Playing with Panoramas: sort of…

My new Canon SX20IS has an Easy Panorama mode…like the Sports mode or the Landscape mode, set on the main control dial. It displays your second shot next to the right edge of your first shot, so you and line them up before pressing the shutter…etc. etc. for as many shots as you want to string together. Canon also ships Photo Stitch software with the camera which automates the assembly of your images into one.

Stitch

From the Panorama instructions in the Canon manual. Note how you can overlap the 1st and 2nd images.

I have never quite gotten into Panoramas, primarily because I can not figure out how to view or display them effectively. I guess, if you had access to a continuous feed roll- or long sheet- inkjet printer, panorama sized prints would be possible. A little research around the web finds several services that will actually print at 20 inches x whatever at reasonable prices…so maybe the display part can be done, given a big enough wall.

At any rate, I was tempted by the Easy Panorama mode to experiment. I do not have a really panorama head, and I don’t generally carry a tipod anyway, so my experiments so far have hand held, or with the camera mounted on the end of my walking stick at best. The results were encouraging, from a technical standpoint, but not really good enough to make panoramas a part of my routine photographic day.

Until yesterday that is. Yesterday I was faced with a splendid view over blue water and a fringe of trees to an amazing sky, and on the near shore of the little pond, two white birch clumps just far enough apart to, in my minds eye, make a classic frame for the view. However, at 28mm (the widest reach of my zoom) and backed up so that one inch more would have put me over the embankment and into the marsh on the other side of the road from the pond, I could only get the outer fringe of branches on the birches on either side. Like this.

I fussed about at the edge of the road trying for better angles when it occurred to me that, while not a real panorama situation necessarily, here was a case where stitching two images together might catch what was in my mind’s eye much better than any single image I could take with the equipment at hand.

Okay. I set the lens to 28mm and tried two shots. If you have ever tried this you might guess at the problem. Your average P&S zoom has significant distortion at either end, and especially at the short end, and the distortion is worst at the edges of the frame. That made it next to impossible to line up the views from two images perfectly as the edge of one and the edge of the other fell across slightly different planes in the field of view…had slightly different distortion effects, and consequently, if you look at the image above, slightly different distances between, say, the horizon and the bottom of the first cloud up, or the horizon and the first small island down. It was impossible to line up clouds, horizon, and islands from any given position. Sigh. I took two shots for stitching anyway.

Then I thought about the problem. Distortion. Wide-angle distortion. Okay, so what if I set the lens to a longer focal length, with less obvious distortion, and took more images to cover the gap between the trees. I could not zoom in too close, since I wanted an impressive expanse of sky in the image as well, but at about 42mm equivalent I found an interesting compromise. It took three images to span birch clump to birch clump at 42mm…but digital is free, right? Snap, line up, snap, light up, snap.

One of the failings of the Photo Stitch software Canon provides is that it apparently just butts the images up against each other as best it can, without making any adjustments for white balance or exposure at the point of contact. In my first panorama experiments, you could see the lines, faintly, where the images overlapped. A reader of my Pic of the Day blog suggest a solution, but it must be applied in camera, and I had already taken these shots.

Because of the obvious limits of Photo Stitch, I had decided that I would try the PhotoMerge function in PhotoShop Elements for this set. Opening the first two files in PhoShoEl and applying the arrange only panorama option I was amazed a the seamless quality of the finished product. PhoShoEl is one smart program. Looking at the layers and the merge it created, it took an irregular cut of both images and put then together like a rather random jigsaw puzzle…and then, very evidently, applied some color balance and exposure analysis and adjusted the segments to match, all before it merged the files into one. Pretty good okay!

Merge

An example of the complex merge that PhotoMerge in PhotoShop Elements produces. Look at those layer masks!

It even managed to stretch or shrink portions of the edges of the two images to make the horizon, clouds, and islands line up. Amazing. If you click the image, it will open on my WideEyedInWonder (Smugmug) site so you can view it at the largest size you monitor will allow.

I am actually quite happy with this effort. I catches pretty well what I had hoped to catch…my mind’s-eye view.

So, what about the 42mm shots? Loading those into PhoShoEl and applying the same options in PhotoMerge produced this finished product.

And that is remarkably like what I envisioned! You will notice that it is even a bit wider then the merged 28mm views, but the perspective is so much different: So much more, to my eye, natural, that most people might not ever guess it is a panorama shot.

Finally, both stitched images were taken into Lightroom for final processing. Recovery for the sky, a touch of Fill Light, Blackpoint right, added Clarity and a bit of Vibrance. Sharpen landscape preset.

So, while I may not ever make panorama shooting part of my day-to-day photographic experience, per se, this is a technique that I have a feeling I will employ, on those not infrequent occasions when my mind’s eye view is wider than what my widest lens can capture.

Now if I can just clear a 24×44 inch space somewhere on some wall…

Posted in Canon, Canon SX20IS, instruction, panorama, PhotoShop Elements, wide angle | 1 Comment

Rainy Day on Point Loma: learning.

My one free day in San Diego with a new camera to play with…or rather, a new camera to learn…turned out to be blessed with rain. Still, it was San Diego…I only get there once a year…and I have never yet been disappointed by a visit to  Cabrillo National Monument at the tip of Point Loma high above San Diego Harbor and the Pacific. The Monument’s hours are dictated by the fact that you have to drive through part of the naval base and the National Cemetery to reach it, and, with budget cutbacks, the military gates are only open 9-5. I drove the few miles from my hotel to the Monument in the rain, and arrived at the pay station just after it opened. It was drizzling then, and I hoped for dryer weather later in the day, so I took the turn down to the Tide Pools at the foot of the point on the Pacific side, accessible by the road that serves the modern Coast Guard station lighthouse down there, and the water treatment plant for the naval base.

I was dressed for the weather, and had a umbrella with me to shield the camera, so it seemed worth a walk from the parking lot down the short trail to the top of the cliffs overlooking the tide pools themselves. When I got to the cliff top I realized that the Monument must have come into some of the Economic Recovery Funds, since they had clearly been working on expanding the trail system back up and across the soft sandstone conglomerate and compacted soil cliffs and further back along the coast toward San Diego, giving me access to new views. Even in the rain, this proved too tempting to resist, and I spent a couple of happy hours there shooting the rain drenched cliffs from under my umbrella…the surf, the rocks, seaweed, pelicans and the green headlands further north.

Shooting in the rain, or near rain, is a challenge, not only because you need to keep today’s digital cameras dry, but because the lighting is so tricky. The sky can be surprisingly bright, especially when compared to the rain soaked foreground. If you are not careful you end up with the worst of both extremes: muddy, dark, indistinct foregrounds and white skies. Even within the clouds themselves, it does not take much thinning for the contrast range between dark heavy cloud and lighter cloud to exceed the range of most sensors.

