Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

June 26, 2018

Perceived Importance

After five months of being firmly anti-binky, Dana did something unexpected yesterday. She was sleepy, but too full to nurse to sleep, so I did something I hadn’t done in weeks. I gave her a binky. She didn’t hate it! In fact, she went to right to sleep with it. Not knowing when or if it would happen again, I decided to take as much photographic evidence as possible. I have photos, videos, and even slow motion videos on my phone.

I am reminded of the faux fall photos we did with Nicole. I say faux fall because it was a super warm Thanksgiving day. We dressed her in a sweater jacket, found a sad little leaf pile and carefully took pictures reminiscent of the kinds I would expect growing up in the north east.

The photos of Dana with the binky were about as authentic as Nicole in the leaves. Yes, it really did happened, but the photo conveys something that isn’t really true. She still doesn’t really take the binky. I got her to do it again yesterday afternoon, but just once, and not at all today.

(Edited to add: She appears to be teething. In retrospect she appears to be chewing on the pacifier in some of the pictures, not sucking on the pacifier.)

The experience has me thinking about the perceived importance of moments, and which moments we choose to photograph and remember. This moment felt extraordinary because it was rare. Ironically, it would have been a more meaningful moment to capture if it was more representative of our experience, yet I may not think to pick up the camera in that case. This realization has been weighing on me lately. I pick up my camera often with Dana, capturing both the every day and the extraordinary alike since we spend so much time together, but the older two? I keep meaning to take more photos each weekend, but the weekends are so busy we rarely have time to follow through. The last photos I took of the girls? I can’t remember. It feels like ages.

Things will settle down. I will find a way to make more time for photography. It is my life blood, after all.


One month before birth, one month after

It wasn’t looking promising, but somehow Dana and I managed to capture the majority of her newborn photos just as the newborn phase was ending. It feels like a pretty amazing feet considering all that was stacked against: baby colds, and lack of mobility. The better camera helped. I didn’t need so many practice shots, or blury shots necessitating redos.

Where we’re lacking still is sleeping baby photos. Dana has an amazing ability to resist naps in general, and naps on set especially. I’d set the thermostat high to get that toasty, naked baby approved temperature. Place a heating pad on set to make it extra cozy. Fill the tummy, rocked to sleep, place her down, pick up the camera and it’s “Good morning, Mommy!” Normally I would have continued well into the second month, but Dana isn’t having it and I don’t want to torture her.

Of course that means the photos were not lacking in are alert baby with beautiful eye contact!

I have now also learned why my 1-month-olds tend to look younger in photographs than my newborns. At least to my eye. When they’re first born they tend to be leaner. When there’s not an object in frame for comparison leaner translates to longer, which can make them seem older. By one month they’ve put on some chub before having a chance to really start growing. In photographs they seem smaller. It seems so obvious in retrospect. The classic newborn pose, resting in a slight dip, also helps them look more squished and smaller.

While I was happy with the newborn photos, I was starting to feel a bit guilty about the lack of maternity photos this time around. I really only took three styles: low-key, by the tree and the one above. I regret not powering through when I was feeling uncomfortable and at least taking some with the girls and I together, but I cannot go back in time. Since I was so lacking in maternity photos, and Dana was not too keen on sleeping for more newborn photos, I thought I’d do one of those before & after comparisons.

These were surprisingly difficult to do by myself. I am self conscious about my postpartum body, so I’m holding Dana on my left side rather than directly center in order to hide some of my tummy. It’s causing a bit of torque, which is putting pressure in places I don’t need pressure. With the added stress of juggling the remote I was feeling sore for a few days.

Worth it.

I know a lot of other people would disagree, but the pain is only temporary. The photos will keep forever.

February 15, 2018

A Bone to Pick

I have a bone to pick with my new camera. It’s too good. I can’t blame the camera for my mistakes any more!

