Friday, 20 August 2010

Sweet Discovery!

In my previous post I mentioned that I really wanted to get Photoshop Elements because of the huge wealth of preset actions you can get on the web, which apply predefined edits to a shot to give it the look you want.

My main reason for wanting to get PSE was because the available scripts I had found for GIMP were limited and underwhelming. Well, I did a little creative Googling (and by "creative" I mean, I Googled "GIMP scripts" and looked further than the top couple of results) and came across tons of really amazing scripts, and curves presets. I've been happily playing with them a lot, although the results have been quite mixed purely because I only have a limited number of shots on my laptop. Still, I've found them really fun and cool.

The presets all behave differently depending on what shots you use them on. The only shots I have available to me right now are all nature-based with a lot of greens, so the results have been similar, but I think if I ran them over some more diverse pictures I would find the output quite different and cool.

So, some examples.

This is the original (with just some levels and sharpening applied):


Not bad; the composition, colour and bokeh are all fairly pleasing.

First I ran a "cold" curves preset. Curves presets are easy to create -- you just to the curves adjustments you want then you can export the settings into a file which is saved for later. You can see on this there's a more bluish tint to things:


This is a "warm" curves preset:


This curves preset is called "Forest" and is intended to bring out the greens. I think for this shot it's interesting but doesn't work perfectly; there is already a lot of green in the shot and this just pushes it a tad too far:


This curves preset is called "Purple Hue". Again doesn't work great on this particular shot but I think it could be really interesting on portraits or a more minimalist shot:


As well as curves presets there are also more complicated scripts you can get, which are more sophisticated edits. This one is called "Reminisce Warmth" which adds a quite contrasty vintage feel:


"Soft Muted" which desaturates, adds a gaussian blur layer look and again some more contrast:


And this is a "National Geographic" script, which is intended to give portrait shots a very high-contrast, slightly washed-out look; doesn't blow me away on this shot but I ran it over a portrait I had knocking around and it looked pretty good:


I've had a lot of fun looking through these and the many other presets I downloaded, and seeing how they work. I can't wait to try them on some more diverse work. If anyone is interested, all of these curves presets and scripts were picked up from deviantART.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Wish List

I don't think there's a single photographer I know who wouldn't get extravagant with their gear if cost wasn't an issue -- even those who have expensive equipment already. Long-term goals for me would include a full-frame camera and expensive lighting setups, but I also have shorter-term desires which I hope to be able to afford within the next year or so.

Sigma 105mm f/2.8 Macro Lens

I've always felt like I prefer the close-up style of shooting. There's something about being close enough to really *feel* your subject that appeals to me. The latest outdoor shoot I did has strengthened that feeling. Bottom line is, I'm an amateur, and as enthusiastic as I am, I'm only shooting for myself. I sometimes think I should challenge myself to do something different like landscapes, but then I think -- feh, as long as I enjoy what I do it doesn't matter if it's challenging or not.

This lens has some great reviews and while performance-wise it still falls a little short of the similarly-priced-and-focal-lengthed Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens, well, I don't have a Canon camera, and the Sony 100mm f/2.8 Macro is generally reviewed as having very similar results to the Sigma, but costs almost £200 more.

Cost: £300 from Onestop Digital
Timeframe: Short-medium term depending on whether I can save up or clear some space on my credit cards
Level of desire: HIGH, damnit.

Photoshop Elements 8

Given that the full version of Photoshop CS5 costs somewhere in the region of £600 and is intended for professional graphic artists and photographers, Adobe also have a "lighter" version of the product for amateurs and non-commercial users called Elements.

Now, I currently use GIMP for most of my photomanipulation and I won't lie -- it's awesome. However I am a lazy, lazy person, and a feature that's available in both CS5 and Elements is something called "Actions" -- essentially from what I can gather, you hit record, do a bunch of edits, then hit stop and you can save that process as a preset Action to use again with ease. GIMP utilises a similar system with written scripts, but as it's opensource the creation of said scripts seems to be a little geeky and codey, and way beyond my capabilities. The best part about the Elements actions is that they can be saved as a little data file which you can then share with other users. GIMP also has this feature but looking at the script registry they just don't seem to float by boat all that much, and the ones I have used have been lacklustre at best.

Yeah, so essentially I want Elements so I can take edits other people have done and apply them to my own work. Whateva! Some of the actions you can get out there look fantastic and again, I'm not a purist -- if they make me happier with my shot then I want to use them.

