Posts in Category: Words

It’s clear outside!

Clear Outside is a handy Android app that will display weather information about the current location or a location of your choice.

clearoutside

It’s really useful for astrophotography, landscape or sunset/sunrise photography as it will display the cloud cover too. The first time I used the app was on a sunset shoot with Blarney Photography Club at Garrettstown Beach where a member of the club told us about it.

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We were hoping to shoot the Milky Way later that evening but the sky was mostly covered by thick cloud. The app said that cloud would disappear by 10:30pm so after the sun set we went off to a local pub for some refreshments. I’m glad we stayed around. Later in the evening I looked out the back door and saw stars twinkling and we drove back down to the beach where we were presented with a beautiful Milky Way and a really dark sky!

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Other useful Android apps to have with you are:

  • Golden Hour will help you plan your sunset or sunrise expeditions. Also check out Golden Hour Calculator,
  • The Photographer’s Ephemeris are both apps that will show you sunrise and sunset times. I only have the former as I used Amazon credits to buy it but from using TPE for desktop I can see both have similar functionality. Give both a go, you can always get a refund within the Play Store time limit.
  • Phototools is a useful app that I’ve used in the past to calculate the DOF (depth of field) of various lens settings but it also does more, including calculating ND filter times and sunset/sunrise times.

And further reading on astrophotography:

  • My friend Marcus has written a great intro to night photography you should read.
  • Avoid star trails using the 500 rule.
  • This article suggested stacking consecutive photos which I haven’t tried yet.
  • This is a comprehensive article on night photography. I like his suggestion on focusing. Stars are at “infinite” distance so you’d think that setting the focus at the infinity symbol would get crystal clear images but I find I have to move the focus back a little. I never thought to shoot at infinity during daytime and check where the focus marker was so I could replicate it at night.
  • I have a “nifty 50”. It’s the Canon 50mm f/1.8 which takes lovely sharp photos but 50mm isn’t quite wide enough for Milky Way photography. It never occurred to me that shooting a panorama using overlapping photos would produce such nice photos. The same site has a useful Milky Way exposure calculator, and an astrophotography 101 guide.
  • Nightscapes is a huge repository of information about night photography. I processed the Milky Way photo above with these tips in mind.
  • You could try exposing to the right (over exposing) but I’m not convinced that will help too much.
  • If you don’t have any lens filters then consider using bracketed photos to create a HDR sunset. The sunset photo above was created this way and while I think it’s a little too sharp and not perfect I still like it. I used the free Nik software to do this.

Phew. It’s raining outside, there’s been nothing but cloud for the last few days but I’ll be keeping an eye on my apps to see when it’s clear outside and I can shoot more stars!

RIP Bill Cunningham

Fashion, and street, photographer Bill Cunningham died on Saturday at the age of 87. I didn’t know anything about him until this announcement on Reddit and I saw people on social media sites talking about him, and the documentary on his life and work for the New York Times.
I wish his work had more of a presence online, but I guess it was almost entirely in print. You can however, follow his Facebook page, or look at On the Street videos where you’ll find his work.

The documentary is on Netflix, but can also by found on Youtube and is well worth watching.

Here’s a much shorter video with some of the same footage:

(Featured image by Jiyang ChenOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikipedia)

(Gallery images downloaded from this Livejournal article)

Samsung Motion Photos for Street Photography

The Galaxy S7/Edge can take photos with a few seconds of video before the photo. iOS and Windows Phone devices can do the same, as I’m sure many other phones can. I was curious about how well it would work on the street, as it might be useful to show how a shot came about. Surprisingly, it worked well! I could even take two photos in quick succession, and the phone would record overlapping video for each. I didn’t notice any lag.

The phone records the motion photo as a regular jpg file. It’s much bigger though, as there’s a mp4 video files appended to the Jpeg image. You can find some technical info about the file format here.

Yes you can manually do this is 10 seconds with a hex editor by opening your original Photo and searching for MotionPhoto_Data then select everything above MotionPhoto_Data and copy and paste it as a new file and save as a JPG. Do the same for the MPG BUT this time select every thing BELOW MotionPhoto_Data make sure for either one you are doing not to copy the MotionPhoto_Data text. Also the hex for the MotionPhoto_Data is 4D 6F 74 69 6F 6E 50 68 6F 74 6F 5F 44 61 74 61.

