Learning just another (filmmaking) program, while not forgetting about photography

Recently, Zuleikha had just another gig as a musician (playing piano), and we recorded it – Mitchie on video with her Olympus E-PL5 and the 45mm/1.8 lens (on her tripod of course), and me with my Røde NT-1A microphone, the Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 (2nd gen) interface, and the Lenovo Thinkpad P50 laptop/notebook which I’ve got from my employer.

Zuleikha’s piano teacher asked us to make a DVD from all the attendees’ performances, so we recorded everyone instead of just our own daughter. And since then (that was Sunday evening), I’m trying to learn just another video-editing program.

Why? Well because Ardour is more like Avid’s Pro Tools – a music studio inside of your computer, and OpenShot is a video editor which we’ve used previously, but which also gave me some headaches already – for bigger projects like a full-blown DVD, it’s not the most stable and full-featured one.

So at the moment I’m looking at the community version of Cinelerra, which seems to be great. There’s a very nice article on the German ubuntuusers wiki, with some additional nice links, like the one to Raffaella Traniello’s “Cinelerra for Grandma” – that answered most of my questions (and struggles) so far.

It’s still quite a lot to learn – these are not your basic editors, but full-blown and -featured professional programs like the commercial ones on other operating systems (and also a bit like Ardour vs. Pro Tools or Logic).

And with all that music- and video-related stuff, I’m still not forgetting about photography, even if I do that only for private and family “jobs” right now. So I’m still regularly reading the most interesting bloggers (and pros) like Kirk Tuck, or Michael Johnston’s “The Online Photographer” (and listening to Brooks Jensen’s “Lenswork Daily” podcasts).

I just answered one of Mike’s posts for instance, which was about his thought of a dual camera system (one his iphone, the other one maybe a Sony A7-2). My answer to that one, in case you don’t find it on his page, was:

“Love the idea, Mike.

I’ve got an Olympus OM-D E-M10 (first gen) which in cameras is in my opinion the equivalent to what our Corolla is in cars. It will do the job, and get you the picture. Not the best, but a quite acceptable one.

But the A7 Mk2 is the one that really interest me, even more so since I realized that both of our Olympus film bodies (OM-1 and OM-2) are having problems with their shutters, and ruin many potentially good (and expensive) film shots. So yes, a “digital back” for my OM Zuiko 50mm/1.4 would be great to have.

Or maybe an FM-2; could even be better. But that wouldn’t accept my Zuiko lens AFAIK.”

So beside my full-time professional job (still having to earn a living for us all), and beside my honorary work in the school’s parents’ association, I’m quite busy at the moment. Holding on to the next task, like: make a DVD for the parents of the other young and aspiring musicians – and for their teacher of course.

But being busy, and being together with the young ones keeps you young as well – or so they say đŸ˜‰

Thanks for reading.

Please vote for the Nik collection to be open sourced!

Through an article on Imaging Resource I’ve learnt that Google will no longer maintain or “to update the Collection or add new features over time” of their Nik collection – which is a bit sad because they’re still awesome, and loved by many photographers either as plugins for programs like Photoshop, or stand-alone.

I don’t have Photoshop and/or Lightroom- and don’t plan to buy it – but still I have the Nik collection for some special effects on a Windows partition on my hard drive, so through their help center and forum I found this post from Paul Breslin, who volunteered to maintain it further after his retirement, and for which I “voted” already. And I suggest that you’d do the same; open-sourcing it would be the ‘proper’ way of dropping official support for a product.

And Google may even do it – they’re in some way still the “good guys”, with their initiatives like “Summer of Code” and so on and so forth. So if you also like or (occasionally) use the fine Nik collection, I’d advise that you do the same. If you haven’t heard of the Nik collection but have a Mac or PC with Windows operating systems, I’d suggest to try it out – it’s one of the best “free” (as in “no cost”) software packages there is.

My main interest in this? Well I’m still using real free and open source software on my Debian Linux machine, but who knows, maybe one day the Nik collection could be real free as well – it’s all a question of licensing. And there could even be a port for Linux, which would make that even greater as an artist’s platform as it already is (doing music and recording with it as well). It’s just a vote away, so what is stopping you?

Thanks for reading and/or considering.

P.S.: see also my comments here and here.

Photography, videos, sound recording and so on

Haven’t written much here lately.

Since I’ve identified what I’m actually after with my photography earlier this year, I’m taking mostly family photos – not of any interest to the general public.

And since Mitchie (and also Zuleikha) is/are more into video, I’ve concentrated a bit more onto the audio aspect of that – having been in professional studios not only as a musician but also as a technician, I try to “give back” some of the gathered knowledge from these areas to my family, my colleagues, and so on.

