Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Do Aliens like Olympus Raw? Another encounter with the little gray guys (or girls its hard to tell!)

Having more time to work with Alien Skin Exposure X2 and reviewing how my Olympus OMD EM1 Mark 1 files behave in this software. So far, I like what I see. Having deeply used both Lightroom and Capture One for years I can really see no drop off in quality in my RAW files. The one thing the other two applications have that X2 does not is camera RAW presets. These will alter the overall image upon importing to reflect a camera setting, ever so slightly changing the appearance of the image. Personally I rarely used them because I make so many global changes to my images that these presets just do not matter.
The last few months Exposure X2 has become my primary workflow application. When Alien Skin updates their RAW camera support to include my Panasonic Lumix LX10 I will do another review looking at those files. So for now lets talk about the Olympus EM1 files.

The first image below shows the metadata and overall exposure with clipping turned on in the histogram. Before moving on, I do want to mention how I like the metadata module. Alien Skin has four fields to add all the necessary contact info. By selecting all your images in a folder at once you can simply add to these data fields once and effect all the images. Clean, simple, and fast. The one field missing is keywords. I had brought that up with the technical staff at Alien Skin and was told that would be included in some future version. Just found it strange how that was not included up front. Now back to the image. With clipping on the red at the top of the image and blue around the front of cabin are the two most extremes.

Original file with clipping on.

Adjusting just for the highlights I was able to retrieve detail in most of the sky but more importantly the dogwood blossoming flowers. Adjustments are quick and linear.
Highlight recovery.

Moving highlights back to neutral, next was shadow recovery. Looking at the original image this area of the cabin is almost black in shadow. Olympus RAW file response to shadow recovery has been very good in Exposure X2. Detail was pulled out and was very workable.
Shadow recovery

Zooming in on the front of the cabin I have a very usable cabin with shadow recovery. Again RAW file support is on par with the other big names out there in how I use software in my workflow. I am not a pixel peeper. This image is zoomed in 100% to show the latitude of the adjustments.
100% zoom showing usable recovery of shadows.

When I select an image that will be made into my artwork I will push these sliders to their limits just to see how the image will behave. This gives me a baseline as to how I will go about brushing in my adjustment layers. Ultimately I end up with something like this coming from the RAW file. All from a very bright day with hard light and almost black shadows in my area of interest.
The Finished Product
So in summary the quality and latitude of Olympus RAW files and Alien Skin Exposure X2 has been a very good match in my creation of artwork. I have been able to push/pull burn/dodge to my hart's content. It has been equally as good as Capture One and better than Lightroom for my style creation. One other feature I like to mention is using the eye dropper to select the white balance. In Exposure X2 moving the eye dropper across the image the white balance will change in real time. You also get a magnification lupe that follows the eye dropper and allows you to easily see which pixel you have selected. Very nice touch.

Lastly, Alien Skin has posted on their blog some major updates coming soon. Very excited about what they are doing. Specifically the new layers module. This REALLY fits into my workflow. I would love to see them add artistic brush layer support from Snap Art into this module. Thereby brushing in various art styles into the image. Now that would be a cool feature.

Now for the shameless plug. Want to see where all this leads? Head over to Silver Streams Galleria to see how I put it all together.

Until next time. Be careful about those alien abductions. You may just start using their software. Now where is my ray gun....

Monday, January 23, 2017

A visit by Aliens

Yes it has been awhile since my last post, well actually about a year. One of the reasons has been my health which is back on track to wellness and the other has been a frustration with software. If you look at my Fine art web site you will see my style of landscape photography @ Silver Streams Galleria  My technique has evolved to a point of consistency in this style. Previous post have shown how I came about this look. No mysteries or secrets here. Never being a Photoshop user I have been on a trip through software to help me evolve this style. Well why not just use Photoshop? First, for me is its just too big and complex. Second, for whatever reason, my brain just can not figure out Adobe products. It just does not click for me. My son uses it for his graphic design but I just can't get it. Lightroom was fine but did not do what I needed to create this type of art.
So my artwork has been on a journey of discovery through every photo software application in the industry. Name it and I have probably tried the 30 day trial. I use a PC so there are a few that are only MAC specific. Sorry not going back to Apple products just to try software.