Technically the JPG ends at ÿÙ or FF D9 so the ÿÙ SHOULD be included too.
Technically You really want to delete all this “……..Image_UTC_Data1458170015363SEFHe……… ..#…#…….SEFT..0…..MotionPhoto_Data”
But if you leave all this “……..Image_UTC_Data1458170015363SEFHe……… ..#…#…….SEFT..0…..MotionPhoto_Data” in the end of the JPG you can easily merge them back together and have the display and play on your phone

I was going to create a shell script to extract the image and video files but I found this Ruby script that does the same. Saved me searching binary files and splitting them. 🙂

For this first test of motion photos I just used the phone to extract the images. Here’s what I did:

  • Load up Samsung Gallery, and select all the motion photos. Then tap the share button, and a popup appears asking to pick picture or video. I picked video, so it worked away for a few seconds, up popped the list of sharing applications and I hit back. The videos were now in my Camera folder next to the Jpeg files.
  • Copy files to computer, but rename videos (add “-1” or something to the end). Lightroom stacks jpg/mp4 files and it’s not possible to edit Jpeg files when they’re stacked like this.
  • Backup Jpeg files, run them through an optimizer to remove embedded videos. ImageOptim will half the file size.

    Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 21.15.39

  • Import into Lightroom.
  • Edit Jpeg files, upload mp4 files and have fun!

Note:
Sometimes ImageOptim messes up and Lightroom shows the image as a sort of double-image with interlaced lines like this:

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 21.34.25

If you don’t have any backups, I found I could fix the problem by loading the image in GIMP and saving it again. Then I’d have to update the EXIF data or overwrite it in Lightroom.

Using the Ruby script above is even easier. Point it at your import directory and it’ll extract any images and videos it finds, appending “_Extracted” to the filename. It’s probably worth renaming them in some deterministic way to avoid the stacking problem I talked about above. Since it extracts everything, you can delete the original jpg file. I should modify the Ruby script so it does the rename step..

I doubt I’ll use this feature much but I’m sure I’ll use it from time to time.

Street Photography with the Samsung Galaxy S7

The Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have a 12MP camera, which is fairly mediocre as far as megapixel counting goes these days. The Galaxy S5 produced 16MP photos, and that device is two years old now! It’s not the megapixel count that matters of course but what kind of pixels they are and what software processes the data they create.

Photo by: Donncha O Caoimh (http://inphotos.org)

Apparently because the camera has fewer pixels, those pixels can be larger, and therefore collect more light, like buckets collecting water. The camera has image stabilisation built in too which helps keep photos sharp when your hand isn’t quite steady enough.
I shoot with the camera held at chest height in both hands and I used the volume buttons to take the photo without looking at the screen to compose. This worked fairly well, except when I accidentally obscured part of the lens with a finger. I need more practise.
I found I sometimes activated image review, probably by brushing against the screen with a finger. That was really annoying, especially when I thought I had captured the moment.

Photo by: Donncha O Caoimh (http://inphotos.org)

It also allows you to shoot RAW photos, capturing in DNG files that Lightroom or other RAW processor can read. You’ll have to enable PRO mode which disables other features like panorama, but it’s worth it. The advantage over Jpeg is that you get more leeway when conditions aren’t perfect for a photo. Say, you’re shooting a photo of someone against a bright sky. You’ll have a decent chance of recovering detail in the shadows.
I tried manually setting the exposure time, hoping the auto ISO would kick in when needed, but when exposure is set, auto ISO is disabled so I went back to auto-everything which worked very well anyway.
The Jpeg files the camera creates are very sharpened. You probably won’t need to apply much sharpening at all to them in development. This is something to keep in mind when switching between Jpeg and RAW.

Photo by: Donncha O Caoimh (http://inphotos.org)

The DNG files the S7 creates aren’t quite up to the standard you’ll get from a DSLR camera however. Jpeg files record 8 bits of data, a DSLR will commonly create RAW files containing 14 or 16 bit data. The Galaxy S7 outputs 10 bit data according to Lightroom. While that isn’t much different to Jpeg, it’s still enough to make a difference when working in taxing conditions. Laura Shoe has a good article explaining the differences between the different bit depths.

Photo by: Donncha O Caoimh (http://inphotos.org)

There’s something odd about those DNG files too. The files are generally 24-25MB in size, which is similar to the RAW files created by my 20MP DSLR. I thought that was strange enough that I decided to run Lightroom’s “Convert to DNG” on them. Without using lossy compression it converted those large files into much smaller 7-8MB files! Using a new DNG file I tested to see how well it would compress. A 24MB file was zipped down to 12MB. That means most of the file is empty space, not even random data which wouldn’t compress well. For comparison, a RAW file from my DSLR will compress from 20MB to just over 19MB.
It’s worth saving the space by converting the Samsung DNG files to Adobe DNG files.

