Jacob is good at certain things like chess and not as good at other things like team sports. That’s not a normative statement, nor a complaint, just a note that he won’t be joining a lot of obvious group activities that a lot of kids do and that are easily part of elementary and high school. He enjoys them, but not so much for competition. Finding activities that he likes to do more frequently, beyond board games with the parents, will always be a work in progress for him, as it has been for his parents.
For Jacob, I have tried to encourage his writing, but since he doesn’t seem have a natural outlet or desire for his stories, it goes in spurts. I suggested that perhaps he could do book reviews, however brief, since he loves reading so much, and to be candid, I wish I had a record of everything I have read in my life. Obviously we won’t capture J’s early years very accurately, but he started a list this year and I think he is over 100 so far. Not a bad start. I’m thinking of doing it up as some sort of certificate or something he can put on his wall, but it too is a work in progress.
He likes designing board games, and has done two camps for it, and I need to get back to helping him actually create a solid quality prototype (we did one a few years ago called Jacob’s neighbourhood that we all enjoy playing now and again, mostly for some of the humour we put in it but it was rudimentary compared to a couple of his other games). I’m hoping to nail some stuff in the next few weeks and give him a version for Christmas somehow “secretly”.
So those are two areas that I would like to build on. He’s assembled some stuff, he’s done a few crafts with Andrea, a few courses here and there.
But a few months ago, he got a new iPhone for his birthday, and I’ve encouraged him to take some photos with it. He is willing to do some on his telescope at some point, which will be an interesting outlet for him, I hope, yet I was pleasantly surprised when he was at the cottage recently that he took some good shots of sunsets. No prompting from me, he just took some decent shots and sent them to us by text.
So, we’ve been chatting here and there about what to do with his photos, in part to encourage him, and in part just to display them, and tonight we doubled down together, sorted some 100+ photos by date, and then upon review, chose 4 that he quite liked. We uploaded them to CostCo, chose one for high-end canvas printing to see how it turns out, and three more as prints, and sent them off. The canvas one will take just over a week, maybe ten days; the prints are ready tomorrow afternoon. And he wants the prints as soon as they are ready (actually, I suspect he wants to take the prints with us to the cottage to show to people). Are they the BEST SHOTS EVER? Hardly. But they’re decent and HE took them himself.
I need to tweak some of the settings on his phone for higher-end images if he’s going to be enlarging some of them, but they were decent first starts. I’m hoping the tangible prints will encourage his ongoing interest. I would LOVE to see Jacob take a strong interest in photography over the next few years, even if only a hobby for the future. If he chooses not to, no problem, but in the meantime, I’ll reward his budding interest with some printing costs to help encourage him along the way.
Today I choose to encourage my son’s creativity for photography.
After playing around with some Photo editors, I realized that some of the functionality I was hoping for at a slightly higher level was in fact more for a photo organizer / management program than an editor. So now I’m going down a different rabbit hole looking at free ones.
First up, surprisingly, is Adobe Bridge. I say surprisingly because I just blew all the old copies of all Adobe products OFF my system, so why would I download it? Well, just to try it. And I’m underwhelmed. It’s okay, and if I was into tagging or keywords, sure. One thing it does REALLY well is handle metadata. There’s even a view mode i.e. kind of like details in a file listing where you have about eight columns of metadata with dates, times, keywords, ratings, etc. Not bad, but nothing I really need. Pass.
Now, with the behemoth out of the way, I am moving on to XNViewMP, one that I am really interested in. I have already used XNView in the past, nowhere near using the full power of the tool, and this version is the upgrade. Heck, I’m impressed when I get to the first folder of files. It shows me it in “preview” thumbnail mode, but below each photo is a bunch of EXIF data. Fantastic. Different “views” show different info, but the default includes dates, sizes, and then lens mm (irrelevant for the iPhone ones), f stop, exposure duration, and ISO. Sweet. File conversions to other formats are built in, which is useful for comics and memes in making them all JPGs (better for sharing on social media). And BAM! it allows me to flip horizontal too, without changing the quality or file size. Double sweet. Let’s see what else it can do.
Change thumbnail size, occasionally useful. Add tags and ratings, doubtful (although the ratings are nice — six levels of excellent to poor, but also separated from the tags which allow for personal / work / etc.). Resizing for email, always useful. Upload, probably not the tool I’ll use. Some GPS work that I’ll probably ignore (I try to turn it off on my photos). Oooh, nice, I can edit the EXIF thumbnail, which annoys me sometimes with not matching the proper orientation. I like it.