If you have read some of my older post I was using Capture One for a lot of my creations. It is still great software and I still have it for five more months. And herein lays the problem for me with some of these companies. I do not want to rent software. Paying a monthly fee rubs me wrong. Since I have signed up you can not just cancel without penalty. So 5 more months of paying for something not being used.

Another issue that I have been having problems with is database catalogs. I work off an external drive setup as a Raid 1 drive and a USB 3 connection. On this drive is over 95,000 images. Both Lightroom and Capture One were having problems with cataloging my drives. Maybe the size or number of images. Not sure. What I did discover is some software developers are developing their product that does not create a catalog in the traditional sense. This intrigued me as to how it would work for me. And that's when I was visited by Aliens.

It was late at night and drinking a good Bourbon when there was a bright flash and there before me appeared three little gray aliens. I was frozen in front of my 27" screen with glass of Bourbon in hand.  I asked are you from Mar? Who appears to be their leader spoke up and said..."No we are from Raleigh, North Carolina. "Is that close to Mars?", I ask. No was the reply.."Just South of Canada" he says. The leader goes on to say "We have been watching from afar and noticed you have been frustrated with software. Go to this site download the software and give it a try. We will be back in 30 days to see what you think. If you don't like it we will destroy all of planet earth with our ray gun." Cool!

So now being forced to try Alien Skin Exposure X2 OR face the destruction of the planet. I downloaded it and here are the results.

In my trips to the Smoky Mountains I had captured this image this past Fall and waited knowing what I wanted to create, but could not get software to work the way I wanted. I loved the way the roots of these trees grew on top of the rocks. There is no soil here for the roots to dig in. I could see the light and what I wanted to do with it. The lighting was perfect that afternoon. It was very soft and non-directional.

So what do I think? I like it! Alien Skin Exposure X2 is a very nice, streamlined and quick bit of software. I will not get into a few review of the software but I will talk about their adjustment layers and cataloging. First with the catalog. They do not do it like Lightroom. There is no catalog per say. It appears what they do is scan your folder structure and add a sidecar folder with all the information. My folder structure is straight up year/month/day with over 95,000 images and man did their software scan and catalog FAST. It was impressive. Now the adjustment layer is very powerful allowing all kinds of adjustments and film presets. I was told the amount of layers is not limited. Looking at the image screenshot below you can see the selected layers by the dots. Each dot is a layer selection individually brushed in, using my Wacum, to create the look.

What I like to do is take the image and reduce the overall exposure then paint the light back in with individual adjustments for each area of the image. Pretty simple stuff really. It gives me complete control to create the mood and light direction.

So what you see below is the final image with all layers complete. The light was created to highlight the trees and roots with some falloff into the back. As Bob Ross would say "You need darkness to show the light". This is what I had envisioned when first capturing the image.

Exposure X2 has been easy to learn and a pleasure to use. So far it seems to be bug free not having any crashes on my PC. Over this 30 day trial period I have been in contact with one of the Aliens named Nate (strange name for an alien I thought). This alien has been very responsive to my questions and future suggestions.

So the world owes me a big thank you. I have gone ahead and purchased the full suite thereby saving the planet from certain destruction by the ray gun. You are all welcome. So far the Aliens have not returned. Safe travels.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Picture Process Before and After: Gatlinburg Trail with the Sony RX100M3

It's a new year and I have been in slight hibernation. Just a bit though. A different photography has kept me busy. Which is working with high school performing arts, mainly dance at this point. So my artistic images have been playing second to the other events to cover. That was until this past weekend. As a traveling soccer family my youngest son had a tournament in our favorite place. The Smoky Mountains.  Recently a wonderful sports facility has opened. Rocky Top Sports World had a tourney for boys senior teams. The schedule allowed us to take some brief walks in the park. Located very close to our hotel on the strip is the trailhead to the Gatlinburg Trail. A very nice quick 1 mile trail that is both people and dog friendly. We had walked the trial twice. One day in the late afternoon the other in the morning. Both days I carried my Sony RX100M3 camera and a travel tripod. My Olympus OMD EM-1 was setup to cover the soccer action, so I did not feel like changing settings on it. So I walked the trial with the smaller Sony. Call me lazy.

