Faking Depth of Field

First it was lomo, then cross-processing, and now the latest craze among online photographers seems to be making their photos look like miniture models.
A common side-effect of macro photography is a shallow depth of field (DOF) which means that only a small portion of the scene is in focus. Luckily this effect is very easy to emulate and here’s a tutorial to show you how. Pay attention to Christopher’s advise about what sort of shots work well! You could also buy a Len Baby which does a similar job and more!
Daily Dose of Imagery has a very good example of the “fake model” photo. He blurred the foreground and background, but some middle distance objects are in focus and intersect the blurred area. Nicely done.

Even after an effect becomes stale and overused online, there’s always the print world. People seem to like that sort of stuff all the time!

Starting Photography, Digital Workflow, Orphans and Amazing Zooming Images

Starting out in Photography
A few weeks back, Tom asked me by email about starting out in photography as he recently bought a Canon 350D and started posting photos online!
Some people are born with a talent and an eye for photography, but for the rest of us, practise makes perfect. Bring your camera with you wherever you go and take photos at every opportunity. This method is scoffed at by many but it works, and by examining everything later you’ll find a few gems hidden among the duds. Occasionally you’ll remember the next time you’re out that a particular shot worked well and use that lesson to improve the composition of a shot.

You must buy “Understanding Exposure” by Bryan Peterson.. My understanding of my camera completely changed after I read that. I linked to it on my blog ages ago and I go back to it on occasion.
His Creative book is good too, but not as much of an eye opener!

I went to a meeting of the Mallow Camera Club last December. It was interesting, but for various reasons I haven’t gone back there yet. They meet every Monday night if you’re interested. Cork Camera Club meet in the Garda Social Club on Tuesday nights. I don’t know anything about them however.

Subscribe to the flickr Interestingness feed: http://feeds.feedburner.com/InterestingFlickr – it has a lot of saturated/contrasty images but it’s still interesting. Bloglines sometimes quickly fills up with the max of 200 posts!

Digital Workflow
Your digital workflow describes how photos get from your camera to the screen and printed in a frame in your living room. It all depends on your software and operating system. If you’re using Linux, you might be interested in Jason’s one.
My own workflow revolves around a simple directory structure with top level YYYY directories, and sub-directories named after the current day in “YYYY-MM-DD – description” format. The description on the folder is generally good enough to help me find most images quickly. In each folder is another one called “Complete” which is a work and output directory. I save work in progress images in .xcf format, and the final result as 92% quality jpeg files. I use a simple script to copy files off my camera.
Here’s how I name images:

  • Large, original size or only cropped images have “-l” added to them. ie. img_9999-l.jpg
  • Medium size, 700 pixel wide or high images have a “-m” extension: img_9999-m.jpg
  • And anything smaller has “-s” attached to them.
  • Unfinished files have “-wip” appended to them usually.

I like Jason’s “current” work directory idea. I’ll have to modify my workflow somewhat and rename each image with YYYY-MM-DD prefixed to it if I’m going to use a global work directory but it would make backing up files easier.

Before uploading images I always resize them so the longest side is 700 pixels long. Almost all the images on this blog have that contstraint. Resizing an images involves the removal of information and makes the remaining pixels slightly more fuzzy. A straight vertical black line on a white background in a large image may have a ghostly border around it and it will be merged with the background colour making for a grey line. One of the most common ways of fixing this is to use the unsharp mask plugin which gives the illusion of sharpening an image by increasing local contrast. There are numerous unsharp mask tutorials online so I’ll let you find the one that best describes it to you.
Please remember, always resize your images before uploading them. Browsers are completely useless at resizing images!

