An Upcoming Topic

I’m currently working on finishing up something that was requested of me a few years ago.

I’m working on what looks to be a 2-3 part post on traveling super light on a photo trip, based on my rafting trip down the Grand Canyon about 2 years ago. On this trip, I was limited to 30 lbs of ‘stuff’. This stuff included all of my photo gear, cloths, and consumables for 6 days. I hope it comes off as a very enjoyable and helpful read.

Brad’s Quick Travel Tip #2 – Avoiding Long Flights

The inspiration for this post comes from my father.  In a recent conversation, my father said that he would never visit Australia, simply because he never wanted another 15 hour flight.  I showed him how you can get to Australia without any flight over 8 hours.

The secret for USA to Australia and New Zealand?  Hawaii.  From anywhere in the USA, you can get a ~6 hour flight to the West Coast (LA, San Fran, Seattle, etc), where it is a ~6 hour flight to Honolulu (HNL) Hawaii.  Auckland, New Zealand (AKL) or Sydney, Australia (SYD) are a relatively inexpensive 7-8 hr flight from HNL.  Or if you’d prefer, Denver (DEN) to Honolulu (HNL) is about 8 hours.

Alternatively, HNL to Japan’s Tokyo Narita (NRT) is about 8 hours as well.  Although this is probably not worth the effort, as NYC (JFK) to NRT is about 12 hours and Seattle (SEA) to NRT is about 10 hours.

On the other side of things, a person living in Sydney Australia can get to Europe without any flight over 8 hours.  This person would go SYD to HNL (many airlines, including QANTAS, Jet Star, Hawaiian), HNL to SEA (Hawaiian or Alaskan), SEA to KEF (Keflavik, Iceland on Icelandair), then finally KEF to anywhere in Europe.

This tip likely works best for Americans.  Due to flight schedules, there may be a 24-48 hour layover in Hawaii, which is such a terrible thing.  I am aware that most non-Americans do not like doing international transfers through the USA.  But no matter who you are, it is an option.  And if you do not like the long haul flights, this is an option to avoid them for a large portion of the world.

Until next time-
-Brad

Brad’s Quick Travel Tip #1 – American Airlines

I recently traveled on American Airlines and I discovered something interesting.

I live in Seattle, and as a result, I have a Frequent Flyer card for Alaska Airlines.  Alaska and American have a new partnership.

As a result of this partnership, having an Alaska Airlines MVP number, grants you early boarding on American Airlines.  I have the base status on Alaska, but, I was still able to board the plane before about half of the rest of the plane.  American boarded their higher tier frequent flyer, high tier people in the OneWorld frequent flyer plans, and First/Business class before me, but I boarded before the people who purchased regular tickets, with the AAdvantage ‘Gold’ status members or OneWorld ‘Ruby’ status members.  See here – https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/boarding-process.jsp

So, if you are traveling in coach, do not otherwise have any airline status, do not intend to build miles on American or OneWorld airlines, and are not flying in business/first, you can sign up for the Alaska MVP program and board before most people.  It doesn’t cost anything, and it does not even require you to have ever flown on Alaska Airlines.

Enjoy!
-Brad

The Math of the F/Stop Progression

As a quick post, I’m going to mention something that everyone seems to have difficulty with.  This is a little math-heavy and I’ll try to simplify it.

F/stop progressions.  Why do I have to double my shutter speed when going from F/2.0 to F/2.8?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to double my shutter speed when I go from F/2.0 to F/4.0?

The F/stop is related to the diameter of the aperture of the lens, or the width of the circle of light that shines on the sensor or film.  The key word here is ‘circle’.

Everyone remembers that the area of a circle is area = pi * r^2.  The number in the F/stop is related to the Diameter, which is 2 * radius.  If you want to cut the area of the circle in half, you need to divide the diameter (and thus the radius) by the squareroot of 2.  The squareroot of 2 is 1.4142136 … but for our purposes, 1.4 is good enough.

