Monday, April 30, 2012


Here is a great example of what effect a Telephoto lens adds to photography. Everyone who watches the news on TV, especially a report from a war correspondent, or even more commonly, a clip from a sportscast has seen this, so it's pretty common and boring, but if you're a budding photographer, especially  one with a super long zoom on your camera, this is for you. This shot will show extremely well how to put your super-zoom to best use (or more importantly I think, how to avoid it's mis-use).

I wasn't using a "zoom" lens here, just as a side note. I was using a fixed length telephoto lens of 200mm focal length (one of my newest 20 dollar acquisitions - a Pentax SMC Takumar 1:4-200). With my 1.6 crop-factor Canon, this is equivalent to 200mm X 1.6 = 320mm... another example of how easy "camera math" really is! For those of you with long-zoom compacts, that's the same as having a "12X Zoom" extended all the way.

So, now that we've got all the math out of the way, let's look at the picture. The most obvious clue that this is a really long-zoom picture is how all those telephone poles are so close together. This picture actually covers three city blocks in distance! The red awning and the couple walking on the right is located at a street corner that is three blocks away from the Sackville Train Station seen on the left. Yet in spite of that, the detail in the background is about equal to that in the foreground. This is called "distance compression", and it is the most important distortion factor of telephoto (or "long zoom") lenses.

In this photo, the effect works well - you can almost imagine a news clip of a military vehicle lumbering along a road in the Iraq dessert. The repeating poles also add an optical illusion of motion here. The long-zoom is what allows news photographers to get close to the action while remaining  a very safe distance away, and the distance compression is the distortion from reality that results.

If you really want to attain distance compression distortion in a picture, this would be a rare thing. The reason it works here is because of the motion effect created by having three blocks worth of telephone poles receding into the background of the moving truck. But be careful - if you're not yet used to distance compression and you have a super-zoom on your camera, you might think that you're composing a great shot of a subject by zooming in on it from a great distance, but when you look at the final product, you'll find that everything within 1 Kilometre distance has the same emphasis as your subject, which often looks weird and distracting. I now own three super long lenses, because of my fortune of getting them so cheap, but in general, I have little use for them, because in general, I do not shoot news or sports. I think this is also the reason why the Classifieds have so many long-zoom lenses for sale... people soon discover that you get much better shots by getting up close and personal, rather than getting lazy and making your camera cover the distance.

Monday, April 23, 2012

What Lenses?

What lenses do you need? Over time, I've discovered what lenses I need, but what you need on your Digital Reflex Camera depends on what you intend to photograph the most. Aside from the cheap and poorly built "kit zoom" that might have been bundled with your camera purchase, here are some generic possibilities:

Standard Realist Photography                 Get an improvement on your Kit Zoom and / or
                                                                Two high quality Prime Lenses - a 28mm and a 50mm
Real Estate or Automotive                      A 16 - 35 Wide Zoom, or 24mm Prime
Concerts, Portraits, Events, Fashion        Improved Kit Zoom that extends to 70mm
                                                                Two high quality Prime Lenses - a 50mm and a 85mm
Travel, Video                                          A 18 - 270mm "Travel Zoom" (one lens does all)
Close Ups                                                High quality 60mm, 80mm or 100mm Macro primes
Wildlife, Sports                                        High quality 70 - 300 Zoom (don't buy cheap here)
Architecture, City, Miniatures                  High quality Tilt-Shift lens (no such thing as cheap!)

If you are new to Digital Reflex Cameras (DSLR's), be prepared for "sticker shock" when it comes to buying new lenses! Another option (the way I went personally) is to buy old film SLR's with the lenses you might want and couple them to your camera with adapters. Note this results in complete disabling of all automation, unless you get a "Chipped" adapter, in which case you can use Aperture Priority Auto Exposure and also get a "beep" signal when you have successfully focused manually. You save a pile of money, get superb lenses with a film camera or two thrown into the deal, and gain the experience of shooting in Manual or AP Mode. This would not be recommended for wildlife or sports photography, where speed and full automation are essential.    

This is just a rough "everyman's" guide, but then, I'm just a humble hobby shooter who loves doing this.

