One year later…

Today, WordPress let me know I have been doing this for a year. A year and a week, actually by my count. I hadn’t logged in for a while as I am absolutely slammed with work right now. Now I feel bad. I really want to be able to post a little more frequently than I do. I’m still two months behind on posting about my Austria trip. I’ve had 16,000 unique page views. Hopefully some of those people got some value from my posts.

In my first couple of posts I mentioned something about not being able to shoot my favorite subject, my wife. Now I get to photograph her more often. One problem solved.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/1.4, ISO 100, 1/640s

A year ago I was shooting with my A77, and though I still have it, use it, and love it; I now shoot mostly with my A99. I’ve learned some new techniques and figured a couple of things out.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/5.6, ISO 100, Various speeds (Processed in HDR Efex Pro 2 from 3 exposures)

I’ve made a couple of friends, and even hung out with one. Thousands of miles away from home, on a different continent.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 28-75 f/2.8@f/3.2 , ISO 50, 1/640s

Which I want to make sure and add as a side note, I have met people online from near my own town through this blog and not made it work to go shoot with them. I feel bad about that.

I’ve slowly started a business. And though it will be a while before I turn a profit (and I have to stop my little lens addiction), I have gotten to shoot some things I didn’t think I would get a chance to shoot before.

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SLT-A99V, 135mm f/2.8[T4.5] STF, ISO 800, 1/125s

This little blog has done a ton for me. I’ll try to return the favor if I can. Hopefully a little more often.

Until then, I’ll do the best I can to post what I have learned. Even though I am living the dream, I really owe it to my few readers to be a little more diligent.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/3.2, ISO 2500, 1/60s

(Talk about living the dream Smile  )

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Catch Up Post (Series 2, Number 5, Part 2: My trip to Austria: Lessons)

OK, as promised a while back, almost two months ago, more Austria. Probably my biggest weakness as a human being (other than being months late with my posts) is my ability to accept help and criticism, and seek advice. In going to Austria, I faced this weakness in learning from Christian and every time I resisted I was taken to school. I learned a lot more than the lessons I will list below, these are probably the no-brainers.

I had two bodies (A77/A99) and one to four lenses (24/2, 50/2.8, 85/1.4, 135/2.8 STF) with me at most times and my Lumia 1020. One day I got sick of carrying all of the weight and against Christian’s advice I brought only the A99 and 135 STF one day and regretted the decision all day.

Lesson #1: Bring something wide. Just do it. Wide angle shots aren’t always about fitting everything in.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/2, ISO 100, 1/160s

This is a 100% off the body jpg from a lake at a magical place called Styria. I was using manual focus wide open and peaking on the tree growing on the stump.

Christian shoots with an A57 and an array of various lenses. I’d venture to say 50% of his shots were between 14mm and 28mm regardless of lens. He has a couple of wide angle techniques I hadn’t tried before. I have a feeling I’ll be including the techniques in my bag of tricks from now on. I’d also say he shoots ISO 200 about half the time or more. I normally use Auto ISO on my A99 at 100-800 or 100-1600 but I found 200 to a good place for consistent quality in following Christian’s advice one day.

Lesson #2: ISO 200 is a good place to be.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/1.4, ISO 200, 1/5000s

This was shot in Vienna on my last full day. I felt like I needed a “redo” of some of the spots after not bringing the right equipment.

I have attempted Macro shots before but I typically tried to ensure the sunlight was present to raise my shutter speed. Christian would rush to give me some shade, which made no sense to me at the time. Now it makes perfect sense. He also showed me a technique for handheld macro in manual. Put the body in rapid fire mode and move outward.

Lessons #3 & 4: Sunlight doesn’t always make sense for Macro. Use a Continuous Shooting mode to shoot Macro handheld.

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SLT-A77V, Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro @ f/6.3, ISO 100, 1/250s

This is a flower in Christian’s front yard. He shaded the shot for me using a car windshield shade.

I’ve never used Macro tubes. Christian had a neat little set of tubes. Amazing results with my existing lenses. It was amazing to see how those worked. The 85mm f/1.4 ZA lens was really good to work with in that situation. The Minolta 200mm f/2.8 APO G was OK.

Lesson #5: Macro tubes are effective and not expensive.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/6.3 (with Kenko Macro tubes), ISO 500, 1/100s

Another flower in Christian’s front yard. I almost fell backward after this shot, the bee was huge in the viewfinder.

These are 5 of many lessons I learned in Austria. I will have one more Austria post to wrap these up but I have some other catching up to do…

Mark of Excellence

I know I still owe you all some Austria posts. I’ve been on the road without access to the files to post. I am back now so I should have something this week. I have other news…

I didn’t have a single entry win the I-Shot-It 200 competition. Lesson learned. I need to submit better work. A consolation prize appeared in my inbox today. I received the I-Shot-It Mark of Excellence for the Week 34 free competition.

