Archive | April 2013

Feastock 2013 – Rock’n’Roll photography

The Feastock festival is a unique mix of a giant backyard party and a full-on Woodstock style festival. It is an annual event in Fea Street, Dunedin.

I was lucky enough to be playing there this year, and also got to take some photos…

(All shot on a Canon 6D)

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First up is the Laon, a Christchurch band that plays some pretty wicked psychedelic stuff. This shot works due to the lights providing glare, and gives a general idea of the layout of the stage. This is shot with a 20mm lens  – I’ve reached as far as I can over the edge of the stage, and taken the photo blind (without looking through the viewfinder).

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Here we have keytarist Hong An. I’ve accentuated the natural light on him by darkening the left edge of the frame a little. This was shot with the Pentax 135mm lens (the one that had minor surgery described in the earlier post).

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One reason for putting many of these shots in black and white is that the coloured lights on the smoke and the blue-and-yellow roof in the background respond very effectively to colour control, either in Lightroom or by using the colour ‘filters’ in Silver Effex Pro. By selectively emphasising the blue or red channels you can get very different effects, allowing more separation between the subject and background.

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To get this shot I’ve used a 20mm prime lens and  reached out with my right arm until it was close to Hong An’s foot, and shot blind. I’d take shot and then quickly review the LCD screen to see if my targeting was accurate. I didn’t use Live View because of the delay in the autofocus working. Actually I’ve got a pretty good idea of what the camera will ‘see’ – this is an advantage of using prime lenses – you get a really good idea of the field of view of your favourite lenses.  The stripes on his pants function as leading lines, and there’s some nice backlighting.

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You can’t see his face, but it’s a great action shot anyway.

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This is the Dunedin band The Males,  using an old M42 Pentax 55mm.

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I’ve shot a burst here and managed to capture a great action moment, where the bass player’s movements work well against the light, and I’ve got separation from the background by using the right coloured filter in Silver Effex.

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This is using the Pentax 135mm lens again. It’s a balancing act between using an open aperture to separate the subject from the background, yet not going too wide since I’m using a manual focus lens on a subject who is dancing about.

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Here’s Richard Ley-Hamilton from The Males. As you’ve seen in the other photos, he’s usually dancing about on the stage, but when he sings he needs to stand at the mic. To give him the energy he deserves (the energy we can hear, but that won’t be communicated in a photo) I’ve given him an extreme cant in the shot. Again this one was done by reaching across from the front of the stage and taking the photo blind.

Some overall notes on rock’n’roll photography…

Auto-focus is a blessing and a curse. It’s really easy when the focus latches on to the subject, but there are also lots of other items that can confuse the auto-focus such as smoke and mic stands. I have twenty or thirty photos that have a mic cable in perfect focus, with an out of focus musician behind it. It would be really easy to miss some really good shots if you rely too much on autofocus.

Pre-focusing is really useful when using manual focus – focus on a spot that you hope the musician will move into and hit the shutter when they move into focus.

Shoot bursts. You need to capture those precious moments, and the performers don’t stay still for you.

Long lenses are good for getting CUs, but the really good shots usually come from wider lenses. Wider lenses are inherently more present, more energetic. Longer lenses are just, well, more distant.

Learn to shoot blind. Often the shot requires that the camera is in a position that you just can’t reach without shooting blind, and Live View shooting is just too slow. Using a well-loved prime lens will help.

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The Nik Collection review

STOP PRESS: March 2016: Google has now made the Nik Collection completely free. There’s an upside and a downside here – obviously free is good, and makes getting the suite a no-brainer (especially if you are into black and white), but there will be no upgrades, so sooner or later the software will no longer work on a modern operating system.

Recently Google acquired Nik Software. Nik had been known for a suite of still image editing tools, although probably Google want the company for its mobile applications. The upshot of this is that the price of the Nik Collection has been made a lot more affordable.

The suite consists of several tools –

  • HDR Efex Pro 2 – for HDR effects
  • Color Efex Pro 4 – a preset based set of colour image editing tools
  • Silver Efex Pro 2 – For converting to Black and White
  • Viveza 2 – for making selective adjustments
  • Sharpener Pro 3 – for sharpening
  • Dfine 2 – for Noise reduction

The important question is, if you already have Lightroom, Photoshop, or Aperture do you want these as well? If you don’t have one of the Adobe or Apple packages I’d recommend you spend your money on one of those rather than the Nik Collection, but assuming you already have that software, is it worth spending the money for these additional plug ins?

How it works:
Lightroom and Aperture: Right click on the thumbnail and choose ‘Edit in…’ or ‘Edit with Plug in…’ and then choose the relevant Nik pluggin. Nik will generate a separate TIFF image, which will appear next to the original file, and all your edits will be applied to this TIFF. The edits are not non-destructive. Although you can always return to the untouched original, you can’t just tweak a setting later. If you want to change an adjustment you need to start again from scratch.