One thing Sony does with their cameras is offer software to create feature sets that do certain functions. I have several of theses apps on this camera. The most recent one called (Smooth Reflection) mimics an ND filter. To get the effect of moving water the camera takes 8-10 exposures at different shutter speeds then composes these into one JPEG image. The application does a pretty good job of doing this. However, you must use a tripod for the camera needs to be on something solid to capture.

So walking along the trail mid afternoon on Saturday I came across this scene with the sun coming through the winter trees. The sun coming off the river and creeping through the trees, highlighting the green moss was beautiful. So lets see how the little one inch camera sensor can handle the direct sunlight. Looking at the first image out of camera the light on the river and the light on the moss came out well. The app also did a good job of not blowing out the sky away from the sun. The water at this time was running quite fast with melting snow from the week before and 14 hours of rain just two days before this. The camera app did a good job of creating some motion in the water flow. I knew I had something to work with.

Sony RX100M3 using Smooth Reflection camera app.JPEG out of Camera
Over the last four to five months I have been making a major change to my work flow. Gone is Adobe products as my main tool and, in is CaptureOne Software by PhaseOne. There is a learning curve coming from Adobe products. However the quality of camera RAW and the manor of image adjustments is better. And the latest version 9.0 has even further improved on features and controls.

So knowing what I saw and what I would like to see in the finished image I took the image into CaptureOne software and pulled some color out. Next I import the image into Topaz Impressions for my working into a painterly effect. Inside Topaz Impressions I chose the water color effect for completion of my vision.

Finished image completed with CapturOne and Topaz Impression
I took a number of images in this area. Being this time of year you never know what the weather will do. One week before this image was taken there was a good fives inches of snow on the ground. So I was pleased to get one workable image on a very brief and limited visit to our favorite place. Safe travels and take care.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Santa's Photographer uses an Olympus OMD EM1

For the last four season I have been the official photographer for Santa on the Polar Bear Express operated by the Indiana Transportation Museum. This is a great group of people passionate about trains and Santa.

Every year I try and ride several round trips with Santa getting the event in both day and night settings. Personally I like the night images more. They set the holiday mood much nicer. For the last several season I have been using the Olympus OMD EM1 as my camera of choice. I downgraded in size from Nikon gear. However I did not downgrade in image quality. The complete Olympus package works so well for this type of event. The gear size and weight are a huge factor for me. I am busy moving between five passenger cars bouncing along at 20mph. That does not sound fast but on an old rail line, it's fast enough. These cars are swaying.

The other feature where Olympus has an advantage is with the built in image stabilization. The night images would not come out nearly as good without this feature. Since the cars are so dark at night I am using the 17mm 1.8 lens opened wide. No flash at night, it ruins the mood. I will use a flash during the day as fill light.

Being the official photographer to Santa is a workout. After one ride, I am worn. It can be difficult being in the right place and time to get that magic moment. These images are used for the museums marketing. Both online and print. I do not take a picture of every child with Santa. Instead I am looking for that image that would be used for advertising. A moment that defines the event. Below are some of my favorites from this season.

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A visit to the National Air Force Museum with the Sony RX100M3

This past week before the Thanksgiving holiday I had business to attend in Dayton Ohio. My meeting was in the morning leaving my afternoon free. The business was only 15 minutes away from the Air Force Museum. So by 12:30 that afternoon, there I was heading into a very cool museum. This was my third visit to the National Air Force Museum in two years. I have yet to see everything. One could spend an entire day doing nothing but reading all the presentations along the walls.

So this time, being on business, I wanted to travel lighter. The last two times I brought my full Olympus gear and tripod. This time I only brought my Sony RX100M3 and my Tamrac Zipshot Mini tripod. When folded this little tripod will fit in a coat pocket. It is perfect for the Sony camera.

In previous blog post I discussed creating art using the in-camera features. That was one of my main objectives during this visit. In the cold war section of the museum there is a series of bare aluminum aircraft with colorful insignia. Having shot in this section before, I knew black and white looked good with the directional lighting. So I setup the Sony RX100M3 with Black and White, Superfine JPEG and used the filter option based on what color I wanted highlighted.