Of course, Lighroom has the tools necessary to extend the apparent dynamic range of an image in post processing: Recovery for highlights, Fill Light for foreground and shadows, and Blackpoint adjustment to bring up the intensity of flat images…but there are limits to what can be done in post, even if shooting RAW, and certainly if, like me, you shoot JPEG.

Then too, one of the things I have learned about my new Canon SX20IS is that, in Programmed Auto mode,  it favors high shutter speeds and large apertures: more suitable for people (who are often in motion) than for stationary landscapes. The Canon seems to select even wider apertures than my Sony H’s did. This is not necessarily bad, as the lenses on these superzoom digitals are certainly optimized for wide apertures as well…but I am still traditional enough to be nervous shooting landscapes at F2.8.

The SX20 has a Landscape mode, but there is practically no information in the instructions as to what it actually does, beyond the obvious; “for capturing stunning landscapes.” Not helpful for anyone with photographic skills. Still, brief experimentation has taught me that it selects smaller apertures and slower shutter speeds and tends to favor lower ISOs. I am pretty sure…but not certain…that it also defaults to infinity focus when the auto focus fails to find a subject to lock on to, and it might adjust image contrast and saturation slightly too. Worth a try.

I am also gaining confidence in the SX20s iContrast setting, which is supposed to handle high dynamic range shots better than the conventional Program mode. I have experimented with intentionally biasing exposures toward the sky in tricky landscapes with clouds, using the Canon’s Exposure Lock, leaving the foreground darker than I would like it, and then adjusting in Lighroom (as I generally did when using the Sony, even with the Sony’s high dynamic range setting on)…but I am finding that using the iContrast or Landscape Program mode (which seems to have some of the same built in) and letting the Canon do its thing, actually gives me images that are, in fact, easier to adjust in Lightroom, and which require a lot less Fill Light for the foreground. If it is a choice between Recovery for highlights for Fill Light for shadows, I find that Recovery does less damage at the pixel level by introducing a lot less noise. Then too, if you are not careful with Fill Light, you can get halos at high contrast edges. Better, in high dynamic range situations, to work the sky, even using Lighroom’s Graduated Filter Effect at need, than to over-work the foreground.

Shooting in the rain or on a rainy day, it is really all about mood. You want to capture the wet saturation of the colors (using saturation in its photographic sense) without letting them go dark, and you want to catch the drama of the sky. In my opinion, you do not want the resulting images to look like they were taken on a brighter day…you want to preserve the feeling of wet and damp…the cool tones…and the feel of the soft heavy air, even in images with brighter colors.

After exploring the tail up the cliffs and further along the coast I came back to the tide pools and braved the slippery rock to climb down to the rocky shore. The tide was too far in for much tide pooling, and it was too dark anyway, but the wet seaweed on the beach offered some nice close-up and macro opportunities. The colors were richer than they might have been in full sun, and the wet provided interesting highlights.

Before leaving the Tide Pool area for the drive back up to the Visitor Center and original Lighthouse, I spent a few moments trying for Pelicans in flight as they road the inner line of surf down the coast toward me. With the SX20 at full reach (560mm equivalent) and on Sports Program, I got a few interesting shots.

Finally I did make it back to the car and drove up to the top of the Point Loma for the view. As things turned out, I had no more than got out of the car in the Visitor Center parking lot when it began to rain harder…and, though I attempted to wait it out in one of the Whale Watching shelters overlooking the Pacific, I finally had to decide that the rest of the day might be better spent back at the hotel processing my Tide Pool images.

I took this one last shot out over the Pacific just before the rain became too dense for photography.

So out of a rainy day at Cibrillo National Monument, I learned to trust Landscape mode a bit more, even if I don’t know exactly what it is doing, and how to enjoy and capture the mood of a stormy California day. Not bad.

Posted in bridge camera, Canon, Canon SX20IS, inspiration, instruction, Lightroom, postprocessing, super zoom | 3 Comments

Canon Powershot SX20IS: first thoughts

I have a new camera! After considerable research, I ordered a Canon Powershot SX20IS.

A new camera is always fun. It is almost like getting new eyes…or learning to see all over again. Of course, you carry your photographic habits and all you have learned about image making into the new experience…and comparisons with past cameras are inevitable…but really it is all about learning what this particular tool brings with it as potentials (that you many not have had with your old equipment, and that will open up the possibility of new images) and limitations (which you will have to learn to work around to get the images you like to take).

I have had the SX20IS just short of a week now, and had my first real chance to experience its potentials (and limitations) yesterday, on a perfect sunny winter day along the Maine coast around home. While it will take some getting used to, compared to the Sony H9 and H50 that I have used for 4 years now, I am already liking the Canon. I am liking it a lot!

The Sonys were great cameras. The combination of the flip out LCD which makes composing from any angle and any height easy, the super-macro setting which allows you to get in impossibly close, the wide zoom range which gives you an amazing flexibility in framing, and the overall quality of the images when creatively processed in Lightroom is hard to beat. And best of all, they were just a lot of fun to use. I enjoyed taking pictures with them, more, really, than I had ever enjoyed taking pictures with any camera before (and that is saying quite a bit!)…and, if you follow my Pic of the Day blog, you know that I got a lot of images that made me, at least, happy :).

Still, even the H50, which was better than the H9 (see my comparison), showed the limitations of the small sensor, despite then state-of-the-art internal image processing (fine detail loss due to aggressive noise reduction and high jpg compression ratios), and both showed noticeable color fringing in critical situations. I knew the limits and worked with them and around them, but I have kept my eye out for a camera that has all the strengths of the Sony H series and slightly better image quality.

The HX1, which replaced the H50 in the Sony lineup a year ago, and added several really nice features (HD video capture, auto panorama stitching, image stacking for extended contrast range in low light, etc.), unfortunately got consistently poor reviews for the one feature I really wanted: the consensus was that the image quality was no better than, and maybe a bit worse than, the H50. Not the direction I wanted to go.

And I knew I was probably looking for another super-zoom P&S, since nothing else was likely to have the feature set that made the Sonys so much fun to use, and I know that I am not ready to carry a full DSLR kit anyway.

When I got serious about shopping last month, I read a lot of reviews, and over time the conviction built that the Canon SX20IS might be worth a look. It has the flip out, rotating LCD that I require, both Macro and Super Macro settings, an even higher zoom range (20x, wider at 28mm equivalent, and longer at 560mm), and most people had good things to say about the image quality…even, surprisingly, at higher ISOs. Add in the 12mp sensor, 720 HD Video capture, a reportedly solid build, AA battery power, and SD card capture and how could I not order one to try.

