Tuesday, 24 March 2015

My Workflow... Digital Asset Management

The Beginning

I used to have a very simple workflow that most amateurs probably use; I simply copied the photos off the camera cards into a series of folders named for the activity I photographed. This reflected how I used to manage my film based photography. Stick the negatives into bags in a folder and organise the prints in boxes. This suited me fine in those days simply because the cost of film photography made you choose your images carefully. Any one activity would probably generate only four or five images.

Around 15 years ago I converted (almost) exclusively to digital photography. My image habits have changed from four or five images per activity to hundreds and sometimes thousands. Most professional photographers will shoot between 500 and 1500 images per activity. I don’t (generally) earn an income from my images, nor do I intend to but l follow professional practices and also generate huge numbers of images.

This was simple while I only had a few thousand images. Once I reached 100,000 (you'll be surprised how quickly this happens!) I had generated a nightmare for myself. It became very hard to find images I wanted (that I remember taking) for some particular purpose and keeping backups in sync became more and more problematic. I made the situation even worse by managing pictures on more than one computer.

It took nearly 10 years of digital photography I have nearly six terabytes of image files. I have three different camera RAW formats and have JPEGs ranging from lowly 320 by 160 from my first digital camera to the 21 megapixel images from my current camera of choice my Canon 5D mk II.

Modern photographic techniques such as High Dynamic Range where you take 3 to 20 (or more) images from a tripod with various bracketing, white balance and other settings to be merged into a single image worsen the problem.

The problem really came to my attention this year when I simply could not find an image that I needed. I knew it was there, but fruitlessly scanning through hundreds of folders left me drained and wasted a great many hours with no outcome at all.

I decided that I needed a management plan for my images so I started to seek what others had done, I read some blogs and personal web sites of photographers, I researched other online sources such as www.dpbestflow.org but they only scratched the surface. I was a member of the Australian Photographic Society. These organisations regularly distribute information and member only offers and include magazine subscriptions. One of the offers was for Peter Krogh’s “The DAM Book”. I had read the information on Peter’s website previously but wasn't all that convinced the book would help me, this time it came with a complimentary license to Phase One’s Expression Media 2 (formerly a Microsoft product).  This swayed me because I knew I would need some decent catalogue software. The available free products like Microsoft Pro Photo Tools and Bridge that came with Photoshop really didn't cut the mustard. Not to mention that Microsoft have recently dumped their image meta tagging, geo-tagging and image management software.

The book arrived and I read it from cover to cover – I skipped some parts such as the explanations of how computer storage works and the available options because, well, I do that for a living. I digested Peter’s suggestions and constructed a workflow that is part way between what I had before and the extremely rigorous practices suited to a professional who is earning their bread and butter from their photography. In generating my workflow I took into account that storage is extremely cheap and that external drives can be purchased for around $25 per terabyte at the time of writing. This has lead me to the point of deciding not to backup to digital offline media such as DVD-W or BluRay. With hard disk storage being extremely cheap and reliable and archival quality media still being expensive and an unknown quantity for lifespan I have built my model around multiple online and offline hard disk storage. Update 2011: Ironically I no longer use EM2, I outgrew it very quickly. Today I use Adobe Lightroom. The cataloguing and editing facilities are excellent. It is now rare for me to need to visit Photoshop because I can do it all in LR.

Will my workflow work for you? Only you can answer that question. All I can say is that it works for me and that I’m writing this article to make it available to other people.

My Workflow

I have tried to keep my workflow as simple as possible while still following the principals of good digital asset management. I have balanced being anal retentive about backups and keeping copies and the costs of time and money in doing so.

To construct my workflow I determined what my basic requirements would be:

Need to be able to create images in any format supported by my cameras both today and into the future
  • Need to be able to ensure my images are available in the future
  • Need to be able to view, edit and update my images in the Microsoft Windows platform
  • Need to be able to manage my images both in a master repository and on the move
  • Need to keep a backup of my images as they came from the camera before I work on them
  • Need to be able to find my images easily and quickly
  • Need to be able associate metadata with the images to interpret them for the future
  • Need to be able to surface my best work
  • Need to support post processing of my images
  • Need to support publication of my images
  • Need to support delivery of my images to other people

Your requirements may vary so you should start the process of determining your own workflow by writing down your requirements and thinking about how you will measure your success when you have “finished” creating your workflow.

Each of my requirements has dictated elements of my workflow. Some elements satisfy one requirement, some satisfy several at once. Let’s take them one at a time and interpret what they mean.

Need to be able to create images in any format supported by my cameras both today and into the future

Over my digital image taking experience I’ve had several cameras, initially they either had a proprietary version of an open standard (e.g. Casio had their own JPEG) or supported the open standard directly (e.g. Sony FD Mavica supported JPEG) or had both their own RAW format and JPEG support (e.g. Canon 300D, 40D and my current Canon 5D mk ii and my baby Olympus EPM-2).

Those of you who have been around computing for a while will be aware that file formats change over time. It can become challenging to handle and old format in a modern computing environment, particularly if that format is proprietary and requires tools from the manufacturer to work properly.

I don’t intend to enter the RAW vs. JPEG debate, but for my purposes I have changed my position – I used to shoot exclusively in JPEG because it was easy and open. Today I shoot in RAW because my photographic talents and my requirements for post processing have outgrown JPEG – I simply demand higher quality of my own work than I used to. The problem that this causes is RAW formats are proprietary and usually brand unique and often body unique.

Because I need to be able to use my images in the future and I choose to use a RAW format I don’t want to be locked into to any manufacturer or have to keep out-dated software on my modern computer that might impact its ability to work properly I choose to convert my images to the “open” image format known as Digital Negative (DNG) by Adobe. While this is still a proprietary format in that it is owned by a commercial organisation, Adobe has promoted it as a public archiving standard and has published the file content and format to allow other software vendors to utilise it without having to use Adobe’s software.

