Basic Edits

In this section we will cover the basic tools you will use to process your image.

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Workflow

Workflow describes the overall processes you use between retrieving the image from your camera to your finished image. It includes:

  • camera setup and image capture (in particular whether you capture in RAW or JPEG or both
  • file management including storage strategies and the importance of backup
  • indexing and cataloging (so you can easily find your beautiful images again in your ever-growing image collection)
  • basic editing
  • advanced editing
  • display including printing and mounting, web galleries etc. (though I probably will not be going into these areas in this post-processing training site)
  • Backing up your images (OK I know I mentioned this earlier… it is important and usually neglected. You’ll only value it after your disk drive dies. Look at this post)

How you set up your workflow is a very personal thing, but if you do it right your work will be more efficient and it will save you hours and hours of time and frustration. The links below will discuss some of these aspects in greater detail.

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WCC competition entries

The rules about what is allowed in your competition entries can be tricky, so this is an attempt to clarify what is and isn’t allowed, and is provided as a guide. The full details are available in the WCC by-laws available on the main club website.

Content

Acquired content

Generally, use of acquired content is not allowed. You should use your own images for textures, skies etc. However, this rule may be explicitly overridden by a specific subject definition. Make sure you read the subject definitions thoroughly.

With the power of sophisticated software at your disposal, it is easy to add elements to your images that you have not personally created. For example you might add a texture over your image that you have bought (or got free) in a suite of textures made by someone else. You might want to replace that flat grey sky with something more dramatic, and have a library of skies made by other people available to choose from. How much of such acquired content is allowed in your entries depends on which category you are entering.

Note that you must have legal right to use any acquired content. For example, purchasing a set of textures allows you to use them, but creating a texture overlay from, say, an image of a rusty steel panel that you found on the web, is most likely not allowed, as you do not have copyright or legal permission to use that other person’s image.

Whose art work is this?

Being a camera club, the main content of your entries should be your own photographic work. Problems may arise if the photographic subject is “someone else’s art”. A straightforward image of, say, a street-art painting might be disqualified. However if the photographer has added their own artistic content or interpretation then this may be acceptable as an entry. Acceptable images based on this street art example may include:

  • An image with the street-artist at work, where the image is more of the artist than of the artwork per se.
  • An image depicting the interaction of spectators with the art work
  • Using the street art image as part of a composite image, where that image supports a visual narrative created by the photographer
This image incorporates some artwork from the National Gallery of Victoria collection in their Federation Square gallery. It is more than a simple reproduction of someone else’s art. I lined up the sculpture *Circe by Bertram Mac Kennal) with an elaborately framed painting on the wall behind, and asked a gallery visitor to pose in interaction with the sculpture, effectively creating a scene quite different from the vision of the original artists back in the 19th century.

Computer Generated Art

Computer generated imagery can be very creative. Examples might include digital images that you paint using packages like Photoshop or Krita, or images generated by computers using algorithms like fractals. There are a couple of elaborate examples below, but you might, for example, use a fantasy creature as part of, say, a composite constructed faerie/mystical kingdom sort of image. These sorts of images are non-photographic in origin, so not allowed as “predominant content” but may be OK if acquired content is allowed, as minor element in your composition.

Strokes, borders and blockouts

For digital images that contain a lot of black at the borders, it is not uncommon for the authors to add a stroke to define the edge so when it is projected, the audience can see where the image ends against the remainder of the screen (black). This is computer generated material, but is generally uncontentious. A couple of examples are shown below.

Images are projected onto a black screen. A thin stroke (here a 1 pixel wide grey line) has been added to the edge of the image so the viewer can tell where the image ends against the black background.
Image by Tim Keane. Here an electric blue border defines the image area against the black screen, as well as helping tie together the 3 separate variations on the peg.

More elaborate borders are sometimes used, for example to give an olde-worlde appearance, as illustrated below.

Image by Tim Keane. Here the added border is computer generated, but this sort of border seems to be acceptable in serious external competition.

If you make an image in multiple panels – for example a triptych, there is necessarily going to be some computer generated pixels in borders and white space between the panels.

This triptych contains cpmputer generated pixels – in this case the white space around the 3 panels. I’ve also made it a little more elaborate by using a drop-shadow to give depth. Because it is clear that the drop shadow is part of the layout and clearly is not part of the photographic images, I think this is OK.

Not allowed???

Here are some example images with problematic content.

The edited image below (image compare, slide the middle divider to see the before and after) is more challenging. The background was hidden by painting over with black (computer generated) pixels. But is the effect distinguishable from what you would get by masking the area and dropping the exposure by, say, 4 stops or more?

Slide the spearator to se original/edited. The black to the right of the leaf is computer generated black fill. Again, this is probably not a major issue in terms of “computer generated” art.

Another example …

This image is a photograph of a wall of street art in AC/DC Lane in Melbourne. Interesting paintings, but photographically this is a record of someone else’s art so it would not rate well in competition.

Text??

Text may be an issue. Text may be part of something you photographed, which causes no issues other than text tends to grab the eye and take the eye away from the subject. Think, for example of a busy street scene. It is quite likely there will be text there in signs, hoardings and the like, or maybe text on someone’s t-shirt. There is some text in the wall of street art in the example above, for example.

