Supermoon?

I heard a rumor the “super moon” was out last night, so I grabbed my A77 and my Sigma 600mm f/8 Mirror lens and shot away. This result confirms my suspicion.

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SLT-A77V, Sigma 600mm f/8 Mirror, ISO 50, 1/80s

Actually, I did take this shot, and then I used a little Lightroom magic to make the logo. I dropped the temperature down for the photo to 2500K. I  then used the adjustment brush to make the shield backdrop, which was a steep temperature rise (87 on the LR slider) with a bit of tint on the cyan side (64 on the LR slider). Finally, I added some more heat (68 on the LR slider) to get the yellow details. A smidge of saturation and luminance on red, blue, and yellow and you have Supermoon!

I have lots to talk about, I have been very busy of late. I will catch up sometime this week hopefully. The end of the fiscal year is looming, which means I may actually get to breathe next week… I am not going to count on it, however!

Out of the comfort zone

I’ve had a couple of things which have had me step very far out of my photographic comfort zone lately. First is starting a new business and looking for clients. The more I look for work, the more I find I really don’t have much to show for the work I have done so far worth showing where my wife or kids aren’t involved. I find myself searching for photos without my wife or kids and trying to post-process them to post as examples and I am more of a candid shooter than anything else, so it makes it difficult to sell portraits. I’ve also been guilty of shooting wide-open or close to wide-open at near minimum lengths so I have a ton of faces, not many bodies and not much depth of field. So I have a ton of these:

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 250, 1/800s

Another thing I am realizing is I haven’t touched the surface of what I can do with post-processing and the NIK Suite is making it much harder to realize when something is good enough. I’ll like what I see after running something through HDR Efex or Color Efex but then I want to see what Silver Efex would do to the original or the post-processed copy. I have made 4-5 copies of a photo to figure out which one I liked most. Here is an example, first with the original:

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 200, 1/250s

And then I ran it through Silver Efex:

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And then ran it through HDR Efex, and didn’t like the results:

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So I ran it through HDR Efex first and then Silver Efex:

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And finally I cut my losses and went back to the original with some slight modifications in Silver Efex:

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Which doesn’t look much different than the first iteration through Silver Efex.

The third thing making things more difficult is I am evaluating Portrait Professional 11. Let me tell you something, this thing can be really cool. It basically uses a face mapping and will do all the smoothing and sharpening and everything for you, but you have to be careful or you’ll end up with an alien. Here is a crop from an original, the subject (my wife) is about 20 meters away:

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 125, 1/250s

Here is an attempt of editing done with Lightroom/Color Efex, I needed to do a little more work, but I figured I would stop at 15 minutes:

DSC06127-Edit-Edit

This is an example of the interface of Portrait Professional 11. The first “suggestion” really isn’t too far from better than what I came up with in Lightroom/Color Efex.

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I played with the sliders a bit and this is what I came up with:

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Not too bad. A combination of the post-processors may be out of control. I need to figure out which one does what best.

One thing I need to be careful about with Portrait Professional 11 is going too far. Here is an example:

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Yeah, it is a powerful tool but it can be used to create aliens if you don’t watch out. I’ll spare my wife the embarrassment.

The final factor causing me to be out of my comfort zone is an impending deadline. I was published in an annual coffee table book my employer puts out for charity and the perfectionist I sometimes strive to be didn’t want to submit anything less than perfect. I tried a few different things, got out and shot some different stuff. And the only thing I submitted was the horse above and a couple of shots I get every other day. Here are some of the shots I got before I came to the conclusion I did.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/8, ISO 50, 1.3s, +4 ND Filter + Polarizer
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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/5.6, ISO 50, 1/5s, +4 ND Filter

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/5.6, ISO 50, 1s, +4 ND Filter

Not bad, not great, none of them I liked enough to submit. If I get accepted we’ll find out which one made the cut.

Catch Up Post #4: NIK Suite

When it comes to post-processing I always start with Lightroom 4, and I have my workflow. I import, apply the Camera Standard color profile to everything I import, and then I start tagging the ones I want to work on and export out. I’ve always wanted to see where Lightroom was perceived to fall short and one area where I figure there would be some improvement would be in Black and White post-processing. I had heard great things about NIK Software’s Silver Efex Pro but I wasn’t ready to spend $200 for what would amount to be a Lightroom Plugin for what I use it for. 

And then Google acquired NIK Software. And I knew that was my sign I wouldn’t be purchasing Silver Efex Pro.

Let me tell you right now. I HATE Google. I despise Google. I haven’t used Google in nearly eight years. I use Bing, which is really the same engine in Yahoo, or I use Ask.com, but I would say in the past eight years I used Bing or its predecessor Live.com 99% of the time. It was a learning curve at first, but now I am an expert search engine user. It doesn’t hurt Bing has gotten much better.