DNG conversion appears to be faithful, but to mitigate the risks involved in file format conversion I back up the camera RAW files prior to conversion. A secondary reason for retaining the original RAW files is to enable use of new software that appears from time to time that requires the original RAW format to work correctly. Examples would include updates to Canon’s RAW utilities to reduce noise reduction.

Need to be able to ensure my images are available in the future

This requirement both crosses over into the previous requirement and dictates that I need rigorous backup of the images. To ensure my images are available I have to consider:

  • Protect from software change
  • Not be locked into any one software vendor
  • Not be locked into any one operating system
  • Not be locked into any one camera platform
  • Protect from destruction by fire or other natural event
  • Protect from theft
  • Protect from hardware failure
  • Protect from software failure
  • Protect from myself (problem between brain and keyboard)
Use of DNG covers the first four points and my insurance and backup strategy covers the others. My backup strategy is a little anal (but does not go as far as some people do) and would work well in any enthusiast or studio setup where there is only one main photographer.

My desktop computer is my primary or master image store. I have it configured to use several sets of two drives together so that if either of them fails the data is intact on the other one and it is a simple matter of replacing the failed unit and the computer itself will copy the data to the new unit. This configuration is called Raid 1 (mirror) and is managed in hardware.

During ingestion the images are backed up, converted to DNG then copied to a working area.

Post ingestion I backup my images to an internal mirror set and to offline portable drives. Note if you’re not a computer geek you could purchase network based file storage or use an additional portable drive in place of the server. The point is to have your master and THREE backups to cover you from various problems that could occur. I'm not going to go into why three here as there are plenty of articles on the Internet you could read.

The portable drives are kept offsite. I have two that I use in rotation and perform a full backup weekly. At least one of the drives is always offsite.

Need to be able to manage my images both in a master repository and on the move

In its simplest form I want to be able to access my images at home or at work. I also travel around and often want my images to be with me. With nearly 6 terabytes of images this is not really practical – even with the affordable drive storage available today.

However, what is practical is the use of cataloguing software in which thumbnails are stored. This same cataloguing software has other uses that meet other requirements.

I currently use Adobe Lightroom but keep an eye on the improvements in other available software. Don’t get too wed to any one software tool, just make sure your choice has the ability to export and import in common formats and you’ll be ok with any choice.

Need to keep a backup of my images as they came from the camera before I work on them

This requirement is met by the backup strategy of keeping the virgins, both of the camera RAW and of the converted DNG. Keeping both means that I can edit my DNG files to my heart’s content and do not have to be concerned if I use an editor that is not parametric (in other words it changes the actual image file) because I always have the originals to go back to if I need to (and I have needed to from time to time).

Keeping all these backups would be onerous if done by hand, so I use Ingestamatic to manage this process (along with metadata). Ingestamatic is produced by Marc Rochkind http://basepath.com/site/detail-Ingestamatic.php

Need to be able to find my images easily and quickly

There are people working on being able to search for an image by describing the image or by giving the search tool a similar image. These tools are a way off. In the meantime text based searching is all we have. But where is the text in an image? That is where metadata comes in.

Metadata is the secret to finding anything when you have a lot of things. Metadata is defined as being data about data, in my case data about images, when, what and how they were taken. There are four sources of metadata that I care about in my quest to quickly find images and there is other metadata that is useful during image use.

  • Metadata recorded by the camera with the image – e.g. the camera records details such as the date and time, the camera settings, the file name, and sometimes the attachments used
  • Metadata recorded during the ingestion process by the computer – e.g. File dates and file location
  • Metadata recorded in bulk against a set of images by me – e.g. import of a GPS log to geotag, bulk metadata such as the location, the event or activity being recorded
  • Metadata recorded both individually and in small groups by me – e.g. metadata particular to the image such as people’s names, a description of the image, a rating (out of 5)
  • I use Light Room for these tasks. I keep a single catalogue for all my images. I have to keep my computing hardware up to date to manage this successfully. 

Need to be able associate metadata with the images to interpret them for the future

After searching, the next use of metadata for me is to interpret the image for the future. This usually means recording the names of the people and places in the image. It can also mean describing the image so that you know what it is later in life through text and keywords. As an example, if you take a series of abstract macro photos and want to refine or reproduce some element of them again in a few years’ time then you need to know that the source of the yellow abstract was in fact a daffodil.

Need to be able to surface my best work

Another (and final in my workflow) use for metadata is to make it simple to locate your best work on a particular subject when you need to. You might be searching for an image to enter into a competition or you might be fulfilling a family request for an image from an event or providing it to your model. In my case it also supports my web activities so that I never need to purchase stock images from someone else to go with my articles.

The ability to locate your best work from an image stream cuts down on the amount of time you spend on images in post processing. Why waste time on poor images that you may never use. If it comes about that you do use one you have not lost anything but not immediately post processing – just do it later.

To achieve both, I use a system of ratings – most cataloguing software supports ratings, whether it be numeric or by stars. For me:

Low quality image
The image is mediocre but useable
The image is good – the composition, lighting and subject are ok
The image is exceptional – the composition, lighting and subject are all great
The image is amazing – everything is just right – it could not be better

Why do I have the bulk of my images falling into two and three stars - am I that poor a photographer? No I'm not but I would be kidding myself if I said most of my shots were exceptional or amazing. Even top notch professionals have plenty of mediocre photographs. I will do detailed post processing putting possibly hours into perfecting a four or five image. I put in a few minutes on the others and nothing on the 1’s. Some of my images don’t even make it to 1’s. If during rating I think an image is so bad that it would never have a use then out it goes. Remember this is not gone – I still have the virgins hiding in the wings if I ever really need it back. It is probably worth nothing that the post processing could promote an image in the stars rating. If I think it is deserving after PP up it goes - it could also go down when I discover it isn't as sharp as I initially thought. There are some things you don't see in thumbnails!

