M-Plate Pro - a delightful piece of flexibility
I’ve got a few mini-reviews to share over the next few posts but the first one is an elegant blend of simplicity and functionality. CustomSLR has designed a universal tripod plate system that fills a number of needs. First, it supports both the Manfrotto RC2 and Arca-Swiss mounts, and second, it provides several additional attachment points making it easy to add a strap like the BlackRapid RS series or CustomSLR’s own Glide Strap. The plate is made from aluminum and is hard anodized for a superior black finish.
Tony Chor showed me his BlackRapid strap a year or so ago and it is a great way to carry a camera around for long walks but my Arca plate was already using the spot that the strap needed to connect to the camera so I haven’t made the switch to using it. When I saw the M-Plate Pro, though, I knew that the wait was over. Now I can have my plate and carry it comfortably too!
The only downside so far, is when I try to attach a lens with its own lens ring, the ring runs into the extra attachment point but I just need to rotate the lens ring around and it’s not a problem for long.
The M-Plate is available from CustomSLR’s online web store and they ship quickly. If you use either of the supported plate connections, this is definitely worth a look.
Both Sides of the Daisy
Today’s shoot is daisies - Gerbera Daisies to be specific. During a break between shooting to watch the Kentucky Derby, I started thinking about the shots where I was backlighting the flowers or shooting them from behind and then I wondered if I could get a single shot with both the front and the back of the daisy and keep both of them in focus.
I put the flower in a vase, sitting on a mirror. Setting up the angle to see both the back and the front of the flower wasn’t too hard, but getting both the back and the front in focus was trickier. There are a couple of ways to do this, the first is with a wide angle lens. As lenses get wider, it gets easier to get a reasonably close up shot with very deep depth of field but using that in my studio would also end up with a lot of things that need to be cropped out of the shot. The second way is to bracket the focus, taking one shot with the back of the flower in focus and then another shot with the reflection in focus, and then merging them in Photoshop. The second option is what you see above.
I kept enough space between the flower and its reflection so doing the merge would be easier. The selection is pretty simple with a reasonably big dark area and the vase is busy enough that it’s not too easy to see where the merge happens in it. Once I had the selection, I just created a layer mask on one of the images and voila! Both sides of the daisy.
Fisheye Lenses - Embrace the Bend
Many people I’ve talked with are pretty binary on fisheye lenses - they love them or they hate them. It is true that the distortion associated with fisheye lenses can be distracting and can easily become the subject of the shot, but fisheye lenses also have the power create a unique view on that subject.
I went to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival today with a goal - shoot only with the 100mm macro or 8-15mm fisheye lens. I figured I would probably do a lot of macro shots (and I did) but it turned out that my favorite shots from the day were fisheye shots and generally they were all close-ups. The fun part was both embracing the distortion and using the lenses ability to get REALLY close to the flowers while still getting sharp focus.
In the end, a fisheye lens is a great tool for forcing photographers to see things in a new way. Or as some of my throw away shots prove, a great tool for taking pictures of your own feet.
This week’s studio subject is ice — in particular, ice cubes. Light can do really cool things moving through it and it is a remarkably evocative object. In addition to the shoot, I’m working on making different types of ice with different opacities. This one is about 1/2 opaque due to some filtering and boiling and as it is fresh out of the freezer, there is a bit of frost on it. I’ll add a few more shots to the Objects gallery on SpindriftPhoto.com.
Where are the Wildflowers?
Since last fall, I’ve been wanting to head up to Mount Rainier to get some pictures of the wildflowers at the top of the mountain. Deep in Mount Rainier National Park is Paradise, the highest up the mountain you can drive and a perfect start to lots of hikes into mountain meadows. What I didn’t know, though, is when the best time of year is to see the wildflowers at their peak.
So on our way back from Portland, Leslie and I drove up to Paradise to try to figure that out. As we drove up the mountain, the snow along the side of the road grew deeper and deeper (and deeper). By the time we hit the end of the road, the snow was about 30 feet deep, dwarfing the cars and even buildings. Paradise, it turns out, is “the snowiest place on Earth where snowfall is measured regularly.”
So when are the wildflowers out? Shortly after the snow melts — in August.
“I hate flowers - I paint them because they’re cheaper than models and they don’t move.”
I found a delightful group of orchids (Phalaenopsis) at the store on Saturday that seemed like a great set of models for this weekend’s shoot and they don’t disappoint. The tricky part is trying to figure out how to get something that isn’t just the usual straight on shot so I tried a few different angles and came up with a couple few that add a bit of drama or tension to a beautiful set of flowers.