Oh, interesting, there is even a decent screen capture option with a built-in delay so you can tab over to get it looking right on your screen. It could even tell when I told it to look that I had a webpage over in Firefox and gave me the option to capture just that. Sweet Jesus, this thing has some features I never even knew I needed! Including a CREATE function for file listings, contact sheets, a banner even…wow. This software is downright awesome. I’m in love. Now, if it would only let me do a bunch of internal editing. 🙂 Okay, okay, that’s not the point of this post. Just saying. Oh, and it does a bunch of other things including batch processing, most of which I can do in my file explorer, so not as critical.
While I’m already in love with the XN software, I thought I would check out its cousins:
XNConvert — I didn’t see any reason to download this, as XNView already includes conversion. But not like this…every mask / filter / tweak you ever thought of doing, you can do in this batch tool. Denoise, blur, crop even. I don’t know when or if I would ever use it, but it’s a lot of power at once.
XNRetro — allows you in theory to provide just a bunch of filter looks to existing photos, but it actually does more than that…you can adjust brightness, contrast, colours, etc. all manually too in a VERY simple interface. I tried it on my darker-than-desired shot of Jacob inside a tube slide, and although 20 retro looks/colours, 15 lightings, 5 vignettes, and 30 frames later and it wasn’t really doing anything for me, it is still nice to have, and free, so might as well leave it installed. I could play with brightness, contrast, etc. myself, not really the point of looking for simple “out of the box” adjustments though. Weird that it runs as a standalone file, i.e. doesn’t need to be installed. Could probably run it from a USB key if you wanted to.
XNSketch — allows you to convert your photo into something like a sketch or oil painting. Nothing awesome, although I confess I thought the photocopy effect looked the most realistic of a bad photocopy from the past. Okay to leave it installed, nothing exciting when trying it on a pic of Jacob and Andrea. However, I did a sketch version of my telescope setup and it is pretty sharp. Definitely some interesting possibilities for the future.
XNShell — by installing this, it adds a bunch of the functionality of XNView to my context (right click) menus in file explorer or my replacement program. Including horizontal flips. Nice.
I almost don’t need to continue, I already have success! But okay, why not?
I’ll give StudioLine Photo Basic 4 the next test slot. Okay, weird startup. It wants to save its data in C:\StudioLine. Why would it think anyone would want it in the C:\ root as opposed to under \Data or \Documents or \Pictures? Or even \user\blah blah blah. Whatever. Okay, time for abandonment. Like a few of the other classic “managers”, it wants you to import everything into a database. I don’t have time for that, I’m modifying locations and files on the fly. The database just can’t keep up. I played with a few settings, and almost nothing was intuitive to me. Pass, uninstall.
FastStone Image Viewer has a simpler interface, very clean and clear. Easy to navigate because it looks like a file manager. A few clicks, and I can flip pics horizontally with lossless JPEG format. Resizing for email or other purposes is pretty easy, with option to just copy and save to another folder. All of it from the right-click / context menu. I tried full view mode, which was a good option. And from that view, taking my mouse all the way to the left pulls up a sidebar-like set of menus (resizing, files, rotations, colors, effects); going to the top gives you a filmstrip of other files; going to the bottom is a navigator menu with the most used options from the main menu I think; and over to the right gives you all the EXIF data. My scroll wheel takes me to the next photo in the filmstrip. There’s a crop and heal function for a shirt with a stain, but I’m no artist at fixing blendings. Lighting adjustments on a dark pic of Jacob on a tube slide were pretty basic. And it has options to create Contact Sheets, etc. Overall? A pretty good tool. But doesn’t do anything that XNViewMP can’t do, and most not as well. Pass, uninstalling.
Moving on to Magix Photo Manager. On the install, I normally accept default installs, but for these, I’m afraid things are going to change my Picture File Associations, so I’m going custom. And this one? It was going to install something called Music Maker too (for soundtracks for videos)? No warnings, not a question, just extra bloat to install by default. Not impressed. Equally, there was a bloatware program called SimplyClean…default in custom was NOT to install, wonder what default was in regular install. I hate software that does that. Not many options that I want for stuff. However, it does have an option for basic facial recognition, which could be useful, but it didn’t seem to recognize Andrea or Jacob in two photos taken seconds apart. Pass, uninstall. Except after I was done, there were three extra remnants left that I had to uninstall manually. I don’t know if it’s malware, or what, but seriously unimpressed.
Apowersoft Photo Viewer was next on my list. It was pretty basic, and it really was mostly a viewer, but even the basic editing didn’t integrate well. Nothing to write home about, pass/uninstall.
