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Friday, July 24, 2009

••◊ I think I wore out my scanner.

Welcome to my dissertation on world peace, or at least it might have taken an equivalent effort. For the last six months I have been patiently waiting beside a film and/or photo scanner to archive family photos. So what's the body count? 192 film-negatives, 362 printed photos, and 228 slides scanned; and this was *after* removing the redundant, inconsequential, and bad pictures. Thank goodness for digital cameras and cheap storage.

I thought it might be nice to compile a list of my favorite photos from the bunch. This series will probably seem pretty long, but it's just a random glance at the highlights. First let's start with me. I'll spare my friends from my baby "clothing optional" pictures...you know, to keep this safe for work. The first photo I like because I was an audio-centric person growing up. I once sent a copy of this picture to my mom with the caption "Some people believe in destiny. I like to think I found my own way." The second picture...well, I just like it. Awesomely posed if I do say so myself, however I should have moved a little to the right to capture more facial highlight. What do you expect? I was like three.

Next up out of the pool is a rather random entry of my Aunt Bertie. The color, the stare, the subtle hand at the left of the frame that she is turning away from - You have to pay big bucks for a model to look this sad in a photo now days.

There are a few classic portraits of grandma (Elsie) and grandpa (Ed) in their earlier years. All my life I grew up with my grandma having short hair, but I personally think she looked better here. My grandpa was an ambulance driver in Japan in world war two, so I felt like this shot really captured a time, purpose, and place well.

Then there's mom. I thought the concept of a "free burro ride" at Fairyland really captured a time and place again. Funny, I've never seen her ride an animal since. Hmmm.... I also had to throw in a picture in from mom's younger years sans rug-rat (i.e. me).

Then, and most importantly, there's mom and I. I'll probably get ousted from her will for showing her in a swimsuit on my blog, but it wouldn't be the first reason. Here's mom and I, probably on Oahu circa the late seventies. Then there's mom and I in the backyard probably in Beaverton Oregon. Notice that she has bare feet outdoors, tracking in dirt onto the inside carpet. ...and she gave *me* a hard time about bringing dirt indoors. "Girl dirt" must be OK.

Off to the bicycle races tomorrow. Probably won't make it to the Strobist meeting this month.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

••◊ Highlight recovery

I've been trying my hand at poster printing lately. I really want to print and frame a picture I took at the World Cycling Championships in Italy last year, but I'm having "issues" with how the print is coming out. Since this is going in my house of course I'm going to be overly critical and picky.

One of the issues is that the print comes out too dark, which would normally indicate under exposure, but in this case the cyclists were riding in a bit of mid-day shade and they are about 0.5 stops under what I would deem a pleasing brightness to the picture. Since I always shoot in raw format it seem simple enough to just up the exposure half a stop...but, now the highlights are blown out.

First let's take a look at the original under exposed looking picture. I obviously want to make this brighter and more vibrant for a large print.

The first step is to bring up the exposure to a level that represents what I want the print to look like. I think +0.5 stop of exposure compensation does the trick. One caveat of displaying pictures on the web is that they don't quite appear the same as a thumbnail, so you'll have to trust me that this picture is actually quite brighter in full resolution. One side effect of using this exposure compensation is that the backs of the cyclists are getting blown out to white. I also included the histogram showing how the pixel values are cramming their way to the right side, which indicates overexposure. We can fix this.

The next step is to create an under exposed version of the same picture. Again, since this is a raw format picture I can just slide the exposure control down -0.33 stop in my raw converter to eliminate most of the pixel cramming to the right of the histogram. This gives me a version of the picture with "recovered" highlights. I personally found that the difference between the plus exposure and minus exposure needs to be within 1 stop for this process to work. Any greater than that and the picture gets weird banding artifacts in the last step of the process. Below is the underexposed picture and the associated histogram. Notice that we now have minimal blown out pixels. Whatever is still blown out is gone forever. How did I determine this optimal -0.33 stop value? ...by watching the histogram and seeing when the pixel values at the right stopped moving as I moved the exposure control down.

Now we have to combine the two images to recover the highlights into the over exposed picture from the underexposed picture. We'll do this using a mask and 2 layers.
  1. First put the underexposed picture into your editor (Gimp, PSP, Photoshop...whatever) as the background layer.

  2. Next insert the overexposed image as the top layer and add a layer mask using the overexposed picture itself. This should automatically convert the mask to monochrome.

  3. Then invert the mask layer on the overexposed image layer. This should make the overall image look "hazy." This is normal.

  4. Select the mask on the over exposed image layer and open the "curves" control in your editor. You want to slide the right side of the curve over until only about 10-15% of the curve is exposed. This should leave you with a mask that is black where the image is overexposed. The under exposed image now shows through any part of the over exposed mask layer that is black. The picture below shows this control in action.

We have now made the blown out areas transparent, via a layer mask, in the over exposed image. The under exposed image show through the mask and the highlights are recovered. Yeah! Results below. Note that the change is very subtle, especially in a small picture. However you can mostly see the results on the cyclists backs. On the larger image the change is more obviously. This technique works well in a number of exposure situations, so I thought it was something good to share.

I finished my family picture archiving project, so that's probably next to share. More soon.

Friday, July 3, 2009

••◊ The ladies man

This post should really be called "how to clone out ketchup bottles," but more on that later. Ladies, meet Ventura. Ventura, ladies. In his super-musician alter ego he performs as "Darling Rossi." Ventura came to me for photos on his CD cover as well as his online sites. When we first met for the planning session he said I want "Rod Stewart meets Guns-n-Roses," to which my first reply was an expected "huh?" What he meant is the new incarnation of smooth crooner Rod Stewart and lots of booze (i.e. Guns-n-Roses). OK, this was going to be a challenge, but I had a few ideas. The first one, of course, involved throwing a sexy woman in the mix. Enter Ventura's "friend" Brooke.

Every ladies man needs a sensitive side, so we had to capture some lonely musician moments. Ventura was a bit tense in the eyes, so when I wanted him to relax I told him to think "pretty girl thoughts." Hey, it worked. For this picture I stole a tiny bit of inspiration from Joe McNally's recent posts. He seems to like putting people near windows in his blog posts lately and we had a nice big street view window to fit Ventura in, so...

Now it was time to switch over to more Guns-n-Roses mode. Since a musician's first love is usually music, I thought I would have Ventura drinking with his guitar to sort of symbolize that connection. I guess I've been listening to a lot of Robert Cray lately.

So why the mention of ketchup bottles? They were everywhere in this darn place and I didn't notice until after downloading the pictures. Since I was shooting in the dark for half the evening and didn't have a laptop I didn't notice the bottles until I got home. There must have been at least ten bottles to clone out of the pictures. So, lesson to self...next time watch out for the condiments.

The good thing I did learn is how to focus in the dark with live view. If I crank up the ISO to 1600 I can focus on the eyes, which usually have a specular reflection from the surround lights. This is usually just enough to get the eyes sharp, which is typically what I wanted. Set the ISO back down to 100-400 and snap the shot. Perfecto.

So what was Ventura doing after the photo shoot ended at 11:45pm? Well...the bartender stopped by and mentioned that two young ladies sitting at the bar would like some live music. There isn't much of a need to explain the rest.

There are other photos, but you'll have to wait for the lauch of his CD and new web sites for those. I'm working on a Strobist meeting video at the moment, so back to my edit station.