Viveza 2 - Removing the Distractions
I’m a big fan of the Nik Software suite of photo editing applications and plugins. I’ve used each of them for a bunch of shots though none of them more often than Viveza 2. Viveza works as a plugin for Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture and lets you pinpoint adjustments to specific parts of images without having to do all of the masking that, while possible in Photoshop, tends to take so much time. With Viveza, I can easily emphasize or de-emphasize parts of an image with just a couple of clicks and that is critical when you’re going through the touch up phase after a big shoot — you need to know whether that picture that’s almost perfect can end up in the winners bucket or the trash bin.
In the sequence above, I started with an image of a few orchids. The original has two primary flowers but lots of stems and parts of a third orchid in the background. I really wanted to focus on the main flower with the second one as a sort of an echo of the first but the stems coming in from the left were really distracting. I also wanted to have the center of the main flower to pop a bit more. With Viveza, I added a “control point” which is really just the center of the area that you want to effect to both of the stems. Then I could adjust the size of the area that it covers so that it just affects the stems and I moved the brightness control all the way down which worked well because the background is already black in this image. Viveza does the equivalent of building a mask based on the content at the center of the control point and then applying the brightness change just to that area so that the petals on the main flower don’t change much but the stem itself disappears.
Next, I did the same thing for the petal in the bottom right and then added a control point to the center of the flower so I could add a bit more saturation and warmth to it so it pops a little more. The whole process took less than a minute and since I opened the file originally from Lightroom, when I save the picture it goes back into Lightroom as a new image that is linked to the original photo.
Viveza can control a lot more than brightness (read about all of the features here). You can also adjust contrast, saturation and structure (think of it as sharpness & clarity) and if you access the advanced options you can fine tune the shadows, R/G/B, hue and warmth values for each section or the overall image. If you want to make the same change to several parts of the same image (like when you’re adjusting the sky across an image), you can group the control points and adjust them all at once.
I love that Viveza doesn’t try to be the ultimate editing plugin. I really appreciate it’s focused set of features that let me make quick adjustments that target specific parts of an image. If you’re editing your photos in Photoshop, Viveza can be used as a Smart Filter, which means you can go back and tweak the settings even after they’re applied without adding more layers. If you’re looking for a simple tool that makes it easy to be a little more targeted than what Lightroom or Aperture provide but don’t want to go all the way to masking and editing in Photoshop, Viveza is definitely worth checking out.
Another Oil Paint Filter Example
Here’s another example of the Oil Paint filter in Photoshop CS6 beta. In this case, the leaves around the spring exhibit the organic shapes that work so well with this filter when you can see the full detail it provides.
Did I Paint That?
Adobe released a public beta of Photoshop CS6 a few weeks ago and I’ve been playing around with some of the new features. One of my favorite new features is the Oil Paint filter which takes photos and applies a filter that makes it look, well, like an oil painting. There are some places that this effect works amazingly well and others where it’s not that interesting.
The Oil Paint filter seems to excel in images with lots of organic lines and shapes like leaves and branches while big open sky looks more like an effect than a painting. The image above is of a small chapel in Gascony, France. With the lens distortion, it is a little spooky to begin with but when I added the Oil Paint filter, the business of the tree and the leaves on the ground suddenly became swirly shapes and shadows which I found quite appealing.
If you look at an image that has been run through this filter from a distance, it is actually tough to see much of a difference. Instead, this filter begs to be printed in large form where you can really get up and see the painterly detail that it creates. You won’t see the depth from the brush strokes that true oil painting have, but what I see is something that can provide the feel of an oil painting for those of us without that skill :-)
The filter itself is simple to use with only a few settings to adjust the stylization and cleanliness of the strokes and the angular direction and shine of the lighting (which tries to emulate the depth of the paint strokes). Kudos to the Photoshop team for adding this great new filter and keeping it so simple.
New York, New York
A hell of a town — though this time the Battery is up and a taxi cab’s down. I’m just back from a wonderful long weekend in the big Apple, rainy for a couple of days but then the sun came out and the clouds grew delightfully puffy (much like myself after several evenings of awesome NYC restaurants). It’s nice to see the green lady watching over the skyline and the progress of the Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan.
We walked all over the city, up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (to see how the masters captured light) and down in the village. Through it all, it’s tough not to think of the holiday classic “Elf” and Buddy’s warning “Watch out, the yellow ones don’t stop!”