I was comfortable shooting at a wider aperture because the old camera had a bit of a soft focus problem. Those itty bitty baby lashes didn’t look sharp on either side of the face. That made small issues with camera shake, depth of field or motion blur virtually undetectable. With my new camera they’re detectable! Nevermind that the image looks great for most standard printing sizes, if I can zoom in on her face enough to see the pores on her left check, I want to see them on the right as well! My new camera is rubbing it in my face that I don’t have as intuitive a sense of the depth of field as I think I do!

Kidding aside, I’ve noticed a huge jump in the quality of my images. The cameras internal logic is amazing. If I frame the image right, 9 times out of ten the end product is going to be great. The exposure compensation button makes adjusting the settings quick enough to follow the action a snap. I’m taking fewer pictures each burst, fewer frames in general, and still happy with the outcome. Aside for some depth of field ‘issue.’

They say it’s the photographer, not the camera. That’s true to an extent, clearly. A good photographer can overcome many of the limitations of a bad camera, but not all. Shoot in lower light than your camera can handle and your choice is motion blur or noise. (Or bring additional lights and equipment.) Shooting a faster subject than you’re camera can handle? Need a greater dynamic range? Your out of luck, Chuck.

Sometimes you do need better equipment to realize your limitations in order to grow.

December 6, 2017

First Time Charm

My best photo shoot is usually my third. Unless it’s something I’m shooting on a regular basis, I usually take a few iterations to figure out the best settings to lessen the chances of unintentional blur (both depth of field related, camera shake and motion). So when I decided to try a modified low key maternity photo in front of the Christmas tree, I was pretty stoked to get this on my first attempt.


ISO 5000
F/36 (to produce the star light effect)
2 Second Shutter Speed

It was a difficult shot. I’m kneeling so my bump is against to the widest part of the tree (you can see the floor in the background to the right.) I had troubles sitting still for so long, and ended up leaning against Alexis’ training potty so I could hold my position better. Even still there’s a bit of noise, but it’s not horrible. Given the difficulty of the shot, I think the end result was rather impressive. I was using normal noise reduction, and could experiment with pushing it to the max. If I used a star filter (something I didn’t yet own) I could create the stars with a wider aperture and not rely on such a high ISO setting or long shutter speed. If this is what I got when I didn’t quite know what I was doing, imagine what I could get with a little work!

All other attempts have been flops.

The stars created with a small aperture are small and dense with 14 rays that don’t stretch very far from the point light. The star filter set I purchased produce a maximum 10 rays. I was hoping there wouldn’t be much of a difference between 10 and 14 rays, but the 10 rays looked mighty thin compared to the 14 rays. Adding insult to injury, the greater the difference in contrast between point light to the rest of the photo, the longer the rays. The end result? Long streaks of light that didn’t really look like stars stretching across most of the photo. The darker the photo, like these low key setups, the worse the filter stars looked.


With star filter

Results with increased noise reduction were ok, but not remarkably better.

Sadly for me and my perfectionist tendencies, the further along I get in this pregnancy the less energy I have to try for better photos. I’m also getting impatient with the still yet untrimmed tree (I worry the ornaments will detract from the photo) so I decided to declare this photo attempt done after five tries. I did take a back up shot with an increased the aperture (bye bye pretty point light stars) which at least doesn’t suffer from noise or blur. I’m convinced that somewhere out there is a program that can add stars to point lights after the fact. If it doesn’t exist now, I’m sure it will at some point.

In the mean time, I ran my best photo (above) through every single photo manipulation app on my phone. Here are my two favorite results.

The first is from an app called Camera+ using the faded filter. I love the nearly black and white look with the stars supplying little bursts of color. The color tone is a nice touch as well.

Next up is Prism with the Curly Hair style. It’s another mostly black and white image, this one looks almost like a drawing.

Tomorrow while the kids are at school I plan to trim the tree while blasting Christmas music. My goal: be done with my to-do list early enough that I can relax the week leading up to Christmas and get plenty of sleep before the chaos that is Christmas morning. I did it before, I can do it again!

November 16, 2017

New Baby

NikonUSA finally released their black friday ad this past Monday and, sadly, there was no deal on the d7500 body only. All the deals were on kits that came with lenses I don’t need since my lens collection meets my current needs perfectly. Of course, no black friday sale means no reason to wait until black friday!

