Thursday 26 November 2015

Initial thoughts on Focus Bracketing/Stacking modes in the new Olympus E-M1 firmware update

The new v4.0 firmware for the Olympus E-M1 updated many things and provided a few new functions, the focus bracketing and stacking were ones I was really looking forward to playing.

Last night for comparison I tried taking a photo of a tiny flower in the standard way with a macro as a basis for comparison, then upgraded the firmware on the camera and all my lenses wile I was at it.

The initial baseline image is this one with the expected shallow depth of field.

The thing I tried was the in camera Focus Stacking mode to my surprise the camera made no noise and I hadn't noticed a photo was taken untill I noticed the flashing red SD card symbol in the top left of the screen.

When you go into focus stacking or bracketing mode the camera automatically picks high speed silent shutter mode, cool.

As can be seen from the photo below the result was quite impressive although the furtherest back parts are not quite as sharp as the rest probably because I didn't adjust step distance for each photo, but very impressive for a first try.

The last thing to try out was the focus bracketing mode which gives a bit more control over the number of shots to take, so having a bit of a play around with different shot numbers I got the following image.

This one gave some really nice results being able to take 15 shots and cover from the tip of the front petal all the way back through the rest of the leaves.

This was the very first time I had attempted to do any sort of focus stacking in Photoshop and I was not 100% happy with the results as the auto stacking was not perfect, with a bit of tweaking it could be much better, I also tried Helicon Focus with the free demo for 30 days and it 2 struggled with the same things that Photoshop struggled with.


One thing I did not like was that I could not change the shooting mode away from what the bracketing mode had set, so I could not select the option to delay taking the photos just to let the camera settle down any movement in pressing the button. This could be mitigated by using the OIS app to trigger the photo, or there maybe even another option I did not find in my cursory look last night.

The other thing I noted was that I can probably get better results in the stacking software by setting up the subject a little different or with less depth if possible, this will require a bit of fiddling and playing to see what works best. I'm relatively new to macro photography so there is plenty to learn I guess.

Graffiti and Weddings don't normally mix but....

Hosier Lane and likely many of Melbournes other graffiti covered lanes are not only a playground for tourists and photographers alike but have also become a very sought after location for wedding photographers.

Pretty much any weekend day if you hang around for a couple of hours you will come across a wedding photo shoot in there.

Quiet interesting to see the different styles of weddings and photographers that show up and direct the shoots, some are super organised with an entourage of assistants multiple shooters and tons of equipment and take over the place directing the public to stay out of their shots.

Others turn up with 2 photographers a couple of cameras and get it all done with minimal apparent effort and no interfering with the general public.

The cool thing from an enthusiastic amateur photographer point of view is that it adds a whole other side to taking photos in places like this and gives you willing subjects and situations which you can try out different kinds of photography that is perhaps outside of your normal style.

Thursday 24 September 2015

Harden the F*** Up

After having purchased a Bower 7.5mm lens for the my E-P5 over 9 months ago and having used it once and been put off by the lack of auto-focus, last weekend I decided it was time to take a spoonful of concrete and just get out there with it.

I had just found out about he Maryborough Wings and Wheels event ( so on Saturday I decided to bolt the 7.5mm lens onto the EM-1, setup focus peaking on/off on Fn2 and with that done I was all ready to go for a relaxed Sunday drive in the country.

So arriving late morning armed with the fully charged battery and empty memory card I started out slowly playing with focus and focus peaking trying to get used to things and after a bit of zooming in as far as possible while reviewing the initial images, I pretty soon worked out that I could leave the focus set in between the 0.25m and infinity everything in the image would be sharp at F11 at a distances I like to shoot and can get close to the subject.

de Havilland Vampire
This Vampire jet image was from the first few shots I took, and it came out as I'd hoped. After those first few shots I started to get more comfortable and started enjoying the event and taking photos more.
Cobra Engine bay
One of the main benefits of this lens and camera combo is how light it is compared to a more conventional DSLR, which meant walking around with it in hand for hourws wasn't an issue even taking a few photos just holding the camera out above the cars to get different angles.