Orphans, Zooming and Other Links

  • Urgent Call for Your Action on Orphan Works – a law is about to be passed in the United States making it much easier for photographs and visual works to be used without attribution or payment. Peter Marshall has a clear write-up about the danger of this bill while mrbrown describes it as a “possible disaster for all photographers”.
    How do I feel about attribution and image usage? Photographers and artists must be recognised. I have heard that my images have been used occasionally by others as desktop backgrounds or screensavers, and that’s great, but please leave a comment on that blog post if you use a photo. It will encourage me to continue posting!
    Printing my name and url on images is an option but it looks ugly and limits the appeal of a photo. Is it possible to embed those into the EXIF info?
  • Over on Hotwired I spied a very cool zooming image demo that could be built on to create a nice gallery script. I don’t like or browse gallery sites very often but this looks nice. It needs more work to be a polished work but I hope to see someone carry this project on to greater heights!
  • Top 10 Tips for Getting Attention on Flickr – worth a read if you’re a Flickr user. A few tips I hadn’t thought of and new ideas I must put into practise.
  • Fluid Effect – more before and after shots of beautiful people. It’s amazing what can be done!
  • One tip I picked up from the Flickr advanced user guide is the upload by email and and “blog this” function. It works well, but inserts two line breaks into my blog posts for some reason.
  • Shooting action shots in low light is a useful read if you’ve ever wondered why everything was blurry after that night out in the pub!
  • Peter noticed that Digital Journalist turned 100 this month! This magazine is such a good read, but I haven’t had time recently to look at this month’s issue.
  • Canon 5D vs 20D – full frame vs APS-C. What do you need? The full frame sensor wins, but not by much. In a “Practical Photography” magazine review of the NIkon D200 vs the Canon 5D, the Nikon won because it offered the best value for money. If you’re printing at higher than A3 size then buy a 5D but otherwise a 20D or D200 will suffice!
  • A positive review of the Sigma 18-200 lens which is rarely off my Canon 20D!
  • Version 4.6 of Bibble, a RAW photo processing tool available for Linux, Windows and Mac now comes with Noise Ninja included! The press release doesn’t make it clear if Noise Ninja is included in the “Lite” version but I’ll be giving it a whirl over the next few days and I’ll report back here on my first impressions! Later.. Bibblelite for Linux includes “basic” Noise Ninja support but they forgot to include the library file in the 4.6 release! Follow the instructions here to install it. It’s not the full Noise Ninja plugin, but Bibble will use it if available. As Noise Ninja isn’t available for Linux yet it’s a boon to have access to this cut down version!

The Canon 30D is finally here

This is a bit of a let down to be honest. The new 30D looks nothing like the leaked photo I found a while back. There are a couple of new features, most notably the bigger LCD screen, spot metering and a much bigger buffer but I don’t see any point in upgrading from my 20D. I was looking forward to seeing the ADAMS MODE button but alas, it’s probably not going to see the light of day for some time yet.
The really good news is that it’s the same price as the 20D which should force the price of existing 20D bodies down. Look for discounts at your favourite online retailer. If you see it at a bargain price, buy it! (via and every other photography news site)

On a related note, I weighed my Canon 20D and Sigma 18-200 lens. It’s a monster 1.25kg (or almost 3lbs)! No wonder I hurt my back last year. Carrying that amount of weight around one’s neck is a sure fire way of getting to know your physiotherapist better!

Welcome members of Dropzone.com! I hope you’ll look around and enjoy the photos!

People who noticed

Sometimes I do the right thing, take a nice photo, touch it up in a pleasing way, and I present it here and it draws the attention of a few kind souls who comment on it and maybe even talk about it on their own blogs, forums and sites. Sometimes they even say nice things about me! Here’s a few I noticed recently:

And in no particular order, here are the photoblogs I visit each day. This list is getting longer daily but these blogs publish photos that will inspire you! Many of them have appeared in the Photoblogs.org hot list, and that’s a very good starting point for finding good photoblogs. Other blogs belong to people who have left a comment here.
c h r o m a s i a | [daily dose of imagery] | Exuvia.net | DailySnap.com | s i m p l y l o t u s | AnnaWeb PhotoBlog | John Washington | Round Here | Movement4 | MUTE – Photoblog | { just photo } | IPlog | DjMagras Photos | caps:photo | Pulpo | panhandlin’ | captured4life | HeadphoneLand | Gabriela Cravo e Canela | Iced Coffee | Macro Art In Nature | Photogranny | NoWords | chromalark | Gareth Marlow’s Photo Blog | every so often | jxiong | Cozmo Photography Fotoblog | neverhappen.com | A Walk Through Durham Township, Pennsylvania | fotoecco | your waitress photos | Learning to see | joe’s nyc | paxtonprints.com
If your blog isn’t there, and you’ve left a comment here, it’s because you don’t post a new photo every day, you’re in my aggregator, or I just haven’t got around to adding you to my bookmarks!
While I’m here, say hi to the following Cork Photo bloggers:

  • Donal posts photos from gigs he goes to on a regular basis!
  • Robert just recently started blogging.
  • Ryan, like me, has been around as long as the hills! Bloody marvelous photographer too!
  • Corksurf posts photos a semi-regular basis, but I’m hoping he’ll post more regularly because he’s posted some great shots so far!

GE wants your picture in Times Square

This evening an interesting Flickr mail dropped into my inbox:

Dear Flickr Member:

We saw this photo of yours and really love it!

static.flickr.com/25/45090613_9a30eeb7c3_m.jpg

We selected your photo based on its quality and subject matter, which we believe is ideal for our project, “Picture a Healthy World.”

On February 14, 2006, GE Healthcare will launch a worldwide initiative to encourage people to share photos and stories of how they stay healthy.

Go to www.ge.com/health and add your photo by February 10, 2006 so your image can be displayed in Times Square in celebration of World Health Day.

Thanks for your help!