This is why the F/stop progression is 2.0, 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, etc.  Each of these numbers are about 1.4 apart (2 * 1.4 = 2.8, 2.8 * 1.4 = 2 * (1.4 * 1.4) = 2 * 2 = 4).  Each stop is the same as increasing the diameter/radius by 1.4, and doubling the size of the opening.

Now you may be thinking to yourself, “self, this makes it look like the numbers are in reverse order”.  The piece to understanding the order is in how the F/stop is normally stylized, F/2.8, F/4.0, etc.  The / in math means divided by.  It means the aperture is set to the focal length divided by the number represented in the F/stop.  For example, on a 120mm lens, at F/4.0, the aperture is 120mm/4.0 or 30mm.  If we stop down to F/8.0, the aperture is 15mm.  A circle with a 30mm diameter has an area 4 times the size of a circle with a 15mm diameter, thus, F/8.0 lets through one quarter the light of F/4.0, and is a change of ‘2 stops’.

I hope this helps understand everyone understand one of the less obvious parts of photography.

-Brad

Useful Tips : Photographing Fireworks and Getting a Result

Happy New Year everyone! This is going to be a quick post about photographing fireworks, and making the best of what you get. It also includes some tips for people who just want to go to bed early.

Tip #1 – Arrive early. In most places, there will be a lot of competition for places to view and photograph the fireworks. If the fireworks are starting “when it gets dark enough”, like the 4th of July in the USA, you want to arrive about 2-3 hours before dark and set up. If it is at midnight, like New Years Eve, you want to be in place at least 3 hours ahead of time, depending on how popular the spot is.

However, if you are photographing from a place you own or rent, you are fine. I like to use my apartment window because #1 – I can set up during the daylight, and #2 – January is cold, and I want to sip my champagne in peace.

Tip #2 – Fireworks are a big light source. This light will bounce around and can create reflections or illuminate things you don’t want seen. If you are shooting through a window, the fireworks can light up your room and cause reflections in the glass. Use a black cloth to eliminate this reflection as much as possible. I like to tape the cloth around the lens and to the glass, if possible. If you don’t have something that is black, use the darkest color available.

Tip #3 – Find your settings early. My go-to is iso200, F/8, 3 seconds. I like 3 second exposures.

Tip #4 – If you can leave your camera, use a self timer. I prefer to use the internal timer when possible (my D800 and D750 both have internal self timers). My older cameras do not. So I set the camera to iso200, F/8, 3 seconds, and set the self timer to start a 35 minute exposure starting at about 11:55 and ending around 12:30. The camera thinks the shutter is being held down and takes back-to-back 3 second exposures, and I get to enjoy the fireworks or sleep. In general, I like my self timers for purposes like this (they also work great with sunsets when you want to photograph them and watch them – this lets you enjoy the event with your significant other). Self timers are also great when you can set things up early, then enjoy some adult beverages which may otherwise prevent you from taking the images.

Tip #5 – If you are trying to take the lazy aproach, be prepared to work with what you get.

Expanding on Tip #5, 2 years ago I set everything up on a self timer, taped a dark cloth to the window, and went to bed. When I woke up, I had about 300 photos, only 100 of which had fireworks. But, the tape I was using didn’t hold, so the 100 fireworks images all looked like this.

Crap.

While it was disappointing, the right half of the image turned out, so there was hope. Since I knew that the D800 has a crazy high resolution, and I can make big prints from even a vertical crop of a horizontal image, I did just that.

This cropping was able to save my image

I like the results. Especially considering the non-ideal situation that caused these to be my only options. I am setting up one of my cameras for the fireworks this year to try to get something similar.

As I write this, there is about 9 hours remaining in the year. I’m going to spend the next few hours getting 3-4 cameras set up and ready, then probably sit down for a relaxing day. Once the cameras are set up, I’ll make a post on Instagram with what the setup looks like.

Happy New Year! And best of luck in 2017.