Selfie reflection in Jaguar grill
After biting the bullet and just getting on with it, I have discovered new confidence in this lens and can't wait to get back out there with it. Over all I'm really impressed with the quality of the images produced by this little lens, for the money it's amazing value if you have a need for a fish-eye lens.
Ford Falcon 351 GT

Thursday 19 March 2015

Lightroom Post Processing - My way.........

At the request of +Ananda Sim I have put this together. I think there is something for every one to takeaway here, if you like my car photos then this is how I do it, if you don't like my car photos then this is what not to do.

Disclaimer: I have watched lots of tutorial videos and read a lot of articles on post processing and have taken bits and pieces from them to end up with something I like.

Once I have rated and imported all the photos into Lightroom I'll usually follow this process for most of my car photos, I do slightly different things depending on what the subject is but for machinery and mechanical things with lots of detail and structure I like the effect I get with this method.

So to illustrate my method I'll be using this image of a 1963 Aston Martin Lagonda Rapide I captured at the recent Australian Grand Prix.

This is the original image just imported with the default settings, when I shoot the images I usually take into account how I'm going to process them and will sometimes under expose or over expose to get the effect I want later.

First thing I usually do is adjust the highlights and shadows as shown below, minimum highlights and maximum shadows, that shows as much detail as there is in the RAW file. I like details so I start here.

Next is to use the white and the black clipping sliders, to try limit the loss of detail, sometimes you go a little bit further just depending on how you like each image.

A handy thing is to use the sliders in conjunction with the Alt key on your keyboard while sliding the white slider will show where you are about to loose detail as white spots if you keep pushing the slider in the positive direction.

For the black clipping using the Alt key will show you where you will be starting to loose detail in the shadows as you push the slider in the negative direction.

The next step for me is to adjust the Exposure and Contrast until I like it, I can't think of a way to quantify it it's a "vibe" thing. As well as add some Clarity and Vibrance and very rarely a very little saturation. These are great to bring out detail in machines and buildings and the Vibrance just brings out the colour.

As far as Clarity I think you need to be a little bit conservative with it, when I first discovered it used to use it quite aggressively but you end up with a lot of noise, artifacts and glowing things in your images which look weird (I think). It's up to you to find your level of conservativeness.

As a rule of thumb I usually set the Vibrance to about half of the Clarity and then move it around a little either way but rarely go more then the Clarity (on the slider), but every image is different and your preferences will dictate where you go.

At some point you might have to crop and straighten the image, you preference as to at what point you do this, usually if I have to crop in a lot or rotate the image quite a bit because the initial angle I took it at just didn't work or because I wasn't careful enough taking the image, I'll crop early on in the process as this helps set all the previous parameters more accurately as your not tuning the image for areas that you will be cropping out anyway.

Some people don't like cropping close to the subject but for me it depends on the subject, I think with my images of cars, I'm usually using quite a wide angle that the image will be distorted anyway and the focus is the center of the image it's not as bad, but that's my theory.

Quite often with cars, structures, machines I'll use the details panel to sharpen up some of the smaller details. Usually I'll push the Sharpening Amount slider to about 70 and see what happens, sometimes more or less depending on how much detail is already in the image, then I'll use the Mask slider in combination with the Alt key to reduce the effect of the sharpening to the higher detailed areas that you really want the detail in.

I'll usually toggle the Details on and off with the switch on the details panel in order to get a feel for where the sharpening has occurred, sometimes the extra detail is so subtle it's hard to know where it is as your moving the sliders but when you turn it on and off it's much easier to see it. This image shows the detail tuning off.

The next image is with the detail tuning turned on, quite noticeable.

Next I'll usually tweak the Luminance slider a little and try to reduce some of the noise in the image, if you go to far you can end up with something that looks like a pastel drawing or cartoony, but it's your preference again as to how far or not you go. Using the Alt key in conjunction with the Luminance slider will convert the image to black and white which helps see the noise as it's being affected a bit better, zooming in also helps a lot.