Need to support post processing of my images

I choose to post process all the images that get two stars or better. I won’t spend much time on two’s, each three gets a little more individual attention and the fours and fives get much more.

I keep the working copy and manage all of the post processing on that copy – either through scripts or manually. The better the rating the more manual the post processing gets.

This is where my workflow departs from the really anal retentive ones; they will talk about derivative images and will take great pains to not modify the original working copy making only parametric changes. This means the original copy stays true and that the post production is a set of adjustments to be applied to the image and not an image in its own right. This work method does not suit my practices. It is rare for me to generate a true derivative that I would keep alongside the original – not just as an adjustment. When I do, that new image is manually copied into the virgin backup manually. I also cannot see the point of keeping the working copy true when you have at least two copies of it in the virgin backup anyway.

Need to support publication of my images

I publish a great many of my images on my website www.steamengine.com.au and this blog and on social media such as Google+.

My images are huge. I'm not going to put huge images up on the Internet – even if you want to, most upload image systems resize it on the way – all you do is waste your bandwidth.

To publish my images I resize them, (generally) strip the meta data, apply a watermark (I've had images stolen and used commercially – the watermark IS necessary) and save them as an 80-90 quality JPEG depending on the use. Remember when I said I don’t make derivative works? Ok, so I lied. Generally speaking I do NOT keep these derivatives which are why I don’t consider them to be derivative works.  Once they are uploaded to whatever gallery they are going into I consider that they’re no longer managed.

I've been publishing on the Internet and in magazines for many years and while I've had occasion to replace lost images from the website after a server corruption the workflow to create them is automated and quick. Having to do some rework also forces me to consider what I'm publishing – is it still current – do I have better images of the same object/activity/event? Could I do a better job post processing them again from the virgins now that my skills have improved? And of course… is it actually worth my time to republish? Some articles on my site are a given – yes, I’d always replace them and republish but the little news blurbs that are only useful for a couple of months (e.g. locomotive G42 returns to service after an overhaul) are simply not momentous enough to keep!

Need to support delivery of my images to other people

From time to time I deliver images to other people for various uses and these images I do want to keep a copy of. I normally deliver via Cloud services such as Google Drive. My cataloguing software needs to support to copying a selected set of images to the archive\delivery folder then uploading them. On the same folder I will drop a copy of a boiler plate license agreement that I've filled out for their use. 

Examples of the situations where I will give out images:

My model wants a copy – if I'm photographing a human I will always give them a copy of the images for their own use (e.g. their portfolio or on social networking sites) if they ask. This could be a professional model or just someone I've casually photographed.
I'm photographing an event run by a not for profit organisation (e.g. a preserved railway) and they ask for a copy of the images.
Someone sees me taking an image or images and wants a copy – e.g. the property owner or someone with a related interest.
To reduce the hate mail I'll get from professional photographers who charge for their images: I'm not reducing the work available to you by handing out images. Puffing Billy Railway for example, has a professional photographer who they engage for their major events but they simply could not afford to engage someone to work on the railway every single day capturing every little moment. They depend on people like me. They may never use my images or they may use them in a book supporting the railway. This is one of the ways I support them.

My workflow does not need to support

When you read about workflows you'll discover that a lot of them talk about archiving the working copy of an image. I don’t do this – I keep all my images online (both the master and the backups) and I expect that this will not change. Too many people fail to recognise that storage is becoming cheaper and more reliable over time. My first hard disk was 2MB and that was only about 25 years ago!

Why put yourself through hours of effort and pain to burn media and remove images from your master collection into a secondary collection with the risks inherent in doing so when you can simply buy more storage? Both the Windows and Macintosh platforms make it simple to move the entire system to larger storage when you need to.

If you do choose to do this then you have several considerations

Digital write once media (e.g. DVD and BluRay) have an unknown life span – even the archival quality ones may only last a few years. They can claim anything they like, but the extent of their warranty remedy is to give you another disc if they’re still in business when you make your claim. But what about your images – they’re gone!
Moving files from one location to another is dangerous. All sorts of failures in hardware and sometimes even those found between your brain and your fingers can cause you to lose the files or store them some place you would not expect to find them. This means you need a tool to verify that the move is complete. They usually work by doing a copy, verify then delete.

Copyright Support

I don’t require support in the workflow for Copyright. In Australia, all works are automatically copyright to the author. You do not need to register them. It is advisable to place a copyright notice and use instructions in the metadata or within a watermark on the image when publishing – this is covered during my publishing. I use and recommend Creative Commons license tailored for your needs. If you live in a country where it is advisable to register your images to ensure that you do hold the copyright then you should include this step in your workflow.


In my main photo workflow computer I have two RAID 1 (Mirror) arrays. I have three arrays
Array 1: 2TB Windows and non photographic stuff and all software
Array 2: 6TB Main photography working store
Array 3: 6TB Main photography in machine back up
Portable Drive 1: 6TB Offsite backup
Portable Drive 2: 6TB Offsite backup

I keep one off site away from my workflow computer and the other is connected. At the end of every major session I backup my catalogue using LR and my images using Microsoft SyncToy to both the internal backup and the external backup drive. Six monthly I format and do a complete copy. Roughly once a month I swap the external drives - ensuring the offsite copy is always reasonably up to date. If I do a big editing session or work on images particularly important to me I will swap the drives sooner. When I swap I take the onsite drive off site and bring the other one back so I am never in a situation where all copies of my images are in the same place. As my catalogue grows I ensure the storage keeps pace. Storage is cheap. At approximately AU$25/TB you can afford to have plenty.

When in the field on an extended trip I use a laptop and pair of USB 2 portable drives for the backups. The primary copy is on the laptop and this is synced to both of the portable drives. If I need to ensure a copy is safe I will send it home.