So here are the results. These are straight out of camera. The first image was printed on my Canon Pro 100 printer. It looks fantastic printed. Not bad for a little 1" sensor!

So is this art? My answer, Yes. There is vision and intent creating these pictures. If ever in the Dayton area, do stop. The size of this place will blow you away. Take care and safe travels.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Meeting the Medicine Buddha

Recently I had the pleasure of working with the Tibetan Monks. Not many people here in the state realize we have THE Tibetan monastery in Bloomington Indiana. This service was with the Medicine Buddha. Not being fully versed in all that was happening, it was a healing cleansing service. Being held in a private residence. The house itself could be the subject of another blog entry.

When covering these types of events I tend to enjoy capturing close up images. Especially when there is an alter having a Buddha. The alter was a temporary setup just for the event. The image was taken after the ceremony. This Buddha held my attention for several different compositions taken. This is the composition I favored most. Mainly due to the other pictures having a more distracting background.  Secondly, the light on Buddha was captured from another camera flash. How is that for timing? Without the flash the image becomes less brilliant with no shadow. The light was a gift from Buddha. So on next to processing the image as I see it in my mind.  If you have read any of my other post I like to go dark and then bring out the light. The first image below is the original out of camera. It was taken with my Olympus OMD EM-1 free hand, no flash. The image stabilization in the EM-1 camera is fantastic. Allowing me to get images like this without a tripod.

Initial capture with Olympus OMD EM-1
Once again, Capture One was used to process the image. There has been a learning curve to Capture One. If coming from Lightroom give it time to get use to the change in workflow. RAW images do have a different look in Capture One versus Lightroom. To me the difference is in color and clarity. They seem to be just a bit more brilliant.

Looking at the finished image below. The overall exposure was reduced a good three stops to beginning the painting in of light starting with the Buddha. Thanks to the flash, from the other camera, I had detail and shadow and highlight in Buddha to work with.

Using the layer brushes in Capture One I started painting in light to the Buddha. Along with light saturation, clarity and structure were increased slightly. It was slow going to get the detail and effect I was looking for. During this process I will make several virtual copies, so if something happens I can revert back to a previous copy.

The light behind Buddha on the wall is natural light. You can see it in the original, however it is more pronounced when the overall exposure is reduced. It frames the Buddha wonderfully.

Finished Buddha,now looking for a title.
Once Buddha was complete ,it was on to the other items in the view. The candlelight gave me a nice soft light up front to use and highlight the glow on the Orange and Vase. The glow also reflected nicely off the front of the bowl.

The remainder of the alter was highlighted with bringing some detail out in the feathers and contrast in the flowers. When I work an image to this detail I already have a title in mind. This one I do not. I having been playing around with "Awakening Hart" but still not sure. So help me along. What should I  title this art? Take care and safe travels.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Wedding Weekend with the Sony RX100M3

It's a rare occasion in our family when we get together. With everyone busy with their own schedules it makes for a difficult time to get everyone together for even the simplest of gatherings. This past October we had such an event on my wife's side with a wedding. You know you are moving up there in age, when the flower girl from our wedding is now getting married. And that's just what happened. Knowing this was going to be a quick overnight trip to the shores of Michigan, I was debating what gear to take, since there were going to be four adults in a Mazda 3! Side note on the Mazda 3. This is our fourth Mazda and our second Mazda 3. It was the first road trip for this Mazda 3 and did it perform nicely. OK now back to cameras.

So what to do with gear? My hope was to capture the Grand Haven lighthouse at night. Knowing this I was ready to grab my Olympus OMD EM-1, tripod and big bag. Instead I had a thought, or a moment of laziness, not sure. But anyway I was up for a personal challenge. Could I capture the lighthouse at night with a small sensor camera like the Sony RX100M3? So the challenge was on.

As you can see in the picture below. Equipment storage was about as small and light as can be. I had the RX100M3 in its Sony case. The Tenba case held two extra batteries and a card. Last was the tripod. I did not even bring my laptop or battery chargers. It was pleasant traveling this light.

Road Trip! Why throw all your camera gear in the trunk, when it fits in the glove box?

Road trips are always nice in a new car. This one was also uneventful, making it even better. We arrived just as the bride and her father were about to start down the aisle. I had just enough time to turn the RX100 on and snap this in aperture priority without checking any of the camera settings. I think it came out well. Post processing was a slight crop and change to B&W all done in Capture One.

