Saturday, October 31, 2009

KPS camera class in session

Here's a simple slideshow I did using Picasa. All photos are as shot during a class in session. Blogspot is great; it can handle pictures as well as video. Unfortunately, it does not handle audio clip. That would have been nice.

Using a polarizer in bright sunlight

I thought I knew enough about polarizers from reading about it. However, it was in this recent Walhalla trip that I really learned to appreciate what a polarizer can do while taking pictures in bright sunlight. Here are some examples with and without a polarizer. With a polarizer, notice the bluer sky, more saturated colour in the rust and the leaves, the greater detail in the shadows, and the absence of shimmering in the water. (Pictures below are in this sequence: first without polarizer, then with polarizer)

Difference between Photoshop and Lightroom

Perhaps I should explain what is the difference between these two photo editing software. Both are products of Adobe. When Adobe first released Lightroom, it was advertised as a tool for photographers (which I have found to be very true indeed). Even though Photoshop has long established itself as the industry standard in photo editing, Lightroom did not unseat Photoshop, but appears to complement it very well. Adobe has cleverly filled in a workflow gap that has made "light" of post processing work (pun intended).

Here is the difference. When you use Photoshop, you work with Layers. You cannot master Photoshop without mastering Layers, and without mastering the various Selection tools. Both are not easy to master. Lightroom does not require you to work with Layers or the Selection tools, which is a big relief. Indeed, for someone familiar with photo editing, it can be learned in one sitting. In Lightroom all the adjustments are made on one layer. Since there is no Selection tool in Lightroom, you cannot do cut-and-paste. For such graphics work, one can seamlessly migrate over to Photoshop and continue working on the image.

Adobe Lightroom 2; 4 weeks later

I have used Lightroom for about 4 weeks now and I have grown to love it. This is the first time I have given serious thought to improving my workflow, thanks to Lightroom. What do I mean by workflow? In digital photography, some of us take lots of pictures. In a typical day's shooting, I would shoot about 500 pictures. It is not easy to sift through thousands of pictures after a trip. I have always kept everything I shoot, but since I started shooting in RAW, my hard disk is filling up very quickly and I have decided to sort out the rotten apples. Using Adobe Lightroom, I would "import" a folder that I want to sort. Lightroom makes it very easy for me to put a star rating on the pictures I want to keep. I can quickly sift through several rounds until I am happy with those I want to keep.

Next, I can quickly make slight adjustments to those that need a bit of tweaking to get it right, such as a bit of cropping or exposure adjustment, etc. I can even copy the adjustments made on one picture and apply it to any number of others. This is particularly useful when you need to adjust the white balance of pictures shot under artificial lighting.

Finally, when I have sorted out all the pictures I want to keep, and made adjustments to those that need correction, I can compress all the files to the size I want and "export" to my archive. At the same time, I would cherry pick those good enough to be placed in my gallery for public viewing.

Lightroom must have been designed by photographers because the thoughts that have gone into designing the software fits the needs of photographers very well. I am delighted by two things in particular: 1) if you shoot Jpeg and Raw at the same time and you import these into Lightroom, it automatically lets you edit in Raw. When you delete, you can delete both Jpeg and Raw at the same time; 2) when you have done all the preliminary work in Lightroom, you can still continue to do more fancy manipulations using Photoshop if you so desire.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How to recover files from a formatted card

I used to think that when I format a flash memory card in my camera, the files are deleted forever. A friend of mine did just that and started asking around for a way to recover the files. Another friend did a quick google and easily found a number of applications that will do just that. I went a step further; I wanted a freebie. I found one called ZAR, downloaded and tested it out. It works and it is very easy to use, and it is free for recovering picture files. For other type of data recovery you will have to purchase the software and it costs US$40. I don't think I will have much use for this application as it is not often that one accidentally formats a flash card. However, it is good to know that there is a solution. If you are interested, here is the link for ZAR:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Walhalla-Rawson excursion; Part 3

I took a few extra items on my trip, not knowing for sure if I was going to use all of them. Here is the trip report:

For the first time since I bought my tripod, I really appreciated taking that along on an outdoor shooting. There were many instances when I had to open up the aperture, thereby causing a reduced shutter speed, and I did not have to worry about camera shake. I guess the alternative is to pay a lot more to get a brighter lens. There you go, buy a tripod if you are tight on lens budget!

I brought along my camera stand, studio umbrella, and two flash guns. I actually had a chance to use them when we were shooting portraits because someone forgot to bring along the club's light stands and we had to improvise using whatever we could lay our hands on. I also got to do off-camera flash shooting in a few outdoor instances.

My computer was also put to use. I was one of only 2 people who brought a computer. I used it to show a few people how to use Adobe Lightroom. It is a great software and it is growing fast on me. It was pure delight to be able to share it with other enthusiasts and seeing the excitement on their faces when they see what they can do as well.