Note that a lot of people hit the fashionable and sometimes limitless cloud backup solutions. I believe these are fine for documents and the like and I use a service for that. However, for high volume I suggest you read the fine print. You can certainly store an enormous amount on a lot of cloud services but there are three common issues that I've seen discussed:
  1. It can be slow to establish a backup of a large existing library
  2. The safety of your backup is only as good as the business model of the company you use - what will you do if they go broke?
  3. Often (always?) to get a large restore you need to have the company create and ship media or drives to you. They usually (always?) charge quite a fee for this activity.


I use a number of tools in my workflow. I used to have quite the collection but I've cut this down over recent years.

  1. Lightroom (via Adobe Creative Cloud)
  2. PhotoshopCC (via Adobe Creative Cloud)
  3. Adobe Camera Raw
  4. Adobe DNG Converter
  5. Spyder Monitor Calibration
  6. Ingestamatic
  7. NIK Photo Tools Collection
I'm always open to new tools and processes and download tons of them to try but I always seem to come back to my favourites. You'll hear people suggest that there are better raw engines than Adobe blah blah blah. The truth is I want a seamless experience where the tools simply work. I don't want to spend time and disk space transferring giant image files between tools and avoid it wherever I can.

Folder Structure

My structure is really simple

--- YYYY
      --- yyyyddmm shoot-name
Each shoot has its own folder. These folders are created by Ingestamatic and used by LR for its photo store (I synchronise rather than Import).

Backup - same as working

--- social - files for social media go here 
--- printing - large files to be sent to my print house go here
--- share - large files to be sent to my model go here

Make Your Own Path

Please don’t implement your workflow based on my say so – it works fine for me, or at least it does today. I'm sure I'll change it again. Change is constant. Change is one of the reasons I wrote this document – while it will help other people to make choices, it also helps me to remember why I made particular choices to help me evaluate if a change to my workflow will be beneficial.

If you follow my workflow and lose images then all you will get from me is sympathy! Don’t come chasing me because you followed my practices verbatim without first choosing if they meet your needs. When you implement a workflow make it yours. Put your own stamp on it.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Testing Depth of Field on a Lens (Understanding DOF)

When I first acquired my dedicated macro lens I wanted some idea of what it could do. I picked a simple subject which had some depth to it to experiment with the different apertures. The purpose was to learn what the lens could do, how its DOF improved as the aperture opened up and what happened to the colour and other characteristics such as sharpness changes.

I chose an overcast windless day for this series so the light would not change too much during the exposures and the subject flower would not move around in the frame. I placed my camera on a tripod, composed and focused then used aperture priority (Av) and took one shot for each available aperture the lens offered.

I strongly encourage you to do the same experiment with each of your lenses so that you can see how they behave with your camera. Even if you have a point and shoot this is worth doing. You will learn the capabilities of your equipment and can consider its advantages and disadvantages at various settings on the images you are composing.

Testing a lens when purchasing
When I purchase a new lens I will do this within a day or so as most retailers will swap a bad one if you get it back to them quickly enough. With a second hand lens I'm a bit lazier but will do an abridged version just to see if I'm willing to pay for the lens. If you're buying second hand from a photographer they will understand and allow you do to this.

This series of images shows the lens from f/5.6 (large aperture, limited DOF) right up to f/40 (tiny aperture, deep DOF).


Monday, 23 February 2015

Going smaller... downsizing without losing features and quality

If you're getting fed up with the weight and size of your big DSLR and are thinking of going to something lighter and smaller with similar capabilities then read on...

I normally don't discuss the brand of gear that I use because I really do believe it does not matter. But today, this time I'm going to talk about it. I use a Canon 5d with a selection of L and non L lenses. I total I have more than 25kg worth of body and glass. As I get older I carry less and less - granted some of it like the fish eye and the macro lenses are special purpose and don't always come out to play but my staple lenses that I use the most weigh 10kg between them.

Canon 5d from the canon.com.au website

For some time I've been watching the development of mirrorless and micro 4/3 format machines and more recently the mirrorless full frame interchangeable lens cameras and I reckon the days of DSLR for the average consumer, prosumer, very serious amateur and even professionals are numbered.

I'm used to the stunning quality I get from the 5d, I'm used to its versatility and capabilities, I've been in this brand stable for so long that I know it's controls with my eyes shut - right from my film days. Most importantly I know what I can do with the machine and how it meshes with my own level of talent and needs. They've never really changed the control format.

I love photography, I'm not involved in any one genre and play in many including street, urbex, theatre and performing arts, trains, sports, motorcycles, landscape, seascape - you name it I've probably photographed it. Much of my photography has two things in common - the need to handle low light and the need to handle movement.

I've reached a juncture - do I keep what I've got or head down a new smaller, lighter path? I've examined this question every six months or so for the last few years. Until this year the answer has been a resounding stick with the home team... until this year, there are some offerings that really muddy the waters for me and the decision is no longer obvious. I'm writing this blog because I've been involved in some very good discussion on the topic on g+ (you know, the ghost town where there aren't any users - oh shut up and try it - you'll find out) and I think it is worth gathering those thoughts here because if I'm thinking it then plenty of others are too.

The big boys have lost the plot

I really think the big boys namely Canon and Nikon have lost the plot. Every model is bigger and heavier than the one before it. This is fine in the studio pro market where their top end models now equal or even better a number of the medium format machines. But for those of us who don't live in a studio, it means carrying more and more weight around with us.

When you purely review their specifications you dive into a world of numbers and statistics, but what does it really all mean? It's like shopping for insurance, telephony or electricity - they're all different and all incomparable for one reason or another - yet we have to choose. Surely brand loyalty isn't the way to do it.