Text added during computer editing is by definition “computer generated content” (as defined in the WCC By-Laws as at January 2023), and as it draws the eye of a typical viewer would also be considered predominant content and not allowed in most of our competitions unless explicitly allowed by the definition. The image below text was added in Photoshop to emphasise the facial expression. The added text conveys a message consistent with the intent of the image, and is predominant content, so the addition of these computer generated pixels would be an issue unless the completion rules allow it.

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Macro and close-up photography

Introduction

These notes are meant to be a very brief introduction to Macro and Close-Up photography. There are many books (try your local libraries) that cover this area more comprehensively, as well as many online resources. A few are listed below – a quick web search will reveal oodles more:

Why Macro?

Close-up and macro photography can open a whole new world. You will see things in a completely new way. It isn’t all about bugs and flowers. See, for example, https://fixthephoto.com/macro-photography-ideas.html for an interesting set of ideas for close-up and macro images.

What is macro/close-up

Close-up and Macro exist on a continuum. Whilst one often sees definitions that macro is 1:1 life size on the sensor, how big is your sensor? By this definition, macro with an 8×10 inch (200 x 250 mm) plate camera is very different to macro if you are using, say, a mobile phone with a sensor about 4×6 mm. And if you have, say, a full-frame sensor (~24×36 mm) do you need to fill the frame with your subject, or can you take a more expansive view, and crop out the macro bit from the middle (why not, you have lots of pixels to play with). I think any of the definitions you might see that include reference to the size of the image on the sensor are flawed.

I think a better way is to think of close-up in terms of how big is the original subject that is framed in your image. If your frame encompasses, say, a field the size of your hand (or thereabouts) it would be uncontentious as a close-up; if subject is, say 20-40 mm across, it would easily class as macro.

A further complication is illustrated below. I was quite close-up to the bird, but the background is far from close up. Is the moon a “close-up” shot? It is certainly much “closer” than the appearance with the naked eye, although it is about 385,000 km distant.

Even higher image magnifications are possible, where you start to get into the ultra-macro region and photomicroscopy. As magnifications increase you start to see a fabulous range of details that are not visible to the naked eye.

A very close up of a hairy spider – probably one of the Australasian garden orb weavers (genus Hortophera).

A thing to note is that often you will see reference to the highest magnification for lenses in the lens specifications. Remember this, too, is dependent on the sensor size the lens is designed for. As an example, I have a Canon Macro lens that does 1:1 on my full-frame canon camera. So I can fill the frame with a subject about 24 x 36 mm. I also have a macro lens for my Olympus micro-four-thirds camera. It also does 1:1, but the sensor is smaller, so I can fill the image field with an object about 13 x 17 mm; in terms of what is encompassed by the frame, the 1:1 Olympus macro gives twice the magnification (relative to the full image obtained) that I get with the Canon at 1:1.

Illustration showing the effect of sensor size on field captured at 1:1 magnification. The Canon captures a subject the same size as the sensor (36×24 mm) including the flower and some background. The Olympus also captures an image the same size as its smaller sensor (27×13 mm), which includes only the central part of the flower with none of the background.

Terminology (a brief glossary)

The working distance is the distance from the front of the lens to the focal plane where the subject you are focusing on is. This is often much shorter than the focal distance, which is the distance from the plane of the sensor within the camera body and the focal plane, as illustrated above. When looking at camera specifications for macro, bear this in mind. A small closest focus distance and a relatively long extended lens length might mean you have very little space between the front of the lens and the subject you are focusing on. This may mean your subject gets scared and disappears, or that you cannot get enough light to the subject since the lens is in the way.

Note also that Aperture generally relates to the specification when focused at infinity. As you focus closer the effective aperture changes. An f2.8 macro lens at 1:1 has an effective aperture of f5.6 in terms of exposure, and when you stop down to a nominal f11 (say) the effective aperture will be f22 (see HERE for more details). However that is generally not a great concern in practise since mostly you will be using Through the Lens (TTL) metering (or, maybe, manual lighting with lighting adjustments by trial and error).

Equipment

Whilst there are many specialist bits of kit for macro photography, you probably already have gear capable of making excellent close-up or macro images. Most modern smartphones can make a good close-up image (eg HERE). Most compact digital cameras will focus quite closely. Most digital SLR and mirrorless cameras are excellent, even with standard lenses. The standard lenses or telephoto zooms will often have a maximum magnification of around 0.2x to 0.3x. Well short of 1:1 macro (1x), but perfectly good for close-up – probably the palm of your hand size field of view. My Olympus EM5 has a sensor about 4600 x 3500 px. If I take a photo at 0.25 magnification (full frame equivalent; about 100 x 130 mm frame) and crop a 1920 x 1080 section from the centre of the image, the effective magnification is better than 0.5x (image field about 30 x 55 mm).

Besides photographic gear, there are some other items you might consider. Often, for subjects like flowers, insects and fungi, you may end up kneeling or lying on the ground. Taking a piece of plastic or a sealed-cell foam mat might make your life more comfortable. Usual outdoors items like protection from sun, biting insects, suitable shoes, long sleeved shirts and long pants, rain gear etc should be considered. Make a GPS record for your starting point if you are planning to wander around in a forest. If you lose your orientation, you can then use your phone maps to work your way back (taking care to avoid any hazards like cliffs that may lie between you and your destination). A torch is a useful item. If you lose track of time and discover you are a long way from your start point when the sun sets, you will have some light to find your way back.

