Monthly Archives: January 2008

One desert for me please!

I travelled in Oz years ago with a Swiss woman who always got the words “desert” and “dessert” mixed up. So in a restaurant we would be having “desert” and we would be camping in the Australian “dessert”. I love Swiss people, they’re crazy and they’re funny. I smile at their use of English, they laugh at my German 😀 I know her well (hi Susan if you read this!) so I’m sure she won’t mind me telling the story of how she once couldn’t recall the word “waitress” and instead made up “woman who gives desert around”. Not dessert of the cake or ice-cream variety mind you, no it was “desert” passed around the table! Whenever I visit a desert I smile and shout “dessert” and ignore the “now he’s bloody lost the plot!” look of the others!

Click to see large size on my gallery!

I love the desert and after my Australia 2007 trip I like them even more, it is one of my favourite places to photograph. What most people see as “just a lot of bloody sand” I see as a magical mysterious otherworldly place. No man is an island wrote John Donne so apparently I cannot be an island but I can be a desert! (not dessert). Pictured above (click to see large) is one of my shots from the Pinnacles desert in Western Australia, the Pinnacles is one of the nominees for New 7 Wonders of Nature. (Would have been a better shot later in the day with long shadows but we couldn’t stay.)

“What a desolate place this is” says C-3PO disheartened when they crash land on the desert planet Tatooine in Star Wars, the robot clearly not liking the sight of the huge sand dunes. Me? I would love the desolate sandy deserts of Tatooine! My favourite shot in Star Wars: Luke Skywalker standing outside his uncle’s farm at dusk staring into infinity across the desert at the two (two! no wonder it’s a desert) setting suns of Tatooine. Magic.

So how do you capture this magical feeling in a camera? Not an easy task. Presenting something so large and so desolate on a small photo is difficult indeed, you want to make people “feel” the heat, the remoteness, the bright sunlight and arid sand of the desert in your photo. In Australia I played with different compositions and now I am toying with different post production techniques to try and bring the desert to you and here’s my tips so far for shooting in a desert:

  • Bring water! It’s called a desert for a reason. It’s bloody hot and dry (except at night where it’s really cold…so remember warm stuff if you’re camping out!). Bring sunscreen as well.
  • Use an ultra-wide angle lens to capture the big sweeping sand dunes of the desert…
  • …but remember to have some sort of subject (maybe a lone tree or rock) and have some fore-, middle and background or everything will be so small and far away and flat that interest is lost for everyone but you (we tend to like our own shots, they’re connected with the experience of being there and shooting them…other viewers don’t have this experience).
  • Use a polarizer filter, this is a must!
  • As always – shoot early or late, seek shade in the middle of the day. Deserts may have little in the way of big subjects so the shadows are a very important part – and sand ripples and dunes create magnificent shadows!
  • The sunlight is so bright, the reflections even brighter – that it is a good idea to underexpose by 1/3 or 1/2 of a stop to avoid blown highlights in that lovely sand…
  • …but actually your problem if you use automatic metering will be too much underexposure by your camera due to the very bright scene. It’s a topic for a long and separate article about the matrix metering system but your camera’s light meter doesn’t know it’s sand or snow you’re pointing it at – it’s just trying to find the 18% gray value and since there’s nothing dark in the photo to contrast the brightness it underexposes.
  • Maybe you want to use manual exposure and just use the “sunny-16” rule: f/16 at 1/160, f/11 at 1/250 and f/8 at 1/500 and then just underexpose that by about 1/2 of a stop. Remember when calculating this that the polarizer cuts up to 1 full f-stop!
  • If all you can see is sand and you have no rocks or anything to put in the foreground of your composition – then get down really to the ground and use the grain of the sand and the sand ripples as your foreground.
  • Watch your step. It may look desolate but lot’s of wildlife live in the desert. Don’t step into holes, don’t stick your hand in holes (they’re called Death Adders for a reason these snakes mate!)
  • If you change lenses shield your camera! Desert dust create a lot of specks on your sensor (trust me I know!).

Here’s a few of my photos from desert experiences so far:

Click to see large size on my gallery!

Sand dunes at Lancelin
(technically not in a desert, but an example of using sand with side lighting)

Click to see large size on my gallery!

Uluru and tree in the desert
(Polarizer and max contrast to create the feeling of bright, hot desert)

Click to see large size on my gallery!

Uluru and in the middle of the vast desert
(At sunset and at 24mm the long shadows of Uluru and the sand dunes expresses the remoteness and size of the rock and the desert)

Click to see large size on my gallery!

