Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hurricane Gustav

With Hurricane Gustav rapidly approaching the Louisiana coast, it seems appropriate to shift my emphasis from photography to local reporting. By local reporting, I really mean personal reporting. I hope that I don't get any interesting photographs.

We live in a relatively new house, only four years old, and are located about 10 miles south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Depending on how the distance is measured, we are some 50 to 100 miles from the Gulf or open water. We were in this house during Hurricane Katrina and had essentially no damage. We’re hoping for a similar result from Hurricane Gustav.

My wife and I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and endured several hurricanes and tropical storms there. We know, or should know, how to prepare for a hurricane. As a side effect of various hobbies and interests, especially camping, we are somewhat equipped. Of course, each storm is different.

For inland locations such as Baton Rouge, our major concerns and considerations are strong and gusty winds, localized heavy flooding and loss of electricity for an extended time. We know these things will happen. The worse situation – and entirely unpredictable – is tornadoes. Hurricanes spawn many, many tornadoes.

Like many of our friends and neighbors, we have a gasoline engine powered generator for emergency power. After Katrina, we used our generator for about three days. Ours is a medium sized generator, 6KW, and it was sufficient to power many lights, a refrigerator, a freezer, a small window unit air conditioner, the television and many fans. At this time of the year, it is still very hot in south Louisiana and that little air conditioner was a blessing. Unfortunately our generator cannot power all those devices at the same time. We leave the little air conditioner turned on all the time but alternate power between the refrigerator and freezer. Our power distribution system is three long extension cords. One of the first steps in preparing for a hurricane is to get gasoline and oil for the generator and make certain that it works!

While getting gasoline for the generator, we fill the gas tanks for our cars.

When the electricity fails, the water supply becomes limited. We buy bottled water but also fill every container we can find with water – even the bathtubs.

In addition to water, we replenish our pantry because stores may be closed for several days. Canned goods are the main purchase because refrigeration might be limited. Medical prescriptions refilled, check.

Our stove is natural gas fired and the supply of natural gas in our area is usually not affected after a hurricane. Just in case, we have propane stoves in our camping supplies.

We spent yesterday and today preparing the house and yard for Gustav. All loose objects are moved from the yard to the garage – which means re-organizing the garage! Some small trees were braced. Some of our windows have shutters; these were closed and braced with a wooden board. Other windows don’t lend themselves very well to being boarded in. Looking up and down our street, a few houses are completely boarded in but most are spotty – like ours.

All batteries are charged. Because of my interest in flash photography, I have a handful of AA batteries and these are all fully charged. My camera batteries and spares are also fully charged. Cell phones charged. I also have battery powered handtools with matching flashlights.

After Katrina, we spent a lot of time trying to get in touch and keep in touch. Strangely enough, we found that text messaging worked but cell phones and land lines usually did not. Of course, the television cable service was out for a long time and we had to revert to an old set of “rabbit ears”. Wonder how those will work in our digital future?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Blurb Book Contest: People's Choice

In a previous post, I asked for your help
in a book making contest at Blurb. This is one more request for help.

The Blurb contest has drawn in over 2000 contestants from around the world. Apparently Blurb thought there would be several hundred instead of several thousand entries. Blurb has decided to add a "People's Choice" category and allow registered Blurbarians to vote for their favorite. All the contest entries are at this link; my own entry is here.

You can only vote once and must be registered at Blurb to vote. Registration is relatively simple and if you are inclined to make your own book I can recommend Blurb having done three personal books there with a fourth in progress.

Voting ends on September 10 and the winners will be announced September 19.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Self Portrait

Self Portraiture can be quite a learning experience. In the past two years, I’ve experimented with making self portraits several times. I don’t particularly need the pictures of myself – just need a model and want the learning experience. In these situations, I find that I’m quite patient, understanding and willing to sign a model release for a very reasonable fee.

To get this photo, I followed some tips from the Strobist. It seems that almost any exposure is “right” for a sunset. I began this shoot with exposures of 1/500 at f5.6 and ended with exposures of 1/160 and f5.

The equipment was my G9 mounted on a tripod, a Nikon SB-28 and a Nikon SB-24 each fitted with a ¼ CTO gen and Stofen diffuser, one light stand and one Canon EOS Elan 7. Both flashes were triggered with a Cactus wireless trigger with the transmitter mounted on the G9. The Elan 7 was turned off; it was used only as a prop to hold the SB-28.

In this particular picture, the G9 was set for 1/250 and f5 at ISO 80. The SB-24 backlight was set for 1/16 power and the SB-28 was set for 1/4 power (I think – forgot to write it down!). These settings probably seem a little higher than suggested at the Strobist site but remember that the G9 was set for ISO 80 and a diffuser eats light. On top of all this, diffusers aren’t normally used outdoors because there’s nothing to bounce the light. Actually, I wanted a diffuser on the main light simply because it would be in the photo. For the first several shots, I had the diffuser pointed upward as though indoors. In the diffuser up position, the SB-28 was set for ½ power (I think).

With the G9 set for a 10 second delay and camera bag on the ground to mark my modeling spot, I made – well, quite a few -- trips back and forth. Elan 7 and flash high, low, wide, front, etc. Take a picture, chimp, critique myself, increase exposure as the sun set, repeat – you get the idea.