Nomacs Image Lounge. The program did nothing for me, nothing to make it stand out. But I would remiss in mentioning that it has a basic Mosaic option I haven’t seen in any other program i.e. take a photo, tell it a batch of other photos, and have it create a mosaic by arranging tiles of all the other photos into the shape of the original. I tried it with a basic print of the moon, and only a handful of images for it to work with, but it turned out well enough for me to keep it as an option to try some other time with much more complicated inputs.
Okay, so what’s next. DigiKam. Okay…oops, it says I have it already installed. Not promising if I don’t even remember still having it. Well, at least I can update to the latest version, right? Okay, so I have no idea what’s going on. In my folder for Pictures, I have one called Working, and in it I have the batch I’m playing with called B1 as the folder. Digikam won’t show it to me. It won’t even show me it exists. Okaaay, so I went to my sub-folder that has my latest imports in it. Nada, doesn’t like that folder either. There are four or five sub-folders under it, but even with REFRESHING the folder, it doesn’t do squat. Trying to import the folder or files doesn’t help either. WTF? Okay, well bye bye, thanks for coming out. Oh, wait, it comes with another program called ShowFoto. Which kind of does the same stuff as other organizers, but not well. Okay, enough time wasted. Uninstalling. I think I only had it in there because it handles RAW. And then, wtf, the importing of a folder created some sort of recursion within the folder. 10K files duplicated, and 20GB of data later, it looked like there was no end. So I zapped the directory. Yikers. No idea what that was about. But definitely glad I removed it.
Well, I’m going to keep plowing ahead. I tweaked my anti-virus and anti-malware and my firewalls to max, even though I already had it on high alert and was only downloading based on high-end sites reviewing the software and certifying it safe to try.
Photo QT Image Viewer is next up. A fairly decent photo viewer. With an odd “transparency” model built in to see the apps running behind it. In full pic mode, I can lock the metadata info bar on the left, decent layout. But nothing exceptional, and XNViewMP blows it away by a mile. Moving on, uninstalling.
And last, but not least, is WildBit Viewer. The viewer was basic except when it comes to EXIF / metadata — it had it laid out in SPADES. Almost worth it to keep it just for that. But most of that I never use beyond the basics. The editor is decent, but when I saved a flipped image, it dropped the size by 30%. Nope, can’t have that. Okay, I’m done. Bye bye.
Looks like XNViewMP was the clear winner. Good to know. And soon I’ll have all the bases covered. Now I want to see what’s out there for facial recognition and mosaics.
Since I’m getting into the whole AstroPhotography thing, at least insofar as I’m doing iPhone stuff at the eyepiece, I decided I would play with some software to see how easily I could stack some stuff. Although I’m mainly interested in single-frame stuff, planets are proving elusive for single frames. So I went with what I already had installed and didn’t have a lot of luck out of the gate.
But I began to wonder if I’m jumping too far ahead. Interestingly, I noticed I was having troubles even with just basic photo processing. While I had an old unreliable version of Photoshop, Lightroom, and even Photo Essentials, I’ve never liked what they do to my photo organization. I want something that does what I tell it to do, and nothing else — so I blew all three of the Adobe products off. I can always put them back if I need the power, but for now, gone with the wind.
Designing a test batch
I decided I’d play with two sets of files. First are my moon shots from a few nights ago — they all need flipping left to right (horizontal). Second is a photo from a few years ago with Andrea and Jacob, and it’s a great shot except for a stain on her shirt. I cropped around it previously, but the shot is decent, so I’d like to just remove the blemish so to speak.
Starting the product review
I tried PhotoScape X, which was from the Windows store. I’m a little worried it doesn’t even seem to show up in my “installed files”, yet it is indeed installed. Individual photo editing seems non-intuitive, but I loved the viewer mode — it let me, for example, provide a horizontal flip on all of my moon photos in one go without reducing the file size, something other apps seem to mess with or requires me to do it one at a time. I might keep it around just for that, unless I can’t find something else I want to keep that has that functionality too. $52 if I want to upgrade to pro mode though. But the simple photo editing seemed complicated — I couldn’t even figure out how to get back to a simple pencil / paint brush editing tool.
Next up to try is inPixio Photo Clip 9, which is a free photo editor. Although as it turns out, it isn’t actually free. Almost all of the good functionality is reserved for the premium version, which is $30-$40 Canadian. Seemed too simple in format, with many missing obvious functions even for a quick touch-up. Except the photo eraser and photo cutter work fine. Not quite what I’m looking for, but an interesting set of features. I’m not a big fan of crippleware, so I uninstalled.