Cameras

As noted above, you don’t need an expensive specialist camera. Some smartphones have cameras that do quite well at close-up and macro distances. That said, using an interchangeable lens camera with a large sensor has some advantages. As you get more and more magnification, the effective aperture of your lens decreases (ie less light will get to the sensor) so you will need to have a sensor that works well at high ISO (low sensor noise), a long exposure (not possible with moving insects, wind-blown vegetation etc), or very bright additional lights. If you have an interchangeable lens, you can use specialist macro lenses or use extension tubes or bellows (see below).

An expensive setup is not needed. Here a Canon bridge camera (a powershot SX70) is being used to get close-up/macro images of a thistle flower.

Lenses

Many standard and telephoto zooms will give good maximum magnification ratios for close-up photography (and possibly better magnifications with extras, see below). Some even have “macro” settings, though these are often more a marketing promise than a real change in the optics. These lenses are not designed specifically for high magnification/macro and often suffer from distortions and a curved field of focus. If you aren’t into scientific or forensic recording, this may not matter. A bit of softness in the corners won’t matter if the subject is a beetle’s eye in the centre of the frame, for example, and the bit of barrel distortion is of no consequence.

However if you need very high magnifications, edge to edge sharpness, and minimal distortion, then a macro lens is a worthwhile investment. Macro lenses typically will focus to 1:1 (but with the caveats I mentioned earlier), will have a very flat field of focus, virtually no distortion, and are generally capable of very high resolving power (very sharp).

Macro lenses come in a range of focal lengths, and the best length depends on what you want to photograph. If you are photographing coins, for example, a “standard” focal length (50-60 mm full frame equivalent) will work well. If you are photographing dragonflies and the like, a longer focal length will give you the same macro magnification with a greater working distance (get too close and that dragonfly or frog will almost certainly disappear before you get your photo).

Depending on your budget, you might want to consider third-party brands like Tamron and Sigma and Laowa (Venus optics; a variety of marketing names for the same lens) who make excellent macro lenses at prices generally less than say Canon, Nikon or Sony.

There are also some specialist camera lenses designed to get even higher magnifications. For example, the Canon’s EF 65mm MP-E works in the range of 1x to 5x magnification, the Laowa 25 mm 2.5x – 5x ultra macro, and the Laowa 100 mm 2:1 APO macro. Be aware that working at very high magnifications can be very challenging. It is worthwhile reading up on this specialist area before investing heavily in such lenses.

If you need long working distance (for example chasing dragonflies), then a longer telephoto range is useful. For example my 100-400 canon zoom offers 0.31 x (~1:3) magnification with a working distance of 600 mm. With my 100 mm macro at the same magnification, my working distance is only about 250 mm. My cousin has had excellent success chasing dragonflies using a Canon 70-300 L lens with extension tubes (see below). With a 37 mm extension tube he gets a magnification around 0.4x with a working distance of around 600 mm (note: with this setup the zoom control effectively becomes focus).

Dragonfly on the wing. 100-400 mm zoom at 400 mm, f13, 1/1000 sec. I had about 1.5 m working distance between the lens and the dragonfly, and this is a crop from the centre of the frame.

Extension tubes, Bellows, Teleconverters, and Focusing Rails

These allow you to to make the lens focus closer (and hence give greater magnification). Extension tubes are simply empty (lensless) tubes (generally with electrical connections to pass information between the lens and camera). They fit between the lens and the camera; this moves the lens forward so it will focus closer. Aftermarket models can be relatively inexpensive. They typically come as a set of 3 of different lengths that you can combine to make a range of extension distances. Bellows provide the same function of increasing the separation of the lens and the camera body. They have a rack and pinion mechanism to adjust the extension, and some versions allow some tilt and shift functionality. They are usually much more expensive than extension tubes.

Teleconverters are lenses that you fit between the main lens and the camera body. They effectively increase the magnification of the lens system, so, for example, my Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens with my Kenko 1.4x teleconverter effectively becomes a 140 mm f4 lens with a maximum magnification of 1.4x (note the Canon 100 macro is not compatible with the Canon Tele-Extenders (yes, just to be annoying Canon call them tele-extenders not teleconverters)). Teleconverters add extra glass elements to the optical path and are not necessarily optimised for the particular lens they are attached to, so there may be some degradation of image quality. However a good TC attached to a high quality lens is likely to give you very good images. I recommend searching the web for reviews of the particular combination you are thinking of trying (or, if possible, borrow from a friend and try it out yourself before committing to purchase).

Pobblebonk frog on a rainy night in Gardiners Creek Reserve, using diffused flash (see below) using a canon EF 100 mm macro lens with a Kenko 1.4x teleconverter. The teleconverter gave me a bit of extra working space at a given magnification, so I didn’t need to get so close to the frog that it hopped away. Even at f16 the depth of field is quite shallow at high magnifications.

Focusing rails sit between the camera and the camera support (eg tripod) and give you the ability to focus by moving the camera back and forwards on the rail. Here is a link that goes into more detail https://expertphotography.com/macro-focusing-rail/ and https://www.macrophotobug.com/two-macro-focus-rails-compared/.

Close-Up Filters

Close-up filters screw on to the front of your lens. Often they are sold as a set of 3 with different powers that you can use singly or in combination to get the degree of closeness that you want. They work like a pair of reading glasses, allowing you to focus closer. The cheap versions are generally a simple lens, so won’t necessarily give you distortion free, flat-field, sharp images. There are some more sophisticated close-up lenses with multi-element lenses that offer better optical qualities, but at increased cost. https://www.digitalcameraworld.com/buying-guides/best-close-up-filters-for-photography gives some useful overviews.