For some colleagues, I’ve made a (company-internal) video already about how to get the OCDC (Open Client for the Debian Community) IBM layers on top of a more or less “naked” Ubuntu 16.04.2, and I’ll make some more about the tools – both hardware and free and open source software – that I use, and about how I use all that stuff. De-Essers, compressors, LUFS sound leveling, something like this. Plus some microphone techniques.

I also tried to help someone in this thread of the LinuxMusicians forum, for whom/which I uploaded some screenshots to Flickr lately:

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Ubuntu Studio 16.04.2 LTS, running from a USB stick on my machine, with running QJackctl and the Hydrogen drum computer

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Focusrite Control software, running on Windows 10

Other than that, I’ll cover some tools like Audacity, Ardour and the Calf Studio Gear plugins, Openshot and whatever I’m using. Since most of these tools are cross-platform, the colleagues might want to use them even on their Windows machines; let’s see.

These will be company-internal screencasts and/or videos, just for those people who want to / have to publish some public stuff on the companies’ official Youtube stream(s). Lots of stuff like that exists already, just look at the streams of people like Curtis Judd for instance. No need for me to add anything public here, since there are so many of these technical tips channels already.

Anyway; I’m quite busy most of the time, and just wanted to explain why you see fewer entries here, or on my Flickr stream.

Soon we’ll also visit some family members in Cologne; it’s about time for that as well. Plus both my brother, Mitchie, Zuleikha, and me want to see/visit the Music Store there – can’t wait for that…

Like always, thanks for reading.

Don’t underestimate the “kit zoom”

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Zuleikha, December 2016

A few minutes ago, I took this photo of Zuleikha. And I used the lens which came with the Olympus E-PL5, which is the 14-42mm R (Mark 2) “kit zoom” at its longest focal length of 42mm, and wide open at an aperture of f/5.6.

Of course this isn’t as “bitingly” sharp as for instance my 45mm/1.8 would have been when used at these settings. But for portraiture, sharpness isn’t exactly the point. Quite the opposite is true when you’re photographing people who are older than our daughter, and who don’t have as nice and smooth skin as she does have. “Have mercy on me!” was what one of Yousuf Karsh’s clients asked him (forgot which one, but it wasn’t Queen Elizabeth I think. Maybe some American actress).

Still this photo, watched on my full screen size (1200 pixels high) even shows moirĂ©e. But that is because the monitor’s dpi interfere with the pixels I caught (4608), and watched 1:1 that moirĂ©e is gone.

What’s much more important than which lens you use is that the light is ok – in this case, I used my Yongnuo YN-460II flash off-camera, and bounced over the wall to my right on 1/4 of its maximum power. My exposure was within half a stop, which I had to add in “post production” (in RawTherapee). I also desaturated both the whole image (3 of 100 clicks), and selectively the colour of her shirt (a bit more). Using flash or very high quality permanent light sources help with the colours, and the short exposure times with flash keep the camera’s ISO low. It also helps with the perceived sharpness.

As always, thanks for reading.

Slow and deliberate. Spray and pray.

When I’m taking photographs, I’m normally kind of old-fashioned. My camera is set to take a single exposure, which I carefully try to frame in my viewfinder. I also try to think about the end result right away, and sometimes set the camera to show me the image in black & white, sometimes with contrast raised a bit, or even simulating some filter in front of my imaginary black & white film camera. Sometimes when I’m in a really kind of nostalgic mood, I even change the aspect ratio to 3:2, like normal 135 film rolls had, or even to 1:1 like square roll film.

Of course, when taking both a jpg and a raw image at the same time, you can still reverse everything from the raw later. But that’s another story, and I usually don’t do that.

With an approach like that, I took a photo of Tuna the cat yesterday evening, when she was sitting in front of our veranda door, looking out into the dark. I know that cats see much better in the dark than us humans, but still I sometimes wonder what she might see there. Anyway, I liked the reflection of the cat in our veranda door, where she had some kind of brighter background, so you can see her ears. This was composed with an in-camera 3:2 crop, contrast +1 and a simulated yellow filter:

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In the company where we now look into the garden, we have an egret, also known as a great white heron. Sometimes it’s even two of these, but most of the time just one. That bird goes fishing in the 3 small ponds we have there, and I’ve tried to take its picture with my long zoom lens. That’s a 40-150mm/f4-5.6 lens, still from the Four Thirds system, which can be used with autofocus on Micro Four Thirds via an adapter. My attempts so far were not very good – that lens was optimized for phase autofocus from a DSLR, so focusing it with the mirrorless cameras’ contrast autofocus is kind of slow.

So today, looking at the birds outside which were eating sun flower seeds from our small bird house, I thought about that lens again. And I knew I could forget autofocus – much too slow for these. So I did what I normally never do: I took my tripod and mounted the camera onto it with that zoom lens set to 150mm, and set the camera to manual focus, and to high speed serial exposures. It can do 7 or 8 images per second that way; forgot (because I usually never do this). So with that kind of “spray & pray” approach, I shot through our window. Every time a bird was landing, eating, and flying away again, I pressed the shutter, and so I got 110 or so images of which I threw away 108 already.