So, after a grand total of about 300 images, what do I think?

Great camera!

The major consideration right now is, as above, image quality, and side-by-side comparison shots with the H50 and the Canon SX20IS clearly show that the Canon has less detail blurring, which amounts (perhaps along with the higher pixel density) to an overall increase in fine detail. The Canon images also show slightly more saturation out-of-camera, and lower noise overall. The Sony shots, processed as well as I could manage in Lightroom, always looked just a bit rendered…like a close approximation of reality, but just slightly painted. The Canon produces images that are more photographic somehow. It is a subtle difference but it is, to my eye at least, a real difference. And, while it is most obvious at larger sizes when viewed on the computer…it is evident even at normal screen resolutions. Again, at least to my eye.

Take a look at these two comparison shots of one of my favorite test subjects: Nubble Light in Cape Neddick ME. First the Sony. You can view the file at full resolution by clicking the pic and then choosing O (original)  at the top of the screen on WideEyeInWonder. Then the Canon. Again, view at original size. Both images were processed in Lightroom to the best of my ability. Given slight differences in scale and considerable differences in lighting, these two images serve to point up the differences I see.

Look at the rocks in the foreground. Notice that in the Sony image the rocks look like a really good water color painting of rocks, while in the Canon shot they retain their full gnarly rockness. Notice the vertical siding on the low connecting shed between the house and the base of the Lighthouse. Neither image is perfect at full resolution, but I find the Canon image to to be closer to reality. And again, you do not have to blow the images up to full resolution to see the differences. It is evident even in the two small images in the column here…in comparison, and once you know what to look for.

The most telling remark anyone ever made about one of my Sony pics was my daughter Emily, home from College. She looked at the Nubble Light shot above, printed at 8×11, mounted, framed, and hung and said “That’s a painting right? It’s not a photograph.” There you go. I hope not to have that feeling about prints from the Canon SX20IS.

This is an excellent test for chromatic aberration too. Note that in the Canon shot you have to go all the way out the window of the shed on the left to see any at all, and then you have to look for it, while in the Sony shot it is evident along the edge of the gray door and the window in the connecting shed near the center of the image.

I should remind you that I was perfectly happy with the Sony images for two years, and would be still be satisfied with them for almost any purpose short of magazine publication. The Canon SX20IS is just a bit better.

Limited test shots at higher ISOs are encouraging so far. ISO 100 is excellent. 200 is just about as good. 400 begins to show noise but nothing you would see without enlargement. 800 is acceptable and 1600 is not much worse. Even the special 3200 low light mode produces images that would be fine viewed at reasonable sizes on a computer screen or printed up to 4×6, at the cost of limiting resolution to 6mp. What this means, in effect, is that I might be able to use Auto ISO more often, and let the camera choose slightly higher ISOs in low light situations. I always kept the Sonys set to ISO 100. Here are full resolution crops: 400ISO, 800ISO and 3200ISO. Click to enlarge.

400ISO 800ISO 3200ISO

As to my basic requirements: articulated LCD, macro, and wide zoom range: the Canon works as advertised. The LDC flips out to the side and rotates, and though not as large or as fine resolution as the Sony, it works well and is visible even in bright sun. In addition, it folds closed with the panel facing the camera and fully protected.

The 28mm wide on the Canon adds significant field of view, and the 560mm tele has just that much more reach. Distortions seem minimal throughout the zoom range (or at least no worse than could be expected in a zoom this long). Though some reviewers have mentioned noticeable color fringing (chromatic aberration and purple sensor fringe) very few of my shots at any focal length have shown any at all, and what was there in one or two shots was easily corrected in Lightroom. Certainly the Canon shows less color aberration than either of the Sony Hs.

Macro works differently on the Canon than on the Sony. I used to just leave the Sonys in Macro all the time and they would focus from 2 cm out. You could leave the Canon in regular Macro and have focus from 4 inches out at the wide end of the zoom to 3.2 feet at the tele end, but for closer work you need to switch to Super Macro, which is only available at the wide end. I can live with this, especially as the Canon macro images are spectacular. Even at 3.2 feet and 560mm equivalent, you get a very nice macro look, and great bokeh.

I liked the Sonys’ easy access to ISO, EV compensation, and Program Shift…all of which I use fairly frequently, through the selections along the base of the displays and the function wheel. The Canon goes one better with dedicated buttons for ISO and EV compensation, and user programmed button that I will use for Program Shift. There is also a dedicated button for shifting the focus point in Programmed mode. All of this will take getting used to, but is actually easier and faster than shifting the functions on the Sony.

The camera is indeed solidly built, especially compared to the Sonys. This is a real camera, and, though not much bigger than the H50, weighs several ounces more. The AA batteries are part of that, but not all. The H50’s zoom, for instance, had a bit of wobble as it extended. The Canon is rock solid and smooth. The whole camera just feels substantial.

The only disappointment so far is that neither the LCD panel, as mentioned above, or the EV is as high resolution or as easy to look at as the Sonys’. You could really evaluate an image on the LCD of the Sony…on the Canon you have to depend much more on the histogram.

A nice touch is that you can select to view the histogram and all pertinent exposure data as part of the review process, along with a medium sized thumbnail of the image.

The SX20IS has an optically stabilized lens…but so far I have not found it to be quite as effective as the moving sensor stabilization in the Sonys. More care is called for in long exposure shots. Of course, maybe I am pushing the limits at this point…being, you might say, just a bit testy with the new tool…exploring the limits.

I am still discovering many of the smaller niceties of the SX20: the display is all kinds of customizable, and has the same composition grid available that I came to appreciate on the Sonys; it has a number of interesting looking scene modes which I intend to explore more; and it has HD Video capture and HDMI output.

I plan on trying the Video feature more extensively over the next few weeks, but one great feature that is not available in some competing cameras is the ability to zoom while capturing Video…and the ability to capture full resolution stills while shooting Video. I really like the dedicated record button that allows you to shoot video at any time, even if the control dial is not set to video capture.

So. So far so good. So far the Canon Powershot SX20IS is all I had hoped it would be and more. I like it! It it lives up to its early potential, I am not going to have any problem keeping up my Pic of the Day blog.

Posted in bridge camera, Canon, Canon SX20IS, Reviews, super zoom | 6 Comments

Shooting Snow!

