an adjustment slider that I will move left or right to find the threshold of black and white levels.

Next, I select the Color Sampler tool, and set the Tool Options to 11x11 average,

then I go back to the adjustment panel for the threshold layer and move the slider all the way to the left until the image turns completely white, then I move the slider slowly to the right until I start to see the first black areas,

sometimes it helps to zoom in so I can be sure to place my Color Sampler tool entirely in the black area,

it is important to reveal just the first area that shows up - the threshold of black - to ensure that I will get the smallest area of black. I use the Color Sampler eyedropper tool and click in the black area. This will leave a non-printing marker that will I will use later.

Now I repeat but this time moving the slider to the right to find the white point, dropping a marker on the white point. After selecting the two points I no longer need the threshold layer, so I can either turn it off or delete it.

Next I create another adjustment layer, either Curves or Levels. Either will provide eyedroppers that will be used to select the black and white points that I left reference markers on in the previous step. Using the black or topmost eyedropper to pick on the black point, and the bottom one to select the white point.

The image looks like this after setting the black and white points.

and for reference, this is the before view.

everything is more pleasing, there is a full range of tones, and the colors look better without the greenish/yellowish cast. Sometimes the effect is subtle, at other times it can be pretty dramatic. Hopefully you can use this technique to add a little more WOW! to your images.