First up, I'm only going to talk about two other brands in this particular blog because imho they are the front runners at the time of writing. I have played with quite a few and while each has its merits none have really excited me. The brands I'm going to talk about are Olympus and Sony. The two organisations are tightly intertwined anyway. Why them? Because of their current offerings.

Olympus OM-D EM1

Olympus OM-D EM1 from the olympus.com.au website

When Olympus brought out the OM-D EM5 I was in lust with it, but I held off, I didn't buy it. It had lots of great features but I'm used to some serious resolution and I really like full frame - I'm a 35mm boy from way back and I have trouble adjusting to the crop sensor. Now that the OM-D EM1 is out I'm in lust again. It is a very good camera except it is only 16 mega pixels and is Micro 4/3 format. This shouldn't rule it out for me and I'm going to try one.

The lens collection for these machines is enormous and is well supported by third party manufacturers such as Sigma, Tamron, Samyang and many more. You will not go wanting for lenses. They range from cheap to very expensive and from very light to quite hefty. The very cheap lenses are generally of good and reasonable quality with the more expensive ones being somewhat heavier and of amazing optical quality.

Olympus are financially incompetent and had to be recently bailed out by Sony but as friend +Ananda Sim says they are a photographer's company, they're marketing is brilliant and they've attracted a set of followers so dedicated and willing to say it that they're almost a cult. Their current marketing tag of #olympusinspired  has thousands of photographers posting to all the social networks and a search reveals some amazing work. There is a lot of good news for Olympus in that it is good for people who know their stuff, but is also very good for people who have no idea. This is the single biggest selling point in this brand for the average person - you can have the fun and usefulness of interchangeable lenses but not need to know what you're doing.

A lot of people will tell you that the Olympus struggles in low light and dark, and it's true that for focus it's a shocker but the outcomes are amazing. Features like a progressive live view that shows you how the photo is coming together as the exposure progresses is  simply priceless. This feature first turned up in the EM5 and is present in the flagship EM1. It's range of ISO is not brilliant and for some of what I do, I really do need some serious sensitivity. When you are shooting the actors in a play while they're in motion on stage under stage lighting conditions you can't do a long exposure. That said I've seen perfectly acceptable results on the photo community groups I've taken into plays and they've used the EM5 or EM1. I do see from their faces that they're working hard for the outcome and most of the time they do use a tripod. Ananda is often an exception to this but I reckon he's got the hands of a rock because his shots are lovely and usually hand held.

Sony A7

Sony A7 from the sony.com website

I've been a player with Sony for ages, going right back to my second, and third digital cameras the FD-83 and the FD-93. Their sensors have always been good in the dark and they've always been top of the pack imho in the small camera market. Now they're in the full frame mirrorless with the A7R and this is a seriously attractive package.

Sony I think have taken a couple of interesting paths, they've evolved from the traditional DSLR shape and incorporated a lot of design features of the more design focussed brands such as Leica. This yields a fairly attractive set of machines, they're also smaller than the traditional DSLR. The lenses are pretty hefty but still lighter than the comparison from my home brand. The other interesting path is that they seem to have ignored the all rounder and taken a new tack (which you could argue is all about money - but I think is about technology and space) - you can have your low light capabilities, you can have your really fast auto focus, you can have your huge megapixels, BUT you can't have them together. Sony seem to have the idea that like you would choose a set of lenses to suit the task you were going to undertake you'd also choose form your set of bodies for the one with the most capabilities. This means that at the moment I probably need at least two of the A7 series bodies to cover the different situations I would find myself in which means this outcome is expensive, but it's comparable with the current 5d pricing and I'd have two cameras for that money not one - meaning I don't need to buy a backup body that spends most of it's time asleep in the bag too.

As good mate +Peter Sherriff says you need to buy into the roadmap with the A7 series because the E mount is very new and there are not a lot of lenses available at this time but that is quickly changing and there are signs of offerings from third parties if they've not already started to materialise as I write this.

What others are doing and thinking

Where I've paraphrased I've used normal text, where I've quoted I've used italics

+Margaret Wong has upgraded from the OM-D EM5 to the EM1 and isn't looking back. She's enjoying the new hardware and is continuing to work with the lens collection she has.

+Jason Baker who uses Canon and has a Olympus is leaning towards Sony for the next upgrade.

+Peter Lavender suggests staying where I am as he has difficulties getting good bokeh from the Olympus.

+Ananda Sim says Olympus is a photographer's company. They will sacrifice profits, choose unpopular paths to innovate, and if they survive each year their product becomes sweeter. Sony is an all guns blazing company using shock and awe approaches. They have cheap gear as well as expensive gear and different models competing with each other from the same stable just because they can. So far due to the large size of the Sony empire the money has not run out. I perceive that they care for the big wallet customer, and that's not where I am.

The E-M1 is full featured and has a stable of of lenses that bridge cheaper to quite expensive. Primes would be good if they work with your style. As a general purpose option, it's well placed. It has its constraints and not all of them the obvious ones that trolls pick on.

Sony, being what they are have more than one pot cooking. The A7s has the high ISO. The A7ii has an early design IBIS. The A7r has the sheer resolution (but with Canon upping the ante, I expect the key Sony sensor business is already in overdrive for the Mark2). The A6000 actually focusses fast. There is not one pot but several pots tuned to different aspects.

And lastly, your trusty Canon 5D2 keeps on doing great at sports AF, tele shots, you know the grip, ergonomics, the AF response, the OVF and asset value well. the body and lenses don't need any new money.

With regard the cameras, it's reconciliation of expectations and negotiation with oneself to accept a particular compromise. And they have to be compromise designs like any engineering thing. As a designer you have to take a punt and damn the complaints by the customers who think they know otherwise.