Among the hardest scenes for the landscape photographer to capture, snow has to rank right up there at the top. In sunlight, a snow covered landscape exceeds the light sensitivity range of our eyes…let alone a digital camera sensor. Even in lower light levels, under overcast skies or while it is actually snowing, it is very difficult to balance exposure in camera to produce white snow with significant texture and detail, and true to life colors where color is showing. If the snow is right, everything else in the scene is dark gray to black…which is one reason so may photographers resort to black and white when shooting snow scenes.

Over the New Year’s holiday we got significant amounts of fresh snow here in southern Maine, so, of course, I was out with my camera. That first day I was out while it was actually snowing. Light levels were subdued,the sky was a dark grey blur,  and there was a lot of snow still in the air, closing horizons like fog. I was out a few hours and had a chance to reflect on the process of capturing a snowy landscape.

In subdued light, without any direct sun, I find that my camera responds best if I simply leave it on Programmed Auto. This produces a balanced exposure with enough detail in the snow so that I can bring it down and out in Lightroom, and enough color in whatever is still showing color so that I can bring it up and out.

Here is a shot, just as it came from the camera (just resized for display here).

blizzard00001

As you can see, the snow is kind of gray, and there is little to no color in the beach grasses.

A trip through Lightroom results in this image.

I applied Recovery to bring out what little detail is in the snow and sky, then Fill Light for the color. The Blackpoint is shifted right, and I added Clarity (local contrast) and Vibrance (selective saturation) and finally used the Sharpen Landscape preset. I increased Contrast overall just slightly.

This image is very close to my visual impression of the scene when taken.

Here is another, somewhat classic shot.

blizzard00002

In camera exposure is not very spectacular…but the information is all there for post-processing.

Using almost exactly the same processing in Lightroom as the first image I was able to preserve the snow detail while bringing out the color in the evergreens.

One more from the subdued light series.

blizzard00004

The differences here are more subtle but there is an increase in both snow detail and color.

The key here is that I am working with a balanced exposure, as provided by the auto exposure system in the camera, with no manipulation, then doing all my adjustments in post-processing. Of course this is only possible if you know both how your camera is going to respond to these kinds of scenes and what you are able to do in software afterwards. Both in camera exposure and post-processing are part of the creative process, and part of the envisioning of the image when it is being taken.

I can’t emphasize that enough. What you are going to be able to do in post has to be part of your exposure decision in camera.

Of course, eventually the sun does come out. It might be days later, as it was in Maine, but the sun completely transforms the exposure issue for snow covered landscape.

Most people require sunglasses to deal with sun on snow. I use a wide brimmed hat. Whatever it takes, even our unprotected eyes can be overwhelmed by the glare of light when the sun shines on snow.

If your eyes can’t handle it, there is absolutely no chance the digital sensor in our cameras can. With sun on show you really have no good choices. Either you expose for the sky and any color in the scene, and the snow goes completely white and featureless, or you expose for the snow, and everything else goes black. Even if you expose for the snow, you run the risk of getting grey snow with very few highlights, and that does not look real either. No good choices.

The usual way of dealing with snow and sun is to use Exposure Compensation. Most digital cameras, when placed in Programmed Auto mode, will allow you to shift the EV (Exposure Value) up or down by 2 points. Each 1 EV change is equivalent to doubling or halving the exposure. Some cameras have a dedicated button for this, or an easy to find menu option. Some have it buried in the menu system…though it is generally fairly near the top since it is often used.

Conventional exposure wisdom says that for sunny snow covered landscape or sun on snow details you should reduce the exposure by –.7 to –1 EV. Here are two examples of the difference that makes. Standard Programmed auto shot first then –.7EV.

Image00001

Image00002

As you see, standard Programmed Auto produces large areas of snow that is totally burned out…so white there is no detail left. It does, however, keep the dark areas in the scene reasonably exposed. Dialing down the EV to –.7 keeps more detail in the sunniest areas of snow, but casts everything else, including shadows on the snow, way too dark.

That’s okay though…we are not looking at these as finished exposures, but as starting points for post processing. The question is, with proper processing which will capture more of the detail of the natural scene?

DSC08636

This the first programmed auto image processed in Lightroom. I used heavy Recovery for the snow highlights, a touch of Fill Light for the shadows, blackpoint just to the right, added Clarity and Vibrance and Sharpen Landscape preset.

Here is the –.7 EV image processed.

Much less Recovery, though still some. Much more Fill Light for the shadows, and consequently blackpoint further right. Added Clarity and Vibrance and Sharpen Landscapes. Because the shadows are darker the blue cast common in sun on snow shots was much more pronounced in this image, so I used the selective saturation tool to desaturate just the blue of the shadows.

Which is closer to a naked eye view? Which is a better image? I prefer the second shot which started with –.7EV.

On the other hand, there is the theory that conentional auto exposure of sun on show sets the exposure too low…for the snow…and everything else goes dark while the snow looses it whiteness. This is especially true in shots of people against snow backgrounds in full sun. Here are two shots, one at 0EV and one at +.7EV

.Image00008

Image00009

As you see, the snow is white in the +EV shot and the trees look more natural. However, with processing in Lightroom, the 0EV shot (darker) still yielded the more satisfying image.

Here is an extreme.

I shot this close up of an area of intense sun on snow at –.7EV.

Image00003

Way too dark.

Processing in Lightroom, plus a little cropping, (with a good deal of desaturation of the blue shadows) gives us this.

In general I had more success processing –.7EV shots on this sunny day than I did with standard Programmed auto shots. I did not like the +EV shots.

So, what do you do if your camera does not have EV Exposure Compensation settings? Some don’t. Most do however have Scene Mode…and one of the Modes included is almost certainly Snow or Sand & Snow.

However, these Modes are based on the assumption that you are taking images of people against a snowy backdrop…they increase exposure, generally by .5 to 1EV. And that is good. For people shots or if your primary interest is objects in the foreground. For Snowy Landscapes, however, it might just be counterproductive…especially if you consider the in-camera exposure as only a starting point for post-processing. If, on the other hand, you are not going to post-process, the Snow Mode may indeed give you more satisfactory snow scenes.

Take these two shots right from the camera. The first is conventional Programmed auto and the second is Snow Mode.

Snow00006

Snow00005The second shot looks a bit more natural to me.

Again.

Snow00003 

and

Snow00004

If I were processing these…the first in each case would make the better image, given the tools I have in Lightroom. If using them direct from the camera, however, there is no doubt that the Snow Mode does its job and produces a better snow image.

So. Let it snow. Let it show. Shoot the snow.

Just know what your camera is capable of, and what you are able to do in whatever post processing program you prefer. Expose in camera for best post.

Let it snow. Shoot snowy landscapes!

Posted in aesthetics, editing, instruction, Lightroom, postprocessing, snowy landscape | 5 Comments

A Year of Pics and Places

Happy New Year!