This is for a composition of five photos I took in Styria, Austria. My mentor, Christian graciously gave me a tour of Austria and took me to this lake and we parked alongside a side road and walked 200 meters (or so Winking smile ) in the rain to this spot.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA

This photo was post-processed using Lightroom 5 and HDR Efex Pro 2. 

Catch Up Post (Series 2, Number 5, Part 1: My trip to Austria: en route)

And finally, almost a month later, I am posting about Austria. I don’t get a lot of page views. I have a relatively small audience. In the past few months I have gotten the most page views from Austria and the country with the second most views, USA, isn’t even close.

Anyone who has read my blog or who may know me knows I am relatively new to what I call “serious photography”. Sure, I have been taking photos for a while, but I have been paying attention to metrics like white balance, aperture, ISO, shutter speed, and so on since early 2011. I have never taken a class, but I am a student of the game and I know I am not perfect. Through this blog I have been contacted by people on five continents, but my principal poster is also my biggest mentor, Christian in Austria. This trip gave me the opportunity to meet him and his family, try out some of his equipment, and learn. Boy, did I learn! Christian and his family were very accommodating during my visit and they ensured I got to experience as much of Austria as I could, and sites which were not typical tourist destinations.

I am going to break this post into a couple as I took nearly 4000 photos while I was in Europe. I actually flew in to Munich, Germany as my flight options were better and shorter, and it is relatively inexpensive to take a train to Vienna from Munich. I spent a few hours in Munich on my way in and had an overnight stay on my way back. Otherwise I got to see a ton of Austria.

Munich

I arrived in Munich about 4 hours before my train to Vienna was to depart, so I went to the central train station and found something I was absolutely thrilled about. Luggage lockers. For one euro I got to ditch my suitcase for a couple hours and walk around. I got a ton of shots.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 ZA @ f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/80s, EV+0.7

Needless to say, I took a right at this sign. Here is a building in Munich about a kilometer from the central train station.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 ZA @ f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/640s, EV+0.7

As you can see, I was blessed with beautiful weather. In fact, it rained only during the night while I was in Europe. Here is another building in Munich.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 ZA @ f/2, ISO 100, 1/2500s

I had received my Lumia 1020 a couple days prior so I made a point to put it through its paces during the trip as well.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 (~28mm f2.2), ISO 100, 1/1186s

The central train station in Munich was very lively, with many different shops, a couple grocery stores, at least a dozen restaurants and more. I can tell you one thing: I didn’t shop at this place.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 ZA @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/200s

Eventually I got to my train. This bad boy topped out at around 230 km/h and the Munich-Vienna trip took about four hours, with about a half dozen stops along the way.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 ZA @ f/3.2, ISO 400, 1/200s

Along the way I used the Lumia 1020 to get a couple shots of the landscape.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 (~28mm f2.2), ISO 125, 1/500s

Not bad through a dirty train window, going 230 kph. More to come later in Part II (and likely more) of this one-month overdue “catch-up” post.

Catch Up Post (Series 2, Number 1): The Nokia Lumia 1020

As promised in my previous post, I have some catching up to do. I am going to do the catching up in a different order than I would have implied, but I will catch up nonetheless.

So there’s a lot of hype around the Nokia Lumia 1020 and its 41 Megapixel camera. I’m here to say the Lumia 1020 lives up to the hype for the most part. It is a Windows Phone, so it has a very similar application experience to the tiles in Windows 8 and it integrates seamlessly with any setups you already have through Windows on other devices. I use a Surface Pro as my travel computer and I am able to immediately see a 5 MP sample of the photos I take on the Lumia 1020 on my computer as soon as I take it as long as I haven’t disabled synchronization (more on this later).

My wife has a Lumia 920 and it is a good phone and has an above-average cell phone camera on its own, the 1020 is almost the exact same size except for one thing, there is a giant bulge where the camera lens and flash live. It does not lie down flat on the table.

Enough about the unimportant stuff, right? What about the photos? A regular reader of my blog (which there are maybe 3 or 4 total now since I have been slacking off) knows I carry 24MP Sony Alpha bodies with an array of prime lenses, two of which are Sony Zeiss lenses. This phone has a 28mm equivalent f/2.2 fixed aperture Zeiss lens with six elements and claims a 41 MP sensor. The resultant shots are 38MP, and the shots posted to Facebook, Twitter, Text Message, or automatically to the cloud are 5 MP copies or crops of the original 38 MP shot. I suspect the other 3 MP is dedicated to stabilization. In order to get the 38MP shot I have had to attach my phone to my computer using a USB cable. I imagine I could use Bluetooth as well but haven’t tried.