Approaching a Composition

This photo is an example of a struggle. Walking along the railroad one morning, I saw in the distance a great composition consisting of the signal, the crumbling old remains of the hotel I had photographed many times before, and the local roadhouse beside it. At a distance it was perfectly arranged, but too far away. As I got closer and closer, I could see my composition falling apart as the space between the signal and the buildings increased, the relationship between them became less and less significant. If I had a telephoto zoom lens with me, I could have easily done it from the greater distance, but all I had was my 17-70 zoom. I got up close and made several attempts, and this is the best I could accomplish with what I had - standing back along the tracks and zoomed all the way to 70mm. It still did not capture what I had originally seen from the greater distance.

It was the very first time I actually needed a telephoto lens. I don't own one, but my wife has a Canon 75-300 that would've done the job, albeit with a loss of image quality, because it's Canon's cheapest telephoto, and quite well known for it's less than stellar performance.

This made me realize why I'm seeing so many telephoto zooms for sale in the local classifieds. Unless you're a wildlife or sports photographer, you really don't need a long lens - I think people buy them, thinking just in case, and then find they never get used. Another point to be made here is that the pictures I take are always about the composition, and very seldom would a long telephoto lens be used with strong composition in mind; rather they are used for the purpose of capturing a subject at great distances when it is impossible to get up close to that subject. In this case, I could have used a longer than 70mm focal length to get the composition optimized the way I wanted it. The next fine day, I'll borrow my wife's lens and post the results of what caught my eye on this same Blog and continue the discussion. In the meantime, I want to talk about what lenses a typical "realist photographer" really needs.


As it turns out, I didn't need to borrow my wife's Zoom. I just made an amazing purchase consisting of 6 lenses and 3 film cameras, and one of the lenses was the legendary Pentax Super Takumar 1:4 200mm Telephoto! (I also got, among others, a Super Takumar 1:1.8 55mm, Bushnell 1:2.8 28mm and a Bushnell Telephoto Zoom). For this article, I figured I couldn't do better than the 200mm, so above you see my best effort result for what caught my eye originally. Looking at it now, I realize how I actually prefer my first shot, taken much closer with the 70mm, but yet, this second shot shows perfectly what I was composing with my mind's eye. We're still learning here aren't we?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

GIMP Filters and Exposure Levels

If you've been with me so far, you'll be up to speed on the fact that I'm a beginning photographer interested in passing along my musings as I discover them. This time, it's a little different. I've been a GIMP user for many years, and as it is a lot like Photoshop, it can be rather intimidating, with a steep learning curve. I've not even so much as touched most of what GIMP can do, in spite of having used it since around 2003. I tend to gravitate toward the things that it performs easily, or automatically, and many of these easy-peasy features are truly superb!

If you've bought and learned Photoshop, you are likely way ahead of me anyway. However, if all you have is the software that came with your camera, or rely on Windows Photo Editor, and if you're Photoshop-curious, but don't wish to lay out the big bucks for it, I strongly encourage you to download and install GIMP here. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Moving along, above is a picture I shot near Reversing Falls in Saint John NB, using my preferred setup - the Canon EOS 40D with Sigma 17-70 Zoom. This is straight from the camera, with only the GIMP Color > Auto > White Balance applied; also I cropped it to a 4:3 ratio (DSLR's shoot 3:2, which is too tall and skinny for a vertical picture). It's not a bad pic, is it? I like the composition elements, but the foreground is a little bit too busy, so I thought I'd like to keep them in the picture, but tame them down somehow. I'll jump right to my final product, and then show you how I got there:

As you can see, there's more "punch" in the main part of the composition, ending up with brighter colors, more detail around the door of the old furnace, but I reduced the detail in the foreground, without actually losing any of what the objects were contributing to the picture.

To accomplish this, I only did two things with GIMP - 1) The Lomo Filter, and 2) adjusted the color curves. This time, I discovered that "Lomo" doesn't have to be a simulation of Low Fidelity cheap plastic cameras. I simply dialed down some of the effects, especially the blurring, and I made the wide-angle distortion a bit less pronounced. I kept the Vignette effect (darkening of the corner regions) strong however. The darkening was a bit too much, but rather than dialing it down and repeating, I thought I'd try something else. Using the "Color > Curves" function, I raised the curve a bit from it's default flat-line. It gives a real-time preview, so I just slid the mouse back and forth along the curve whilst pulling it upward, and this restored just a hint of the detail in the old staircase, and, to my delight also found a lot of hidden detail around the door that was even not visible in my original shot!

Comments are welcome!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


I take a lot of truck pictures. My house is a 3 block walk from the section of the Trans Canada Highway that runs across the narrow neck of land between New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and with trucking replacing rail as the preferred means of moving freight around Canada, this provides me ample opportunity to capture the big rigs at speed. On average, there are now two trucks per minute crossing this link of the TCH.