As I become more familiar with the camera the fear of ISO noise on a small sensor is fading. I can comfortably get usable images upwards of 3600.

The quick capture as the bride and father walk down the aisle. 1/80s - F2.8 ISO 5000
The bride and father image was shot at ISO 5000. I did no noise reduction on this image. The image is very usable. In fact I think the noise is controlled and adds fine to the grain of the image. So after a wonderful ceremony it was on to the party.

This wedding had one professional photographer and two videographers covering the event all day. I think weddings are some of the hardest events to work. The professionals did a great job all day. I politely stayed out of the way and just watched good hard work from a distance.

Sony RX100M3 with on camera flash.
The reception was in the Family Center of the Parish. A nice hall, nothing fancy, however very functional for a multitude of church happenings. The one thing I did find odd was the cake placement. This beautiful cake was placed in an unlit corner of the room with the wall behind draped in black. Absolutely no light placed on the cake. So I finally got to use the built in flash of the RX100M3.

I popped out this little flash not expecting much and was pleasantly surprised by the results. The above image is straight out of camera. This was a dark corner of the room having several different light sources around the area. The camera did a good job with the white balance. TTL metering was also spot on. The wedding photographer came in with two studio lights and lit the cake with the strobes. I chimped over his shoulder to see. The newlyweds will be happy with his work.

So the main part of this weekend challenge was to get the Grand Haven lighthouse at night. I was really looking forward to this. Yes I took pictures of the family and got all the relatives pictured with my wife, but my goal was the lighthouse. I was on a mission. So onward to the picture of the lighthouse below.

Oh where is the night shot of the lighthouse you ask????? WELL two things.

First the weather. Upon exiting the Family Center it was starting to drizzle. By the time we drove over to the lakefront it was raining, hard. On top of that the sand was blowing, sideways. Great! This camera is not weather sealed. For the price of these Sony cameras I was not going to risk getting water and sand inside the workings of the camera.

Second, I have discovered why there are no night shots of the Grand Haven lighthouse. Well the lighthouse does not LIGHT! Yes thanks to modern technology, there is now a radio/gps beacon flashing red on top of the lighthouse. The lighthouse is not even lit. You can not see the thing. There where a few choice words out of my mouth at the moment of discovery. You would think the city would at least light the building since it would be beautiful at night along the beach and walkway.So now what to do. Well we went back to the hotel since the weather was really turning bad at this point. The challenge failed, or so I thought......

The next morning after breakfast my wife wanted to see the beach and lighthouse during the day. The weather had passed and the morning was calm and crisp. She was driving, so off we went. Glad we did make the final stop. Because out of the river at the opening to the lake exits this very big ship. I have taken pictures of the lighthouse in the past but never with a ship along as part of the subject matter.

This ship was being towed from the stern into the lake. Not sure what type of great lake ship this is, thought it was an ore ship to begin with but not sure. Anyhow it gave me opportunity to photo something unexpected.

This first image is tightly cropped to compose just the ship and lighthouse. Otherwise no post processing was done in Capture One. This shot was camera in hand leaning over a guard rail to capture the two in subject.

1/400s- F9.0 ISO500
In post processing, upon zooming in the detail for this size sensor is impressive. No it can not compete with full frame sensor. However these images would have no problem being printed up to an A3 print size.

The last image is my favorite as the ship was just being pulled out of the river and crosses the lighthouse. The reflection in the sand is a bonus. This image was processed in Capture One. I worked the exposure, pushed the colors and did a slight white balance change.

1/650s - F9.0 ISO 500

In conclusion, it was a pleasant trip to see family and have good food. I was glad that I did not lug my bigger gear up with me. With the way events were progressing I would have hardly touched it. And this is where these smaller RX100 cameras come into being. They are the perfect carry around camera. If you demand more from your images than a cell phone can deliver then you need to look at these Sony cameras. The quality is there.

So did I meet my challenge? Well my goal was to capture a unique picture of the lighthouse at dark. This did not happen. However I did get a second chance. And although it was captured during the day, I think the image is still unique. So in that regard a success. Take care and safe travels.