Camera Supports

You may well find using camera supports is valuable if your subject is relatively static (but with subjects like dragonflies on the wing, an unrestrained hand-held camera is probably a better option). A sturdy tripod is useful. Since many subjects might be close to the ground, a tripod with a short centre column can be an advantage. Using the camera hanging below the tripod with a reversed column is possible, but really annoying – all the controls and now upside down and hard to get to! A table-top tripod might do the trick. placing the camera on a small “beanbag” – try some rice in a ziplock bag. You can wiggle the camera to the required position and it will stay fairly still. I sometimes use a standard tripod head fixed to a piece of plywood.

Lighting

No matter what you are photographing you need good lighting both for focusing and for exposing (for example if you are using Flash for your exposure you might also want a continuous light to allow you to focus).

The simplest is to use ambient light. Low, golden-hour sunshine might be just what you need to bring out the texture in a bit of bark, or to highlight shells and sand and ripples on a beach. But, in general, direct sunlight gives harsh lighting that can hide subtle details in your subject; using a diffuser to soften the light, or even placing an obstacle between the subject and the sun so you have indirect, shadowed light can give you a softer lighting experience. I often carry a couple of A4 sized pieces of black matt board. I can use the white side as a reflector to direct light onto a subject, or with the black side towards the subject to deepen the shadows on one side. And I can also use the card behind the subject to make a plain background, where the natural background is too messy and distracting.

A problem with ambient light for macro is that it is relatively low light, and since you may be using a small aperture (high f-stop) you may be forced to use high ISO or slow shutter speed. Outside it is seldom so calm that you won’t get subject movement blurring a slow exposure, and animals like beetles or spiders tend to be moving even when they appear to be totally still.

Flash gives you substantial control over the lighting, and with a bright flash you avoid the issues of low ambient light. I recommend using some form of diffuser to soften the light and avoid sharp shadows that can be distracting (see image below). If you have off-camera flash capability then you might be able to set up one or more flashes at angles that best highlight your subject. There are also many options for specialized macro-flash units.

A simple home made diffuser gives a softer light for macro photographs. A piece of white matt board with some slots cut in one edge is held to the flash head with a rubber band (through the slots on the matt board. In front of this is a piece of A4 sized baking paper that I laminated in plastic to give it a bit of rigidity, which is taped to the lens hood at one end and to the matt board at the other. Light from the flash is then diffused over about 20×20 cm and the diffuser is much closer to the subject than the flash head, further increasing the softless of the resulting subject illumination. This sort of setup works well as fill flash during daytime. When I am photographing at night (see below) I often add a small torch held under the lens hood with a rubber band to provide light for focusing and composing the image.

A common option is the ring-flash that attaches to the front of your lens and illuminates your subject from all directions. These tend to give relatively flat lighting, though some allow you to modulate the flash brightness so that the light from one side is darker than the other. This gives better modelling. Ringlights can also give characteristic ring-shaped reflections on your subject. Ringlights often come with some form of continuous lighting to assist with composing and focusing your image.

If you can take your subject into your home studio (see later section) this makes it much easier to configure the lighting to optimise your photography.

Some subjects may be a good option to photograph at night. For example, frogs are generally difficult to find in the day time, but may be much more active at night, especially in the rain.

A frog, photographed at night using a diffused flash (see above). Because the flash illumination drops off rapidly with distance, we cannot see the reeds in the background that would otherwise form a distracting background. This one was along Gardiners Creek. You will find frogs in most creeks with bush reserves around the suburb.

If you have an “assistant” they may be able to hold light modifiers (eg reflectors or artificial lights – torches or off-camera flash). If you are using flash, it may be hard to visualise the lighting effect, so be prepared to review the images you take, and try again with a range of light modifications (eg try the flash in several positions to see how the changes affect the image). Sometimes I simply use continuous light sources (eg bright torches). You can then see the lighting and adjust as needed before exposure. But note that these will most likely be a lot dimmer than flash, so you will need higher ISO, larger lens aperture and/or slower exposure times.

I have a couple of cheap recahargable LED worklights that have about 5500 K light balance. They are light, compact and easy to pack in a bag. I use them directly, diffused by a diffuser between the light and the subject, or bounced off a reflector/white card.

Focusing

I usually use manual focus when I am taking close-up and macro photographs. It is easy to set the lens to get the magnification you want (or, alternatively, about the right distance between lens and subject), and then focus by moving the lens back and forward to achieve the focus I need. Using autofocus is generally not too effective – at high magnification your effective aperture is reduced, compromising the accuracy of autofocus, particularly if your subject is not very well illuminated (if the subject is dark you may be using flash to get an adequate exposure, but that won’t necessarily help with focusing). If your subject is moving (or you are hand-holding the camera) it is generally a good idea to take a series of images in the hope that one will hit the sweet spot for focus. And if you are using focus stacking, you will need to manually adjust the focus point if your camera does not have a built-in focus stacking algorithm in the menu.

Depth of Field

One of the challenging aspects of macro and close-up photography is shallow depth of field. Depth of field (DoF) is influenced by a host of factors including aperture, focal length, sensor size, distance from the sensor/lens to the subject (closeness of focus, or magnification). Here are a couple of useful resources explaining depth of field in more detail: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depth_of_field and https://photographylife.com/what-is-depth-of-field. Note that smaller sensors give greater depth of field at a given aperture.