This was a fun shoot; try a self portrait.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Post Processing Variations

There are many variations of post processing – including none – a digital image file. This slideshow compares 22 variations of post processing a raw image file. The image was made with a Canon G9 in raw mode, ISO 80, f5.6 and 1/400 second exposure. All the variations were done in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) with additional processing in Photoshop CS3 for some images. ACR agreed with this exposure setting, i.e., no exposure adjustment required. No noise reduction was applied to any variation. Each slide is numbered on the lower left hand side. Notice that some slides are repeated. The key for the variation is as follows:

1 White balance (WB) As Shot; auto tone in ACR, clarity = 0, saturation and vibrance = 0, linear contrast curve, no sharpening.
2 Same as #1 except Auto WB in ACR
3 Same as #1 except Daylight WB in ACR
4 Same as #1 except Cloudy WB in ACR
5 Same as #1 except Shade WB in ACR
6 Same as #3 except add Clarity = 30; Vibrance and Saturation = +10
7 Same as #3 except add Clarity = 30; Vibrance and Saturation = -10
8 Same as #3 except add Clarity = 30; Vibrance and Saturation = 5; medium contrast curve
9 Same as #8 except strong contrast curve
10 Same as #8 except add sharpening at 50, 0.8, 30,0
11 Same as #8 except add sharpening at 100, 0.8, 30,0
12 Same as #8 except add sharpening at 150, 0.8, 30,0
13 Same as #8 except add sharpening at 100, 0.8, 100,0

All the above slides were processed using only ACR. All the following slides had additional processing in Photoshop CS3.

14 Same as #11 except Auto Levels in CS3
15 Same as #11 except Shadow/Highlights in CS3 = 20 (all settings)
16 This is a blend using Fred Miranda’s DRI plug-in to CS3. Slide #13 was underexposed in ACR by -1 stop; a second file was overexposed by +1 stop. These two files were then blended.
17 This is a blend done manually in CS3 from Slide #13. One layer (for the sky) was at +1/2 stop and another at -1/2 stop for the foreground. The blend was done with a simple gradient mask.
18 Same as #13 except that exposure in ACR was increased by ½ stop; Recovery was manually set to 40 and Fill to 10.
19 Same as #18 except that Fred Miranda’s Velvia Vison (set at 40) was used to simulate Velvia film.
20 Same as #18 except that Pixel Genius PhotoKit Color was used to simulate Kodachrome film.
21 Same as #20 except that Pixel Genius gray balancer was used.
22 Same as #18 except that Pixel Genius PhotoKit output sharpening (medium) was applied.

The most obvious effects are from white balance, exposure, saturation and contrast. Interestingly, quite a few variations that would be visible in prints or full screen views simply don’t show up in the slide show. This is a reminder that there are many details that just don’t matter for small screen shots with high jpeg compression ratios.

I’m not saying that any of these variations are better than the others. Of course there are many, many other ways of processing this image. I even did an over-the-top High Dynamic Range with Tone Mapping based on three separate in-camera exposures. That variation is posted it in my SmugMug G9 gallery.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Philmont 50th SAK

In 1989, my son and I spent two weeks hiking in the mountains of the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico with his Boy Scout troop. We had a wonderful time; in fact, this hike was one of the better experiences of my life. We returned twice and my son then worked at Philmont for four summers. I wanted to buy the Philmont 50th Anniversary Swiss Army Knife but all had been sold. Just recently, I was fortunate to find one in mint condition and add it to my collection of knives and photos.

Monday, August 11, 2008

G9: Focus Conclusions

It’s time to force myself to document my conclusions about focusing the G9. When the G10 is announced, I’ll get caught up in all the hoopla. So here’s what I’ve learned and concluded as well as my current focusing practices for the G9.

First a summary of the G9 focus posts:
Introduction to G9 focusing
Focusing outdoors
Focusing indoors
Face detection
G9 use of hyperfocal focus
G9 hyperfocal chart
Problems focusing on low contrast subjects
Beeps when focused

After all this, I still prefer to use the small Flexizone frame, recompose and shoot when I have the time to do so. Yes, I know this can be slow and methodical, but that’s me as well. For repetitive shots, I often get small Flexizone frame focus, switch to manual and continue shooting. I focus this way for macros when the G9 is tripod mounted.

For landscape shots, I often use manual focus set to infinity. It's easy and certain but be sure to switch back to auto focus!

When wild and crazy and partying, it’s just better to set the G9 on face detection focusing – especially if the camera is passed around a bit. Usually, but not always, face detection works well.

OK, the focusing post is done, where’s the G10?

Friday, August 8, 2008

More G9 Pictures

While walking on the beach one recent morning, I managed to get a few nice shots with my G9 and have added them to my G9 gallery on SmugMug. All were shot at ISO 80, handheld, no polarizing filter (because it was early morning), raw mode with raw conversion in Adobe Camera Raw followed by a touchup in Photoshop CS3. No noise reduction was applied in ACR or with other software; this is my normal practice for G9 ISO 80 files. The image of the reeds was at near full zoom and 1/25 second - I was impressed!

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll be quick to admit to more than one shot of each of these scenes. In fact, I'm bad about photographing a scene over and over with slight variations of exposure and composition. This habit really paid for the photo of the shell on the sand. While waiting for a wave to come up and in, the sun suddenly poked through the early morning cloud cover and the resulting shadows changed the picture completely.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Another for the SAK Gallery

This little fella poised inside a diffusion zone made from a 2’ x 4’ translucent light panel bent into a U shape and lit from the outside with a Nikon SB-24 triggered by Cactus wireless units from my Canon G9. I liked it well enough to include in my collection of Swiss Army Knife photos at SmugMug.