A journey through my past year via the pictures and the places. What a blessing it has been, beginning to end! I can only praise my God, for God is God and God is good.

Each thumbnail is linked back to the gallery it came from on WideEyedInWonder.  This is not a best of, by any means. Just a key to the places and the pics. To remember. To celebrate. To enjoy.

Jan

Parson's Beach, Kennebunk ME, New Year's Day Sunset 2007

Kennebunk ME

Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, FL 2009

Sanibel Island FL

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Black Point Drive, Titusville FL 1/2009

Merritt Island FL

Feb

Sonoma CA

DSC05303
Albuquerque NM

Snowy Day February, Parson's Beach, Kennebunk ME
Kennebunk ME

March

San Diego, CA 2009 Sunset Cliffs and Cabrillo NM.
San Diego CA

L S de Elcano, Spanish Royal Navy training ship. 3rd largest Tall Ship.
Galveston TX

Parson's Beach, Kennebunk, ME 3/2009
Kennebunk ME

April

Alligator Farm, St. Augustine FL
St. Augustine FL

St. Augustine FL
St. Augustine FL

Rachel Carson NWR, Wells ME 4/2009

Wells ME

May

Enduring the Rain: Central Park, The Boathouse and the Ramble, NYC
NYC

Saco Heath, Saco ME 5/2009
Saco Heath ME

Parson's Beach, Kennebunk ME 5/2009

Kennebunk ME

June

Chase Lake NWR, ND 6/2009
Jamestown ND

Mount Desert Island, ME, 6/2009
Acadia NP ME

Fernald Brook, Kennebunk, ME 6/2009
Kennebunk ME

July


Kennebunkport ME

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay Harbor, ME 7/2009
Coastal ME Botanical Gardens

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay Harbor, ME 7/2009
Costal ME Botanical Gardens

Aug

DSC07603
Rutland Water UK

Rachel Carson NWR, Wells, ME 8/2009
Rachel Carson NWR ME

Kennebunk ME, Rose
Kennebunk ME

Sept

Portland Head Light, September 2009
Portland Head Light ME

Lakeside OH, 2009
Lakeside OH

DSC07848
Point Lobos CA

Oct

DSC07902
Kennebunk ME

DSC07922
Jekyll Island GA

Z1000067
Green Kay FL

Nov

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Cape May NJ

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Kennebunk ME

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Wetzlar Germany

Dec

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Kennebunk ME

Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix AZ, 12/09
Phoenix AZ

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Kennebunkport ME

May your New Year be blessed, with places and images you will always remember.

Posted in 2009, inspiration, retrospective | 3 Comments

Your Zoom is for Framing!

This is another in the series of pieces that began with The Photogenic Moment, and continued with It’s all about Patterns.

The vast majority of digital cameras sold today are sold with a zoom lens. Your average entry level Point and Shoot will have a 3x zoom. 4 and 5x zooms are becoming the norm for anything above entry level. The top of the line P&Ss come with 15-20x zooms today: the equivalent of a true wide angle to a fairly long telephoto lens on an old fashioned 35mm film camera (witch still sets the standard by which we judge relative focal lengths and fields of view) or a full frame DSLR: that is equivalent to a 28mm to over 500mm lens. Even entry level DSLRs come with a kit lens that is generally a moderate wide to moderate tel zoom (35mm-105mm).

Most beginning photographers (and many advanced ones, if truth were told) think of the zoom as means of fitting in more of the room or more faces inside, or taking in the majestic sweep of a landscape outside, at the wide end, and then being able to zoom up to high power to bring distant things close, outside, or to fill the frame with a single face out of the crowd inside. They think close or far: zoom out, zoom in.

And, once more, if truth were told, most photographers use their zooms either at the full wide end, or the full telephoto, wishing for more at either end…and rarely anywhere in between.

In reality though, as you grow as a photographer, you will realize that the main function of the zoom on your camera is simply to control the size of the frame you are filling with image. A big frame, as in a group shot or wide landscape, is at the wide angle end of the zoom. A small frame, as in a portrait or a more intimate landscape, if found at the telephoto end of the zoom. And there are an infinite range of frame sizes in between, each appropriate for some image.

You could grow a lot as a photographer by making a commitment to yourself to use the full range of your zoom…to take images at every possible setting.

Here is a classic case. All examples here are from the Sony DSC H50 with a 15x zoom: 31mm to 465mm equivalent.

A wide angle shot (31mm equivalent), cropped from the bottom to look even wider, and…

A telephoto shot taken at the about 70mm equivalent from the same position. I did not use the zoom to bring the trees closer. I used it to adjust the size of the frame within which the trees appear.

Or another pair from the same day.

Framed at about 70mm equivalent.

Framed at about 250mm equivalent from the same spot, and cropped from the bottom and top to make it look wider.

Or take this pair:

At full wide (31mm equivalent) and then…

this, taken at about 300mm equivalent from the same spot…framing just a segment of the foam in the shot above.

Of course, this is not a question of right or wrong…good zoom or bad zoom. I am consciously using the zoom on the camera to adjust the size of my frame. What I fill it with, once it is adjusted, is another matter (see It is all about patterns… ).

In this shot, I used the camera zoom, at about 250mm equivalent, to isolate (frame) just a portion of the cactus…the part I was interested in. I could have accomplished the same thing by moving closer to the cactus, of course, but, hay, that’s what the zoom is for!

Here is a sequence of three shots, all taken from the same spot, with different zoom settings, for dramatically different effects.

By using the zoom to alter the size of the frame, I am able to create everything from landscape to abstract, without moving a step.

For the following shot I wanted to emphasize the Rhodora at the foot of the trees. Zooming in to 180mm equivalent allowed me to frame shot so that there is a balance between the flowering shrubs and the trees.

Or, again, two shots from the same position with very different zoom settings: full telephoto at 465mm equivalent, and full wide at 31mm equivalent.

Chances are very good you have zoom on your P&S camera. Think of it as a framing tool…the means by which you control the size of the frame you fill with your image…then use it…use every setting. Experiment with all the different size frames you might apply on any scene, from any single location.

Your images will be the better for it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It is all about patterns…

One of the points I made in a recent post about the Photogenic Moment (they are all photogenic moments) is that photography is really all about patterns:

“Look for patterns…look for patterns to fill the frame of the image. Big patterns, as in a landscape, and little patterns, as in a macro. It is all about patterns. Line and form and light…the way shapes are arranged to fill frame the camera is able to capture, just a little rectangle after all, and the way the light molds the shapes with highlight and shadow. The way the colors, which are the second aspect of light, fall within the frame. You are not photographing things or people. You are capturing patterns within a frame. The things (or people) that make the patterns may be more or less important, but their importance is controlled by where you place them in the pattern you have captured (composition…rule of thirds, point-of-view, etc. See The Really Strong Suggestion of Thirds, Point of View, Shopping for Color in Old Town Albuquerque, and Lupine Lesson: Point of View). It is the pattern that will make or break the photograph. It is the pattern that the photograph is really about.”