The glory of the A7 series is a full frame sensor (formerly expensive) in a thin, small body with mass, inertia. You have to contend as a designer with a larger mechanism causing higher noise level, shutter shock and the IBIS has to be heaps more powerful to manage the same results as a Micro Four Thirds sensor. Optics is physics you have to find some way to deliver brigĥt f/no, good optics, image circle, compatible AF performance - all not changed from the DSLR and yet still keep result levels with CDAF reduce size / weight. Some customers even expect you to make a 70-200 f/2.8 L sharper at half a weight and price. 

With so many conflicting design parameters, it is age old and classic solution to have several biased designs instead of one integrated design until the tech gets it rigĥt.

The Micro Four Thirds way is to first make the sensor one quarter smaller, therefore all the constraints become much less painful and evolve the sensor over time to lift it's performance.

+Shari Mattox - Sherriff is using the Sony A7R and has come from the same 5d model I have and is using an A7R... and highly recommend it. Converting from a 5D myself for basically the same reason as you mentioned, it is much lighter and results are outstanding. I haven't let go of my 5D yet and use an adaptor so I can still use my Canon lenses. It's not ideal but until I get the Sony lenses I want...gradually, it works just fine. Good luck... It sux getting old ;-).

Richard Gay who is an EP-M2 user (the little brother of the OM-D EM1) notes that the mirrorless lenses are much lighter than those for the big DSLR.

+Peter Sherriff As most people that know me are aware I'm a long time Sony user having migrated to Sony DSLRs from my trusty Minolta cameras after Sony bought the business and I made the switch to Sony Mirrorless with the NEX-7 after my neck and back started giving me some serious problems. I'm currently using the a7R and whilst it's not the answer to everyone's prayers when it comes to small, light equipment it certainly has plenty of things going for it.

I'll start with the negatives - there's no getting away from what is currently a fairly short list of lenses for the a7 range. There are some truly fantastic lenses out there, especially when thinking of the size and weight of them in conjunction with the body but to a certain extent you're buying into a roadmap at the moment. Many users, myself included, are using one of many adaptors out there to use lenses with different mounts to plug the gap in the meantime. The a7R doesn't have the quickest autofocus out there, it can play a bit of hunt and peck sometimes to find the right spot. The high pixel count also means that if you're viewing at 1:1 you'll often find that images look a little out of focus, this is true for both images taken using autofocus and manual focus. More than any other camera I've owned the a7R highlights even the slightest of movement in the camera when taking your shot.

From here I'll switch to the positives and I'll start with image quality - it's just fantastic. Assuming you covered off the focus and stability side of things then the image quality really is superb, detail is amazing and the colours are just beautiful. The sensor technology in the Sony a7 range is absolutely at the top of the market at the moment - there's a reason several other manufacturers are using Sony sensors for their cameras and if/when you look at the higher quality Medium Format sensors then Sony pretty much have that sewn up.

Far from seeing Sony's range as being "shock and awe" I see the top end of their mirrorless range (a6000 and a7 range) as more of an acknowledgement that today's sensor technology is still something of a compromise and that different styles of photography have different requirements. To that end I view the a7R as being the best camera of its ilk for situations where you have decent lighting, good stability and the time to check your focus accuracy - landscape images for example. The a7S is staggering, and I do mean staggering, in what it can achieve in low light and if dingy clubs are your thing it's got to be on your shortlist. The a7 and a7ii are more all-rounders with something to offer everyone, the a6000 slotting into the spot where cropped sensor with very fast autofocus is beneficial - sports photography for example.

Ultimately, whilst I'd be happy recommending the Sony cameras to anyone prepared to listen to me, cameras are very personal things and what suits one person may not suit another. I am bought into the Sony roadmap for both lenses but also what I see as a bright future for their developments in sensor technology - more than any other camera company I see them pushing the boundaries of what's possible and for that I'm happy to give them my money.

+Christopher Cohen reminds me that feel is as important as specifications and trying them is critical - Christoher uses one of the other body brands I had considered but don't think would suit me but is one you might be interested in from Fujifilm and should be considered alongside the EM-1 and A7. He turns out beautiful images and knows his machine well. If you're looking at that one then he's a good source of information.

+Alan Warren I've got the A7S and it's perfect for me, everything I want in a camera. The A7ii would be my next choice (because IBIS) and I've never been a fan of the A7R due to the far higher resolution leading to less sensitivity in low light. If you don't want the higher resolution of the A7R or the greater dynamic range of the A7S the I think the A7ii is the way to go.

+Jason Boyes I was pretty focused towards the Sony A7r I must say, even with its limitations; and didn't even consider the rest of the A7 stable.

Since reading Peter Sheriff's reply this has changed. After having checked out the rest of the Sony A7 range, as well as a few Youtube clips I think I now have more questions than ever.

One has 5 axle stabilization and fast hybrid autofocus allowing for rapid accurate subject tracking (A7II). Is this a good all-rounder for all conditions?

Then you have the acclaimed full framed 36.4 megapixel beast in the A7r. As good as the reviews and images are, it does suffer in a few areas as we've heard.     

Then of course, there's the A7s. Having watched a few youtube clips on this camera, it's low light capabilities are beyond staggering...and I do mean beyond!
This thing is basically a pair of night vision goggles made into a camera, don't believe me, check a few of them out for yourselves lol.
But, for all this night-time goodness, what is this camera like as an allrounder I wonder?

+Jessica Hendelman and I had an ad hoc discussion on her switch from the Nikon stable to the Sony and she reinforced my thinking that Sony expect their users with wide ranging needs to actually purchase two bodies. She picked up the A7R and the A7ii for their different capabilities and a number of the Sony lenses and finds she gets all of her gear into less space with less weight and is enjoying the outcomes in her photography.

Where to from here?