Pioneer Woman has a bunch of actions available for free on her site which I think look really, really cool. And luckily for me, Elements 8 is totally affordable, so I can justify the cost. Anything that Elements can't do (rumour has it there are no layer masks?) I can run through GIMP, and as I understand it Elements has a built-in RAW converter which will make my whole process much easier.

Cost: £56.90 from Amazon.
Timeframe: Virtually immediate -- probably as soon as I get paid this month.
Level of desire: Extremely high -- I can't wait to see if I can make something of some of my more "blah" shots by running an action or two over them.

Sony HVL-F42AM External Flash

I have posted before about on-camera flash and how much I detest it. My hatred has until now left me feeling completely underwhelmed about any flash setups, but a little research goes a long way, and I know now that a simple external flash would be extremely useful in the long-run. I don't see myself ever getting into expensive and elaborate lighting setups just for a hobby, but I think one versatile external flash with all the necessary accessories will end up in my kit in the not-too-distant future.

Cost: - Less than £200 from Amazon.
Timeframe: Medium-long term. It's cheap enough that once my higher priorities are out of the way I can make a decision about it and not have to save extensively.
Level of desire: Medium. I haven't yet been at a point where I've gone "oh MAN I wish I had a decent flash" but I suspect as I start to branch into macro photography I will start to feel the need for it more (simply put, if I stick my lens really close to a subject, just by sheer physics there won't be as much light coming in, so a softly diffused flash may prove useful).

Neutral Density/Graduated Neutral Density Filters

A bit of a mixed bag this. These types of filters typically go hand-in-hand with landscape photography, especially the graduated ones. In short, neutral density filters allow you to slow your shutter speed without blowing out the shot; they stop a certain amount of light coming into the camera, so in order to achieve a properly-exposed shot one has to slow the shutter speed right down. This can give some stunning motion captures like the waterfall in the above link.

Graduated ND filters are filters which have the grey, light-stopping effect at the top of the filter, which graduates to clear at the bottom. They typically come in a square shape and have to be attached to the lens with a filter holder (the whole setup is then known as a "filter system" such as the Cokin brand sell) and thus can be moved up and down to suit the composition of your shot. They are used for landscapes. When shooting landscape typically DSLR cameras do not have enough dynamic range to expose the sky and foreground both correctly -- if you expose for the foreground, the sky will be too blown out and bright, but if you expose for the sky, the foreground will be dark or almost black. In some instances this can create a great silhouette effect, but if you are going for a dramatic landscape shot, ND Grad filters are really the only way to achieve this.

Personally as I've decided not to venture into landscapes for now, my desire for filters has decreased somewhat. Screw-on filters like a standard ND come in a set size and without really knowing what I'd use it for, there's no point in me buying one to fit my 18-55mm kit lens if I'm eventually going to swap it out (they aren't cheap!). As for ND Grads -- as you attach the holder to the lens, the adapters themselves which come in different sizes are very cheap and you don't have to replace the filters -- but there's just no point for me right now.

Cost: Ranges from around £50 for a standard ND screw-on, to £200 for a full filter system.
Timeframe: Longterm.
Level of desire: Medium-low -- not completely low purely because I know I want to try landscaping at some point in my life at which point I will want filters with a passion.

Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 wide-angle lens

For landscapes. If I start to shoot landscapes this is the lens I want -- it has great reviews, is highly popular and in the affordable price range.

Cost: Less than £340 from Onestop Digital
Timeframe: Longterm.
Level of desire: Medium-low.

Obviously aside from the above, if money were no object I would probably ditch all my current lenses and camera body and would buy a Canon 5D MkIII full-frame camera (and all the lenses again) and a really expensive, heavy-duty tripod. But the above items are all ones I believe I will be able to buy myself within the next couple of years at least. :)

Saturday, 7 August 2010

OH CAMERA, let's never fight again!

Short post filled with joy.

Today I was determined to get out with my camera for the first time in ages which hasn't involved an actual event of some kind. It was so worth it. We're into August now and while it's still summer, it's slowly winding down. There's the smallest hint of autumn in the air. Not much, mind -- I went out in bulky shoes and a cardigan and was sweating unattractively within minutes.

Anyway, I am so glad I went out. I want to go out again. Also as an aside, I have been berating myself for not being more diverse; shooting almost exclusively nature close-ups and the like. Well, today I figured, why the hell not? I could branch out into landscape eventually but it's difficult and requires the use of expensive filters to get evenly exposed shots of sky and foreground... the concept does intrigue me and I love looking at landscapes, but right now it's just not my thing. I want a macro lens. OH GOD I want a macro lens.