Gibson Desert, Western Australia
(Driving into the Gibson Desert we are reminded of the dangers of crossing a desert)

My next photo trip is definitely going to include somewhere hot, dry and sandy – one desert for me please! The sand dunes and deserts of Namibia, Death Valley in USA, Morocco, Simpson Desert in Australia and of course Tatooine are at the top of on my list of next destinations.

“What a desolate place this is”. Indeed C-3PO – wouldn’t want it any other way!

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New blog design

You may already have noticed something is different. The look of my blog here on WordPress.com is being changed to reflect the new design of my Photography website. I’m not done yet, so I’m sorry things are going to be a bit messy here while we get the whole bloody shed painted 😀

I’m still using the Cutline theme but I have purchased the CSS add-on here on WordPress.com so I can customize. As you can tell, you actually get a lot of control over the theme, very cool.

I’ll get back to blogging about photography very soon, just haven’t had the time this past week with the website launch, work + an exploding motherboard…stay tuned and while you wait for me to get into a writing mode again you can escape the gray Scandinavian winter by clicking on this thumbnail of Tropical North Queensland bliss:

Click to see large size on my gallery!

New logo and web design is now online!

After two months of work I am now very happy to be able to present my new logo and new website design! All design work was done by the amazing Gudrun Eckleben of Gee Art in Sydney –  the html and css was done by yours truly. Waste no time, click this thumbnail of the front page to visit my new gallery!

Click to see large size on my gallery!

More information about the design

The aim of the design is to have a very clean and effective professional looking stylesheet where every single element on the page has been carefully styled.  It’s all about my photos so the design and the colours are not overpowering but presents my photography in the best possible way. Hopefully it also gives you the impression of a professional company!

The front page is designed to fit completely on a 1024×768 screen (still the most used resolution although 1280×1024 is catching up). The centrepiece of the front page is my logo and a big slideshow.

To keep the front page clean the thumbnails for all galleries has been moved to a  main gallery page – click Galleries in menu bar to access or use one of the 3 thumbnails on the left.

The layout is entirely CSS based – no tables, (except for the Pbase slideshow function which automatically adds a table) and along the way I learned a lot about CSS (and ended up hating IE even more!) and how to ‘hack’ the Pbase stylesheets to no end! I didn’t want to move away from Pbase.com because it is such a great community and it is also extremely good exposure (National Geographics have spotted and bought photos on Pbase so you never know!)

I recommend Firefox – using IE it just wasn’t possible to get the gallery pages looking 100% like I wanted it and how it looks in Firefox, Safari etc. – so use Firefox and get the true version!

The logo

My new logo is a very important part of the design and the identity of my business:

Click to see large size on my gallery!

The font chosen is Kozuka and Japanese (I have a thing for Japanese simple-living design) and the idea of the logo graphic is to combine the two areas I focus on and love as a photographer:

  • landscape (the domes of Kata Tjuta in the Australian red centre)
  • cityscape (what else – Søtorvet in Copenagen)

Feedback

I am extremely happy with what we have achieved. Let me know what you think of the design and logo, I’m sure we’ll do some tweaks (actually there are still a few tweaks to be done) at some point and I’d love your opinion.

And a big thank you to Gudrun of Gee Art for all the super work!

P.S.

Can I just say how much I bloody hate the worst browser in the world otherwise known as Internet Explorer. So many bugs, such little regard for standards. Like any other web programmer I get my css looking just like I want it in Firefox (and Safari) and then discover that IE renders the whole bloody thing completely different because of box-model css bugs etc. so you have to code a truckload of css hacks just for IE…and of course IE6 have bugs different to IE7! I hate IE and wish everyone used Firefox!

Photographer, sunlover, stormchaser, weatherman

I miss the sun. I miss the tropical heat. I miss light. Any light that isn’t gray will do. I wasn’t build for the cold dark Northern Winter (did I mention I also hate snow?) so this is clearly not my best time of the year! The reward for getting through these Winter days up here in Scandinavia is the long lovely Summer days. They do seem awfully far away at the moment and a Qantas flight down under seems an awfully attractive response to Winter. Either that or hibernation until Spring dominates our weather.

As a landscape and cityscape shooter I study the weather and especially the clouds constantly. I look for extraordinary light and sky when I shoot my landscapes and cityscapes. First thing I do when I travel to a new place is note the time and the place where the sun rises and sets. You can’t predict extraordinary light but you can certainly improve your changes of catching it if it happens!