Here is the first shot I took with the phone as soon as the battery had enough charge.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 (28mm f/2.2), ISO 100, 1/230s

Not bad. Here is a full resolution crop of the same shot.

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Definitely not bad for a cell phone. And think, this crop above is only 636 pixels wide. The original is 7712×4352!!

The camera claims a digital zoom, which is actually not a zoom, it is a crop. So if you don’t zoom, a 5MP copy of the 38MP shot posts. If you do zoom, a 5MP copy of a smaller portion of the 38 MP shot posts. The cool part is, the original pre-zoom 38MP shot stays on the body, and only the cropped shot is viewable in the default UI. You can adjust the shot if you zoom/crop too much or align incorrectly in the Nokia Pro Camera application.

Here is an example of the 2.5x “Zoom” 5mp shot seen on the camera.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 (28mm f/2.2), ISO 320, 1/60s

And the 38 MP shot saved on the phone:

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I received the phone the day before release as I was lucky enough to live close to the shipping origin and the package arrived the day before it was supposed to. This is a good thing because I was able to bring the phone on my trip to Germany and Austria and I had plenty of time on airplanes and trains to figure the camera out and plenty of subjects to shoot.

The phone comes with a handful of applications to shoot with. There is the native Windows application, which gives you one or two settings to toggle and the rest is automatic. But the default is the Nokia Pro application, which gives you an array of settings to toggle. You can adjust the flash/focus light settings (on, off, focus light only, no focus light, auto), white balance (auto, cloudy, sunny, florescent, incandescent), focus (auto or about 6-7 inches to infinity), ISO (100-4000), shutter speed (auto or 4s-1/16000s!), and exposure compensation (-3EV to 3 EV in 1/3 increments). Here is a shot I used Exposure Compensation on.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 (28mm f/2.2), ISO 100, 1/1600s EV-0.3

There are other applications installed by default on the 1020; Nokia Smart Cam, Panorama, Nokia Cinemagraph, and Creative Studio. And you can download many others free in the Windows Store. I haven’t had much time to play with any of these. I mainly used the default Nokia Pro Cam application.

So I can say without a doubt this is the best camera I have used on a cell phone. I will even go as far to say it is better than any point and shoot I have ever owned. It isn’t a replacement for my Sony Alphas. Anyone who says it has DSLR quality is probably only talking about ideal shooting situations. One little bit of oddness I noticed from the Lumia on the trains in Europe or riding in cars is a slant in the subject. I am not sure if it is an effect of the shutter or an effect of their stabilization compensating for the movement.

This shot was fixed at 1/2000s

This photo was taken with a cell phone while sitting on a moving train.
Nokia Lumia 1020 (28mm f/2.2), ISO 125, 1/2000s

Initially I didn’t think anything of the shot, I was pleased with the color saturation straight off the phone. I was on a train moving approximately 50-60 km/h at the time pulling away from a station. The next day I attempted the same shot with my A99 and my 24mm Zeiss lens.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA@ f/4, ISO 200, 1/2000s

Whoa. Now I notice the difference. If you aren’t quite sure, here is a closer look. Here is the Lumia:

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And the Sony Alpha:

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A little bit of a slant is apparent, even at 1/2000s. The Sony gives straight lines. This was the same train on two different days. I wonder why this occurs. The color saturation is a tad higher on the Nokia than the Sony, though I didn’t pay attention to the white balance or my color profile on the Sony, I am sure I could oversaturate the colors a bit to get the same effect.

So a minor flaw. It is what it is. A cell phone camera. A damn good one nonetheless.

How does the camera do with low light? This shot was taken without flash with only a little bit of light in the sewers of Vienna. Notice the shutter speed.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 (28mm f/2.2), ISO 2500, 1/4s

I can’t complain about that. I think it may have added a bit of light compared to available with raising ISO but it added a neat visual effect. I would only attempt to use my 24mm Zeiss at 1/4s handheld. My other lenses I’d need something rigid to set my camera or elbows against to shoot.

The color rendition is very good, maybe a bit oversaturated which I have expected with cell phones. You can use an array of applications to reduce the saturation. Here is a good test of the colors.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 (28mm f/2.2), ISO 100, 1/50s

Nice colors, nothing to complain about.

I am sure there is more to come with the Lumia 1020. Does it replace my Sony bodies? No. Does it keep my Sony bodies at home when I am going on a short trip to the store? Absolutely. There are a few situations I would bring my camera “just in case” and now I am OK with the Lumia 1020 in its place.

Busy Busy Busy!!!