I tried DarkTable which was billed as a good RAW editor and manager, which was fine, but again, the interface didn’t wow me. I did manage to figure out how to do some spot removal on some photos, but nothing else about the tool excited me. And since I’m rarely using RAW right now, I uninstalled, and moved on.
Another popular one is Affinity. It’s not free, runs about $50, but it has a free trial, so why not try it? Well, for one thing, as soon as I loaded it, it told me there was a newer version. Really? Why didn’t it check that before installing? Okay, whatever. And of course there are a bunch of pop-ups. Ads for a workbook to buy. Sales on iPad versions. Try the Designer companion app for free. Save on everything in the store. Or just buy it outright. Grrr…so I got past the ads, it IS a trial version after all, and under the menu, the first thing I see is an option to do a stack. I have three pics of Jupiter that are sitting in my trial zone, so I tried it. Straight-through, no problem, stacked! Complete with adjustments, slight rotations, nicely done. It’s a little washed out when done, but I don’t think that’s the program’s fault.
I played with the stacking on two sets of Jupiter images, did okay. Tried it on a batch of moon images, there’s no “best of” option, it just did its best to include all of them. Final image was okay, but a bit blurry, which isn’t much worse than the originals. It would do in a pinch.
I switched over to the picture with the stain, and while I have no real talent, I could make it work well enough with various brushes and tools to get it to look like the stain was gone without leaving a giant colour difference in the same spot. Not awesome, but that is the painter, not the brush.
I had one more “backup” picture to play with. Taken the same day as the shirt photo, it has Jacob inside a tube slide, and while one or two of the shots at the top of the slide are okay, inside the tube it is VERY dark and almost impossible to see his face. More like a silhouette in a couple of shots, which were easily discarded. It’s far from an amazing shot, just playing with perspective and it didn’t work out. But, I opened the file, played with a bunch of preset lighting options, and after a bit of trial and error, I managed to get the colour down, the light up, the contrast showing, and it’s an usable shot. Not worth the effort, he’s too pale by the time I’m done, but there are other options I could perhaps try and get a better outcome, lighting up some areas but not others perhaps. Nevertheless, it worked. Decent tool.
And, finally, I opened something called the BATCH MODE, and it lets me do a bunch of macros including taking a bunch of files and changing the format, as well as a series of macros (converting to sRGB, stripping metadata, converting to black and white, and HELLO, flipping horizontally). Nice.
I am BARELY scratching the surface of this software and it already can do everything I want. The stacking isn’t amazing, but I’ve got astro software to do that. We have ourselves a contender, even at $50. And if you had a complicated workflow that was streamlined, you can record it as a macro. Sweet.
Next on my list is the everlasting Paint.Net. No, not quite the old Windows program, although lots of people have thought so. Will it do the job? Sure. But so will Windows Photos. And nothing in batch mode. Pass.
Also on my list was Photo Pos Pro v3, yet another free photo editor. After launching, it asked me if I wanted the PRO interface or the Novice interface. Yes, this is a good level question for me. 🙂 Novice it is. But then it asks me about my preference for colour schemes — classic / bright, high contrast (dark background), or silver. High contrast it is. So I played with the order this time…I started with the dark slide photo. One series of “AUTO FIX” options later for brightness and I got everything I got earlier. For the stain, I could probably get better at it, but it wasn’t awesome tool design, even in pro mode. But they have something called a “recovery brush”, and without knowing more about it, just gave it a go. It literally removed the stain and left the underlying shirt the matching colour nearby. Like a facial blemish removal tool, but there was a separate one for that. Decently done. For the “batch” mode, though, I found two problems. First, I tried switching between novice and pro mode, and to do so, it says you have to first save the image, and asks you if you want to save with three options: YES, NO, CANCEL. Presumably you should be able to say no, i.e. you don’t want to save, you just want to switch, but no works the same as cancel, you just go back to the same screen without changing modes. I had to close, say no to saving, and then reopen after switching. That’s just silly. Second, to get into batch mode, it has a great menu offering you the chance to add a bunch of scripts to run and add a list of files to process. But there’s no indication of where to find the scripts or how to create them (like a macro). Some decent tools, and since it’s free, I’m tempted to leave it installed.
Saving the big boy for last
For anyone who has ever looked at free photo software, the big boy on the block is Gimp. Short for Gnu Image Manipulation Program, Gimp has been around a long time. And I have never liked it.