In my next few posts, beginning here, I will explore this subject in more detail.

There are, of course, images which are simply about pattern…no apologies needed, and no explanations. Pure pattern.

Take this shot from a recent trip to the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix Arizona.

It is a picture of cacti, part of a display of native species, but it is clearly not about cacti…it is about the shapes, the forms, the curves and swirls that the growing cactus has made…and what the flat open shade light of the moment was making of them. It might even be about the contrast between the intricate covering of sharp thorns and the gentle forms underneath. I can see this at about 3×2 feet on a wall behind a couch. It is, imho, an image that you could look at every day and enjoy every time you looked…because there is simply a whole lot going on in an apparently simple image.

Or here is another cactus shot from the same day.

This one is about the light and molding as much as the shapes and patterns, and there is, honestly, a lot less going on…but it is, as I see it, still a strong image: strong graphically with a powerful central focus which is not apparent on first glance. Study it a moment and see what it does to your eyes. Where do your eyes go, and where do they come to rest?

If we pull back and look at a landscape/architectural shot from Cape May, New Jersey…the famous Cape May Light, we can see how a more detailed analysis plays out.

Here is the shot:

Taking it into PhotoShop Elements and using Poster Edges brings out the basic shapes.

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Making it black and white makes it even more obvious:

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And, we can even draw the basic patterns to make it really obvious.

Picture1

The image is composed, on this basic level, of three intersecting shapes against a background or field…and is a very simple shot.

While composing the shot (I took several from this vantage point), I was actually, after the first “for the record” shot, very aware of these three shapes against the field, and composed and recomposed, shifting point of view slightly, zoom in and out for framing, until I got them where I wanted them: filling the frame with this pattern.

It is not really a lighthouse picture…or rather it is, at least I hope it is, just a bit more: satisfying as both portrait of lighthouse and as graphical design.

If we go the other way, and apply an Oil Painting effect in Paint.net to blur out detail and emphasize color, we see a different, somewhat contrasting, pattern.

LighhouseColor

Reducing it to its most basic tonalities by painting rough shapes over, we really have only six basic blocks and five tones. It has to work on this most basic level as design as much as at the shape level.

LHBColor

And of course, back at the top detail level, it is as much about the contrast in texture between the feathery phragmities  in the foreground, the intricate foliage in the mid-ground, and the solid stone shape of the lighthouse in the background as it is about anything else.

Lots going on here.

Once more, I did not actually think all this through in the field…but I was aware of it. I sensed it. I saw it. I worked the view until it all came together into an image I wanted to take with me…until the patterns satisfied.

Here is another shot from the Desert Botanical Gardens, this time of glass sculptures.

This one is pretty obvious and works on three levels. Basic shapes:

Picture2

Color:

YucaColor

And the top level detail.

Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix AZ, 12/09

All combining to a pleasing image:

But what about images where it is really about the subject?

Take this image of two Giraffes nuzzling from the Alburquerque Zoo.

 

Pretty basic. But I took quite a few shots of these two. This is the one I kept because of it’s patterns…because of its graphical design elements :

Albuquerque New Mexico 2/2009

Maybe even easier to see here:

GfColor

Another sweeping landscape: from the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park on a perfect sky day.

Look at the basic shapes to see why this shot, of the 100 or more I took from the top of the mountain that afternoon, made it into my portfolio.

Picture3

And the basic color tone pattern.

CloudsColor

Any photograph has to work as pattern first, before it will work in any way.

Portrait of a bird, a Cactus Wren, again from the Desert Botanical Gardens: look at the basic patterns underlying the detail.

It is least obvious, but perhaps most important, in pictures of people. It is the underlying patterns that set the really satisfying images apart from the rest, at least in my opinion.

This shot of three attractive young ladies (my daughters so I can stay that) is, in reality, all about the basic patterns and the way they fill the frame. In your mind’s eye, break it down into the kind of basic shape drawing I have used above. The girls are more than ornament, of course, but it is the underlying shapes that draw the eye to where it can appreciate the beauty of the girls, and the tone patterns that hold the eye there. IMHO.

GirlsColor

Once more…same three girls, and again, in a very carefully composed shot.

Carefully composed does not mean staged. It was a matter of seconds to reposition myself and use the camera zoom for framing to get this relatively spontaneous portrait…but that does not mean that in those few seconds I was not fully aware of the compositional elements…of the play of shape and form and placement within the frame that makes it all hang together, at least for me. Draw the shapes out and see how it looks and you will see (hopefully) exactly why the girls are where they are, and the lighthouse is where it is.

You will not develop this sense of pattern…graphical design…overnight, but if you persist in your efforts at photography, and if you look carefully at the images that satisfy you most, you will begin to be sensitive to…more or less consciously aware of…the basic patterns that fill the frame. You will begin to work with them. And your images, imho, will be the better for it.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Photogenic Moment?

North American Butterfly Gardens, Mission TX

My first Pic of the Day post

Just over a year ago I started a Pic of the Day project, sort of by accident. I was new on Twitter and Facebook at that time, and I began to post, just for fun, an image each day to TwitPics and to FaceBook. After a few days of that it occurred to me that it might be fun to make it a project, and I formalized my posting. My rules were simple: 1) any image I wanted to share, no matter when or where taken, and 2) one image per day, without missing a day.

That went on for about a month, but then it occurred to me (these things do occur if you let them) that people might like to know where and when the image was taken, how and why. For that matter, I wanted to know those things myself…when and where were matters of record (when is in the exif data, and memory generally serves for where), but the how and why mattered more to me, and I suspected would be more valuable to others…and they were much harder to pin down.

In order to share that information, I needed more space than TwitPics and Facebook allowed me, so it seemed natural to start another WordPress blog, and I did. Steve Ingraham’s Pic of the Day.

I knew from my experience here at Point and Shoot Landscape that the major beneficiary of the new blog would be me. Articulating what I have here about how I take pictures has been invaluable in helping me to refine my methods in the field…and recounting that daily, one image at a time, could only force me to learn a lot faster. I posted a brief repose on the anniversary of the Pic of the Day blog outlining some of that learning, and I will not repeat that here…but over the past few weeks I have noticed another change in my way of working which is significant and worth talking about here.