-Brad

Compressed RAW Files

This post is my thoughts on this well intended, but slightly misguided, post on Digital Photography School.  NOTE – this post was written in June of 2016, if something changes, updates will be noted here.

Personally, I always shoot at 14-bit Compressed RAW.  For me, it is better to shoot at 14 vs 12.  While using 14-bit does create larger files, for me, this is not an issue.  But, I do not work weddings or sports where shooting 14-bit may clog down the system due to processing large numbers of large files.

Now, I like math.  I like math a lot.  I also understand light and electronics.  Here are my thoughts.

14 bit raw does not buy you much except when it does.  To fully explain what it buys, I have to explain how your eye works vs how an image sensor works.  I’m going to use an example.

If you take a room with 1 lit candle, then add 1 more lit candle, your eye will really notice the difference.  If you take a room with 1000 lit candles, then light one more, your eye will not notice this at all.  This is because your eye works on relative brightness.  Doubling the light is very different vs an increase of 0.1%.  However, a camera works off of absolute brightness, which means that both examples are the same increase in brightness, or an increase of 1 candle.  Minute Physics has an explanation of this.

With the Gamma Curve, and relative brightness levels, what does the bit-ness mean and what does it give you?

The simplest answer – the bit-ness matters in the shadows and the shadow detail.  If you have a well lit scene with very little shadow detail, there will likely be no easily discernible difference in 12 vs 14 bit.  There will certainly be differences between 12 and 14 bit RAWs, but they are mostly in the file size and the after capture flexibility.  The less you want to push the shadows in the final image (vs at capture) the less 14 bit matters.  If you shoot HDR or shoot brackets for some kind of HDR usage, you should be fine with 12 bit.

In this part, I do not disagree with the DPS post.

Where I do severely disagree with the post is in compression.  This part of the discussion shows where the author lacks computer science skills.

Side note – this is about lossless compression only, and is based on my experience with Nikon cameras.  This does not cover lossy RAW, which is available on Nikon and Sony cameras.  Nor does it talk about sRAW files.

Much like how in photography every choice you make is a trade-off, compression is the same.  But in compression, the trade-off is more interesting.

Let’s take a file that is 100MB.  In this situation, the file can be compressed to 60MB with 1 additional second for processing time.  This file can be uncompressed with a modern CPU in half a second.  The question very quickly becomes — does compression make sense?  The next question is, how long does it take to compress the file, and is the storage system able to handle uncompressed vs compressed faster.  For storing the file, if you can transfer 20MB/sec, the 100MB file takes 5 seconds to transfer and the compressed file takes 1 second to compress and 3 seconds to transfer, for a savings of 1 second.  If you can transfer 100MB/sec, the larger file transfers in 1 second, and the smaller file transfers in 1.6 seconds.

If you shoot compressed RAW, opening the file on a computer later could take slightly longer (due to needing to decompress the file).  But a computer normally is fast enough that this doesn’t matter.  You may not notice a difference in the compressed file vs the uncompressed, especially if you have a SSD and a CPU from the last 3-4 years.

Compression may shorten the battery life on your camera.  The longer the camera CPU and sensor are idle, the better your battery life.  Transferring and compressing both use power.  With a relatively new camera, this is unlikely to make a difference of more than 5% change in the number of images per charge.  My DSLRs can shoot nearly 1000 images on a single charge, so +/-50 isn’t a huge deal.  With a modern camera and a slower memory card, it is more likely that you notice that images save faster if you use compression.  Only once you hit the fastest of the fast for memory cards (say, a latest generation QXD card) would compression increase the time required to save a RAW to the memory card.  I am not saying you should buy cheaper cards, but I am saying that most people will not need the fastest generation of cards, and would be better off buying 2-3 of the previous generation of cards for the same price.  Also, if you compress your files, they will take up around 30% less space on the card, making those 3 64GB last gen cards even better than the 1 128GB current gen card.

In short, the math proves that for the vast majority of people, compressed RAWs will be a benefit.  I will be happy to edit/append this post if I am wrong within the next 2-3 years (note, the year this post was written or updated).

