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 moirée. But that is because the monitor’s dpi interfere with the pixels I caught (4608), and watched 1:1 that moirée 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.

Howto: mixed light

Modern cameras have more than one setting for saving a custom white balance – my Olympus E-PL5 has two, and my OM-D E-M10 (first generation and still a marvelous camera) has four. And if you want to mix flash with ambient and warm lighting, you should make use of that.

In my cameras, I have the custom white balance 1 set to my studio strobes, and custom white balance 2 set to my Yongnuo compact flash with a Roscosun 85 (3401) CTO gel. That’s one of the companies who make colour gels for film, and they offer a cheap strobist kit for the rest of us. If you want to mix your flash with surrounding available light, one of these gels will lower the colour temperature of your flash from 5500K to 3200K which gets you into the territory of “warm” lights which are used just about everywhere.

This is how to do it with Olympus cameras:

Set up a grey or white target, and set your camera to custom white balance two (or one if you do it without using that gel). Then put the gel in front of your compact flash, and press the info button on your camera. The camera now asks you to shoot your target, so do it. If you have a small target – I use the Colorchecker Passport which fits in any camera bag – then this is best done with the 45mm/1.8 lens or with a kit zoom at its longest setting of 42mm (for Olympus cameras, yours might be longer). The target does *not* have to be in focus (in fact it’s an advantage if it isn’t), but it should fill the frame. After shooting your target like that, the camera will ask you if you want to save this custom white balance. Say yes. Done.

If you then take another normal test shot, still with the orange gel in front of your flash, your target should look pretty neutral, like this:

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Grey target with Roscosun 85 (3401) CTO

Now you can use your flash for mixed lighting, so raise your exposure time to catch some of that as well (aperture controls flash exposure, and time controls the rest). It may look like this:

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Mixed flash (CTO) and ambient (LED)

Here the bounced flash with CTO gel in front of it lit the table and chair, and the wall to the right. The background is an LED light in our kitchen, maybe 2 stops underexposed. This still has some green tint as you can see, but it’s lots better than if you used the flash without gel, and with the camera set to daylight or flash or around 5500K. If you really need precision, you can still fine-tune between both light sources, or if you *have to* nail it, then use flash for the background as well, and forget about the gels.

But this is a quick and useful technique if you’re out in the pubs or other environments, and want more or less proper colours not only for your main targets (persons for instance), but also for the background.

You can do lots more with these gels, so try them out. A ‘strobist kit’ isn’t that expensive, and can work wonders for whatever you might have in mind.

Hope that this is useful to someone.

Happy experimenting, and, as always, thanks for reading.

Fifty shades of black

Someone recently asked about an article which I’ve written earlier, but which cannot be restored – we don’t have a database backup from that time. It was about the blacks in my photos. And today I’ve got a somehow similar question by email from a friend. And looking in front of myself, on my desk I saw lots of black (or at least very dark) stuff, so I decided to take a photo of it:

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About the technique I use:

– first, I make sure that I have the correct exposure. While for many outdoor scenes I can trust the center-weighted setting of my cameras, indoors I always use a light meter, especially when using a studio strobe like I did here.

– second, and maybe of equal importance: I use the widest possible colour space I can get from my cameras, which is AdobeRGB (instead of sRGB). Some modern printing systems can go even wider, but there aren’t many non-pro cameras on the market which can be set to take Profoto images.

– I expose “correctly”, which means I take everything I can get into the 12 bit dynamics of my cameras. If you have 14 or even 16 bit, all the better for you.

– then I convert from the raw .orf files to 16 bit .tif using the Olympus Viewer 3 raw converter, checking for any over- or underexposure again, and also for a correct white balance (which was set in camera already, but sometimes it can still be enhanced). OV3 doesn’t exist for my Linux machine, so I dual-boot into Win10 or fire up s small Win7 virtual machine to do this. I’m on SSD nowadays, so both ways are fast.

– back in Linux, I use RawTherapee for final checks, conversions to black & white, cropping, and to give images some more Exif data, like a title and some tags.

That’s mostly it. I think the most important steps are to set your camera to AdobeRGB (or to whatever the biggest colour space it offers), and to expose correctly. Having a current sensor with a wide dynamic range (check DxO for this) also helps.

The rest – and any post processing – is up to personal bias and taste. Look at Ming Thein who does a very good job concerning the blacks in his images. Another example would be the Leica photographer Thorsten Overgaard.

Hoping that this is useful,

thanks for reading.