Photoshop: You can apply the Nik Collection effects from the filters menu. When you have applied the effects they appear as a new layer. Nik gives you the option of brushing the effects in or out, but it would be easier to do this using a Layer Mask and Photoshop’s more sophisticated selection tools.

Of course, if you are using Lightroom or Aperture, but also have Photoshop, you could also choose to edit the effect in Photoshop, and then apply the filter there. This will often work out best since you can more easily apply the effects to selected regions using a Layer Mask.

Lets look at the individual components…

Sharpener Pro 3 – for sharpening
I don’t really see any use for this at all. The tools in Lightroom or ACR are better, and just as easy to use, and more importantly they come at the right stage in the workflow – on the RAW file rather than on a TIFF after the conversion.

Dfine 2
This noise reduction plug in works very well on images that have a very low amount of noise, but is helpless when confronted with an image that has a lot of noise. Given that, if your image is very noisy in the first place, Photoshop or Lightroom’s noise reduction is going to be a smeared look anyway, so you could argue that Dfine works only on those image where it is going to be most useful, and is not useable on images that are so bad that the noise reduction would have visible artifacts anyway. However, the built in Noise Reduction in Lightroom or ACR is just as good, and again, as with Sharpener Pro 3, it is applied at a better stage in the workflow. So I don’t see much need for this one either.

Colour Efex Pro 4
This is a large collection of preset effects (left column). Each effect is quite customizable (in the right column), and you can apply multiple effects at once – until you ‘save’ you can tweak the controls to adjust the interaction of the different effects. [Click to see the screenshot larger]

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There’s nothing here that you can’t do in Photoshop, but there are a few effects that you can’t really do in Lightroom or Aperture. However, it really is a different way of working. In Photoshop (or Lightroom or Aperture) you tend to have an idea of what you want to achieve, even if you use a fair amount of experimentation as you work. Colour Efex Pro seems to work best when you have no idea of the outcome you want to achieve. You can very easily browse through the dozens of effects until something sparks your imagination, and then refine the image further with the right column controls. If you did a lot of work with it I think you would get to know the various presets well enough to use them more deliberately, but I don’t see myself doing that. I think this will be the place I come for inspiration with images that I am stuck on. I can imagine occasional use, but not extensive use of this one.

Here’s an example of an image worked up in Color Efex Pro 4… (although a single image is not very revealing – the point is you can produce an almost unlimited number of effects with this pluggin.

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Silver Efex Pro 2
I’ve been using thins one quite a lot in the last few days, and I think it works extremely well. While I think I could do almost everything that this plug in achieves in the other packages, the fact is that in this case the way the interface works encourages me to get better results. While I could probably copy the outcome of using the Silver Efex using the controls in Lightroom, I don’t think I would come up with as good an image if I started with Lightroom and used only those tools.

If you are interested in Black and White imagery, I think this plug in alone easily justifies the expense of the set.

Here’s the workflow I’ve been using, in conjunction with Lightroom, which should indicate why I like this pluggin so much.

First, take advantage of the basic raw processing in Lightroom to get the exposure just the way you feel it should be. Then right click and ‘Edit in’ either Photoshop or Silver Efex Pro 2. I’ll use Photoshop for the more advanced edits, where I think I might want to put different effects on different parts of the image, or, more usually, I’ll just go straight to Silver Efex if I’m intending to process the entire image the same way.

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On the left side there are a series of presets that you can apply, but I don’t find these very useful.

On the right side, starting at the top, there are brightness and contrast controls – but you should have already dealt to this in Lightroom. Next are the ‘Structure’ controls, which work in a similar way to the Clarity controls in Lightroom or ACR, except better. Firstly the controls allow you to adjust the clarity (or ‘structure’, to use Nik-speak) independently in highlights, mid tones and shadows, as well as having an overall control with ‘Fine Structure’, which seems to be a similar effect with a very small radius. Secondly, the controls very rarely introduce haloing or artefacting.

Next you can apply the equivalent of a colour filter – for example using a red filter to darken the sky. Again, the effects seem to produce fewer artefacts than using the equivalent effects in Lightroom or ACR. I the Adobe products you can often get halo around the edge of the horizon when you lower the blues to get a darker sky, but I’ve yet to see this happen when using the approximation of the red filter in Silver Efex Pro 2.

Further down you can apply an approximation of a film look. These are actually presets of tone curves, grain and colour responses. Usually I don’t like using preset effects, but these seem to work very well. I’ll experiment with several of these and usually one will stand out as working especially well on a given image. Perhaps I’m just being fooled by the film labels, but they do seem to look more organic than conventional adjustments.

Below this are finishing adjustments that allow you to apply a subtle colour tint (or non-subtle, if you wish). The mildest of the Selenium tones seems to work quite well.

You can add a vignette or ‘burn’ the edges here, but I find that the Lightroom controls work better at this, and have the advantage of being non-destructive.