The last step which I usually take is to use the corrections panel to remove/reduce chromatic aberrations. These are normally more apparent when using a fish eye lens which I like to use for car images but in this image I used the Olympus 40mm f2.8 lens and there was really no need to remove any chromatic aberrations. Usually I'll tick the box to enable it then use the green and magenta sliders to reduce the chromatic aberration effect from the image. Chromatic aberration is usually very easy to see around edges where there is a high contrast between objects. Once you see it, you can't un-see it and you have to get rid of it.

So there it is. This all seems like a lot to do but it's quite quick and simple. As you work out what you like you can also develop your own presets to get you to your starting point at the click of a button then once you import the images you can just apply the appropriate presets and tweak the settings for the individual image.

Hopefully this was helpful for someone and you can take something away, either what to do or what not to do.

Saturday 7 March 2015

Olympus E-M1 for motor sport photography

This year I had the opportunity to head over to Adelaide for the Clipsal 500 V8 Supercars race, it was the first time I'd been to Adelaide for this race and a very long time. The last time I was there for a race was for the Australian Grand Prix in 94.

I wanted to take my new camera to see how it would perform but was concerned that the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 PRO kit lens would not be enough to get the reach I'm used to with the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS lens. The answer I thought, was easy. Rent the new Olympus M.Zuiko ED 40-150mm f2.8 PRO and i'd be off and running, but checking the inter-webs for local stores who would rent that lens proved less then fruitful, unless I wanted to rent it for a minimum of 6 months which was a little longer then I needed it for.

So I decided I'd just take the old faithful Canon 5d and 70-200 plus a couple of other lenses. In a last minute change of mind while packing, very late the night before the very early flight. I decided to just try it, and packed the E-M1 with the 12-40 f2.8 and a Bower 7.5mm lens and see what I would come back with.

So getting to the track and while walking to the seats I grabbed a few photos at a Ferrari club display with some very cool cars.

Ferrari 458

Once in the seats the Porsche Cup series was on the track and this was the first time to try out the camera in action, the zoom as expected left a little to be desired but with the zoom set to the max 40mm (80mm factoring in the crop sensor) and after a little while of trying to get the settings dialed in for some panning action shots this is what I was able to get.

Porsche Cup entry #77 Nick McBride - Bob Jane T-Mart Porsche
This is a cropped shot of the Bob Jane Porsche with a little tweaking in Lightroom, not to bad even considering the crop to make it a decent size in the frame.

One thing different with this camera compared to the Canon is the number of frames it can shoot per second, it's damn fast. I decided not to update to the latest V3 firmware before this just in case something wasn't quite right and I didn't have time to sort it out before hand. But will be putting it on ASAP now to compare the differences and see how much better the new faster C-AF mode is going to be.

Another action photo from the track was of a 2010 Ferrari F1 car doing some demonstration laps, also quite good managing to track the front of the car, also cropped to increase the size of the car in the frame (40mm is just not enough).

2010 Ferrari F1
Somewhere where the I was expecting the E-M1 to be more at home was in some of the track side entertainment and attraction, nothing wrong here, although again more zoom would have been nice in a couple of cases.

Track side bikini fashion show.
 As expected this was no problem for the camera, although it did take me a while to get used to the button layout compared to what I'm used to with the Canon. I still find the Canon controls a little easier to use quickly, but I think it's more a matter of adapting to the new camera.

This is the last of the images for the blog a shot of the classic podium photo shoot where they get the winner with the crowd in the background.

It took me a little while to get comfortable with the camera but eventually I managed to get into a groove and managed to take some photos I'm happy with and I definitely thing this camera can do the job, and do it well (as I would need anyway) just need to get the right lenses and it's quite a capable camera.

Hopefully I can find someone renting the Olympus M.Zuiko ED 40-150mm f2.8 lens before the Grand Prix next weekend so I can give it a good go then.

More of my photos from the 2015 Clipsal 500 can be seen in my Google+ album (Clipsal 500 Album).

Friday 30 January 2015

The B&W Project - Challenge #3 - Tools of the Trade

Tools of the trade the next challenge in the #BWProject26. hmmm, nothing to exciting for someone in IT field. To try and fit in with the goals of using flash and liquids there was only one option throwing water on a keyboard or mouse. The mouse option would probably have been slightly less interesting with less things for the water to splash off.