Aperture is the factor you will most likely use to adjust depth of field in practice. Macro lenses usually have an aperture of f2.8 or so, which makes focusing easy (shallow DoF), and usually one stops down to a small aperture (high f-stop) for close-up work to maximise DoF. As always, there are compromises. Light passing the edge of the aperture blades can be diffracted. With a large aperture this is generally not a problem as most of the light passes through the middle of the lens, far enough from the aperture blades to avoid diffraction. But when the aperture is tiny, more of the light passes close to the aperture blades, and the resulting image can be softened by diffraction. You can read more about this at https://photographylife.com/what-is-diffraction-in-photography. I recommend that you take a convenient macro subject (one that won’t move), set your camera on a tripod, and take a series of test images with your lens at different apertures to assess how diffraction affects image sharpness (and DoF) with your equipment.

You may choose to use a tiny aperture to maximise depth of field to ensure all your subject is in focus, but this may mean that details in the background become visibly distracting, where at a wider aperture they may be a soft and non-distracting. If you need to get an image in this situation you might consider a few options.

  • Change the background. I often carry a piece of matt board that I can place behind a small subject to hide a cluttered background. Perhaps you can change the orientation of your camera – maybe a new angle will change that busy bushy background for a plain blue sky or some other less distracting background.
  • Change the lighting. If the lighting on the subject is a couple of stops brighter than the background then the background will appear far less distracting. Try adding light to the subject (flash, torch, reflectors) or possibly shade the background to make it darker.
  • Use focus-stacking (see later) with wide aperture shots to get that nice out-of-focus background, combining several images at different focal points to get all the subject in focus. Or use a slight variation that can work well, take a shot at wide aperture to get the background, and a second shot with a small aperture to get the subject all in focus. Then blend the two to get a sharp subject and an out-of-focus background (this approach needs a bit of post processing work, but can work well, and for some subjects can give better results than focus stacking (especially if the subject might move, or there might be technical problems like focus breathing).

Alternatively, consider using a small aperture (say f16 or f22) to get maximum depth of field, and then use post-processing to selectively blur the background. If the subject has a relatively manageable outline this can work well, but it can be a nightmare to make a workable selection if the subject has a complex outline (lots of intersecting hairs or spines, for example).

Not all subjects need huge DoF. If your subject is relatively flat, a wider aperture will work. You may want to use a relatively shallow DoF to give a sense of depth as the focus drops off over your subject. Or you might want to use out of focus blur to generate a mood (think of images with just the edge of a rose petal on focus, the rest soft and dreamy).

Aperture

Aperture plays a key role in depth of field (above) but also plays a key role in exposure. This article covers some of the aspects of this: https://www.jaymesdempsey.com/aperture-macro-photography/. When you choose a small aperture to maximise DoF you then need to increase exposure time or ISO, or brightness of illumination if you are using artificial lighting. Often, in the field, subject movement is an issue that necessitates short exposure times, so you only have ISO to play with. Fortunately, modern sensors make this less of an issue, as you can get relatively noise-free images even with high ISOs. And with careful post processing image degradation from sensor noise can be minimised further.

Macro in the wild

If you are considering taking “nature” images in the wild, keep aware of the limits on allowable post-processing for this category. It is better to pay special attention to getting the best possible image at the time of exposure. Rules are gradually changing, and techniques like focus stacking may be allowable under some rules, but by and large it is best to get it right at the time of exposure, than be faced with an image that would be really nice with post processing that is not allowed in the nature category.

For some subjects – interesting patterns in rocks, moss, flowers etc, you may not need a large working distance (though you need enough space between the lens and subject to allow lighting). For other subjects – dragonflies, butterflies etc, a longer working distance is desirable, so you don’t scare the subject away as you try to frame and focus. For things like butterflies, early morning is good. The beasties might be cool and unable to take to the air. Frogs are often easier to locate at night, though you may find some species at the water surface during the day.

Sources like iNaturalist https://inaturalist.ala.org.au/ and Plant Net https://identify.plantnet.org/ are valuable to get information on where to look for animals and plants, or to identify ones you find.

Macro home studio ideas

Backdrops

For many subjects you can get more control if you can set up in a home studio where you don’t have the problems of wind moving the subject, and you can create a more customised lighting arrangement for the subject. Making a home studio for macro need not be expensive – you are dealing with small things, so you don’t need expensive backdrops – a sheet of A3 photocopy paper is much cheaper than a 3×5 m backdrop. You can make do with small lights rather than expensive studio lights, because you can put your light source close to your tiny subject. For example in the mouse photos below I had a sheet of A3 photocopy paper underneath and curling up the back to make a seamless background. A couple of diffused flash guns and reflectors and I had a quick and cheap tabletop setup.

I wanted to get a photo of these bottlebrush flowers but the wind kept moving them. I made life easy by pruning off the flower and took it indoors. I used a cheap clamp attached to a tripod leg to hold the flower (tripod is over the flower and out of frame). I placed a sheet of black matt board behind, and played with the lighting (one light each side, with varying brightness). I ended up with a photo I could not have managed outside, where the flowers were moving, the background was messy and the lighting harder to control. Not a perfect shot, but useful for an illustration.