Too complicated, too bloated, didn’t like the interface. I’ve downloaded it in Linux versions, Windows versions, you name it, I’ve tried it and despite being free, I have ALWAYS uninstalled it. But someone whose methods I’m trying to emulate often tweaks his final astro photos in Gimp, so I thought I would give it a try again.
As soon as I open it, I remember why I don’t like it. The User Interface is ugly and unfriendly. But I digress.
The stain on the shirt? Able to be removed with the healing brush. Took me a second to find it, but just layout issues, not a design flaw.
The dark slide shot? I couldn’t figure out to easily make the changes. I could make some, but beyond that, not so much.
Stacking? Not really relevant, but sure, I could do it as layers, manually.
And no “batch” processing mode to flip a bunch of photos horizontally. Sigh.
I wish I liked Gimp, I really do wish it. But I just plain don’t.
A backup question
So, if one of the things I want to do is batch process some images, like flipping them horizontally, is a photo editor even what I’m looking for? I do have XNView installed, which is a viewer and organizer. And it will let me select multiple images, convert them even to other formats (I have a bunch of GIF comics that I flip into JPGs before sharing on FB, for instance), and while I have only used the program for conversions, I realized that it does let me do a series of basic tweaks, like flipping. Through lossless JPGs. Which makes me wonder about some of the other processing? Should I have been looking for a better view and organizer rather than an editor?
And the XN group have other tools…like XNConvert which does even more than the viewer does, and also free. XNRetro adjusts lighting. And for no reason that I need, XNSketch will convert your photo into a cartoon version. Me thinks I have another category to look through before moving on to Astro processing tools.
I mentioned in one of my #50by50 posts (#50by50ish #37 – Take a photography course) that I was taking the Photo 101 course that Henry’s offers, and that I wanted to blog about the actual classes each week. Unfortunately, life intervened and I didn’t get to blogging each week, and the company has also altered their offerings to put more of it online or have one-day workshops than to offer in-person classes over several weeks. Nevertheless, I wanted to blog about it, so here I go.
Week 1 was about camera fundamentals, and if I called it “meet your camera week”, it would be a bit more direct. You learn all the basic controls, what they do, and because it is a generic photography class with everyone having different brands and models, a lot of it was hands-on instruction to walk various people through THEIR camera settings to get it into a relatively common set of options for everyone to start with in the class. Overall for the week, there were six basic areas to cover.
A. DIAL MODES
One of the first things we talked about was that the goal of the course was to give people a lot more confidence to get off of automatic mode and into more manual settings. As such, we started with the obvious — how do you get out of automatic mode?
For different cameras, the dial has slightly different words and letters, but generally you switch the dial from automatic mode (a green A usually) to one of four main manual modes — Program Mode (you change a couple of things, the rest is automatic), S or Tv is shutter priority mode (you set the shutter speed and it figures the rest out), A or Av is aperture priority mode (you set aperture, it figures the rest out) or M for manual mode where you set and control everything.
Nothing particularly surprising in there, but I have the Canon model so it has the Tv and Av labels. Why? Av stands for “aperture value”, which seems understandable. And so Tv is shutter priority…wait, what? The abbreviation is for “time value”, i.e. how long a shutter time you are using. I think Nikon uses A and S, but no biggie, we all adjusted. I was surprised no one asked why it was called Tv, but I figured I was the only one who didn’t know, so I didn’t ask either. I should mention in passing that I was in a group of 10 people as it becomes a bit relevant for week 3 and 4.
B. DISABLE LIGHT STABILIZATION
One thing we did change early on to get everyone to the same spot was to turn off the auto light stabilizer — this stops the camera from overriding your settings and guessing how much light you want in your pics. After all, the whole point of going to manual modes was to have a lot more control. So we turned it off by going to Program Mode (P), pressing Menu, choosing CAMERA 2 as the tab, and turning off AUTO LIGHT STABILIZER.
C. HEY, LOOK, A VIEWFINDER!
Next on the list of things to learn more about was the viewfinder on the camera. Sure, lots of us have smartphones and we want to default to using the little digital display to line things up, but the viewfinder gives you a much better understanding of compositional elements (week 4), and it’s good to get into the habit of using it now. And if you can turn off the screen, your battery will last longer anyway. Just saying.
Anyway, there were two aspects of the viewfinder that were emphasized, and I confess I didn’t know either one. First, while I knew there were little numbers showing up in the viewfinder display, I didn’t know what they were. Across the bottom is usually exposure compensation (week 2) in the middle, key settings for aperture or shutter (bottom left), plus a few other handy things to know. Quite small print, but they’re there. If you press the shutter button down half-way, they appear.