Photo by: Donncha O Caoimh (http://inphotos.org)

There’s something odd about the metadata in the Samsung DNG files too. Mac OS X Finder won’t show previews of these files. When I looked at the metadata I saw the preview dimensions were set to 0x0. The converted DNG files were fine however.
The metadata problem extends to panoramic photos shot with the camera too. Here’s a lengthy thread on the matter. I fixed the problem by importing the photos into Apple Photos and then exporting the panoramic images. As a side bonus, the size of the file went from 44MB to around 17MB without discernible loss of quality.

Photo by: Donncha O Caoimh (http://inphotos.org)

The camera will record Jpeg and RAW images when in RAW mode, and it saves them to the internal memory, probably for performance reasons. I use the following chunk of code to delete those Jpeg files:

for i in *dng; do rm `basename $i .dng`.jpg; done

Snapseed and Lightroom mobile both allow you to edit DNG files. Snapseed will display a Develop interface where you can “develop” the raw file by adjusting much the same controls as “Tune image” has, but you can stretch them a little more. Here’s a Jpeg I edited in Snapseed.

Photo by: Donncha O Caoimh (http://inphotos.org)

I hate using a smart phone without a case. The S7/Edge is so slippery I’d be afraid to carry it outside without one. I opted for the Galaxy S7 Edge Case – Exact [TANK Series] case. I already have the S5 version and the S7 one is just as good.

I really liked shooting with the Galaxy S7, and I’ll use it again. It’s certainly a pleasure to use, even if there are some problems with the files it makes. A minor problem, given that it’s easy to fix them.

Edit: The S7 is fairly waterproof, able to operate while submerged. I’m not going to test that capability but a little rain doesn’t bother it at all!

Aperture ƒ/1.7
Camera SM-G935F
Focal length 4.2mm
ISO 400
Shutter speed 1/1500s

How to develop an underexposed photo in Lightroom

I had fun rescuing this really underexposed landscape photo in Lightroom.

It’s a photo of Kilcrea Friary in Co Cork and I went out there one September evening in 2015 with a few others from Blarney Photography Club to shoot the sunset. I remember the day was somewhat cloudy so I hoped there would be a magnificent backdrop of yellows and oranges to shoot the friary against. It was not to be. It was a solid mass of grey and darker grey. We took a number of photos from this side of the building, but for this shot I was experimenting and completely messed up the settings. It was a 61 second exposure but should have been almost twice that. Luckily I shoot in RAW so there was plenty of data for Lightroom to work with. This short video shows how I developed and rescued the photo.

I posted the photo of Kilcrea Friary last December. Here’s what the finished photo looks like.

kilcrea-friary-at-sunset

This video was shot at the Automattic grand meetup of 2015. This is a gathering of everyone (or nearly everyone) who works at Automattic. All attendees have to give a short talk. Some people love public speaking, but most of us don’t, so this is the hardest part of the meetup for many. The talks are called “flash talks” because they have to be completed within a certain length of time. A few years ago it was five minutes and the limit wasn’t enforced, but because the company is so much bigger now the talk must be four minutes or less, with someone holding up a sign warning when you hit the three minute mark!

This one was filmed in Park City, Utah in the United States at an altitude of around 1,000m so the air is thinner and I hoped I wouldn’t run out of breath like I did the previous year. This time I had forgotten I was due to talk until about 5 minutes before and had to run halfway across the hotel to get my notes, running down stairs, up other stairs, sprinting along corridors and then back, doing the same. Finally seated in the conference room my bottle of water spilled it’s contents on to the carpet, my stress levels were rising and then it was my turn to give a flash talk. That was practically a relief after the hectic activity of the previous few minutes!

A few days later I gave an hour long workshop on Lightroom, sharing tips, tricks and techniques that improve the look and feel of photos. That was fun as I could go more slowly and into more detail explaining the various tools in the app.

Tip: How to stop Apple Photos from launching for all devices in OSX

This is a short but useful snippet of code if you use a Mac to edit your photos that I found on Reddit. This stops Apple Photos from launching when you insert an SD card or any external USB device.

To stop Apple Photos from ever launching again when you connect any device/memory card do the following:
Launch a ‘Terminal’ session
Enter the following line:
defaults -currentHost write com.apple.ImageCapture disableHotPlug -bool YES

There is an option in Photos to stop it loading “for this card” but that doesn’t work if you format the card which is very likely a part of your workflow if you use Lightroom (and it’s more sensible to copy rather than move in case your drive goes belly-up while transferring).