-Brad

Experiments with Time : Seattle Timelapse, What I Learned

Hello Everyone.

This past weekend, I came up with an idea for an experiment with time.  I was sitting in my apartment, watching storms pass by, thinking to myself “it would be really neat to make a timelapse of these passing storms”.  But the storms came and went over two days.  So I began to think about how you could actually capture something that lasts that long.

After thinking about it for a day, I came up with an idea – a full 24 hour timelapse.  Somehow, I would have a camera take photos for 24 hours.

My first thought was to have 24 hours in 24 seconds.  Since I live in the USA and we use 30 frames per second on our TVs, shrinking 60 minutes to 30 frames means 1 frame every 2 minutes.  After thinking about this longer, I decided this was a lot of work for under 30 seconds of video, so I decided to go with 40 frames per hour, or 1 every 90 seconds.  This works out to 960 photos in 24 hours.  I ended up going with 1000 photos over 25 hours as a ‘just in case’ precaution.

After more thoughts, I decided to go from midnight to midnight.

So, with a concept created, I got ready.  I cleared out my memory cards, set up my tripod in my windows, then set up the camera.  I decided to use my D750 because my D800 is testing out a new tripod, and my 24-70 f/2.8 lens.  My initial thoughts were that the D750 would be better because the low light capabilities are better (turned out this didn’t matter) and because the files are smaller (this DID make my life easier).

For the camera setup, I had to shoot through a window.  So, I added my C-PL to the front of the lens to eliminate as much of a reflection as possible, then used masking tape to hold a dark blue hand towel to the window to prevent as much reflections as possible.  The towel was taped to the window, camera, and tripod.  Because I would be asleep and unable to make changes, I selected f/9 and iso400 in Aperture priority mode.  The D750 has a min shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second and a max shutter speed of 30 seconds.  Back of the napkin math said this would probably be fine.  For the metering point, I picked the only white object in the scene — the Space Needle.  This would also allow the auto white balance to correctly handle the transition from night to day.

And so, on March 7th, 2016, I set up my camera with a timer set to start at midnight, and went to bed.

I woke up at around 7:15 and checked the camera.  Oops, battery is running low, glad I looked.  One more battery change at 6pm was required.  The last battery charge lasted from 6pm to 1am and still had about 40% remaining in the morning.

I am very happy with the results of this test.  Due to a limitation of iMovie, each image ended up lasting 0.13 seconds in the final result, and each hour is around 5.3 seconds.

The first mistake I realized I made was when I first looked at the images.  I always shoot in RAW format.  But now, I needed to convert the images to JPEG.  The conversion took 6 hours.  Next time, I’ll either shoot in RAW+JPEG or JPEG only.  The reason I would use RAW+JPEG is because there is a chance some of the images are good enough to become standalone images.

The next change I would make for the next attempt is to have more images.  I find the resulting video to be quite nice, but, I wish it was longer.  I would probably change to 1 image every 60 seconds and potentially try to go for 2 days.  But, this would require more battery changes, potentially 3 overnight, and probably an external power supply.  There is also less time to change a battery during the night, when the exposures can get to 20 or more seconds.  During the day, when the exposures were 1/400th of a second, there is a lot of extra time for a battery swap.

The final change would be in the framing of the image.  I made the mistake of handling the framing after dark on viewfinder that doesn’t cover 100% of the image.

I would also like to make the resulting video better and more professional.  Right now, this is a rough draft video that was produced quickly to see how well it turned out.  Now that I know how it turned out, I’ll spend some more time on the video, which is something I am not very good at.  Because I started with 24 MPix files, I could finalize the video at 4K, but likely will keep it at HD only.

While I certainly wish I could get lucky and predict when a fantastic sunset will happen (as I look out my window tonight, the sunset is nicer than when I ran the test), this is one of those ‘luck’ things, which is difficult to predict 1-2 days in advance.