The GE Healthcare Team

P.S. Unfortunately, we cannot respond to your questions individually at this time. If you miss the deadline for early submission, you can still participate in Picture a Healthy World on February 14th.

I uploaded the photograph they linked to, although I had to agree to some draconian terms and conditions granting them and their vendors the right to do anything with the image.. (yes, I do read the terms and conditions when my photographs are involved)

You hereby grant GE and any of its third party vendors engaged to provide services to GE in connection with the Program, the unqualified, unrestricted, unconditional, unlimited, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual and royalty free right, license, authorization and permission, to publicly display …[snip]… take advantage of and exploit any and all of the rights set forth herein in connection with the marketing, advertising and promotion of the Program and any products, goods, features, functions, capabilities and/or services associated with us.

It’s only 700 pixels at it’s widest so they’re limited in what they can do anyway. If anyone sees the flying skateboarder in Times Square, drop me a mail, I’d love to hear about it!
Later… There’s more on Flickrnation – apparently the account was deactivated shortly afterwards because it was regarded as spamming.

Memories of the year 2005 in print

One of the criticisms of digital photography which I hear again and again is the fact that the photos are stuck on my PC where others can’t see them. The obvious solution is to have a select few printed.

So, where do you go to print your memories?
I’ve tried online printing services in the past and considered foto.com with their 9c prints. That sounds good except when you add postage fees, it isn’t that much cheaper than local priting services.

Bricks and mortor chemists and photo shops are reasonably priced, although the market leader, Spectra, have been increasing their prices, they recently slashed the cost of 6×4 prints to 17c a print.
Sam Mc Cauley Chemists have an offer until the end of January of 100 prints for 13.99 Euro using Fujifilm paper, and a local chemist here in Blarney, Walshs Pharmacy, will print 100 photos for 15 Euro using Kodak paper. Both offers only apply to 6×4 prints. I tried both and I’m impresed by the quality.
Photos submitted were from the Sony 717 (a wedding in 2004), Panasonic FZ5 and Canon 20D. Where I had shot in RAW+jpeg on the Canon, I used the “small low quality” files generated from shooting in RAW+S mode. Can I tell the difference? No! Even images with a lot of noise came out looking really well and I’m very happy.
I have 200 photos out of some 26,000 shots to show friends and relations and the memories that go along with them. The next thing to do is attempt to build nice looking frames for larger prints!

The best thing about printing? I found my favourite photo of 2005. It’s one of Jacinta in Cobh at sunset. She has a radiant smile, the light is great, and she’s so beautiful!

Simple steps to photo touch-up

In this post I’m going to show you how to go post-process this image:
By the end, we’ll have an image that looks like this:

This tutorial was created using the GIMP, but it’s equally applicable to your favourite editing software as long as it has the same tools. Photoshop, and other editing software should work equally well.
The steps described here are worth practising, and will apply equally well to any portrait!

First of all, I came across this photo on Flickr through my contacts page. Here’s the original photo, and Ayhtnic kindly let me use her image.

After you load the image, the first thing to do is use Auto Levels from the Layer->Colors menu. This tool alone does wonders for most photos, especially if they’ve been captured as Jpeg straight from the camera.

The image is a little noisy so let’s clean it up a bit. Use Selective Gaussian Blur from the Filters->Blur menu. Use small values as we just want to smudge the noise away without losing too much detail. A radius of 3, and delta of 10 worked fairly well here.
Let’s brighten it a bit and add contrast. Use the Curves tool from Layers->Colors for this. The classic “S” shape always adds life to a photo.
Open the Layers dialog and duplicate the background layer.
Select the new layer (called “background copy” here) and use the Curves tool again to brighten this layer a lot.
With the same layer selected (the top one, the “background copy”), we’ll apply some blur. Open up the Gaussian Blur tool, it’s in Filters->Blur. Apply a blur of 5 pixels to the top layer. Don’t worry, we’re not finished!
We’re going to change the “mode” of the top layer now. With the top layer selected, click on the drop down box that says “Normal” and scroll down to “Soft Light”. You can also try other modes, they’ll make for interesting photos!
Notice how the image suddenly changed?
Even with the nice glowing effect, the image looks indistinct. Let’s sharpen the bottom layer. Select that layer in the Layers dialog and load the “Unsharp Mask” filter. This is in Filters->Enhance->Unsharp Mask.
Don’t apply too much sharpening. Make it subtle. The settings in the screenshot work well.

All that’s left is to save the image, save it with a quality setting of 92%. Don’t bother with higher as it’s practically impossible to see any difference in quality.


The finished photo

Black & White Recipes

Here’s a long list of channel mixer settings to emulate various black & white films. I used the high contrast setting for the photo below but the different types of film create interesting effects.

It’s worth checking them out, but don’t get hung up on them – one setting will suit one particular type of shot while another will suit others.