The second thing is that while the camera does the autofocus thing for the actual image in the lens, you can also adjust the viewfinder for YOUR eyes. There is a small dial next to the viewfinder that is a diopter that allows you to adjust the viewfinder focus (not the camera lens, just the viewfinder) to your vision. Some people take their glasses off and adjust it to their prescription; others tweak it slightly to their viewing eye.
D. ISO SETTINGS
I’d love to tell you that it stands for something like “image sensitivity ordering” as that would seem to make some kind of sense, but it really goes back to the International Standards Organization. Yep, it has nothing to do with photography. It was the international way to measure and compare the light sensitivity of your camera’s sensor. In old film cameras, it often was referred to as film speed or the ASA rating. Generally, the higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the camera is to light. Why does it matter?
In photography, imaging, even just plain seeing, you only get a picture or see things by light reflecting off objects and coming into your eye or camera. In order for the camera to “capture” the image, it has to be able to see gradations of light and distinguish between light and dark. People often refer to it as “capturing the light”.
When you’re using your camera, you can tell it how much light you want to capture. If you set it to AUTO ISO, it is a general, all-purpose setting where the camera will figure out how much light that it is seeing coming in, and it will adjust higher if it isn’t getting that much light. In other words, if you have a lot of light, it will set it for ISO 100. If you have only a little light, it will make itself “more” sensitive to the little light there is by adjusting to ISO 6400, for example.
Outside in the daytime or even bright artificial light, and if you’re out of AUTO ISO mode, you will likely set it somewhere between 100-400 ISO. This works well if you’re just using your camera in hand-held mode, or if slightly lower light, with a tripod. But here’s the catch…the more sensitive your setting, the more sensitive the camera is to any change in light, including IF YOU MOVE THE CAMERA. So, generally, the more you up the ISO setting, the more you want to increase stabilization and use a tripod.
If you are in a low-light situation, you might want to go for 800-3200.
If you are in a REALLY low-light situation, you could go to 6400 (the limit on my camera) or more (some go up to 20K+).
Now you might think, “okay, you adjust it just for level of light”. And that’s a good rule of thumb. But that is too simplistic. Cameras always work at capturing light as a trade-off between three things — light sensitivity, how long your shutter is open, and how wide the opening is aka aperture. If you boost light sensitivity, you get more light; if you leave your shutter open longer, you get more light; if you have a really big opening (wide aperture), you get more light. If you do all three, you get a white image with no details.
So, suppose you are outside, it’s a bright sunny day, and you want to take a picture of your cousin out waterskiing. Now, because you know that it’s an object in motion, you need a really fast shutter speed — take a quick pic, freeze the motion, and move on. But the faster the shutter speed, the LESS light the camera is letting in. And if you open the aperture really wide, it’s going to take longer to snap the pic, likely resulting in blurring. So, to compensate for the fast shutter speed, the wise photographer can boost the light sensitivity. Basically saying, “Okay, I need a super fast shutter to open just wide enough to get the shot, and then close really quickly, which will allow me to ‘freeze’ motion, and since that won’t give me much light in that short of time, I’m going to boost the image sensitivity way up.”
I took the following photo a few years ago in a preset scene mode for sports, which at the time, I didn’t really know what the camera was doing, but now I can go back and figure out what it did (actually, this is one of the learning methods in the class — find a photo that we like that we took previously in auto mode, and go back to figure out what the settings were that worked and why). The camera had given me a fast shutter speed of 1/1600th of a second. It kept my aperture fairly open at F5.6, partly as I was zoomed in, and it changed my default bright day setting of about ISO 100 to ISO 400.
Now I was also taking high-res images, maximum pixels, and if it had been a cloudy day, the camera might have bumped me up to ISO 800 or more. Indoors, fast action sports like basketball, the camera would likely go up to ISO 1600 or maybe even 6400. But because the camera was adjusting on the fly to my “fast” settings, and greater light sensitivity, I was able to get this one.
Other reasons to increase light sensitivity is if you MUST get a particular shot, i.e. if you miss it, it’s gone, as it increases likelihood of capturing something. Sports shots are often like that, get it now or it’s gone, but there are other times too.
My Canon Rebel T5i / 700D was considered to be, at the time that I bought it, a high-value entry-level DSLR, and many newbies love it out of the box as the stock lenses all come with powered auto-focus. In fact, most users may never ever take the lens off auto-focus mode. However, we learned that auto-focus needs three factors to be at play:
AT LEAST MINIMUM DISTANCE: Lenses all have different minimum focus distances. Macro lenses will let you get up close and personal with a flower or bug, but most lenses won’t. A standard lens wants to be back a few feet from your subject. So if you’re closer than that, it can’t auto-focus. You may struggle to get it to focus even manually, but that’s a somewhat separate issue.