Extraordinary light doesn’t mean it cannot be very cloudy and the sun doesn’t even have to be out. The sky and the light just have to have some drama! 100% sunny summer days with no clouds are lovely – but not good for my photography either. I need dramatic light! The worst days though are the totally overcast totally gray days which we unfortunately get a lot of in the Danish Winter. The light and sky in these days are so dull, boring and depressing it’s like all the colours and light in the world was stolen by a black hole in the ‘Verse. Days like that my camera does not get a work-out. I need my extraordinary light fix and will chase it forever!

Here are some examples of my never ending quest for extraordinary light and as you can see cloudy days work fine as long as they’re dramatic!
(as always, click to see large size on my website)

Click to see large size on my gallery!

Storm approaching Brisbane. Some very dramatic clouds passing us quickly.

Click to see large size on my gallery!

Winter Sunset in Copenhagen. Just after sunset and the few sunny days here in Winter can provide some nice colours

Click to see large size on my gallery!

Just a perfect clear warm sunny day on Fraser Island – but with nice fluffy clouds

Click to see large size on my gallery!

Hail storm in Copenhagen. A unique shot on a unique day, I have yet to see this sort of storm in Copenhagen again. Half the sky was pitch black, the other half was clear and allowed the setting sun (behind me) to light up the buildings.

Well – I’m off to look at either Qantas flights or hibernation possibilities!

Storage – protect your data!

matrix-system-failure I’m a photographer but I’ve also worked professionally in IT for 14 years and when it comes to protecting digital data I’ve learned many lessons (Murphy’s Law is real!) that can really be boiled down to:

  1. Things Break Down !
  2. Shit Happens !

This means that hardware, software or human failure (often all 3 at once) will happen sooner or later and that data loss is inevitable. ALL computers fail. ALL hard drives fail. ALL software fail. It’s simply just a matter of time – so protect your precious digital data!

Many photographers coming from shooting film and slides may not think much about how important backup is and end they up loosing years of work when their hard drive inevitably fails one day.

I’m here to tell you: backup NOW! And your photography business (or any other business) needs a backup strategy!

Last Saturday my custom built super fast main graphical workstation decided to commit Harakiri and self-implode with no warning. The PSU failed and apparently took the motherboard with it (we go down, we go together!). No amount of swearing or shouting from me brought it back to life so as I wait for the shop to fix it I am reduced to my laptop and external storage but still have access to all files. I do backups every day so I fortunately lost very little (probably nothing ‘cos the internal HD will probably be fine when I get the PC back).

Actually this is the very first time one of my own personal computers has imploded on me. Lot’s of stuff has failed at work, but none of my own. Well I’ve owned computers since I was 14 and knew it had to happen one day. Fortunately I was prepared.

Backup – what you need

You need at least two full backups, one of them stored at another external location:

  1. An external drive where you do backups every day! Preferably you want either a clone of this backup or two generations. Your backup hard drive will fail some day as well!
  2. Another external drive or DVDs with backups backed up as often as you can manage – and stored at another location than yours! This is called the off-site-backup and is needed if your house burns down!

HP Enterprise Virtual Array Storage

Backup – what I DO

I’m used to enterprise arrays like the HP on the right and wouldn’t mind a fiber channel virtual array in my home but I need to sell quite a few photos before that happens 😀 Even if I had an array like this I still would need at least the 2 full backups I explained above. Big arrays fail as well from time to time.

This is my work and backup strategy

  1. Live copy 1: Internal SATA hard drives is the primary storage and work area, working with huge RAW and TIFFs I need the speed of an internal drive (until I can afford that fiber channel array!).
  2. Live copy 2: An external USB drive is sync’ed at least once a day using Microsoft’s fine SyncToy tool. Someday this will be a networked RAID drive and it will be sync’ed in the background automatically very often.
  3. Another external USB drive holds daily differential backups using Acronis TrueImage. This is cloned often so I have two clones of this.
  4. I burn DVDs about once a month with the new data and a friend of mine stores them (he’s my “off-site-storage”). Some day I think I will move this online somewhere, maybe to Amazon S3.

Your files ARE your photos – the core of your business

I recently added live copy number 2 (see number 2 above). After my PC broke Saturday and I had to waste time restoring from backup I realised I can’t afford to wait for this restore. I needed my files now, I had photos going out to a client and suddenly I had to restore before I could access them. So … live copy number 2 now exists! If my PC blows up again I can almost instantly continue working from live copy #2 ! The big enterprise arrays can do this automatically – cloning disksets – but in a small business we have to invent our own way of doing it.