Why do I hate Google? I’ll tell you why. All of it goes back to April 2005 which would reassure me it really has been eight years. And really it started the day before April 2005. March 31. I was just accepted for a transition internally within my company to a different and better position. One of my co-workers congratulated me on my acceptance and told me he was interested in seeing my résumé so he could craft his to be advantageous for submission for a similar position. I was walking around with an inflated ego at the time so I gladly gave him a copy. The next day was April 1. April Fools Day. And my co-worker decided to post my résumé to every big job website on the planet. With my real address, my real e-mail address, and my real home phone number. He informed the logic within those sites I was willing to take a massive decrease in salary compared to what I was earning at the time and I was willing to relocate, take contract work… Everything which a desperate person with good qualifications would want. I came home on April 1, not knowing this had happened to a full 20 messages on my home answering machine and 26 unique numbers on my caller ID.

Needless to say, my life was a bit busy those next few days, and that wasn’t because my 3 and 1 year old were both still in diapers. I had to change my phone numbers, my e-mail address, and I had to get all of the job websites to remove the résumés which wasn’t enough as most of the big search engines also have cached information and headhunters utilize this when they’re really desperate to fill a spot. Live.com, Yahoo, Ask.com, they all took my résumés out of their cache as soon as I asked. Google didn’t answer my calls. Google didn’t answer my e-mails. Headhunters still sent me mail, they were persistent enough to call my new unlisted and unpublished number. For weeks I got a call every day on average. Some days I’d get a break. Some days I’d get three calls. It took me hiring a lawyer to get Google to remove the résumés from their cache. A bit before then I had made the decision never to use Google again.

So fast forward seven years and a bunch of months later. Google acquired NIK Software earlier in the year. Then they pull a nasty trick and put the whole NIK Suite on sale. The NIK Suite (HDR Efex Pro 2, Color Efex Pro 4, Silver Efex Pro 2, Viveza 2, Sharpener Pro 3, Dfine 2) was made available at $149.99 base, where there a million coupons online to drive the price down even further.

It took me a couple of days but I figured I was ripping them off at the price I bought the whole suite at compared to the price I almost bought just Silver Efex for, so my justification was made.

…And I have to admit, I like what I see so far.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/250s, +1EV
Post-Processed on the left with Lightroom, exported into Color Efex Pro 4 to produce the result on the right.

The layout of the tools are simple. Most of the tools have suggested filter settings and then you can tweak those how you see fit.

One of these days I’ll post a walkthrough but since I am hoping to post seven times today I want to just show some results. Here is Matt and Ashley redone using Silver Efex 2:

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/80s
Post-Processed on the left with Lightroom, exported into Silver Efex Pro 2 to produce the result on the right.

One program I am having fun playing with is HDR Efex 2. I feel like I haven’t touched the surface of what I can do yet, but it is fun making ordinary landscapes look like Rockwell paintings. Here is my house with the “Structured 1” filter applied. No other changes.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/1000s
Post-Processed on top with Lightroom, exported into HDR Efex Pro 2 to produce the result on bottom.

I haven’t done all of everything I can do quite yet. But prospects are up there. My first instinct was to go into my vast library of photos and redo all of them. And I did redo some… There’s more to talk about here but I also hope to post seven times today.

Catch-Up Post #0: Prologue

OK, I have a ton to catch up on and I need to get it all out. So I figure I will get it out in chunks but I want to outline it first and today seems like a wonderful day to do it.

Topics:

1. Going Pro: If there was a day to start a business, it would be today. The way North Carolina works, if you establish an LLC, you have to file papers on April 15th of every year. So I am on the clock if I want to file that paperwork at this point. I am probably going to today. I also have to figure out advertising, print business cards, all that other stuff and I am hoping to get a handle on it all this week.

2. Kayden: A while back I posted about “Jennifer”. She was public offender #1. Well, I am happy to say I was able to at least change her Facebook cover photo for a week or so as I did a shoot with her little one, Kayden. Unfortunately, “Jennifer” decided it would be a good idea to put another Kissy Face or Duck Face profile shot up WITH Kayden. You can’t win them all, I guess.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4, ISO 50, 1/320s

3. Spring (Finally!!): It is officially Spring in North Carolina, after waiting a long time. Now, personally I am tempted to cut Claritin into lines at this point as the pollen is out of control, I can handle a little bit of sneezing and coughing to get a million photos. And a million photos I may have gotten at the end of the day.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/250s, +1EV

4. NIK Suite: I HATE Google. With a passion. And there is a good story behind it. Before Google acquired Nik Software I was entertaining getting their Silver Efex software if the price was right. It didn’t seem to be quite where I wanted it for $200. Then they offered the entire suite (Silver Efex, Color Efex, Viveza, HDR Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro, etc.) for less than $150. Sold. Effin’ Google! Now I am addicted. I have literally gone back into my vast library and tried to enhance many photos. Of course, I am pressed for time so I will show an enhanced version of the one I just posted.