CONTRAST: If you are wearing light colours, like white, against a flat white wall, the camera is going to have trouble figuring out distances. There’s no contrast between you and the wall to tell it that you’re closer and to focus on you. The easiest contrast, most often, is that something is overlapping something else. Your eyes do the same thing. You see a telephone pole off in the distance and a car over to the side. You may not be able to visually tell which one is closer immediately but if you can see wires leading up to the pole, and roadway leading up to the car, you can intellectually guess which one is closer. However, if the car passes in front of the pole, you can immediately tell which is closer, both intellectually and visually. Cameras have limited reasoning ability…they want to see something darker/brighter in front of something lighter (and thus farther away), and if there is a strong contrast between the two, the sensors can pick up the difference almost “visually” rather than “computationally”. If it can’t, it’s going to struggle with any sort of auto-focus. You may even see it struggle as it focuses in and then out, in and then out.
STILL OR SLOW-MOVING. If the object goes by like the Roadrunner, your camera is going to say, “Umm, what was that?” Because it was moving too fast to focus on it. It couldn’t keep up with focusing, kind of like where it is now, getting ready to take the shot, boom, it’s moved and the focus is off now, refocus, ready to snap, dammit, where did that roadrunner go?
However, while auto-focus is good generally, there is also a propensity to have multi-points of focus and semi-continuous auto-focus. If you instead set it to a single point of focus (a red dot in the middle, for example), you can focus on whatever you want at any distance with a half-press of the shutter and “lock in” that distance. Then, you can move your camera to wherever you want to centre it.
Why would this be useful? The example in the book is looking through some trees at someone who is on a dock to the left. If you focus in the centre, it will focus on the trees and leaves which are about half the distance to the person. Auto-focus will lock there by default, and the person will be blurred. Instead, if you turn your camera and point it at the person, get it in focus for them, pressing half-way down to “lock that distance”, you can then rotate the camera so the trees and leaves are back in the centre, and take the shot. The camera is still focusing on the person (locked to that distance) but the composition will be the trees in the foreground slightly out of focus and the person sharp. You often see this in wedding photos where people are walking through the woods and they are razor sharp at a medium distance but not necessarily centred in the shot. A much easier example to understand is using it focus on something in the distance if you’re at a zoo to “lock the distance” and then turning so you’re shooting through the fence. If you auto-focus normally, it will focus on the fence; if you focus on the distance, the fence more or less fades away.
F. MANUAL PICTURE BRIGHTNESS
But we learned that sometimes you don’t want to adjust ISO because it will mess up other things. How do you brighten a shot without a flash? There is something called manual picture brightness or EV for exposure value. It’s an extra setting that allows you to do +/- increments from 0.0 being neutral. Mine lets me go up and down in 0.3 increments, up to +5 and down to -5. My smartphone does +/- 2 in .5 increments, although most people using their apps have NO idea what the EV does. If you increase EV, your pic is brighter; decrease EV, it goes darker. It just gives you a little more control without messing with the other settings. It is apparently particularly good for difficult lighting like snow (DSLRs often dull it so boost an extra EV nudge) or in low light generally (DSLRs often over-brighten it so reduce it an extra EV nudge or two).
And that was the end of the first week’s class. If I had to say what I got out of the class, I would say:
More comfort with manual and the dial modes;
How to control the viewfinder, and even that there was a diopter control;
The link between ISO and shutter speed for sports shots i.e. how I got the shot I did of the cousin water-skiing;
How to “lock” focus at one distance and then compose; and,
How to adjust picture brightness with the exposure value.
In class, we took some pics to practice, mostly playing with things at different distances to get things in focus and then with manually enhancing and reducing exposure values (or over-adjusting in these cases).
Close focus on teacher:
Farther focus on TV:
Boosted the EV:
Decreased the EV:
A good first week…and then we had homework. Yes, homework! Mostly just to replicate some of the practice in the classroom.
Back in 2016, I decided to “up my game” for photography, and I thought I would start with a class or two. Henry’s courses are popular, but there are also courses through the city’s annual learning catalog, and even through Algonquin College if I want to get really serious. But I wanted to keep it simple, so I started watching The Great Course’s “Fundamentals of Photography” series (Fundamentals of Photography – Class 01 – Making Great Pictures).