More fun with long exposure stacking of photos

A few months ago I experimented with Imagemagick by using it to merge very similar photos of flowing water to give the impression of a longer exposure.

Here are a few more examples.

By merging a series of thirty photos taken two seconds apart I created a pleasing image that looks like a sixty second exposure. The day I took these photo was overcast and dull, but not dark enough to do an actual long exposure like that without the help of some fairly dark filters. I used the intervalometer in Magic Lantern to shoot this so I didn’t even need a remote release. My camera did all the work! This was created using the following Imagemagick command line:

convert *.jpg -average average.jpg

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average

I combined 60 long exposure shots of the night sky in the mountains of Utah (during the Automattic Grand Meetup a few weeks ago) to create a single long exposure of the stars moving through the sky. Thanks mkaz for publishing this post on interval shooting where I got this command line:

convert *.jpg -evaluate-sequence max combined.jpg

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combined

Finally, another series of sixty shots taken in Utah. The same convert command line was used to process these.

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combined

In the image above I should have cloned out the wires in the bottom left of the image. Lightroom makes it easy to make the same modifications to every image. Work on one image, then select all the ones you need and click “Sync Settings”.

It can be frustrating taking these types of photos as your camera is shooting a long series of very ordinary shots, and the final result can’t be seen until the images are processed correctly but it’s certainly worth it.

Update on December 1st: here’s one that didn’t work out so well. It was so windy the camera shook the whole time.

combined photo

Aperture ƒ/8
Camera Canon EOS 6D
Focal length 24mm
ISO 100
Shutter speed 1/50s

The Limits of Lightroom’s Smart Previews

I just stretched the limits of Lightroom’s Smart Previews this morning.

After editing the following image I decided to see what it looked like as a smart preview. I pushed the image quite a bit, exposing the colour in the sky as the sun set behind me in Lanzarote a few days ago.

Lightroom - original image

The original image is dull and lacks contrast but with a little work I was able to expose the lovely shades of magenta and orange present. Here’s what it looked like when Lightroom was editing a DNG file:

Lightroom - dng

But when I removed the file and Lightroom had to use the smart preview this is what that lovely colour gradient looked like:

Lightroom - smart preview

There’s visible compression artefacts visible that aren’t in the original and it looks more pronounced in Lightroom. I didn’t push the image too much, but these sort of artefacts can be seen in Jpeg images of smooth colour gradients like a blue sky has. They’re really visible if you push the contrast at all, or modify the colours in the gradient like I did with this image.

Smart previews create images that are 2500px wide or tall which is a good compromise between full size RAW and not being able to edit the image at all, but on a high resolution screen like a Macbook Retina screen you won’t be able to zoom much.

I will continue to use smart previews. My 1TB+ photo archive can be crunched down to less than 200GB which is within the reach of a laptop, and still leave free space. Once I plug my external drive back in and fire up Lightroom I can then export the images and be sure that the final image is what I want.

Lightroom Tips and Videos

At the recent Automattic Grand Meetup in Utah I presented a Lightroom tutorial. During the course of the tutorial I went through the various Develop panels explaining what (most of) the sliders did, offering some advice sometimes on how to use them.

Here’s a few tips from the night and links you’ll find useful:

  • Use ALT/OPTION to tune the white and black sliders to see how much the highlights are blown or shadows totally black.
  • Hold down SHIFT and double click the white and black slider titles to auto set them. Be warned that Lightroom will stretch the histogram to do this and avoid losing data but that might not be what you want to do.
  • Use the Upright tool (lens correction) to correct distortions and horizons.
  • Don’t overdo “clarity”. It’ll introduce halos.

When editing a photo it’s useful to begin by setting highlights to -100, shadows to +100, and adjust the whites/blacks using one of the techniques above. Pull back the highlights and shadows to suit your taste, and increase the contrast.

Lightroom Basic Panel

Serge Ramelli has a great Youtube channel. He has an over abundance of “subscribe to my newsletter” and “buy my course” notifications but his videos are still worth watching. If you want to download the RAW files he uses you’ll find them here. I enjoy his sunset tutorials and videos:

And I love what he did with this:

I think I discovered his channel first by searching for black and white tutorial videos. This one got me hooked:

Also check out Anthony Morganti’s channel. His video on sharpening and noise reduction is excellent.