-M

Working With LightRoom Keywords

This is a post I’ve been wanting to work on for a long time. This will be a much more technical post than normal.  Sometime I may write more about how I specifically use Keywords.

But first, some background information on how I use Keywords in LR. There are 3 components to Keywords.

  1. Exportable Keywords – this is what the majority of keywords are
  2. Non Exportable Keywords – these allow you to build trees of keywords
  3. Synonyms – these are alternative words to a keyword

Toplevel Keyword List

For the most part, all of the folders shown are Top Level and set to be Non Exportable. I use this system because it lets me build a folder system to store my Keywords, but these do not show up when you export the file. This ensures that your storage folder for ‘Water Features’ is not alphabetically near your location folder for ‘Wales’ or ‘Whales’.

I also use Non Exportable Keywords for family members or exact locations of homes. For example, if I am at a family wedding, and I want to tag my cousin, I might use the non exportable keyword hierarchy of “Smith Family” -> “NY Smiths” -> “David”. If I am careful with my tagging, I can quickly find all photos of my cousin David Smith from the NY side of the family in the future using the LR Keyword search feature. In LR CC 2015 the feature was added to mark a Keyword as ‘People’, which is also a non exportable form of a keyword. I don’t use this right now because it would require me to redo a lot of my tags.

Let’s expand my ‘WORLD LOCATIONS’ folder to see why I use these Non Exportable items.

In this example, I’ve expanded my World Locations, and the subfolder ‘Europe’. This allows me to store all of my location keywords in one place, keeping them separate from other keywords (e.g., “sunrise”, “waterfall”) which may occur almost anywhere in the world.

One of the benefits to making subfolders that are exportable is that you do not need to add those Keywords to your list, they are automatically added on Export. In the case of ‘Rovaneimi’, I’ve added this label to around 1000 photos. But, Rovaneimi is a city in Lapland, which is in Finland. All I need to do is add the Keyword ‘Rovaneimi’ to a photo, and ‘Lapland’, ‘Finland’, and ‘Europe’ will all be added on export. If I wanted, I could make my folder structure something like Europe -> Finoscandanavia -> Finland -> Lapland -> Rovaneimi. It is up to you. For me, folder structure this in depth would normally require justification. I currently live in Seattle. Because I photograph here a lot, I’ve separated the USA into regions. My Seattle photos have North America -> USA -> Pacific Northwest -> Washington -> Seattle. If I had under 10 US States, this extra level of US Regions may not be needed.  Until I had about 20 US States, I kept each one as a sub of USA.

The final part of Keywords I want to explain is Synonyms or Aliases. These allow you to automatically add an additional Keyword to an existing Keyword. These Synonyms are exported as if they are an additional Keyword.

I use these in several different ways. I live in the United States. In the US, all states have a full name and a 2-letter abbreviation. So states like “Pennsylvania” have a 2-letter code of “PA”. Canadian states, like “British Columbia”, also have abbreviations, like “BC”. I can set my label to be “Pennsylvania” or “British Columbia” and set synonyms of “PA” or “BC”.  Obviously, there can be keyword collisions.  One that I frequently run into is that an old camera of mine, the Canon S30, has a tag for ‘S30’.  ‘S30’ is also an old version of the Nissan Z series, which is something I did not find out until searches for ‘S30’ became one of the biggest drivers to my Flickr photos.

I also like to set variations of words in my Synonyms. Last year, I was inside of a “Glacier Cave”. I found that I wasn’t being as consistent as I should have been, and ended up with the additional Keywords of “Glacial Caves”, “Glacial Cave”, and “Glacier Caves”.

If something has 2 different names, it is really easy to use a synonym to add both named in 1 Keyword. For example, “Northern Lights” is a synonym for “Aurora Borealis”. “Aurora Australis” is a synonym for “Southern Lights”. Or if you prefer, you can make “Aurora Borealis” as the Keyword, and “Northern Lights” as the synonym.