What I also brought, but didn't put to use was my Expodisc, which would have been absolutely ideal for the rain forest hike for which we drove off-track for 25km and hiked 1km just to see the Ada Tree, which is a 300yr old mountain ash. It was not possible to get the correct white balance in that environment without the Expodisc. I left it behind in the 4WD when started the hike to the Ada Tree.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Walhalla-Rawson excursion; Part 2

I just came back from the Walhalla-Rawson excursion. As far as I can tell, everybody had a great time. I did. We stayed in a plain but comfortable-enough place in Rawson. Walhalla is another small town about 15km away from Rawson, and the centre of attraction in the region. We walked many of the hiking trails and took lots of pictures. Back at the lodge, we talked about photography, exchanged notes, or simply picked the brains of the more experienced ones.

Here's what I have learned from my trip, photography-wise. Firstly, I realized that to get the most out of shooting, I should not strive to take pictures with competition in mind. I should set myself free to take whatever pictures I feel like taking. That way, I will enjoy taking photos, and I find I am more successful in getting some shots that I really liked. On this trip, I did just that and I really enjoyed myself. In the last club outing to Cranbourne, I was trying very hard to get good pictures and I ended up with nothing. Also, I did not enjoy myself at all.

On camera gear, I looked at the various cameras everyone brought. They were all either Nikon or Canon. I must say I am happy with my choice of Nikon D90; comparing with what others had, the D90 is truly a midrange camera. Quite a few were using D700's and 5D Mark II, Nikon's and Canon's flagship products, but I am really satisfied with mine because I believe I won't be able to get much more out of the more expensive cameras than from my D90. I am also very happy to have chosen Nikon because of the ease of doing off-camera flash with the built-in commander mode. This is something Canon doesn't have ... yet?

I am also happy to have really got the most out of my polarizer and my tripod. Both were put to good use with effective result. Previously I was only using the polarizer to get a bluer sky, but now I can appreciate how it can also give me a richer colour by removing reflections from leaves and trees; certainly a great accessory to have on a very sunny day. As for using a stand, I learned to be more critical of even tiny camera shake, and that's where a tripod comes in. One member showed me what to look for when checking image sharpness at 200% view.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Walhalla-Rawson excursion

My camera club organized this excursion to Walhalla. We will be staying over for two nights this weekend in country Victoria. I think I'll write about my feelings about the trip before I go off tomorrow. It is more interesting to look forward to it than to reminisce about it after I come back. I haven't been to Walhalla. From the description in the website, I can imagine a rustic country scene with rolling pastures, quaint village, and in this case, an old goldmine and various ghost towns. I can't think of a better way to spend a weekend on my own than to be in a rural retreat with nothing to do but take photographs whenever I feel like it. If the inspiration is not there, there's always a bunch of photographers to chat with. I can talk about photography all day long. Yes, the next few days are going to be AWESOME!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why are we paying so much tax?

Australians are among the most heavily taxed people on earth. Does that mean Australians are getting a bad deal? I can only compare between Malaysia and Australia, as I have lived in both places. The maximum tax bracket is 45% in Australia, and 28% in Malaysia. Added to the basic income tax, one should also include municipal rate (or assessment), land tax (or quit rent), sewage disposal, service tax, value-added tax (VAT or GST), capital gains tax, estate duty, import duty, etc. All these are just different ways of emptying your pocket. In return, the government provides services.

In doing a comparison, one should look at how much services he gets for the amount of tax he pays. Although one pays less tax in Malaysia, I feel that when everything is added up, an Aussie taxpayer gets more out of the system. I won't delve into this quantitatively. The point I want to make in is that while we complain about high taxation, we should not forget that Australia is quite a socialist country in the sense that there are a lot of benefits going to the disadvantaged, the poor, and the old. Australians enjoy free medical care and highly subsidized education, plus a host of other benefits such as child care, youth allowance, family benefits, unemployment benefit, etc. What we should do in Australia is to ensure that the politicians do not steal these benefits away from the people while still maintaining high taxation.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Portraiture Class - continued

The recommended reference setting is ISO 400, f4, and 1/60 sec, with the key studio light at 600W and a secondary lighting at 120W. Energy saving bulbs with daylight colour temperature were used. They are less expensive and do not give out as much heat as the halogen ones. I suppose ISO400 was chosen because most people in the class would not have a bright enough lens and this ISO will retain the perfect quality on all DSLR's. The f4 aperture gave the right depth of field to blur out the backdrop while keeping the entire figure in focus.