Anyway - the output of today's shoot!


There was something in the air today - the bees, (and fake bees like this one, I think) were so busy chowing on nectar and gathering pollen and doing all those wonderful things bees do, they didn't seem to mind me getting all up in their grill. ALL of today's shots were taken with manual focus, which is nothing short of a miracle - firstly, that I managed to capture these shots given how generally clumsy I tend to be, and secondly that the buggers stayed still long enough. I lucked into a few of them, without a doubt. Especially this one, which is my favourite of the day:


There's a really pretty wild sort of area in the park which is fairly sparse in the winter and beginning of spring. I wasn't expecting all the life that was there when I sauntered through today.



Heck, the insects were getting in my shot even when I wasn't going for it!


Today was a good day -- I feel very happy about the results, more inspired to shoot again, and as always, pining for better equipment.

Some day you will be mine!

Friday, 6 August 2010

Bad, bad photographer.

I've been bad.

I'm still stuck in this funky black hole where I have no motivation to pick up my camera. It's weird, because I still enthusiastically peruse the usual websites every day, I still assimilate information and knowledge as much as I can, and I still drool over equipment I can't afford. But when it comes to picking up the camera, I fall flat.

Unless I have something specific to shoot.

Stool Ball


Look, if you don't know what stool ball is, don't even worry about it. It's like a cross between cricket and rounders, but it's only played in my home county of Sussex.

A couple of weeks ago my company put on a stool ball team-building event where we all went down to the local playing fields, ate barbecue, drank beer and played stool ball. Well, I say "we all" -- some of us played paparazzi. And, as always, learned a lot.

I approached this event with the same general plan as I had when shooting the tennis in Paris -- I was using my long zoom lens, which isn't very fast, so I knew I would have to up the ISO to get the faster shutter speeds I needed. It all started at about 6:30pm, too, so I also knew the shadows would be getting longer and conditions would be darker and darker as the evening wore on.

Unfortunately due to the rapidly darkening conditions, the dark t-shirts people were wearing, and the dark backgrounds (trees/bushes etc) I had to up the ISO to around 800, which resulted in some especially noisy shots:

Jim Edgar bowls - f/5.6, 1/500, ISO800.

I shoot RAW+JPEG and the above is an output of a processed RAW shot. The SOOC JPEG is nowhere near as noisy as this. I don't know why it turned out this way -- perhaps the levels contrast adjustment and sharpening I did enhanced the noise.

Either way, when I uploaded the shots and showed them to my boss the first thing he said was "these are very grainy" which made me feel pretty crappy.

Luckily the brighter ones turned out pretty well, considering:



There were a couple of other weird moments that evening for me. I think I've mentioned this before, but normally I feel quite self-conscious with my camera, right up until the moment I start shooting, after which I feel very relaxed and happy. This wasn't the case that night. At one point I overheard someone behind me go "Jess is company photographer is she?!" in a really patronising way which really embarrassed me. And at another point, after everything was winding down, someone was playing with my cam and struggled to get the auto-focus on my 70-300mm lens to lock in, due to the dark conditions -- I overheard him turn to someone and say "this is shit". I should have delivered a rather large "FUCK YOU" in the form of my fist in his face, but again I was really embarrassed. So after the noisy shots, the patronising "photographer" comment, and the guy-doesn't-understand-how-AF-works remark, I went back home and buried my camera again.

Since then I have done a very small amount of shooting. I took my camera to my friend Tom's birthday party in which everyone played rounders and some other sports-day-esque activities like egg-and-spoon races and sack races. In another reflection of how lazy I've been, the pictures aren't even on Flickr.

I've tried to rekindle my love of photography generally by getting involved in a subset of the community called iPhoneography. There are a lot of cool apps which apply filters and effects to iPhone shots which give them vintage looks. iPhoneography is fun but doesn't provide the same level of satisfaction to me as shooting with a DSLR and processing the pictures myself. I guess at some point I'll make a post of some of my iPhone shots.

I did have a couple of moments where I thought I would have something to look forward to -- a potential maternity shoot, and a local wedding photographer who was looking for an assistant -- but neither of them have gotten in contact with me so it looks like it came to nothing.

Anyway, my plan is that this weekend I will force myself to take out my camera. I've instructed Ste to SHAME me into it in whatever way he can. Unless it's raining all day I absolutely MUST go out -- even if it's just to the park for more flower shots. Anything to get me shooting again.

*sigh* Wish me luck I guess.