At this point I’ll hit save and return to Lightroom. There I’ll open the image that I’ve been working on in the Develop module and add a vignette or a gradient to  ‘burn’ the edges as needed.

Certainly with high contrast images, Silver Efex Pro 2 seems to work really well, giving interesting, detailed and organic looking images. Below you can see a caparison between working an image up in Lightroom 4 and Silver Efex Pro 2. Although I think I could get a similar result in Lightroom or Photoshop if I copied the Silver Efex version, that’s not the point here. What these demonstrate is the difference that the two progams led to in terms of creative choices. I worked up each image independently of the other to see where the diffent interfaces would lead me.

Pengelly Hotel

Pengelly Hotel

The top one is form Silver Efex Pro 2, bottom form Lightroom. It might not be so apparent at this small size, but the sky and rock textures are much better in the Silver Efex version when viewed large.

Below is a tougher test. In this case I’ve worked up a low contrast, high ISO image in Lightroom and then had a go at it with Silver Efex Pro 2. The image was shot at 128000 with a Canon 6D.

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Here it is the top one from Lightroom and th bottom one from Silver Efex Pro 2. In this case I certainly prefer the Silver Efex version – it has a more subtle range of mid tones, and there is too much contrast in the Lightroom version.

In conclusion: While I don’t think that most of the pluggins are especially useful, I do think that Silver Efex Pro 2 is a wonderful pluggin for anyone working in black and white. With the cost of the complete collection now at a very reasonable $US 149, I’d recommend the collection for the use of this pluggin alone. Perhaps with some work you might find that you come to appreciate the other pluggins, but for me they work no better than the equivalent controls in Lightroom or ACR.

Minor Surgery to fit a Pentax K mount lens to a Canon Full Frame camera

There are an abundance of top quality older Pentax K mount lenses available second hand. These lenses were made in the 1970s though the 1980s and, with an adapter, these work very well on Canons APS-C cameras (550D, 60D, 7D etc.). But they won’t fit on the full frame models (5DII, 5DIII, 6D etc.) Well, they fit, but when you go to take a photo the mirror smashes into the back of the lens in a most unhealthy way.

Fortunately, with a little minor surgery this can be corrected. After the surgery, the lens will loose some of its function if you decide you want to mount it on a Pentax camera –

M series lenses  – the lever is used to keep the aperture open until you click the shutter. If you use the lens on a modern Pentax camera you need to use manual exposure and meter when using the Depth of Field preview button. This is a real hassle. If you do the surgery as I describe the aperture will close or open as you move the aperture ring, and you can use Aperture priority automatic exposure. The viewfinder will get darker as you stop down, but I think this is better than having to muck about with the DoF button.

A series lenses – The lens will work well on a modern Pentax camera and will interface with the cameras electronics. The surgery will work as I have described, but this will significantly devalue the lens to anyone who wants so use it on a Pentax camera.

Therefore I’d only recommend doing this to an M series lens. How do you know if it is an M series lens? On the A series there is a green A (for Automatic) setting next to 22 on the aperture ring. The M series don’t have this setting.

Here we can see the problem – it is the aperture lever and guard that we need to remove.

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Step one is to remove the five screws retaining the base plate of the lens.

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Step two is to pull the base plate off the rear of the lens. I’ve indicated the guard and lever that we are going to remove. With the base plate removed you can actually remove the aperture ring and more – but unless you want a tricky job of figuring out how to put it back together I’d strongly advise leaving everything else just where it is.

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Step three is to cut the lever. Since this is hidden inside the lens we don’t need to be too fussy about the quality of the finish, and since we don’t want filings inside the lens, I’d recommend this somewhat barbaric method. Grab it with a pair of needle nose pliers and bend it back and forth until it snaps off. It looks ugly, but we won’t see it when were finished.

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Step four is to remove the guard. On later models this is hard plastic, and can be easily removed with a sharp knife. You could file or sand the edge to get it smooth, but I think you are more likely to introduce filings into the mechanism, so I prefer to just cut it down and leave it a little rough.

On older models this is brass. You will need to use a cutter (side cutters or a pincer) to get it as close as you can, and then file the edge to get it smooth, and then make sure you have blown out all the filings.

Step five – reassemble the lens. There is only one position the five screw holes will match up, so this is quite easy. You can see where the guard used to be.

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Step six – fit suitable adaptor. Here I’ve used a ‘chipped’ model. With a non-chipped model the camera has no information that a lens is attached and will register the aperture of the lens as 00. The chip tells the camera that a 50mm 1.4 lens is attached (even though this is actually a 135mm f/2.5), and that’s what shows up in the EXIF data. Because the camera knows a lens is attached the focus confirmation works the camera doesn’t focus automatically, but it will indicate when you have correct focus.

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In the end you have a great lens at an affordable price. In this case I paid $NZ70 for the lens and $NZ60 for the adaptor.

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