I am amazed at the difference in image quality. My previous camera body, the 5100, is several models out of date, and was an entry model where the 7500 is considered a mid-range. I was expecting significantly better low light capabilities, and was still blown away by the difference when I redid the low-key maternity photos. I bumped up the ISO to 1000 without noticeable noise, whereas with my old 5100 the noise was extremely pronounced at ISO 800. The other advantage was the 7500 was able to autofocus much better in the dark than the 5100. I took roughly half the number of exposures and felt confident I had gotten “the shot.”

I’m super excited to test out the new camera on the kids on the weekend. I’ve been frustrated lately by the 5100’s soft focus like appearance in the face. I think it’s a relatively recent phenomenon. I never remember having this issue when the camera was new. It was particularly pronounced doing Nicole’s “1st day of Kindergarten” photos, which is part of the reason why I’m pining for AI photo enhancing. Ah well, some day.

That said, there are some things I do miss about the 5100. The 5100 has a rotatable LCD back screen that has been described as “selfie friendly.” I hate that term, but it was useful for taking maternity photos. I guess technically they’re “selfies.” The 7500 can tilt, but not rotate. The new camera is also noticeably heavier than the old one. But these are very minor concerns, especially when you consider all the benefits the new camera is bringing.

November 10, 2017

Low Key Maternity Photography

How can I possibly be 32 weeks already? It suddenly dawned on me that despite approaching the midway point in the third trimester, the only “bump” photos I have are a handful of bathroom selfies at 8 weeks when I couldn’t believe I was already showing. I needed to fix that, and I waned to challenge myself to try at something different.

Low key photos are low light, mostly dark photos that emphasize shadow and shape. I tried to do low-key bump portraits while pregnant with Alexis, but couldn’t master the light. I’ve experimented with dark background, spotlight photos before using a desk/craft light, but the craft light wasn’t strong enough to take photos of a larger subject (like my bump.)

This time around I decided to get a long, skinny adjustable craft light since I can almost always use more high quality desk lamps. I settled on TaoTronics LED Desk Lamp since it allowed me to adjust both brightness & color temperature. As an added bonus, TaoTronics had a newer model so the one I purchased was on the cheaper side. As long as it’s a bright white light and the right narrow shape, any lamp will do. To further control the light I cut up the Amazon box it shipped in and made cardboard flaps. I taped a flap to each side of the lamp, to focus the light so it wouldn’t illuminate the wall behind me.

As a general rule of thumb the darker the photo, the more visible the ISO noise. To make this photo work I had to shot at a very low ISO setting, which means a longer exposure time. Unfortunately, unlike my previous spotlight attempts I needed to shot with the room dark. The larger the subject, the further back the craft light needs to be. The further back the craft light, the less bright the light is when it reaches the subject. I shot the above photo ISO 100, f/5, 1/13 a second. Normally I’m comfortable shooting at ISO 1000, but it was just too much noise.
The above photo is pushing the boundaries of what my 5 year old camera can do.

If you want to attempt a similar photo, here are my tips:
– Where light color, possibly skin toned clothes. I tried this in a dark sweater and everything other than my hands all but disappeared.
– Use a Lower ISO settings to avoid noise. I know I said that before, but this is one instance where a little noise can really ruin your photo.
– Adjust the cardboard flaps (you can use masking tape at the tops and the bottoms) to control how narrow or wide the light beam is.

I kick myself every time I mess up the settings on my camera. On Nicole’s first day of school I mistakenly left my camera in full manual mode, with the shutter speed set for indoor photography of stationary objects. The photo on the left is my favorite pose wise. Nicole is so happy. But the photo is so over exposed with a slight motion blur given the slow shutter speed. Fortunately I realized my mistake, adjusted my settings and was able to also capture the photo on the right.

Current state of the art photo editing techniques cannot save the photo on the left. The skin on the left side of her face is so over exposed the sRGB value is pure white. The computer simply has no way to figure out what color was supposed to be there, so there’s no way to automatically fix the white patch. Nicole could have cyan colored skin for all the computer knows. Or checker pattern skin, for that matter.