I can speak from experience now that it is not the camera that matters, but the lens. An entry level DSLR would be good enough. I had to struggle with my kit lens, where the maximum aperture starts from f3.5, and increases to f5.6 at maximum zoom. Whenever I zoomed out, the maximum aperture reduces, thereby slowing down the shutter speed (making it hard to hold steady). A constant f3.5 short zoom lens would have been ideal for the portraits session. Actually, a lower cost prime lens would be sufficient for home use because you can move back and forth towards the model, but when you are with a crowd, it helps to be able to stand in one spot and zoom in or out. Finally, I should have brought my monopod to better steady my hand while pushing to the limits with my lens.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Portraiture Class

Yesterday I attended a much-awaited portraiture class organized by my camera club. It was every bit as interesting as I thought it would be. We had a model who did a fabulous job of posing for us, and an instructor who is an accomplished photographer. The instructor, Paul Robinson, belongs to the who's-who in photography in Australia. He was very approachable and kept encouraging us with positive comments as he looked at our shots and helped us to achieve the kind of pictures only pro's would take. Here are some pictures I would like to share: the class in session, teacher and model, a shot of the model that I took. All in, I shot more than 500 photos. This is something you can only do when you have a model, so it was a rare treat indeed to be able to keep shooting at a subject.

It might appear that I have suddenly mastered the art in one class. The truth is, taking portraits requires a lot of practice. Knowing how to set the camera correctly takes but a moment to learn. Setting up the props and lighting is also not difficult. These are all "knowledge" stuff. The "skills" part takes years of practice to hone. Telling the model how to pose so that the picture turns out nice and pleasing is not something that happens by chance. The instructor explained how he positions the hands, tilt the face, etc. Once this is done, all of us in the class just kept shooting to our hearts' content and the pictures all came out nice.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Asylum seekers debate

It will be interesting to see what everybody has to say about this issue that Australia is facing. It is hard for anyone to give a non-biased view. What stand should the church adopt? What does my conscience and my faith speak to me? Can I honestly say that as God's children we should provide refuge to anyone and everyone who wants to come? We all know it is impossible to throw the door wide open to all asylum seekers without the country falling apart.

We must recognize that asylum seekers will always be around. People all over the world hope to escape poverty or danger in search of a better life. The countries that are able to provide refuge have a moral responsibility towards all humanity, but it is impossible to throw the door wide open. Yet to keep it tightly shut will certainly attract criticisms at home or abroad.

Without joining the debate on asylum seekers, here's what I think the government should do. The US actually has a lottery system that we can emulate. While tightening the rules on asylum seekers to discourage illegal entry, the government can still give such people an avenue of hope by conducting a migration lottery every few years. Eligibility can be controlled by specifying how many people from which targeted countries will be accepted. That way, the country can adopt much harsher illegal entry policies without reproach.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Notes to myself: advanced selection in Photoshop

In Photoshop there are many ways to select a desired area, which is then used to cut-and-paste to another picture. When it comes to marking out the hair or similarly intricate objects, it requires some special techniques to make the job easier. One such technique is to use channels. The procedure is as follows:

1. Open an image, then go to the Channels window. Select the channel (in grayscale) that gives the most contrast.
2. Go to Image>Calculations. Choose Source 1 and Source 2 to be the same selected channel and choose the Blending option that maximizes the contrast. Set the Result to New Channel (Alpha channel).
3. Hit Ctrl L (shortcut for Image>Adjustments>Levels) to make adjustments to further boost up the contrast.
4. Use the paintbrush to paint the image, or eraser to erase undesired parts of the image. The idea is to be able to paint in the area that will be used as a mask later on. The hairy parts, which are difficult to paint accurately, should be made automatically black by the preceding steps so that not much painting is involved.
5. Without making any selection, but with the Alpha channel still active, hit Ctrl I (shortcut for Image>Adjustments>Invert) to inverse the selection from black to white if necessary. White is what will be used for mask later on.
6. Hold Ctrl and click the Alpha channel to make the selection for mask. Now reactivate the RGB channel and deactivate the Alpha channel (i.e. the "eye" icon). Go back to Layers window and you will see the selection you have made.
7. Alternatively, you can click Select>Load Selection and choose the Alpha channel to reload the selection to be used as mask. Use Ctrl J to copy and make a new image minus the background (if desired).
8. Now you can copy and past the selection to another image. To further improve on the parts of the hair that is not well defined, use Burn tool to darken. (In newer Photoshop, use Refine Edge).
9. Alternatively, if the hair is light in colour, try converting to Lab colour mode and use the channels to paint the background black, instead of the subject black. The technique is the same.

How to remove stain from clothes

I seldom take notice of laundry detergent ads. They always claim to be able to remove all kinds of tough stains easily. This week, however, I have to take a chance with a special stain remover washing powder. I had put a load of washings into the washing machine and some the clothes were affected by a colour run. Without a great deal of faith but with a bit of hope, I went to the supermarket to look for a solution. In the washing powder section there were a lot of choices. I settled on a bright pink container of Napisan that claims to to the job.