Last evening, I went out with a plan to take some more truck pictures (it never seems to get boring). This time I used a Meyer-Optik Gorlitz Domiplan 50mm/f2.8 lens on my 40D. If you think this sounds impressive, it isn't. The Domiplan is a very cheap, plastic bodied old lens that was made in East Germany, typically sold as the "entry level" lens on Practika SLR's in the 1970's. I paid $10.00 for it in a second hand shop, and most would think I paid too much. In some ways it's comparable in design to the Industar 50-2, but in my opinion it's not nearly as sharp as the Russian Industar (which BTW was the "entry level" lens sold with Zenit SLR's in the 1970's). Bottom line, this is definitely the worst lens in my kit, which shows that I'm still in the mood for screwing up my photos with the new-normal Lo-Fi Aesthetic.

My plan this time was to do it the hard way, and this crappy lens was a big part of the plan. I wanted to simulate Lomography totally by hand, instead of using the quick and easy filters offered by GIMP, or the various Phone Camera Web Apps. My plan was to use Photivo, a great Open Source RAW Processor for Windows and Linux. I'd like to turn this into a "Tip of the Day" of course, so let me digress a bit with a short explanation of what a RAW Processor is.

When you shoot RAW, that doesn't mean you're taking pictures in the nude. Some cameras (all DSLR's and some high end compacts) have a RAW mode, which is simply a way the camera allows you to get at the digital data that makes up your picture before it actually turns it into a standard picture format (like Jpeg or Tiff). A RAW file isn't really a digital photo; rather it is all the data which the camera's built-in computer needs to create and store a digital photo. By having access to this data (the RAW file) before the camera transforms it allows you to manipulate the data outside the camera, on your Computer, using specialized software, and then convert it into a real picture yourself, again on your computer. This has an advantage of allowing a much greater degree of manipulation than you would normally get from a Jpeg file created by the camera itself. The biggest disadvantage of RAW is that you absolutely must take the time to make the conversion from RAW to Jpeg yourself, because RAW files are not printable or able to be shared; they can only be viewed on a computer screen using the special software that is built to work with the RAW file. So, as a general rule, unless you want to do anything fancy, especially in adjusting exposure values, or really "work something up from scratch" in Photoshop (which recognizes all popular camera RAW formats), it's best to stick to your camera's internal Jpeg mode. So ends the Tip of the Day.

My plan here was to do something fancy - to make a series of Fake Lomo truck pictures by processing RAW files using Photivo. Starting with a cheap lens, and a half stop of overexposure, and not wanting to have to worry about focussing the lens for each shot, I set the lens to f11 and focussed at the "hyper-focal distance for that f-stop" (meaning simply that I turned my very complicated DSLR into the most simple press and forget el-cheapo camera - the equivalent of a disposable film camera really). Then, using Photivo, I set up the theme for my first RAW file, turning this:
....into this:

I then saved all the settings I had used in Photivo and simply re-applied them to all the photos.

Here is a set of all of the truck pictures I have done, including last evening's series, which are the last nine in the set.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Painterly Lo-Fi

I snapped the above with my phone, using One Man With A Camera, and it kind of reminds me of this:

Is this the height of arrogance? I hope not! I'm not trying to say my deliberately faked snapshot can hold a candle to this truly great painting. This is just my tip of the day... with camera apps and computer software, it's so easy to make a photo assume a "painterly" quality, even by accident so it turns out. But it's just as important to realize that a photo does not have to look like something else. What I imagine doing with this is to project my "Dog Named Lomo" onto a canvass, and actually painting it. Someday.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

My Most Flickr Views

This has been viewed 3272 times on Flickr - it actually went over 1000 in the first week! I'm not sure what people see in it, really!

Here is a link to all my Flickr Pictures.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

One Of My Better Efforts

This picture goes way back to 2007 and I've often thought it to be one of my best. It was taken at a local Multi-Cultural event, and it was a stroke of pure luck. I simply had the camera on Burst mode, which wasn't particularly fast with the point and shoot digital camera I had at that time. I ended up with a sequence of 5 pictures, all of which were forgettable, except this one. This is a great example of "Decisive Moment"!

From this time on, I've always kept my camera set to Burst Mode, even for single shots. This is a great tip which greatly increases the opportunity to capture a decisive moment. Just remember, in Burst, your camera will still take single shots as long as you don't hold the shutter down.