May is always the busiest month. The first real weekend, we had Mother’s Day which is a 2-weekend deal for my family as one year we were at the beach and didn’t send out cards and I got a crazy idea to draw “Happy Mother’s Day” out in the sand, and make it different for all of the applicable mothers, grandmothers, and aunts in our families and take a photo with my infants as they were back then. We have done something similar ever since. I did the same type of thing last year with posterboard and got this gem for my virtual blooper reel.

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SLT-A77V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/6.3, ISO 200, 1/250s

This year I decided to print cards and I tried to set all three of my kids up for success by not forcing them to look at the camera. Here is one of the shots used.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA  @ f/4, ISO 500, 1/160s

The cards turned out too dark for my tastes. But at least I was able to test on people who wouldn’t nitpick and now I know.

For Mother’s Day we went for a drive and had a picnic and visited two different waterfalls in North Carolina. I got some waterfall photos but my goal was to get one shot of my wife with each of the kids. Here is the easiest one, with zero post-processing needed. Straight off the body. I could have done some touch up, but I figured I would leave it alone.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/4, ISO 100, 1/200s

May is especially busy in the Charlotte area. Kids are wrapping up school and associated activities and NASCAR is in town for two full weeks bringing in about a hundred thousand extra people to visit or support all of the hoopla. Last weekend was the NASCAR All Star Race, and the night before they had the Truck Race and the All Star Qualifying, which was different this year as they did not have a Pit Entrance speed limit and some drivers didn’t accurately account for the difference between entering the pits at 150 mph and the usual 55 mph and you had some driver error…

 

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G + Sakar 2x Teleconverter @ f/8 (400mm f/8), ISO 320, 1/500s

I was able to attend as I got free access to the Speedway club. I would have taken more shots had I not been behind glass. I actually wanted to practice a little more with a generic Sakar teleconverter I picked up very cheap with some panning, however the windows of the club didn’t allow for much in terms of shots without a bit of reflection evident. I have no clue what apparition haunted the back of the 29 truck on this shot but I was pretty happy with my practice since it was only 1/60s…

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G + Sakar 2x Teleconverter @ f/7.1 (400mm f/7.1), ISO 1600, 1/60s

I usually attempt to make the All Star Race but I had something a little more important on my calendar, my daughter’s ballet recital. And let me tell you. The light in the auditorium absolutely sucked. It was horrible, and there was a giant overhead projector with a powerpoint-driven background set which made things worse as the dancers were given whatever color cast the projector gave. I did manage to capture a couple shots I liked.

DSC00245-Edit SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/3.5, ISO 1600, 1/200s

I got a shot or two of my little girl, here is one of my favorites.

DSC00615 SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/250s

I was quite pleased by how the A99 and the Minolta 200mm lens performed at ISO 1600, which is where I pegged the ISO for the most part, save for some shots I took at ISO 3200 which weren’t too bad.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/250s

After all was said and done, and after a costume change, I took some portraits of my little girl. Here is one of them.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA@ f/2.2, ISO 1600, 1/50s

This week I am going to the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction voting, which is a good opportunity to talk to the voters, like Richard Petty. I’m also going to the Coca Cola 600. My attendance at the 600 will be my greatest triumph or my greatest failure. I’m taking my 3 year old to his first outdoor major series race. My seats are covered, and I’m bringing plenty of ear protection and activities for him to stay busy if the race doesn’t pull him in. I’ll also have his big brother to help, so I may get a shot or two.

While all of this is happening I also went through another round of equipment binge. I do this about every six months. I buy a couple of lenses, try them out, sell what I don’t use. It is a really bad habit. This round I got manual focus lenses with T-mounts or M42 mounts and adapters. I picked up a 55/1.4 and a 135/2.8, which should both arrive any day. I also got a very inexpensive, yet very well taken care of Sakar 2x teleconverter, which I tested out and the jury is still out, though it vignettes at any aperture on the A99. I can’t complain for the price I paid. If I sell it, I’ll profit from it.

But before all of this, I picked up what may now be my sharpest lens. The Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro, first edition. It is very sharp from what I have seen if the depth of focus allows. I’ve tried hard to use the lens in manual at the 1-1 setting and the subject almost touches the filter. Here is an attempt at 1-1 reproduction. Zero post-processing.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro  @ f/4.5, ISO 400, 1/200s

I haven’t come close to a verdict on this lens other than it reproduces color beautifully and it is razor sharp.

As busy as May usually is, it is a great time to have a nice camera. I really enjoy putting my equipment to good use, especially in challenging situations. We’ll see how the 600 goes if I can free up from attending to my kids to fire a few shots. Until then… Have a great Memorial Day weekend!!

P.S. I looked at this site’s statistics and my viewership in Austria is three times more than it was in the United States over the last 30 days. Either I am popular in Austria, or I’m triggering a lot of search engines with the keywords. Either way I am looking forward to visiting at the end of July!

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:

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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.