Supporting your subject

One of the common issues is how to hold your specimen in place whilst you photograph it. Here are some suggestions. You can buy sets of spring clamps at hardware stores. These are useful for holding backdrops as well as holding specimens. Monofilament nylon thread (fine gauge fishing line, or even finer sewing thread you can get from your local sewing supplies retailer) can be used to hang things from supports to give a “levitated” appearance. With very fine thread it likely won’t even show in the image, so you won’t need to erase it in post processing. Armature Wire is extremely flexible and lightweight wire designed for making frames and giving structure for models. It can be cut with wire cutters and can be easily bent with your hands or with the aid of pliers. It is useful as a flexible support, perhaps in combination with clamps and sticky tape. Hot glue guns are very useful to stick things together, and since the glue is heat sensitive, it is easy to unstick things later if you need – just apply a bit of heat.

Trans-illumination

A little while ago I decided to look at the beasties that lived in the water at the edge of the ponds along Gardiners Creek. There were lots if interesting, if tiny, organisms, and the Culex mosquito larvae were fascinating. I set up a transilluminated lighting for the photography, with the specimen in a drop of water in a transparent box lid (from memory it used to hold chocolates – never throw away potentially useful containers) supported above a light table. The camera was supported above this using a tripod. An off-camera flash was used to adjust the lighting. Illustrated are an image with all the light from below, and another shot where I turned off the light table (or maybe I put black matt board over it) and shone the flash horizontally to side light to get side lighting for a different effect.

Transillumination can also be fun for everyday things that are translucent. Here is an example using a slice of fruit.

Passionfruit slice, backlit

Transillumination is also useful for digitising slides and negatives (see below).

Backlighting

Backlighting can be useful if you want to eliminate shadows on your background. I sometimes use an old slide viewing table, place the specimen on this, and then adjust the lighting from above. The backlighting from the slide viewing table fills in the shadows from top illumination. Note that in this case the back lighting intensity is fixed, so all the adjustment has to be in the top lights. Experiment with different light intensities. you can get some interesting effects since the light from underneath can light up the underneath that normally might be in shadows with just top lighting. And with translucent subjects you can get some very interesting glowing effects.

Here is an example using Cicada shell (exuvia). Compare the light and shadow in the two versions.

Cicada shell (exuvia) photographed on a black background. Note the shadows on the background and also the shadows of the fore-legs on the legs behind and the shadows of the rear legs on the back of the body.
Cicada exuvia photographed as a focus stack on a backlit surface. Note the lack of shadows on the background – the specimen seems to float in free space. And the backlighting has filled in any shadows of the legs. Note that I have tweaked the tonal curves and colour balance to achieve a golden glow in this version.

Note: another way to minimise shadows on the backdrop is to separate the subject from the background. For example I could have suspended the cicada exuvia from fine monofilament nylon thread above the background, but then it would have been hard to avoid the specimen moving through air movements whilst I was making a focus stack. There also would not be the fill-light effect that minimises shadows on the underside of the specimen.

Drive your camera from a computer

If you are working in a home studio it is worth considering controlling your camera from your computer. Many cameras will allow you to connect your camera to your computer either wirelessly or via a USB tether. You can then use live-view on a computer screen that is much larger than the screen on your camera. This can facilitate focusing and composition. And if you are planning to focus stack, being able to change the focus without touching the camera minimises the risk of the camera shifting slightly and thereby ruining the stack.

Focus stacking

Since depth of field is relatively small, it is difficult to get macro shots where the whole subject is in crisp focus. One way to achieve this is to combine several images taken at different focal positions, then combine these to merge the sharpest parts of each frame into a composite where the whole subject may be sharp. A number of cameras (notably mirrorless cameras) support this in-camera or will take a focus stack that you can combine later with post processing software. I won’t go into depth here but refer you to Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Focus_stacking or you can do a web search to find much more in the many sources that cover this topic. Photoshop has some capability for focus stacking, but other software may do a better job, depending on the subject.

Here I combined 5 frames taken at different focal points to get the whole flower sharp.
Image compare of a single image (left) and a focus stack (right). Drag the middle divider left and right to reveal more or less of the two images. Even at f16 (Canon 100 mm macro with Kenko 1.4x teleconverter) the depth of field is only about 2 mm (I placed the beetle on a 1mm graph paper grid for scale and DoF estimation), too shallow to get all of the beetle in focus. I combined15 images that stepped through focus to get most of the beetle in focus. In this case I used Helicon Focus (demo version). Note that as you focus through the subject the apparent magnification changes due to focus breathing..The stacking program can make some adjustments to compensate, but even with correction this phenomenon can cause glitches in the stacking.

Focus Breathing

At close focusing distances lenses often display an effective change in focal length which can change the apparent magnification as you focus. This is called focus breathing (think of your chest size as you breathe in and out). The phenomenon, and the issues it raises with macro photography and focus stacking is nicely explained here: https://photographylife.com/focus-breathing or if you prefer video, here is one from DPReview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43asl1yYw2E so look there for more detail.

Digitising 35 mm slides

A while back one needed an expensive dedicated slide scanner to digitise 35 mm slides (or negatives). The resolution of modern cameras is now sufficient to make an excellent job, and to do it far quicker than scanners that typically took 30 seconds or more to scan each slide. The diagram below illustrates my current set up.