As an machine learning person, I find this limitation incredibly irritating. Chances are, when you, a human, first looked at the image on the left Nicole’s skin did not appear pure white to you. Your brain filled in a likely color based on the right side of the photo where her skin isn’t as badly over exposed and what you know of human skin tones. With the two photos side by side you can easily imagine a combined photo with the pose from the left and the coloring on the right.

Current state of the art image recognition can recognize faces. It should be able to map point for point the location of the eyes, mouth, nose, hands, etc between the two photos. Given that, it seems plausible for a AI enabled photo editing software to merge the two photos and create the ideal image.

Even without the image on the right, a sufficiently advanced AI based system should be able to recognize the subject matter much the way a human would. The system should then be able to generate a hyper realistic plausible image. It might not be the “correct” image, the image that would have been created if my settings were correct in the first place. I doubt for most people that would matter. A realistic enough resulting image that was plausibly correct would likely be sufficient for most momtographers like me.

June 27, 2017

Rule of Thirds Breaker

I admit it, I’m not big on following the “rules” in photography. I shoot in continuous mode, and I ignore most framing rules like the rule of thirds.

The rule of thirds is a practice designed to help break the center-centric habit most beginner photographers have. Rather than place the subject in the dead center of the image, placing them off center (along the thirds grid line) usually creates a more dynamic image. Most rule of thirds advocates suggest having at least two focal points in the four grid line cross sections.

I support the principle, but like any rule it can be over done. Equally important to the placement of the subject is the overall background, and the overall look and feel of the image. In my opinion, it’s not worth adhering to any placement rule if it leaves a distracting background element, or forces you to crop out part of the scene that makes the image compelling.

Here’s an example from one of my favorite photos of Alexis. Original on top, with grid lines below.


The corner of her mouth touches a grid lines, but the focal points (the eyes) do not. In fact, the close eye is dead center in the image. Now watch what happens when I recrop so the back eye and lips touch the grid line cross section.

The framing of the face isn’t bad. Truth be told I probably should have gotten closer, and a tighter crop achieves the same effect. The problem is that darn bow. It’s cut off. It’s both distracting and detracting from the original image. The cropping gets substantially worse if I try and force the close, dominant eye to a cross section.

Here’s another example using one of my favorite photos of Nicole.

This one happens to correspond with the rule of thirds in that the tip of her middle finger touches the cross section of the grid lines. The other focal points, do not. The best recropping I was able to do puts both eyes in opposite cross sections and yields the following.

You lose the hunched over shoulder. Recropping to other focal points losses part of the hand. Both lessen the impact of the photo.

All this is to say while the rule itself isn’t inherently bad, not all photos work with the rule of thirds. Rules in photography, like rules in any art form, should be used as training tools. It’s useful to experiment with them, but strict adherence to the rule will be limiting and could cause you to miss the ideal shot.

At least that’s this photographer’s opinion.

February 15, 2017

Soft Focus Phone Troubles

While artistic, that soft focus in the above photo was not intentional. That’s what the front camera on my phone was able to capture of my standing still child.

I started noticing problems with my front camera back around Thanksgiving. I waited downstairs for the girls to come see the trees all lit up the morning after Thanksgiving, eager to capture the expressions on their faces when they first caught sight of the trees. Most of the photos turned out blurry, as though there was a film on the camera lens. I chalked it up to poor lighting. Since then, the photos on my front camera continue to be hit or miss. Even in full daylight. Even when the subject is standing still.

I’m currently using an iPhone 6, which is a couple months older than Alexis. I went with an upgraded memory hoping to get more than the standard two years out of my phone. (Or at least, not have to delete stuff in a mad panic because I wanted to take more photos with my phone and was out of space.) It may have been optimistic on my part to think the memory limitations was the only thing holding me back.

In any case, I now find myself with a dilemma. To upgrade, or not to upgrade?