Protect your photos – protect your data! I hope you already started on that backup strategy! Feel free to comment or email me any questions. I hope it takes another 14 years before one of my own computers fail but knowing Murphy I am actually super careful with my laptop at the momemt…it would be so Murphy to make my laptop fail as I wait for my main workstation to be repaired!

Shooting stitched panoramas

Last week I talked about shooting cropped panoramas – this week I’ll cover shooting stitched panoramas. Stitching is the process of shooting several photos and using software to stitch them into one panorama (vertical or horizontal). I’ll assume you know all the basics of shooting stitched panos, this post will focus on my experiences of shooting them.

Visualizing the end product in a cropped panorama can be a bit tricky but at least you still have the shot in your viewfinder – with a stitched pano you really have to exercise your imagination! I’ll focus on shooting the stitched panorama in the field – not the stitching. Get the shot right and stitching is not too hard.

Let’s kick off with an example, a wide view that is only possibly using stitching (unless you own a 6x17cm panorama camera!). This is a very wide view of Brisbane (click to see large):

Click to see large size on my gallery!

This shot is made up of 5 horizontal images stitched together using the brilliant PTgui software. The final product of this pano is 5600 pixels wide (enough for a good 150cm wide print) and looks fantastic.

To illustrate the components, here’s a screenshot from PTgui’s “align panorama” window allowing you to clearly see the 5 images:

pt-gui-stitch-brisbane

As you can see I cropped a lot of the panorama after stitching it and this is how you should normally do it – always leave a wide margin for cropping later, already in the stitching process you loose quite a bit of the top and bottom when the images are warped and stitched together. In this case I actually have a bit too much margin but never mind. I also decided to crop a lot of the right side after seeing the stitch. Notice how much overlap of the images I have, this is important.

Shooting the stitched pano in the field

The above shot is almost 100% automatically stitched by PTgui. I think I may have manually deleted one or two control points and of course I aligned the horizon manually. Apart from that PTgui did all the magic with a flawless result because I took great care in shooting this in the field. So how did I do it? I use these rules:

  • Visualize. This is the most important part (just ask Ansell Adams). You cannot see the end product here, you have to visualize it.
  • Use RAW. You really really have to shoot raw for stitched panos. You need the images to be 100% identical and only raw allows this. If you must shoot jpeg (why?) then it is really important to set manual white balance.
  • Everything on manual control! Shutter speed, aperture, iso and focus absolutely must be on manual control so they don’t change between shots. Oh and don’t zoom in or out between shots!
  • Find the correct exposure, like in the example above part of your panorama will like include much brighter sky than other parts. So get the exposure right, you don’t want to burn out the highlights in half the pano!
  • I practice the sweep several times before shooting the images. I sweep from left to right but it doesn’t matter really. Practice the sweep or you’ll start shooting and discover that your body can’t actually rotate 180 degrees around your spinal cord!
  • Don’t rotate around my body. I start off with spread legs, right foot in front and lean forward (like I’m the karate kid). I then concentrate on rotating around the lens nodal point when doing the shoot. I use my legs to rotate, keeping my upper body still. At least you have to focus on rotating around the camera, keeping the camera in one spot and. This is very important, fail this and you’ll introduce some heavy parallax errors in the stitching.
  • If using a tripod for this you should use a panorama head or you’ll almost make it worse by using a tripod (since you’re rotating around the tripod screw in the camera, not the nodal point).
  • It’s a good idea to zoom in to at least 35mm so you don’t introduce too much barrel distortion from your lens. Don’t zoom in too tight. You need plenty of  margin for stitching and cropping.
  • Overlap! Create overlaps by at least 30% but 50% is better.
  • You need to keep the horizon in the same place in every shot. If shooting a horizontal panorama then I just stick the horizon in the middle. It’s easier to keep it in the middle from shot to shot and I’m cropping it later anyway.
  • If I’m shooting stitched panoramas in the Australian outback – the hardest part of all is actually ignoring the flies crawling into my nose, eyes and ears!

Practice this again and again and you’ll get so good at shooting the separate images that the next bit – stitching the images is very easy and almost automated! That’s why I’ll only briefly cover it here in the next paragraphs, I find that the shooting part is by far the most important.

Developing the raw files

One rule here: the adjustments you make to the raw images must be 100% identical! That means you can easily do you normal RAW development, set the white balance, exposure, fill light, black and white point, saturation, curves etc. But do this on one of the photos and then copy these adjustments to all of the shots! They must be 100% identical or they won’t stitch properly.

Stitching and software

I use PTgui and I find it amazing, it is an incredible piece of work and easily worth the money. There are several other commercial super stitch programs as well but you can easily learn by using some of the free stitch programs. A free stitch program is probably included in your camera software, or try the free demo of AutoStitch.