Recently, as part of my lingering 50by50 commitments, I wanted to get back into photography learning, but even in the last two years, my approach has changed. I have a decent camera — a Canon Rebel T5i aka the 700D — and it works well for me. It is considered a high-value entry level DSLR, but my needs are relatively modest, with just a couple of quirks.
My primary need is outdoors photography … waterfalls, landscapes, flora and fauna, hiking through nature, and friends and family doing both active and passive activities.
My secondary need, like most people, is indoor photography … birthdays, parties, events, holidays.
My quirky needs are both related to astrophotography — first, attached to the scope (body only) or second, straight Milky Way sky shots (with and without zooms).
The T5i came in a couple of configured bundles, and I went with the one that included two lenses — 18-55mm, and 55-250mm. It also has a whack of pre-set modes:
Portrait (blurred backgrounds);
Landscape (wide depth of field so both foreground and background are in focus);
Close-up (aka a software macro option for flowers and things);
Sports (continuous shooting, high speed capture, rapid focus);
Scene mode (several sub-options);
Creative auto (simple mode for quick setting of common features);
Flash off (can’t fire, no matter what the camera thinks is right or not); and,
Scene-intelligent auto (the computer takes its best guess on all the settings, useful if you keep changing setting)
It then has four semi-manual modes:
Program mode (P) — This is a bit misleading, as it is semi-auto (aperture and shutter speed) but you control the rest;
Shutter priority mode (Tv) — You control how fast the shutter is, the computer does the rest;
Aperture priority mode (Av) — You control how wide the aperture is, the computer does the rest;
Manual mode (M) — The full power of the camera is at your fingertips.
For me, I spend almost all my time in pre-set modes, and truth be told, I don’t even do that well.
I have managed to get what I think are some great shots — birds in flight, cousins doing various water sports, flora around various hiking trails in Ottawa. But while I pointed the camera, chose the mode (sports, for example) and captured the shot (cousin waterskiing and spraying up water), I didn’t really know what the camera was doing. I wanted to know how and why it worked, not just the what of the shot or settings. Part of my reasoning is that if I can understand the basics for my primary needs (basic outdoors and indoors), I have a better shot at understanding how to approach astrophotography.
So I signed up in September for a course with Henry’s, the local photography store. I wanted a bit of hands-on experience to get me out of pre-set modes and into manual, but I also wanted to know what the camera was doing. Part of that experience is going back to look at previous photos that turned out well and figuring out, “OH! So THAT’S how I / my camera did that…”. There were a few options available including both “learn about your Canon camera” as well as “photography 101”. With timing and location, I opted for the photography basics course in Kanata.
The course was divided into four classroom sessions, plus one practical session, with each session designed to dive into the key aspects of what you control in photography. I’m going to write separate blog posts about each week, but the overview is show below, although the titles/descriptions are mine, not the official ones:
Camera fundamentals — I hesitate to call this “meet your camera” but it pretty much is what it was about. You learn all the basic controls, what they do, and because it is a generic photography class with everyone having different brands and models, a lot of it was hands on walking various people through THEIR camera settings to get it into a relatively common set of options for everyone to start with.
Understanding aperture — Looking at depth of field, aperture and f/stops, and fast lenses.
Understanding shutter speed — Looking at motion for capture, blurring, and panning techniques;
Planning the photo — Looking at a combination of different lenses, perspectives, sensors, and then the creative side (composition, tips).
It was an interesting experience. For week 1 and 2, I went to the Kanata course on Wednesday nights, and there were about 10 of us in the class. A wide range of interest — older for hobby, younger with dreams of entrepreneurship, a few unique interests. However, the instructor noted he was also teaching on Friday nights nearer my house (earlier time, and on a Friday?), and if we missed Wed, we could catch Friday at the other site. Week 3 & 4, I did just that, because there was only 1 person over there, meaning it was almost like a hands-on class. We asked questions constantly, at least I did, and stopped him regularly when something wasn’t clear. Way more “aha” moments than if we had been in a larger group because it was the follow-up questions that really crystallized things for me. When I do the four blogs for the weeks, I really want to see if I can re-create some of the examples.
I have the practical session tonight, but it isn’t as “practical” as it sounds — we’ll be over by a park in the relative dark. The Friday night class would be great for me, but it’s at a bad time for me this week. so not sure what I’m doing yet.
Am I ready to go full manual now? No, but I achieved my true goal — learning and feeling much more comfortable with making my camera do more of what I want it to and less of what I don’t. Part of a multi-year plan to get me fully conversant before retirement. And a welcome addition to my list of 50 things.