One peculiarity of this picture is the way the dancer has a translucent outline around her - another happy accident that was a result of not using the flash, so the shutter speed was slow, resulting in her motion not being completely stopped by the camera, but just enough to add this beautiful painterly quality to the photo.

Honestly, I'd find it near to impossible to take a picture quite like this again.

Friday, April 6, 2012

What You Can Do With Two Cows

With all my "self-discovery" lately about Instagram, and Fake Lomo, etc., I thought it would be good to explore exactly how these kinds of things can be accomplished with a good ordinary Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera. This opening statement alone should also show everyone that I am writing this Blog to help beginners with some tips about photography as I, also a beginner, discover them.

This will be a long one with lots of pictures (yay!) so let's begin. I used my Canon EOS 40D and Sigma 17-70 f2.8-4.0 lens a few weeks ago to take this picture:

Until today, I had not done anything with this shot, so this is in it's virgin state of 10 Megapixel Jpeg - the best my camera will do. I say this to remind you, and myself, about the power of cropping an image, because it is important to realize that is a big part of what all this "Instagram and Fake Lomography" is all about. So let's begin with a square crop of 1200 X 1200 pixels - roughly less than a third of the original image, and so roughly making it into 3 MPix. (yes, it's that simple):

Wow! Not bad! Click on this picture to make it bigger on your screen and note how much detail was retained. This "cropping" is also known as "digital zooming", because I just zoomed in on the cows without actually zooming my camera lens - all I did was crop out everything but the two cows and the stuff closest to them. If you have a compact camera (not a DSLR) with "Digital Zoom" it is doing exactly the same thing to the picture using it's built in software instead of it's lens ("optical zooming"). Most compacts have both, and also allow you to combine digital and optical together, to greatly multiply the zoom capabilities of the camera. DSLR's do not have "digital zooming" built in - being more geared to experienced photographers who realize that it is nothing more than simple cropping of the picture anyway. It is also important to know that the "zoom" capability of camera phones is strictly digital cropping - that tiny phone lens does not have any optical zoom. And finally, remember that when you "digital zoom" a picture, you are also greatly reducing the MegaPixel count of the picture, regardless of whether you are doing it in-camera or with your computer (or phone!) application.

So, now we have a nice, square "Instagram -style" picture to work with that is also of typical Instagram size - 1200 X 1200, which is plenty for sharing, but not so good for enlarged prints. (It will still look great printed on 4" X 6" paper!)

The rest is real easy, and this is where the fun really starts. Lets start with the GIMP (free Photoshop style computer software for Windows and Linux), and use it's "Lomo" filter with the "Natural" colour setting, and every other setting at default (yes, it's very, very adjustable!) except with "Motion Blur" set to zero - I don't want any Motion Blur in any of this exercise:

This made a nice "plastic lens" effect, but little else. Let's try the same thing, but with colours set to "Vintage"

Ahh! Now that's nice - starting to look a little more Instagram-ish, isn't it?

Now try the "Autumn" colour scheme:

Quite red! Still though, this seems to be about the same kind of thing that Instagram does, from what I've seen so far. There are still 6 more colour settings in the GIMP Lomo filter that I haven't even tried, not to forget all the other adjustment sliders.

Let's look at two other completely different filters - first, the "Diana-Holga 2B", a well known, very cheap plastic camera very popular among Lomographers:

Radical!!! I use this one a lot. It also has many adjustment sliders. There's also one called "National Geographic" which states "meant to turn a low quality picture into a high quality":

You can see a great increase in sharpness here - I don't care for this a whole lot but occasionally have used it prior to doing a B&W conversion.

There's more - you can add borders, (including old fuzzy ones) make good looking sepia's with coffee stains - even two different kinds of Technicolor:

There's still a lot more, but hopefully you get the picture! Phone Cameras are great, but if you really don't want one, you can still do "Instagram" and a whole lot more.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

One Man With A Camera

A "not bad" Instagram alternative for Android is One Man With a Camera. I had actually been playing around with this one before trying Instagram. If you want to go beyond square, this might be the one you'd want to try, because "Square Camera" is but one of many different camera options, and each camera option has six different filters. I decided against downloading the whole set, opting out of "Tilt Shift" and "Super Sampler" for now anyway.

Here you can see the Square Camera with an effect called "Rusty" - I think it's an amazing effect! Looks like something from a bygone age, but I just snapped this today!