I’m about half way though the upgrade cycle. On the one hand, the iPhone 8 will likely be one heck of an upgrade, to mark the 10 year anniversary, and that includes a substantial upgrade to the camera equipment. If I replace my iphone now, it’ll already be outdated in just 7ish short months. On the other, do I really need a $1,000 phone? And that would mean another 7ish months of bury kid photos.

My inclination is to wait. Maybe they’ll be a good sale on a 7 if the 8 does prove to be $1,000, and too rich for my blood. In the mean time, I’ll have to use my big girl camera a little more. It’s also overdue for an upgrade, as I’m 170,985 shutter actions on a body that’s only rated for 100,000 shutter actions. So far though, no loss in image quality that I can detect.


Same outfit as above. Background photo on my phone taken with my big girl camera.
November 16, 2016

My Burst Mode Preference

I’m apologetically a fan of shooting in continuous (burst) mode. For me, a typical photographic moment of a human or animal suggest might consist of:

* A single frame of a moment the instant I decide I want to capture it. It’s usually poorly framed, uninteresting shot from a photography perspective as it’s literally more instinct than thought at this moment. The goal of this frame is to have a record of the moment in case it passes before I have a chance to “get it right”. It’s the I-don’t-want-to-forget-this-spontaneous moment photo.
* A couple frames of the same moment where I’m in the process of moving and re-framing to get a more interesting photo. Each frame is usually progressively better, but there’s always a risk of camera shake ruining the shot since I’m usually moving and shooting at the same time.
* A couple frames when I’ve re-framed the photo as I want it to guard against blinks, shifting gazing or any other quick momentary issues that might otherwise ruin a photo.

The usual result is usually around 4-5 frames. I maintain that anyone who insists that multiple frames should not be necessary does not shoot very young kids often.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on some portrait orientation photos of the kids. My mother-in-law gave me a lovely photo collage frame last Christmas and I it’s beyond time to fill it. I’ve placed a step stool on the floor to keep the girls somewhat contained, but they only stay put for a moment. It’s a game: sit, smile, get up, giggle at Mommy’s reaction, run away, come back and repeat. Fine by me, games make for better expressions.

Here’s frames #1, #2 and #4 from a four frame block of Alexis. Frame #3 is nearly identical to #2, but contains motion blur not noticeable in the thumbnail.

alexisburst

Frame #1 is my least favorite. Her gaze is too high. #2 is the shot I was going for. Frame #4 with that smirk is a keeper from a mom perspective, but not the type of photo I was after for the collage. She’s also leaning forward slightly in #4 because she’s about to spring up from the stool and run off. (That’s probably the origin of the slightly blur to #3). Even in this relatively paused moment there’s still a lot of variation.

The initial shutter lag of my camera is 0.25 seconds, but drops to 0.11 for successive photos in contiguous mode. That’s not including the lag tag for my eyes to communicate what they’re seeing to my brain, and my brain to send the single for my finger to push the button. That may sound pedantic, but the human response time to visual stimuli is about a .25 second. All total, there’s a half second delay from identifying the “perfect moment” and having the shutter react. If I shot a single frame, I’d have just as high a probability of capturing frame #3 as #2.

Since I’m doing formal photos I don’t need to worry about capturing the spontaneous moment, but I still have that first, not quite framed right photo. Had it been the one with the best expression, I would have re-cropped it and kept it for my wall.

I think most of the critics of burst mode are favoring process over results. For a lot of photographers, the idea of shooting in continuous or boost mode is synonymous with “spray and pray”. Spray and pray refers to shooting first and frequently (spraying) without thought in the hopes of getting lucky (praying). Critics of spray and pray point out that it can be a crutch and does have a penalty associated with it. Each extra shutter action does create ware and tare on your camera (although the vast majority of us will never shoot enough for the extra ware and tare to matter.) Each file does take up additional space on your hard drive (if you’re like me and never delete anything ever that’s a significant issue). Finally, it costs you more time to go through each frame to find the best one. I’m guilty of this one too.

For us momtographers it’s not always about learning, or honing your skills. Sometimes you just want to have that beautiful photo for the wall, process be damned.

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