Lighting and camera support

I repurposed an old enlarger stand to serve as a camera support/copy stand. A tripod would work fine too to hold the camera with macro lens set to slightly less than 1:1.

My slide duplication set up.

I used a small slide viewer lamp, but any suitable, uniform light would do. Perhaps a tablet or phone screen with a white image displayed. These may annoyingly go into power save mode and turn off… you may need to adjust your power save settings; and make sure you clean the screen thoroughly or you may get moire patterns appearing where smudges interact with the tiny screen pixels. Also check whatever light source you use that it has a broad spectrum so it can reproduce colours well. If you are concerned, you can use an off-camera flash rigged up below your slide, using suitable diffusion (I recommend several layers of diffusion material with separation between them (eg flash->5 cm space->diffuser layer -> 1 cm space -> diffuser layer -> 2 cm space->slide) so you get uniform lighting).

I use a spacer to separate the slide from the light source so any dust/scratches/unevenness will be blurred out when you focus on the slide.

Above the spacer is a bit of black matte board with a hole cut in slightly larger than the 36x24mm slide. I glued a matchstick on two sides to form a stopper so when the slide abutted the stopper it was correctly positioned above the hole in the matte board. I used sticky tape to hold the bottom and top together so nothing moved when I changed slides. If you are wanting to digitise negatives you might try a different arrangement of stoppers since the negatives are usually in strips. Try gluing stoppers to hold the top and bottom so you can slide the negatives between the stoppers to change which negative is set for photographing. unlike slides that are (usually) in rigid mounts, negative strips might tend to bow up, so adapt the stoppers to hold the sides of the negative strip to the platten. If you cut your own matte boards, you might use a bit of bevel cut mattboard to guide the negative strip.

Camera and lens

Basically you need a lens that has minimal distortion at higher magnification – a macro lens is ideal. Turn it to 1:1 then back of a bit, so you can get the whole frame inside the image field with a bit of spare space for minor variations in slide placement. Move the camera up or down relative to the slide to get things in focus. I always use autofocus for each slide since there are always minor variations in how much the film is bowed within its mound, or differences in mount thickness. You can crop off any of the slide frame that is in the image in post processing. Take care to get the camera exactly parallel to the slide. It is easier to line things up nicely at the beginning than to have to adjust the keystone distortion on each image.

Use a RAW format not JPEG. This will give you much better tonal range and avoid artifacts of JPEG compression. I usually set the camera to 100 ISO for minimal sensor noise and aperture to f8 to give sufficient depth of field to accommodate any curvature of the film, whilst ensuring the background light is out of focus (so any dust etc does not show in the slide copy). I use auto exposure since some of my slides are not ideally exposed. Note that if there is any flicker in the light you use it may show as uneven illumination in your copies. Using a longer exposure time can minimise this. You can check by focusing on a slide, removing the slide, and taking a photo with just the light source. The image should be uniform. You may need to set the white balance to accommodate the characteristics of your light source (but if you use RAW files you can set WB in post processing).

You can use a similar set up to duplicate negatives too. You will need to modify the mounting for the film strip so it is held flat and can slide along the guide to get to the next image. If you are digitising negatives you will also need to do a colour inversion and convert to monochrome to remove colour casts (b&w negatives) or invert the colours and apply colour adjustments as neeed (colour negatives).

Further Resources

There are oodles of web pages on this topic, just a few of which I have hyperlinked above. A quick web search will reveal a plethora of resources. Choose a more specific search term if you want to get more detailed info in a particular area. In addition there are lots of books on this area of photography. Here are a couple that I borrowed from the library:

  • “Close up and Macro Photography” by Tracy Hallet (2011, Ammonite Press). A small but remarkably complete introduction to this area.
  • “Digital Still Life Photography” by Steve Sint (2013, Pixiq). Ok, this is about still life, but most “still life” photography tends to be on the close-up side of things. It has lots of useful hints about lighting, home studios etc.
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Recolouring Objects in Post Processing Software

It is easy to recolour parts of an image whilst retaining all the texture and luminance of the original.

Sometimes you may wish to recolour part of an image. Perhaps turn a black umbrella into a colourful red; perhaps change the colour of a dress; maybe change those red roses into the rare blue variety.

Here are some notes to help you achieve these ends.

Recolouring objects in Post Processing (PDF)

These notes refer to some examples and the layered TIFF files are available below:

Flower test Original

Flower test Hue and Saturation filter

Flower test Solid colour with blend mode

Flower test Solid colour with blend mode and levels adjustment

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G’MIC

G’MIC, GREYC’s Magic for Image Computing is a full-featured open-source framework for digital image processing. It includes a wealth of image processing filters (about 600 at the time I write this), and is available as a stand alone command line package as well as plugins for GIMP, Krita, Photoshop, Affinity Photo, Paintshop pro, Paint.net. You can also use it online https://gmicol.greyc.fr/ though it can be slow depending on the load on the server at the time.

An example of the GMIC interface featuring the Drop Water filter. Adjust the many parameters to change the appearance of the water drops.

You can find out more at the GMIC website https://gmic.eu/. There is a gallery showing some of the effects at https://gmic.eu/gallery/ (hover over the thumbnails to see the original, move the mouse off to see the filtered version).

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Kaleidoscope effect

Repeating patterns catch the eye, and the Kaleidoscope effect certainly provides plenty of repeating patterns. Kaleidoscopes use angled mirrors to produce repeated patterns (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaleidoscope), but this effect is easily achieved also in software like Photoshop or GIMP.

