Friday, September 18, 2009

A few simple steps to crisp images

I was asked in email just how I managed to get such a sharp photo of the skyline... I have a few simple tips to share:

First, it was a nice windy day, which blew out the typical Cincinnati late summer haze, and that makes a huge impact.

Second, use a tripod. If possible, not one of the ubiquitous, convenient, and light aluminum ones, but a heavy, sturdy steel or carbon fiber monster. They're less expensive than you might think, and especially in low light make it even possible to shoot worthwhile images. I got a knock-off of a Manfrotto system with the quick-release plate off Ebay for a third of the retail price, and less than I had paid in total for the half dozen crappy tripods I went through before deciding to get one I wouldn't be throwing away.

Third, use the lowest ISO you can.  I had the ISO at 100 for that shot.  (That does reduce noise, but the serious techies on astrophotography forums tested CCDs against CMOS and along the way found that under some conditions ISO 200 captured more faithfully than ISO 100 for some Canon models.)

Now getting into advice which only really applies to DSLRs... Fourth, crank down the F-stop to get a deep depth of field. The lens with which I took that shot is F/3.5 wide open, and I had it cranked down to well past F/6. It's just like squinting to see better, as my brother pointed out when his daughter was asking about the relationship between camera settings.

Fifth, if possible, use a remote so you aren't jiggling the camera yourself when hitting the button. I got an IR remote for my camera for $20 on Ebay. Once again, knock-offs rule.

Sixth, if you're really serious about a landscape shot, go into the custom settings and enable "mirror lock-up." That way, when you hit the 2 second delay button on the remote, the mirror flips up, then the camera waits a moment for the vibrations from the mirror-slap to stop before capturing the image.

Seventh, shoot in RAW format.  It's a good habit to shoot everything in RAW if you can - you'll be amazed at what you can recover from shots that in jpeg would be useless.  And you never know what you'll need later - I once did a bunch of black and white head shots for a friend auditioning for a role, and he later came back and said they wanted color shots.  Even though I had the camera set to black and white, because I was shooting in RAW format the color was captured and it took me all of five minutes to convert them instead of going through another photoshoot.

As a side note to the RAW advice, if you're not satisfied with a shot that was the result of a lucky moment but underexposed or blurry, do the first processing in the manufacturer's own software, which often has noise reduction better tuned to the specific hardware than more general image processing packages.  You can then transfer it to another software in a loss-less TIFF for further work if you like. It needn't be expensive like Photoshop... I use the freeware, open-source GIMP for serious work, and Picasa for fast touch ups.

Last, and this goes back to apply to all digitals, take many, many shots to get the one good one. Looking at my files, I took 45 shots of the skyline in less than ten minutes that afternoon. Of course, that was mostly in bursts of 3, since I was using automatic exposure bracketing (which gets an overexposed and underexposed frame for every normal one, providing the raw material for stacking them into HDR composites like that below.)

Anyway, I hope that helps!

(I really need to take a look at this template... sorry the text formatting is so screwy.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sunny Cincinnati Skyline in HDR

Because it's fun and really brings out the details in the clouds, here's the below skyline shot (stacked with its exposure-bracketed siblings) in HDR:

From Covington Blog 2009
And the original for convenient comparison:
From Covington Blog 2009

Sidewalk Astronomy

Comet Holmes is back in the news.  If you don't recall, that's the comet that suddenly, and unexpectedly, outgassed a cloud of material in October 2007.  It quickly became visible to the naked eye, even from large cities.  Before fading, the visible cloud grew to larger than the Sun, and in our night sky was half the size of the full moon.

Here's a shot I took of the comet from right in the middle of downtown Covington on October 29th, 2007.  I captured the image with a Canon DLSR attached by a t-mount to a small telescope:
From Covington Blog 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Further info on the vacancy below

Just a bit more information about the Riverside Drive vacancy below... the queen bee of Covington tells me that the owner is a wonderful and interesting person, having spent many years with the Peace Corps.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Truth in advertising

While I'm not coming back to blogging to be a real estate agent, and don't know the owners or current residents of this apartment building, I had to laugh at the obvious truthfulness of the "river view" note on the sign:
From Covington Blog 2009

From Covington Blog 2009
John Roebling himself could have held my camera bag while I took the picture:
From Covington Blog 2009

Here's the Google streetview of the location:

View Larger Map

Bee lunch

Bee collecting in the alley between Governor's Point and Daniel Beard's (founder of the Boy Scouts) childhhood home:

From Covington Blog 2009

View of Cincinnati

To get away from the HDR, as much as I love playing with the technique, here's the view from the roof of Governor's Point today (no I don't live there, but it's a delightful community):

From Covington Blog 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cincinnati Blog: Covington Jim Returns to Blogging!

Great thanks to Cincinnati Blog for noticing this site stirring back to life:

Spooky HDR of the old Booth Hospital

Thanks for the compliments on the shot of the bridge.  Here's another HDR image with the spooky turned up to 11:

From Covington Blog 2009
The original William Booth Memorial Hospital was converted to residences, and now is the Governor's Point condominium complex in the heart of the historic district on Second Street.

Here you can find a series of postcards showing the various incarnations of the building from 1905 to 1960.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Reboot of Covington Blog

Covington Blog is rebooting. The focus is now on Covington and the surrounding region.

So... we'll start off with the gateway to the city, its most recognizable structure.  Below is the Roebling Suspension Bridge, connecting Covington, KY to Cincinnati, OH.  It began construction in 1856, and by 1866 it was the longest suspension bridge in the world.
From Covington
The image is an HDR (High Dynamic Range composite) created from three photos taken in August, 2009.