Back home, I simply followed the instructions to wet the affected areas with a concentrated mixture of detergent and water. After soaking for 5 mins, I put the affected clothes into the washing machine to wash again, using the Napisan in place of regular detergent. I am glad to say my confidence in the detergent ads have been renewed. All the stains disappeared like magic.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What would you say?

An African lady came into the post office yesterday to send some money to Zimbabwe via Western Union. She spoke English fluently, albeit in heavy African accent. I proceeded to serve her as I do any other persons, without commenting on her descent. Another customer nearby overheard us and remarked, "It's good to get out of there, isn't it?" She just smiled politely. "Where do you come from?" he asked. The African lady replied that she has lived in the UK for several years before coming to Australia recently. (Oops; we all immediately assumed she has just scrambled out of a hellhole, didn't we?)

I just wonder how she might have felt being asked those questions. Was she offended that somebody noticed she's African? Did she feel the questions had racial undertone? She must have been asked those questions a thousand times; did she mind talking about it for the 1001th time? Were the questions condescending? I don't know if she was even sensitive about the questions, but I thought it proper not to make any remark until or unless I knew her better. How would you feel if you were the African lady?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sunshine one moment, minefield the next

Napoleon works as a parcel delivery man. When I first knew him, he seemed to be a very unfriendly person and one who didn't like to make small talks. Once you get to know him better, you'll find him to be friendly and interesting. I greeted him with a cheerful "good morning" today and commented what a nice day it was. He replied with a smile, "Yes, it is a wonderful day, but you'll never know when something bad is going to happen next". He proceeded to tell this story...

When he was in the army in Africa, he woke up one morning feeling on top of the world. The sun was shining and he was simply feeling great. His sergeant told his team that they have to walk to a certain place. As they were walking they suddenly got a call to freeze and stay where they were. They were told they had entered a minefield. Napoleon said that at that moment, he felt that what started as a great day had suddenly turned horrible in an instant. "My friend," said Napoleon, "you can say it is a great day, but you'll never know when something bad is going to happen next." I agree with Napoleon. No matter how fortunate your circumstances today may be, things can just change in an instant. You'll just have to anchor yourself in God.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Creativity is unique to humans

Many of us like to create something. It can start off with an idea or it can appear spontaneously. When you get that magic moment you have to express yourself. You have to let the creative juice flow. You allow your idea to take shape or form. It may be a piece of music (if you play an instrument), a poem (if you are a poet), or a painting (if you paint). Creativity is unique to humans for as long as humans exist; and no one has ever discovered any prehistoric drawings made by an animal. Yet while humans were still preoccupied primarily with seeking food and shelter, they already have a proclivity for creative arts like cave drawings, music and dance. The ability to be creative did not come into being as a result of humans getting more sophisticated; rather it has always been in the human nature. In the same way too, it has never been in the animal nature to produce a work of art.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Flower Shop on Swanston Street

Went down to the city last Sunday. Took a shot of this flower shop along Swanton Street. I turned it into black and white because this seems to go better with the scene (antiquated shop against old brickwork).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Adobe Lightroom ver 2.5

This software is designed for photographers to make adjustments to a digital image. While Photoshop has been traditionally used to make those adjustments, I have always thought that Photoshop is an overkill. I confess I did not immediately take to Lightroom. In fact I went as far as deleting it a couple of days after downloading and installing the trial version. Even now I still immensely dislike the "Library" function, which is actually a cataloging function that can potentially lock you into a rigid system of managing your files and folders. Thanks, but no thanks, Adobe.

The "Develop" module is what I love about Lightroom. It truly simplifies all the tasks a photographer would typically need to do on a digital image. There are no "layers"; which I say is the life and soul of Photoshop, and the bane of one trying to learn Photoshop for the first time. Instead, all changes are done virtually on one page and can always be completely reverted back to the original. The best part of all is that it can be learned fairly quickly, so that the photographer can stick to shooting pictures without having to master Photoshop as well. Having said that, it is only fair to say that Photoshop is still the king of digital manipulation, so don't expect Lightroom to do everything.

A walk in the park

It was just an ordinary day and an ordinary walk in Jells Park that my wife and I took this evening. Depending on where you come from, this simple event could be deemed extraordinary. You see, we passed a number of people. I carried my camera in full view. I didn't get robbed and I did not feel threatened in any way. Even when we passed a group of young men, I did not cringe inside. I breathed freely. I enjoyed the fresh air and the unpolluted grounds. Even the birds do not seem perturbed by the presence of visitors.

Do you realize what a privilege it is to be able to walk freely in the park in a free country? For me, to take a walk in the park is to savor freedom, and to remind myself how lucky I am to be here in Australia. When I was a young boy, I used to imagine that people in developed countries spend a lot of time enjoying nature and the wilderness. Now that I am here, I want to do that as much as I am able to, for as long as I can.