In addition to this, I use synonyms is for non-english variations of words or locations. What do I mean? If I go visit Munich, Germany, the locals would spell the city as “Munchen” and the country as “Deutschland”. I like to keep my Keyword as the English version, but add the name in the local language as a synonym. This doesn’t mean I can, or do, add every variation of a place, but I try to use the US English and Local variations.  I would not, for example, add Londres as a synonym for London, nor would I add Pays-Bas for The Netherlands.  I would likely add Uluru as a synonym for Ayers Rock, or perhaps the other way around.

I’ll also add variations for letters that do not exist in English. An example of this is my labels for Thingvellier National Park in Iceland. Icelandic has Thorn and Eth, 2 characters that no longer exist in English. My aliases for Thingvellier are “Þingvellir National Park“, “Þingvellir“, and “Thingvellir“. My sub Keywords are “Geysir“, “Gullfoss“, and “Oxararfoss“. Oxararfoss has a Synonym of “Öxarárfoss“. By using synonyms like this, I can keep my list alphabetized in the way I can remember.

All of this is great information. But what does it do for you? How do you really take advantage of it?

The real power comes from Lightroom’s ability to import and export keyword lists. If we export our keyword list, we can reverse engineer how to build new keyword lists for import.

Let’s look at a partial export for my own World Locations-

[WORLD LOCATION]
Europe
Austria
Innsbruck
Vienna
Schoenbrunn Palace
{Schönbrunn Palace}
{Other Variation}

What does this export tell us? A Top Level, like “WORLD LOCATIONS” has no indentation. Each sub item is a line lower, with an extra tab. So my “Europe” is actually a “[Tab]Europe”, and my “Austria” is “[Tab][Tab]Austria”. We also see that Synonyms are situated in the same place as a sub item, but are surrounded by {} type brackets. We can also see that Non Exportable items are surrounded by Square Brackets – [].

With this information, it is reasonable to assume that this is also the format that can be imported. Since this is really text, it should not be difficult to manipulate with a programming language like perl or python. It should also not be too difficult to create an input format for the purposes of outputting in the format required for a LR import.

Why do I mention all of this?  Because I’m working on building something like this for myself.  Once I have something that mostly works, I’ll release the code.  I had planned on doing this weeks ago, it is just taking longer than anticipated.

-M

The Things We Get Bored By

A few years ago, a coworker of mine looked a photo of a waterfall that I made, and simply said “I don’t like these all white waterfall photos”. When I asked why, he replied “Because you see it too often”.

This comment really stuck with me. We all get to this point eventually, where we get stuck between reproducing the nice images we have seen and wanting to be a bit different, and this comment specifically got to me. Part of the problem was, at that time, I was quite proud of that photo.

Over the years between then and now, I kind of agree. The photo is interesting, and I like it, but I don’t feel like it is anything special, at least not anymore. At one point, photos like this were rare. But over the years, so many have attempted to immitate the photos they saw that were great, but in the process, have lost why they were great.

There is a different waterfall photo from that same trip that I actually think is more special, although my parents hate it.

I actually like both photos, but I’ve always prefered the second of these two. I feel like it is more than just a pretty picture.

Since I get no comments, I’m going back to the “I like both photos” from 2 lines ago. Yes, my preference is for #2, but that is that. A preference.

-M

My Last Photo To Facebook

I will not deny it. I despise facebook. I don’t like many social media, and for many photographers, Facepage is a necessary evil.

Today, I am declaring that it is not. It is an avoidable evil. Facepage is the same as drunk driving.

Today, I posted my final photo to Facepage. And it feels amazing to quit the site. Here is the image.

This is a stitched panorama. The final image is about 70 MPix. So it is a huge way to say goodbye.

The image is one that I find inspiring. The panorama format is fantastic. It is wider than normal, and just shows the epic expansiveness of the land. I’ve been working on it for a day, and thought it was just good to be my last.

I want to keep in touch with my friends. But I am finished with Facepage.

-M