The next thing was to find a dead keyboard, having thrown out a keyboard which had been ruined by coffee mid last year. I briefly contemplated purchasing a cheap $5 keyboard but it seemed a little wasteful to ruin a brand new keyboard just for a photo so it was lucky that I found a dead keyboard in the office.

So since starting this project I had ordered some cheap soft boxes and some clamping style flash mounts for the soft boxes and all the bits arrived finally in time for this challenge. Everything seemed to fit relatively well together and it's interesting wrestling with the soft boxes trying to assemble them without "incapacitating" myself. But once it's all together it all seems to work as I expected (rightly or wrongly).

So the next major goal was where to setup and how to set it all up so that there would as little permanent damage as possible from the splashing water, so it was to the kitchen and commandeering the kitchen table and the kitchen.

Once things were setup there was a lot of trial an error placing the soft boxes the keyboard and seeing what worked best before any water was stilt. Initially i was trying to get the table as the base for the keyboard but that was just not going to work splashing water all over it and I didn't have anything large enough or photogenic enough to cover the whole table top. I remembered a sheet of clear acrylic plastic lying around waiting to be used in another project non photographic project and I figured it would give a nice reflection to sit the keyboard on that, but being clear it also gave a very clear view of everything under it as well.

While looking at the keyboard sitting on the acrylic I noticed that there would also not be an easy way to crop anything that the acrylic was sitting on so I found some boxes from a recent PC build and used those to prop up the acrylic sheet off the table. Next step was trying to get something with a nice solid color under the acrylic and I found a black cloth which under the acrylic gave a really nice reflective top to work on.

So after about 50 or so test shots moving lights, trying different backgrounds I had established ground zero.
Ground zero.

There was no turning back once the water starts flying....

I was shooting tethered using Olympus Capture and didn't want to have the laptop next to the splash down area so I used a wireless mouse to trigger the computer to take the shot. Just when you think you can introduce any more lag into a system you add a wireless mouse.

So pressing the left button on the mouse clicked the button on Olympus Capture which then sent the signal to the camera which also triggered the wireless flashes, yay...

So now the "easy" part, time everything perfectly to get enough water and splashes in the image. about 20 shots later and 5 or 6 glasses of water later I lucked out and got something which I was fairly happy with. There were a few shots with nothing in the frame at all, some with water just entering the frame, some with only a few drips in the air. It's just part of the fun.

Once I was happy with the shot there was the worst part of the job to do, the big cleanup, this is where I was beginning to regret selecting liquid photography to try out ;-). About 45 minutes later it was time to look at Lightroom and see what needed to be tweaked.


Once I'd settled into the Lightroom editing it was relatively easy to process the setup was already fairly monochromatic and thankfully there was only some minor tweaks to do in Lightroom with a hint of the Liquify filter used in Photoshop to straighten out the back of the acrylic as it had sagged a little with all the water on it, and then removing some extraneous droplets that felt out of place.

The result was this.

1/250 sec, f7.1, ISO 400, 27mm
No more regrets choosing liquid photography now.

The setup....

This is a photo of the setup taken quickly before the cleanup with the phone. There was a soft box on either side of the keyboard one from slightly above, another on the floor behind the table pointing up at the white wall.

Not a lot of room but it seemed to work out and even managed not to knock over the camera tethered to the laptop on the kitchen bench just below the bottom of the photo.

  • Camera: Olympus OMD E-M1
  • Lens: Olympus 12-40mm f2.8
  • Triggers: Pixel Opas
  • Flashes: 3 x Vivitar cheapies.
  • Stands, clamps, soft boxes: ebay cheapies.

  • Try to plan things out a little more ahead of time and look at what might be needed as far as materials to water "proof" the area.
  • Look at better flashes the recharge time is quite long and the consistency between shots with the cheap flashes leaves a bit to be desired. Maybe better batteries or try to rig up a power pack.
  • More water protection = less cleanup (hopefully).
  • More room would be awesome.
hmmmm wonder what the neighbors would think of doing this outdoors at night and setting flashes off every minute or so... 