Fortunately I know quite a few people involved in my photography circles that have the hardware I'm interested in and being able to go out on a play date to try the hardware is pretty easy to arrange, even better that they'll be right there with me so I don't have to learn the platform to achieve a reasonable review outcome. Stay tuned to see if I stay with the safe and comfortable or go out on a limb sell all my gear and go down a new path, I do not know the answer at this point. It may be that the results of my research, discussion both online and in person and playing with the equipment leads me to the point where I am today. I'm ok with that, for now. There hasn't been any significant break through in photography for many years, oh sure there are big changes inside the existing spectrum but there is no new quantum leap.

I do note that I'm not in a hurry and if the outcome of these discussions and playing with machines is to wait, I'm ok with that. Right now I have a good all rounder which suits my every need except weight which is getting tedious on the longer walks. Last night I walked with the 5d, a Samyang fish, Canon's 24-105L, and an 85mm prime. Great combo for what I was doing, but that's a pile of kilos which by the end of the night despite the awesome wide padded strap of the Think Tank Retrospective 7 bag I still had a sore shoulder and back. I'm also finding after years of use that the Black Rapid strap I use is very hard on gear (knocks) and a wrist strap or chest mount would be much better for the machine but the 5d is so heavy I don't think that's manageable (I know some people who do it, but they are at least ten years younger than me).

Probably the most important thing whether you love your current machine or not is to keep an eye on the market because you simply don't know what other hardware is capable of if you never try. I agree with Ananda that it's all about compromise and conflicting needs and capabilities.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Street Photography - As a bit of a journey

They Stride Among Us Like Giants

This is how many people feel about street photography, they see some images they like that carry a moment in the street, perhaps that perfect moment and they think I wish I could do that. They see the famous photographer as a giant in the genre and that their work is impossible to better and that since everything has already been done there is no point in having a go.

The opposite is actually the truth, you are the giant, you are the one that is interested. Don't be put off because other people are making grand images - get out there and join them.

The hardest part about street is balls. To get up close to someone and take their photo you need balls of steel, well more correctly you  need some confidence in yourself and your abilities and have enough nous to get through if challenged by the subject.

The Hardest Part About Street is Balls

You are going to be photographing people in the street and yes this does take some confidence to do it up close. Doing it up close being within half a metre of your subject is quite challenging. You may not have that now but it will come as long as you challenge yourself. In the mean time try being what I call a sniper. I move back and forth depending on the day and how I'm feeling about myself.

Be A Sniper

This image is a good example of being a sniper, safely ensconced inside the visitors centre at Federation Square I was talking to mates and watching out through the windows and doors for interesting people. I saw these two, they were engrossed in conversation, I figured they'd be good subjects so from about 10 metres away I focussed and set up the shot, then she said something that surprised him - his face opened and he leaned away and I got it. Luck. Pure luck. Sniping can work pretty well, but you never get the chance of engaging your subject because they don't even know you're there unless they spot the image later on social media. Oh and be ready for that, it does happen from time to time.

When you're sniping use a zoom lens, I tend to use a 24-105 f/4 which lets me get fairly close or be fairly far back and still compose an interesting frame. f/4 gets me good sharpness and depth of field gives an idea of the background while retaining all the features of the person.

Festivals and celebrations such as big public events like Australia Day tend to give you thousands of happy people who don't mind having their photo taken. Parades can also be a good place to practice.

What If You Get Caught?

It's not really If, but When you get caught. You will. Sooner or later. In this image the young lady was putting on the silly Australia Day hat she'd just bought. I was quite close to this one and as I focussed on her she noticed the lens. I smiled at her and putting it simply she smiled back and I took her picture. Try to convey confidence and happiness. Be open and honest - don't be creepy and you and your subject will probably have a pleasant experience.

I'm not going to tell you that I've never had an unpleasant experience, because I have. Sometimes, like in this image where I photographed these two girls who were in turn being photographed I was using a fish-eye lens which meant I was actually only about 12cm from the nearest girl in this shot. She was quite surprised when she realised I was there and I really was invading her personal space. She wasn't all that upset and we went our separate ways amicably enough but it did teach me that the fish eye is not so hot for close up street.

Shoot From The Hip

That's not to say don't use your fishie, if you want to use the technique of shooting from the hip so you're less obvious then the fishie is the way to go and crop later as it includes everything. You can zone focus to say 2 metres, set your aperture to "don't care" f/8 and set a shutter speed (or rely on aperture priority) that will stop motion then just wander around camera on hip shooting what seems interesting. It's a bit hit and miss but you will get some shots you can work with in post to make good.

What About a Really Unpleasant Experience?

Sometimes you'll come across someone officious or angry about you taking their photograph. Especially people in uniform. They'll yell at you. They may threaten you. They'll tell you it's illegal (it's not) and you're violating their privacy (you aren't). So what do you do? Do you stand there and debate the issues with them? No way. Get out of there, fast. Run if you have to. Don't wait around to find out if that heavy response is all bluster or if they'll back it up physically, just go. Now. Go.

I've been shooting street for about four years, most seriously in the last couple where I've been using small prime lenses which mean I need to get fairly close.

Only once in all that time have I felt unsafe, I photographed an individual waiting on a tram stop. Nothing was said until we both got onto the same tram when she let fly at me. Trapped I just had to put up with it until the next stop where I alighted. I didn't argue, I did not try and debate I just let her rant. I'm careful to never photograph drunks or druggies. Let those sleeping dogs lie.

Is Street Photography Legal?

In the state of Victoria, Australia, yes it is, you can photograph anyone who is in public who has a reasonable expectation of being seen. Someone who is walking down the street would reasonably expect to  be seen and they're fair game. Someone hiding behind a bush with their lover would not. Leave them alone. Common sense plays a big part, while it is legal in this state to photograph children for example it's pretty creepy to hang around a playground and you will find yourself questioned sooner or later. Shoot them doing something fun and you'll be ignored.