I don’t actually like to have to dip back into my archives to fill a day. I have thousands of images already posted to Flickr and Smugmug…certainly enough for several years of Pic of the Day blogs, but I don’t like to use them unless there is a particular reason. It always feels like cheating to me to go back to work I did several years ago…and certainly less interesting. I doubt, in fact that it matters to my readers, but it does to me. Occasionally, as when I was traveling in England this summer, it makes sense to me to revisit a past trip and post some of that work, as a kind of introduction the new work I hope to produce on this trip…to get both the reader and myself in the right mind-set for images of England.  That’s okay. But just dipping back because I don’t have any new work to share…well, that makes me feel just a bit guilty.

It has served as a spur, more than once this past year, to get out and take some pictures already! I am not really comfortable unless I have a week’s worth of Pic of the Days in the can…processed in Lightroom, uploaded to WideEyed InWonder  (my Smugmug site), and ready to be posted to Pic of the Day. And because of that, I have become a much more concentrated shooter on the days when I am out…and, I go out much more often with the express intent of filling my Pic of the Day stock.

Photography is not my job. I work full time, have a family to care for, other blogs to produce (Cloudy Days and Netbook Nights on cloud computing, netbook tech, and iPhone applications takes a considerable amount of my time), etc. My photography time is limited. Often only the fact that my PotD stock is running low forces me to make time for photography! It has inspired me to make time on business trips, even if it is only a few hours snatched between other obligations, and, perhaps more importantly, to shut down the computer and get outside…somewhere…anywhere…around home to find images to fill my PotD stock.

First Snow Morning

It forced me, after the first snow of the year, to find my boots and get out at sun-up. It forced me to don my winter coat and gloves and drive the miles on a frosty Saturday morning to Emmon’s Preserve the other day…just to see if there was anything there worth photographing that day.

During the Lunch break at Cloister in the Wood, Germany

It forced me, on a trip to Germany, to get outside on lunch breaks between meetings, camera in hand. It forced me to take my few rest hours in Germany between sets of meetings (I had half of a day on Sunday uncommitted) to walk the old town of Wetzlar and look for images…when I would, in many ways, much rather have been resting at my hotel. It has forced me, on Sunday mornings in Texas, when exhausted from a week of field-trips and talking to birders (my job), to leave my binos at the hotel and go look for images.

Sunday morning in Old Town Wetzlar, Germany

And, on each outing, if forces me to be productive. It forces my eyes wide open, and my imaging sense into high gear every moment I am in the field. I am looking for images. I need to bring back the bacon every chance I get, and since that Pic of the Day just does not stop, I have to bring back as many good images as I possibly can. WideEyedInWonder is apt. Only now I can’t wait for the wonder to happen to me…I have to go out looking for wonder!

And what a difference that makes. From looking for photogenic moments, I have had to turn to making every available moment photogenic. It is a matter of focus and will…of turning the skills I have developed over a lifetime in photography loose in a hyper-intentional way every moment I have. As I write this, I am realizing that, while focus and will are accurate, so is the loose in that sentence. It requires a kind of relaxing…a certain restful confidence that the images are there, that I will find them…and that my skills, always growing, will rise to the occasion of capturing any and all images that offer, when I am consciously looking for them.

“You don’t take a photograph…you make a photograph.” Ansel Adams.

Over the past year I have really learned that lesson…I need to make images for Pic of the Day…and on outing after outing…I go out and do make images.

Winter morning at Emmons Preserve, 10 miles from home

Whether it is a winter morning at Emmon’s Preserve with nothing much out of the ordinary happening, or a winter morning at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, one of the most photogenic places I know of…there are images to be found…photogenic moments to be captured. I might come back from Emmons with 10 good images (10 Pic of the Day posts!) and I might come back from the DBG with 30, but I do come back from every outing with images worth sharing. And that is a very good feeling.

Winter morning at the Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix AZ

Okay, so good enough for me…but what do I have to say that might help you to achieve something similar?

1) set yourself a goal. If an image a day seems too steep, try for an image a week (much less than that seems, to me at least, to be too tenuous to hold on to). Just the process of looking closely at a single image you have made every day or every week will quickly make you better at seeing images wherever you look. And, if like me, it inspires you to take (make) more images, that is all to the good!

2) relax. Begin where you are. If your camera is still on Auto, shoot on auto. If you look at my blog you will see that 90% of my images are taken on Programmed auto…without any in-camera adjustments on my part (one of the lessons I have learned from the Pic of the Day blog, by the way…I had no idea how mundane my shooting habits are until I had to write it down every day). The Programmed there might mean that adjustments are possible…it does not mean that I often make them.

3) Look for patterns…look for patterns to fill the frame of the image. Big patterns, as in a landscape, and little patterns, as in a macro. It is all about patterns. Line and form and light…the way shapes are arranged to fill frame the camera is able to capture, just a little rectangle after all, and the way the light molds the shapes with highlight and shadow. The way the colors, which are the second aspect of light, fall within the frame. You are not photographing things or people. You are capturing patterns within a frame. The things (or people) that make the patterns may be more or less important, but their importance is controlled by where you place them in the pattern you have captured (composition…rule of thirds, point-of-view, etc. See The Really Strong Suggestion of Thirds, Point of View, Shopping for Color in Old Town Albuquerque, and Lupine Lesson: Point of View). It is the pattern that will make or break the photograph. It is the pattern that the photograph is really about. (I plan a blog entry about this pattern thing soon.)

4) don’t wait for the Photogenic moments…go out and find them…better yet, go out and make them. Pattern: line and form, light and shadow and color…pattern is everywhere. There are no unphotogenic moments. Photogenic is not, when it comes right down to it, an attribute of the world you are part of (though we generally use it that way)…it is, in reality, an attribute of your soul, your mind, your spirit…of the person you are in the world. You make the photograph. It is your eyes that find the patterns. Your hands that hold and point the camera. Your finger that fires the shutter. It is all you…all in you…trust your photogenic soul, feed your photogenic soul, fill your photogenic soul. Go wide-eyed in wonder and the whole world is full of wonder! If I did not know that before, I certainly have learned it through the Pic of the Day blog…and learned to trust it implicitly.

So, here’s a deal for you. If any of you are inspired to start a Pic of the Day, or Pic of the Week blog, I promise to visit every day/week and look at your work. Promise. And I will make, as often as possible, comments. How’s that for a deal? But you have to be faithful. A Pic of the Day blog means every day…never fail. Pic of the Week, ditto.

Photogenic moments? I am eager to see what moments you make.

Bend in the stream of time: photogenic moments around every bend...

Posted in aesthetics, inspiration, instruction, Opinion | 3 Comments

Netbooks for Traveling Photographers: Take Two

Over on Cloudy Days and Netbook Nights: Netbooks, take two.