Here are the remaining two, cropped to 1:1 in post:

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Like I said, I usually never do this, but that could be an approach to get a good enough image of our heron, so maybe I’ll take that lens and tripod to the company again.

Thanks for reading and viewing.

Using my compact flash

It’s definitely getting dark earlier, and getting bright later already here in the Northern hemisphere. No wonder in the middle of autumn, and with winter approaching soon.

That leaves you with a problem when photographing indoors – either accept very bad light (and thus, quality) in your “available light” photos, or make some light when and where you need it.

Setting up the studio strobe(s) is quite a long process tho, and we don’t own any compact TTL flashes – only inexpensive but very nice and reliable Yongnuo YN460-II models. And because even measuring the light is an additional step which takes some time and action, I wanted to get used to guessing the right exposure again. Turns out that I’m not that bad, I’m usually correct within 1 stop or so.

To try it out, I took two:

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Tuna the cat, October 2016, bounced flash (f/2, flash on 1/8th power) and

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Remarkable – Zuleikha reading, October 2016 (f/2.2, flash on 1/4 power from across the room)

I’ll continue to do that, and maybe get some more of these flashes. The experience and the knowledge always pay off when using them somewhere else as well.

As always, thanks for reading/viewing.

Three different – but “canned” – black & white conversions

Here’s a photo from Tuna from this morning. First one with “monotone” conversion, like Olympus calls it, by the Olympus Viewer 3 software – which does the same like when you set the camera to black & white directly:

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Tuna the cat, February 2016 (out of camera)

For the second one I used RawTherapee’s channel mixer on default settings:

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Tuna the cat, February 2016 (channel mixer)

And the third conversion was done with using the luminance equalizer, also with RawTherapee:

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Tuna the cat, February 2016 (luminance equalizer)

As you can see, the out of camera black & white and the one where I used the luminance equalizer are almost identical, so this is how Olympus does it in camera. If you do it in RawTherapee you can still fine-tune some settings, but as a starting point they’re both pretty close.

The channel mixer – with its default settings, more to that in another blog post – treats at least the blue channel differently, see my dark blue jacket on the chair, or the small carpet behind the cat (or the letter “R” of the “Happy birthday” in the background). Here you can adjust each of the colour channels separately and simulate different black & white films (I guess – but still have to check – if the also “canned” film simulations do the same with adjusting those channels only). I’ll test that later.

In the Gimp, there’s that very interesting GEGL C2G conversion. But with using Debian stable, I’m also still using the Gimp in version 2.8.x (also stable), and only the current developer version (2.9.x) uses more than 8 bits for each colour, so tests with that have to wait (I guess the jump will be as big as the one if you go from Photoshop Express to the real big – and expensive – version).

The photos you see on the internet are all 8 bits per channel only, since standard RGB jpg files are 8 bits, compressed. But it’s still a big difference for printing and also if you work with other colour spaces on a calibrated monitor (the best of which are 10 bits / channel).

Anyway. Before I get too technical, remember that it’s the *content* of the photo which counts.

Thanks for reading.

Piano practice

I wanted to show you that according to my last howto about mixed light, you can apply this to real photos (instead of taking photos of empty chairs only):

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Piano practice. Zuleikha, January 2016

Like described in my previous howto, I did the following:

1. I set my camera to manual exposure. It will default to ISO 200, and to 1/160th of a second.
2. Since this isn’t enough exposure for the ambient light in the evenings and in our flat, I opened the lens fully to f/1.4, and set the time to 1/13th of a second. The camera showed -2EV underexposure with this setting.
3. White balance on Custom White Balance 2, like applied and described in my last post.
4. Now I mounted my Yongnuo compact flash (YN-460-II) directly onto my camera, Roscosun 85 gel in front of it, and pointed it upwards against the ceiling.
5. Lowest power setting on the flash – I only wanted a small “kiss” of light from this one, to get Zuleikha’s face lightened up a bit against the surrounding.
6. Take your shot(s).

In “post production” (you *do* shoot raw, n’est-ce pas?), I corrected that CWB2 to about 200 Kelvin less, with tint setting +1 in the direction of amber (instead of green). In my eyes and on my calibrated monitor that looked more natural than the warmer setting I had before. I also corrected the tonal curve to brighten up the lower midtones a bit.

Like usual, I put in some title and tags using RawTherapee. Done. Upload to Flickr and insert it here to write this article about it.

To learn this and much more, consider reading David Hobby’s Strobist site. Go at least through his 101 course which costs absolutely nothing (not even a subscription or login). Then get some cheap lights (like my 40$/€ Yongnuo), and get going. It’s fun – and like someone once said, if you take a picture, you might as well try to take a good one.

Thanks for reading.