Bring on the next challenge.

Friday 16 January 2015

The B&W Project - Challenge #2 - Macro

Not being one for letting a lack of knowledge or experience hold me back from trying something completely new to me and armed with all the knowledge gleamed from watching a few introductory videos on youtube from Alex Koloskov I decided to jump in and go for gold and this is the result.

Once I had the idea of what I wanted to try and about an hour worth of setup I had a dinning table filled with the following gear:
  • 3 fairly cheap flashes (Over kill? Probably, but all or nothing.)
  • tracing paper used as a diffuser on each flash
  • cheap wireless triggers
  • a small poly-carbonate mirror used as the drop zone
  • a gorilla pod
  • Olympus OM-D EM-1
  • Olympus 12-50mm in macro mode
  • laptop connected to the EM-1 with Olympus Capture
  • glass full of water
  • eye dropper
  • towels to cleanup the excessive splashes
So once the gear was all laid out it was time to actually try to make it work together, while the Capture software was installing I went through the flashes setting them all up in manual mode so I could control the amount of power each would put out.

The camera was next I'd only picked it up the day before and had only updated the firmware and played around a little with it but that bit was relatively easy enough, connected the wireless triggers to the hotshoe and everything came to life.

The software takes a bit of getting used to and will need a bit more work to see if it can be a little easier to use, or maybe setup a bit differently to make it easier, I have used Adobe Lightroom with my Canon 5D and it was so easy to work with, time will tell with the Capture software.

So after about 15 minuted of taking test shots and adjusting the power of the flashes to try and get a reasonably lit scene it was time to try and capture the drops, I was expecting this to take a bit of time out of all the expectations I had this one was the most accurate. Getting the timing right took a while and after about 80 shots I was getting close, but would either capture the drop after it hit and there were just ripples or just before it hit.

At this point I also started to notice that the flashes were not outputting the same amount of light each time if I didn't wait a minute or so between shots, trying to take 5 or so shots in a minute was causing each shot to be progressively underexposed, even with the flashes set to 1/2 and 1/4 power. So this slowed things down a little but probably a good thing as well as I could try and get the technique a little better.

So eventually after about 180 shots I managed to grab the first "splash" that inspired a bit more confidence. After another 30 of so shots I managed to get 3 or 4 more splashes and at that point decided to call it a night, and a have a quick go at processing the handful of images that looked interesting.

From looking at the images and going through the exercise there are a few things which I will hopefully learn for next time.
  • macro lenses have a very, very shallow depth of field (this was almost another first for me having only taken 3 or 4 macro shots before while testing the lens)
  • water drops are very hard to line up in the air and made to fall in the exact place where you focused
  • setting up the lighting with moving and sometimes illusive subjects is not at all easy
  • biggest one is probably more time, although it's a bit more interesting winging it and see what you can do, playing around a bit more would work out much better
In the process of getting to this image I noticed how the drop of water were beading and holding themselves together around the main drop I was aiming for, this lead me to try placing drops on the mirror purposefully to see what I could get, the image in the heading of this blog is the result.

As far as the actual image that came from the session goes, the depth of field is not right, the focus is to far back for where the drop fell. It would probably have been better with a more pure white background. Maybe shot more from above would define the splash "crown" like structure more. Using a glass full of water instead of a hard mirror would also have provided a cleaner background for the splash.

But if it was perfect now there would be no point trying again.

Thursday 15 January 2015

New beginnings

Earlier this year I decided to give a year long photographic project a go, unlikely to finish it but should be an interesting learning experience. The project is The B&W Project on Google+, the aim is to take 26 photos in Black & White on a theme announced 2 weeks before the due date of the images.

The first theme was "New Beginnings" the aim to post an image which would explain a goal that you could work on during the year long project. I chose the following image:

New Beginnings

I have always wanted to try liquid, splash, droplet, etc photography, and I have always had an aversion to using flashes or artificial light in photos mainly due to seeing it as a huge, scary, nasty beast. So this was a good opportunity to try a couple of things I had never done and hopefully learn something new. It's much easier to learn something you already know.

Lets see what the second challenge brings and what I manage to get done....