Posted in editing, postprocessing, Reviews | Leave a comment

Distortion City! (and how to cure it…)

One of the most difficult subjects for today’s Point and Shoots, even the most advanced (maybe especially the most advanced with their superzooms) is architecture. This was brought home to me after a recent visit to Germany where I was pretty much confined to photographing the Old Town in Wetzlar (and a cloister/hotel in Lich). Very picturesque…but, with its exposed beamwork, tall thin buildings, narrow streets, and stone walls it is subject matter which brings out absolutely the worst in todays’ modern zooms. Curves replace straight lines everywhere. Buildings lean into the frame at crazy angles. Walls waver and bulge. Shooting from street level on narrow cobblestone streets the perspective distortion alone is dramatic…when you add the distortions of a P&S zoom, things get more than a little crazy.

Example.

Crazy Distortion!

I really like these buildings, this street, and I can live with the distortions of the lens I was working with. It is still a satisfying image, in my opinion, despite the really severe distortions displayed. I mean, look at the buildings at the end of the street! Nothing in nature or in architecture looks like that! Part of it is perspective, but part of it is the unique set of distortions of my H50 zoom at full wide.

Of course, since such zoom distortion is so common today in images we see published, and since, without special perspective control lenses that only pros who specialize in architecture use, any image of buildings like this will show massive perspective distortion, we have begun to take such distortion for granted. It is part of the image. We are over it. It is not that we do not see it…it is that we make automatic, even unconscious, allowances for it.

And distortions like this hardly effect my landscapes and macros at all. They are there but it takes rectangular objects stacked and a close horizon like…well like buidings in Old Town Wetzlar along a narrow street…to bring them really to the forefront.

So, I have two choices. I can enjoy the tourist style shots of the Old City for what they are, distortion and all, or I can attempt to fix it in software.

Until this past week, fixing in software for me was not an attractive option. My little Acer Aspire One Netbook, while it handles general processing and cataloging in Lightroom just fine and has made me a happy mobile photographer for quite some time, simply chokes on a task as mathematically intensive as adjusting the perspective and distortion of an image…even using PhotoShop Element’s excellent Camera Distortion Filter. For me it is complicated by the fact that Lightroom is my primary tool. Lightroom lacks distortion filters, so I have to open the file in an external editor (Elements in my case), work on it, and save it back to my Lightroom catalog. Lightroom makes the process very easy, but having both Lightroom and Elements open on my netbook at the same time, and doing any complex task strains the resources of the computer to the max…past the max too often. Even if it works, a lot of time is spent waiting while the computer thinks about whether it is going to work. And the alternative, saving the Lightroom version to drive, closing Lightroom and opening Elements, opening the file, doing my thing there, saving the image back to drive, then reimporting it into my Lightroom catalog…well, since my processing time is limited by my real job, and I have a family that wants some of my attention, it would have to be a very special image for me to do all that!

Last week, though, I upgraded my travel laptop/netbook. You will undoubtedly hear more about it in a more comprehensive review at some later date, since it is already revolutionizing the way I deal with images (as in this case), but suffice it to say for now that I can now work with Lightroom and Elements at the same time, flipping back and forth as needed, and both programs are, by my standards (which are probably low compared to a pro), satisfyingly responsive even on the most complex tasks.

(Okay I won’t keep you in suspense. It is an Atom powered HP Mini 311 with Nvida ION graphis; an 11.6 inch, 1366×768 (16/9 ratio) screen; and 3 gigs of memory. My new travel/photography computer.)

Now that I have the equipment, I decided to attempt some distortion control on a few of my favorite Wetzlar shots.

This is the image above, processed with PhotoShop Elements Camera Lens Distortion filter set.

Perspective and Distortion controlled version

Distortion and Perspective controlled version

It is still not perfect. I might go back and rework it a bit more, but it is way better, at least from a distortion perspective (pun!) than the original. The buildings don’t lean crazily any more. The lines are more or less straight, and the walls apparently vertical. I accomplished this in about 2 minutes using the filter in Elements.

Whether it is a better image than the original is a matter of personal taste and photographic philosophy. I think I like it better. I think, right at the moment, that it was worth the effort of correction. I think, if I were to make a print to hang on the wall, I would prefer the corrected version. Of course, on mature reflection, that might all change. We shall see.

What do you think?

I am going, for anyone interested, to walk you through processing out the distortion in an image using the Correct Camera Distortion filter in PhotoShop Elements.

The first step, if you are working in Lightroom, is to have Lightroom make a copy with your Lightroom edits and send it to Elements. It is a two click process. If you are working directly in Elements, just open the image.

This is our starting image.

Where we start

The Correct Camera Distortion filter is in the Filters menu. The open dialog looks like this. Click the image here to see a full screen view.

Correct Camera Distortion filter dialog: Elements

As you can see, you have several distortion controls at your command, beginning with Distortion (which controls barrel and pincushion), down through vertical and horizontal perspective, vignetting and edge stretch. The best part though is the fine grid laid over the image and the fact that you can watch changes you make happen in real time. All you have to do is adjust the controls so that verticals match the upright grid lines and horizontals match the lines across, and then adjust edge stretch so the frame is filled once more.

I always start with perspective. In most shots it will be vertical perspective that is noticeably off. Experiment with the slider. As you can see in the screen shot, the slider stretches one edge (top or bottom) of the image and shrinks the other. Slide it until the verticals in the image more or less match the verticals in the grid.

Slide to adjust the verticals in the image.

Once the perspective is more or less correct, you can adjust distortion. Distortion turns straight lines into curves, and warps objects at the edge of the frame. Slide the slider until lines that should be straight are.

Slide the distortion control until straight lines are straight

After adjusting distortion you may find that the perspective no longer looks right. Go back and readjust if needed.

A second perspective adjustment may be necessary

Finally you can use the Edge Stretch control to stretch the image to fill the rectangular frame, effectively cropping off the curved edges of the corrected image: then apply the whole effect with a single click. Alternatively, you can leave the Edge Stretch tool alone, apply the filter, and then manually corp out the undistorted center of the image.

And that’s it.

And where we got to...

I should say that the peak of the building on the right is actually quite off kilter in reality.

Here is another example of an image that benefits, in my opinion, from some distortion control.

The tall thin problem

And the solution.

Upright!

So, fear not Distortion City, even if you are packing a P&S. Just plan to spend some quality time with PhotoShop Elements, or PhotoShop itself, and the Camera Distortion filter. It is amazingly easy.

Posted in distortion, editing, instruction, perspective, PhotoShop Elements, postprocessing | 6 Comments