Likewise down at the beach, it's perfectly legal to photograph the girl with her boobs out but you can
expect her and bystanders to be angry about it. I'd suggest you don't do it. I did see on a popular TV program Bondi Rescue where a lifesaver confiscated and cut up the memory cards of a tourist photographer. This was actually illegal and the lifeguard could have been charged. Know your rights but at the same time keep it reasonable. Shooting a general beach shot will rarely get you into trouble but when you make someone uncomfortable they are likely to react.

If someone shakes their head or says no when they see you, then respect that and don't shoot them. If you already have would you delete? Well, I would not, I'd just move away. In this image there were a bunch of uni girls having a wearing white party, I chatted with them and they were happy, well except one - can you guess which one? She called me a creep. I just moved on.

Does a person own the copyright of their own image i.e. their face - no they don't, if you make a photograph of a person you own that image.

Property rights can be interesting, make sure you know that you are photographing on public land, the street corner outside a shopping centre might not actually be public. Be sure. Be safe.

Finally The Journey

The title of this article describes it as "a bit of a journey" and this is exactly how I feel about street photography. Start out simple, long lens or zoom lens and snipe from the side lines 10 or more metres away. Make the people on the street a part of your scene. The land/city scape will be the main subject with the people in supporting roles. This is how most tourists shoot. They're capturing the feeling of the street, the location and it's people.

As you feel more confident start to get a bit closer. Start being more obvious. Most people don't seem to mind having their photo taken. Once you've reached this point swap to a prime, perhaps 85mm at first and get in a bit closer, work from 5 metres away. Progress down to a 50mm or 30mm prime and get in closer. At this point you're down to between 1 metre and 3 metres and the people have become your scene with the surrounding land/city scape taking a supporting role. Keep your f number down the wide open end f/2.8, f/3.5, f/4 - I don't tend to go above that unless I've got a good reason.

Take on a theme or project - mine is #oblivious I shoot people who are unaware of their surroundings, perhaps they're on the phone, reading a book, in conversation or whatever. I capture them and add them to a progressive album on social media shared with that hash tag. Please don't overdo the hash tags on your posts, that's like screaming at someone "look at me I'm desperate".

Sometimes in my project I come across the occasional person who isn't as oblivious as I thought and they catch you, they don't always look all that happy about it but you can't please everyone. Even a smile didn't unfreeze this one but nothing was said to me although I'm betting whatever she was posting on the phone changed after she saw me. I suppose my last piece of advice about being obvious is it's fine to hang around in the one area for the duration, the people get to see you and they come to relax then you'll get better shots. You don't want posed, you want candid and for that to happen they either need to not realise you're there or they need to be comfortable with your presence. Once you're there long enough they probably even start to ignore you.

What Makes A Good Street Image

Dah! One with people as the predominant subject. Look for the unusual. Look for the everyday. It doesn't really matter, basically you are making a portrait, either close or distant doesn't really matter. You're the artist, go make yourself happy, who cares what critics think?

I'd love to know what you think about Street and about this blog. Comment either her or find me on g+ https://plus.google.com/+PaulPavlinovich

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Fireworks - Capture the entire show with black glass (neutral density filter)Image

Being somewhat sick of photographing fireworks I thought I'd try something new. I wanted to try and capture the entire show in a single exposure without ending up with a blown out mess.

This technique obviously has a long way to go before its useful with a quality outcome, but for a start I'm pretty happy given the in camera shot was actually black with dark warning on nearly every pixel.

To achieve this result I took two images through the black glass (16 stop neutral density Hitech Firecrest), one for the sky and background which was a ten minute exposure and the second which was 4m52s which was the duration of the show.

Image 1: Ten minute exposure to capture background and sky, iso 400 f/10 24mm

Image 2: 4m52s exposure to capture the fireworks, iso 200, f/4

I blended the two images together manually in photoshop using a layer mask and various sized brushes from large to get the bulk of the fireworks to 1 and 2 pixel brushes pixel peeping to get the light trails emanating from the main blasts. I could not use any kind of automated blending because of the bright noise pixels in the underexposed fireworks shot.

I then had a fight with noise and used a combination of the denoise filter in PS, NIK Define2 and finally the colour noise reduction in LR.

Image 3: Blended denoised outcome shot.

I'm fairly happy with the outcome as a first try - obviously much to learn, I think next time I might leave the exposure running so the same exposure captures the fireworks and the background. I'd need to get further away from people though as everyone popped on a torch or bright phone light the moment the fireworks ended.

In hindsight there are a few things I should have done differently on the both captures

  • Should have used the lowest ISO the camera can do - ISO 50 to reduce noise.
  • Should have used a brighter lens - I would still do the background at f/10 for the depth of field, but the fireworks could have been done at f/1.4 using my brightest lens which would have helped a lot in reduction of noise.
  • I ended up cropping the image so did not need to go so wide - had I gone with 50mm instead of 24mm I would have had a much sharper brighter outcome as that lens is f/1.4 wide open; and
  • Learn layer blending to improve the outcome - the fireworks - especially at the top plume are quite blurry in the final outcome but they were not like that in the original - this is simply my lack of skill (and probably patience) in my layer blending. The denoising robbed some of the detail too.
  • I could try taking the firework image and making the non fireworks areas transparent then automatically blending for brightness - that might help. In fact I think I'll try that.
Image 4: A different background and a different layer blending method (described below)

Here is another version, I took the background as an image I did about 20 minutes earlier so the sky was brighter and instead of hand painting in the fireworks, I made most of the fireworks transparent by brushing away the content using smaller and smaller brushes as I pixel peeped around the fireworks. In this one I didn't have the denoise issues around the fireworks so they're nice and crisp however, they are not as dramatic because of the brighter sky. I think I prefer this outcome as the fireworks become more a part of the whole composition. I don't doubt I will keep playing with these ideas to make a technique for this.