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Same as above, post processing with Lightroom 4 and NIK Color Efex 2

5. Austria trip:  I’m going to have a neat little trip to Austria via Germany this summer! I’m pretty excited about it, really. I’m going to meet up with another Sony enthusiast, Christian, who has been a really good mentor without me asking and I truly hope to learn from him while I am there. He has been gracious enough to agree to show me where to go to shoot. Christian has a unique set of lenses and I hope to try some of them as well as see what he can do with anything I have to bring. All I know is I may have to bring an extra memory card or two and maybe a hard drive. I ordered the Rosetta Stone and I hope to learn enough German to be able to ask to go to the bathroom.

6. Other random stuff: I have plenty of stuff to talk about so if anything else comes up I’ll put it in a random post. I have had some luck with the cardinals and other birds in my yard. I’m now trying to get the Hawks and Owls, who have proven to be elusive.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 160, 1/250s

As for right now, when I am home my wife and I take turns taking the kids to school. Today is my turn and I need to make sure lunches are made, teeth are brushed, and all of the important stuff in between.

The 70-300G Successor… and the Power of Photo!

I sold my 70-300 G last week and I was looking at a couple of options for the successor; specifically the Sony or Minolta 135mm f/2.8 [T4.5] STF lens or the Minolta 200mm f/2.8 APO lens, ideally the High Speed version.

The 135 STF came in to play once I realized with the A99 and focus peaking I could handle the fact it was manual focus. It screams to my shooting style and it would appease my need to constantly tinker.

The 200mm f/2.8 is a lens I have desired for a while as it would complement my 85mm lens well and it is famous for delivering wonderful color. It also would return a bit more of the length lost in selling the 70-300G.

I also considered the Sony 70-400G, 70-200 f/2.8 G, and Minolta 300 f/2.8 0r f/4 High Speed APO among others, yet the 135 STF and the 200 f/2.8 have been at the top of my list for a while. Both are found on the used market for anywhere between $900-1200 US and the Sony version of the 135 STF is in the $1300-$1400 range new. The Minolta 200 f/2.8 APO and High Speed APO is long discontinued, as the line was introduced in 1986 and the high speed versions added in 1989.

I have selected a successor and the purchase has been made, in part with proceeds from the 70-300G. The successor? I will post some of the first shots and you will find out in the future….

In other news, a few weeks ago I posted about my perceived process of turning pro, of turning my hobby into a side-business. I found something out regarding one of the photos I would use if I were building a portfolio.

This is the original copy as posted before:

SLT-A77V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA@ f/2.2, ISO 800, 1/80s

Here is an excerpt of an e-mail I received from a work teammate of mine after he sent a notice to our team regarding his impending relocation:

I would like to thank you for the amazing photography! You can truly capture a lot in a photo!

Sending out my relocation announcement made me think… the picture that you took of me at the first 2012 offsite: that was responsible for me meeting the love of my life. Long story short: she saw that picture that you took and that is what  led to us connecting through a remote study course. She tells me many times about how amazing the photo is and how it spoke volume. You really captured so much about me.

Now, I won’t deserve the credit for anything other than nailing my focus and stealing a candid shot, I will say it is one of my top 10-15 shots ever. I wouldn’t change a thing, other than the color balance… Looking back at it, I really framed the shot well and the aperture was open enough to get the right blur in the background but retain enough detail.

Incidentally, I had edited the shot since posting about it in late October, with the newly-found A77 color profiles.

Here is the result:

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I think the color profile, paired with a white balance adjustment, did well. However, I wouldn’t go back and time and post the shot differently as I don’t want to tempt fate! I will say, I met my wife under somewhat similar circumstances so I wonder if forces greater than those ever imagined to be contained in a photo are involved.

Moron Camera Calibration…

Poor play on words, but that’s how I feel. Like a moron. I have spent the good part of 2 years in Lightroom without knowing I was doing it all wrong. Without knowing there was a better way.

Thanks to Christian (cbsva) who pointed me to A77 and A900 profiles made in the community, which seem to finally represent what I have been trying to get from my shooting this whole time, I now have approximately 60,000 shots to look through and try this on. I probably won’t go that far, but I will definitely go back to those ones where the color just didn’t seem right.

I found 2 sites with profiles I will be looking at. The first one is http://www.piraccini.net/2011/02/profili-colore-sony-a900-per-adobe-lr.html which has the A77, A900 and many other Sony/Minolta bodies.

Here is an example of one of the profiles on my A77

profsam 

Even with the miniature representation, you can see a marked difference in greens and oranges.

The second site is: http://www.nibdata.com/imprescindibles.html which has a A900 profile.

Here is an example of their vivid A900 profile.

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So now you know what I’ll be doing in my free time…