More examples

Have a look at my two panorama galleries, the main panorama gallery and the Australia panorama gallery for many more examples of both cropped and stitched panos. Feel free to comment or email me with any questions!

It’s a panoramic world for me

I love panoramas and always have and I’m really satisfied with how digital photography has enabled me to shoot my panoramic visions without owning a panorama camera. I think my eyes have a built in 3:1 aspect ratio because that is how I see the world: 

Click to see large size on my gallery!

Head up in the clouds and a big wide view!

A final word of warning: shooting panoramas is very addictive 😀 You may find the standard 3:2 format useless after shooting a lot of panoramas and having been bitten by the pano bug (and flies, mozzies etc. in the outback!)

Shooting Cropped Panoramas

It is no secret that I love the panorama format, I’ve mentioned this in countless posts. Read this one for why I love the wide format. I don’t own an actual panorama camera like a 6x17cm Linhof or 2x35mm Hasselblad x-pan so I shoot panoramas in two ways with my Canon 5D. The first way is to use an ultrawide lens, compose the photo as a panorama and then crop the top and bottom of the raw file in post production. The second way is digital stitching, shoot several photos and stitch them in programs like PTgui. This post focuses on cropped panoramas, the next post will focus on stitching.

Cropped panoramas

It’s simple as…just crop your photo so the width to height ratio is at least 2:1 and you have a wide panorama shot! If you want a good result there’s a bit more to it though. Have a look at these panoramas from Sydney and Perth (click to see large):

Click to see large size on my gallery!

A sunset panorama view of the Opera House, The Harbour Bridge and a ferry.

Click to see large size on my gallery!

A late afternoon view of Kings Park, gum trees, bicycle and person on the left, the skyline of Perth in the top right 1/3 and long shadows leading your eye into the shot.

Both shots are shot very wide with my 17-40mm L f/4.0 lens (which is super wide on a full frame Canon 5D) and then cropped as I developed the raw file. The next two screenshots from Rawshooter Premium shows you the full photos with the crop mask in place:

sydney-blog-crop-pano

perth-blog-crop-pano

Notice how the Sydney shot needs almost every bit of the 17mm wide view to get everything in frame. Also notice how much dead space I have in the top and bottom of the shots? That’s intentional of course, I composed with a cropped pano in mind so the full shots are boring compositions with far too much dead space and the horizon dead in the middle – which leads us to:

Composing the cropped panoramas

Here is what I do:

  • Shoot at around 17mm on my full frame Canon 5D so I can get a very wide shot (equivalent to around 10mm on a crop DSLR camera)
  • Look through the viewfinder and visualize the 3:2 image as a cropped panorama at least 2:1 wide – this is the hard part, you have to compose the shot inside a panorama rectangle you don’t have in your viewfinder, only in your head.
  • Stick the horizon straight in the middle of the viewfinder (the actual viewfinder, not your imaginary pano viewfinder). I’m cropping the shot anyway later and having the horizon in the middle of the original shot greatly reduces the barrel distortion at 17mm.
  • Make sure you get plenty of dead space top and bottom of the shot and look carefully in all corners of your viewfinder to make sure you have your panorama composition inside your imaginary panorama viewfinder.
  • Shoot 4-5 slightly different versions to make sure you have one useable for cropping.

The hard part is visualising your panorama composition inside a 3:2 viewfinder, sometimes I use my hands to form a pano viewfinder (film director style) and sometimes I wonder if I should carry a piece of cardboard cutout as a pano viewfinder. If anyone owns an old Panavision viewfinder they’d love to sell me get in touch! 😀

Cropping the photo in post production

This is the good part about shooting cropped panos, it opens possibilities in post productions. You might not end up with what you imagined when you shot it (you might not even remember what you imagined) but you have lot’s of options since your shot has so much dead space. Remember to crop this dead space though and crop it tight, you want to create a photo with an exciting panorama composition that creates visual tension for your viewer.

Conclusion

I find this method of shooting cropped panos works very well after some practice. If you intend to sell these cropped files or print them at large sizes you need lots of pixels though since you’re cropping away so many of the pixels. I have 13 megapixels of high quality in my Canon 5D and that’s alright, poster prints at 100dpi at 120cm wide  look great. I could use more though and some day I might invest in the new Canon 1Ds MkIII camera with it’s amazing 21 megapixel full frame sensor.

Next time I’ll talk about stitched panoramas but until then, if you like panoramas as much as me – get out there and practice shooting cropped panos, it’s great fun!