There is a downside - One Man With a Camera only provides pictures that are 600 X 600 Pixels, while Instagrams are roughly double that, and so for printing purposes, Instagram would be the better choice. Keep in mind the best choice for printing is still the 8 Mpix phone camera's native format of 3264 X 2448, which you can filter with Photoshop or GIMP to obtain similar effects, print one off, and then scale the picture down to 1200 Pixels and re-save for Sharing.

Will I ever get back to "real photography" again?

Instagram for Android

It has arrived, three days after I first mentioned it! This is just my first try at filtering a picture that was already on my phone, so not much to see here. So, having lived under a rock for the past couple of years, I was a bit fuddled at first about what Instagram really is (and is not). It turns out from what I can see, to be one of those things that's so simple to use, I'll never figure it out (kind of like the child-proof pill bottle).  It took me the longest time to figure out the deal with those crop lines - you can move it, and make it bigger, but it seems to remain as a square... Oh wait - that must be why every Instagram picture I've seen is square!! It only does square!!! Well, square is good... I frequently crop my photos to square. If I were to get serious about film again, I would probably get myself an old Soviet square format camera... glad to know that now I don't have to go down that road!

Now then, stay tuned, because I'm going to really start thinking more seriously about taking photos "in the square", that is, composed from the outset to be a square - which my Maple Camp pic shown here was not.

To quote Stephen Wright - "how come if the lens is round, the pictures all come out square?"

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Digital Lomography?

A salesman in a camera store once asked me, when I was purchasing a moderately upscale lens for my DSLR, "why are people buying great sharp lenses like this just to mess up the picture afterwards with all this lo-fi software?" I don't recall the exact context of the question in our conversation, but I could sense that he was very much into the ultimate high resolution photography, and had no use for anything less. I tend to agree with him on the point of why would anybody with $10,000 invested in high-end gear turn around and convert their photos into something that looks like it was taken with a $10 camera. The answer I suppose is "because you can".

I've long been aware of some of the GIMP's capabilities with it's lo-fi filters that are designed to make any picture look real cheap. I occasionally played with these filters, especially with some botched film shots (botched = cheap). But I am also a real fan of looking at really old photographs and postcards, and secretly, I suppose I draw most of my inspiration from doing that. For me, old = Kodak Brownie that my Mom was constantly snapping away enthusiastically, and therefore Brownie = cheap = charming.

Enter the world of "Lomography". This is a genre of photography that seems to be catching on like a wildfire, one that is particularly geared to using super cheap, plastic lens, Chinese built film cameras because of the very charming and nostalgic aesthetic these cameras produce. Technically, most "Lomo" cameras are worse than the Brownie was, but, like the Brownie, they're built to a price point, and the results can be somewhat similar, although a lot less predictable, and therein lies their charm.

Every genre of art has it's elitists, and Lomography is no different. The purist would say, "can't be done with digital", and would refer to digitally faked cheapness as "something else". I personally have tried various things, such as super cheap "keychain digital" cameras, or very old compacts, like the Sony
DSC-P30, and found that the results were always less than charming - always ended up with not very good, and obviously lifeless digital photos.

Of course I'm just beginning to learn what my new Super-Phone camera has to offer, and I think I'm falling in love! There's an old military base in Moncton that I often drive by, and frequently I've thought "if I had my camera I'd take some pictures of that, before it gets bulldozed". With a good phone camera on my belt, I no longer had any excuse. With a little time to kill, and my phone at the ready, I pulled over into the property. So here is the best pic, right out of the camera:

Immediately I was excited, as it reminded me of what I was getting from my old Olympus Trip-35. Next, I ran it through the GIMP Lomo Filter:

Nice, but it really needs to be Black and White, so I used the GIMP B&W Film Simulation - my always favourite Ilford Delta-Pro 400:

Bullseye! It's dreamy, surreal, dark, lonely, and best of all, it looks like it was taken with a real 1929's era dime-store camera! Certainly, I could have taken the original pic with my Canon 40D and used GIMP to get the same results, but the point is of course, the 40D was at home where it usually is.

Now I understand the attraction of Lomography - I expect to be doing a lot more of this. I don't care what you call it, if I'm not using the right "Lomo stuff" (I recently noticed a local classified ad where a guy was selling his Canon EOS 50D and all his lenses, "because I'm getting into Lomography"). Speaks volumes doesn't it?

OK, so it's "fake lomography". I don't care what you want to call it - how about "Just take the damn picture, with whatever camera you have with you", and then let your creativity, and the right software, or phone app, take over.