There are lots of guides online on how to make Kaleidoscope effects using Photoshop. John Crawford made the image below from an close-up image of a butterfly wing using the instructions from https://expertphotography.com/kaleidoscope-effect-photoshop/ .

If you want to make Kaleidoscope images there are other approaches. I had a play with the image filters from G’MIC (GREYC’s Magic for Image Computing, a full-featured Open-Source framework for image processing https://gmic.eu). Among the many filters available are several that generate interesting Kaleidoscope effects. Here are some that I made as I tried out these filters (original image left, then some kaleidoscopic variations).

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Robert and Sharon Prenton-Jones – Ukraine Recording

The recording is located here (IT MAY TAKE A WHILE FOR THE FILE TO OPEN/PLAY!):

www.camversation.co.uk/ukraine

Password is: UKRAINE (ALL-CAPITALS!)

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Printing and mounting images

In February 2021 a number of questions about printing and mounting images were sent to members, this is a rough collation of the responses. Thanks to everyone that responded.

Do you print your images yourself?

What printer do you use?

  • Epson R2880
  • Epson 3880
  • Canon Imageprograf-2000 (24” Fine Art printer)
  • Epson P600
  • Epson R2000 A3 (old version)
  • Epson P5070
  • EPSON SC-P800
  • Epson R2400
  • Canon MG6250 multifunction A4 with a hybrid ink set (5 dyes, 1 pigment)
  • Canon PRO-100S
  • Epson Surecolor P800
  • Epson 3880
  • Epson Stylus Photo 1410

Where do you buy ink for a reasonable price?

  • Shop around online
  • Image Science
  • I purchase all my supplies from Totalimage Supplies in Fairfield
  • From Epson when they have specials
  • Starleaton
  • Have to buy from Kayell as can’t find it at inkstation.com which is my normal supplier
  • I use 300ml bottles which I buy from Marriot in the UK
  • Ink and paper have to be consistent, especially if you’ve had the printer profiled, so it’s genuine ink. Computer and Parts Land, or Officeworks at a pinch
  • Inkjet Wholesale (https://www.inkjetwholesale.com.au/).
  • Ink Station
  • I use the original Epson inks and purchase online after comparison of the different genuine ink suppliers. I end up buying my inks also from Image Science
  • I never compromise – Epson ink only.

Where do you source your paper from?

  • Shop around online
  • Image Science
  • Totalimage Supplies in Fairfield 1300 768 015
  • Image Science,North Melbourne
  • Starleaton
  • Kayell
  • Various
  • Matt paper from Image Science – Jeremy recommended Epson Archival Matte – there’s no sheen whatever, no brighteners, but it’s not archival, surprisingly good even with my Canon dye inks, fair quality monochromes, less than 40 cents an A4 sheet !, and fun to use. Gloss paper is a dwindling packet of Canon glossy-2 (custom profiling gave some improvement over the Canon standard). When I need more glossy I might ask Jeremy for a more readily available option, and get a custom profile.
  • Paper is not easy to get – recently I have bought from C R Kennedy (https://www.crkennedy.com.au/) when they run specials, and Borgs Imaging (https://borge.com.au/).
  • I purchase my papers from Image Science in North Melbourne
  • Kayell and Epson on-line

Do you tailor the paper to the specific image? (metallic, art rag, etc)

  • No, liked the look of Ilford Smooth Pearl so have stuck with that
  • Generally No.
  • YES but lately I have been using Shil Masterclass Metallic Pearl High Gloss media. I am also looking at Acrylic mounting for images
  • Not usually, only just starting to play with different papers, Mostly use Ilford Smooth Pearl (a general use paper)
  • I have a range of texture, matt and glossy – Canson Aquarelle, Canson Rag Photographique, Canson PrintMaking, Canson Platine
  • Yes
  • Matt if it looks good that way, gloss if I need higher contrast. Soft proofing helps decide
  • Sometimes – for serious stuff.
  • For WCC print comps recently I have been using Canson Rag Photographique. At home for 6×4’s, 5×7’s (family shots that frequently get changed in the frames around home) I use Ilford Smooth Pearl. Paper choice is very personal and is an evolving situation as you hone your own aesthetics and requirements over time. There is no one answer suits all situations. The papers I use today are different today to what I used 3 years ago.
  • Sometimes, very comfortable with Canson Platine Fibre Rag for most of my work
  • https://imagescience.com.au/knowledge/choosing-a-paper-for-your-next-print

Do you use a commercial printing service?

  • Yes. I use Harvey Norman for 10×15 inch prints – no assistance but they use Fuji machines that seem to be fairly consistent. I wait till they are on special – last was $6.95. Quality OK but not spectacular. I choose images that I think will work with their systems.
  • I normally print at Harvey Norman (used to use BigW) both use good Fuji Printers. In person, never online
  • SMLXL on occasion
  • Not until I want bigger than A4. I’d prefer a service that makes it’s printer profiles available for soft proofing
  • I do not use commercial printing for competitions (but I do for my own framing for home when I need greater than A3+).
  • ​I use Harveys and Officeworks. For servious stuff I use: http://www.theedgephoto.com.au/
  • In-person at Frames Now or Camera House Ringwood. Frames Now Doncaster mostly ($7-17, depending on the size (A4-A2!)
  • DigiWorks in Hallam. I pick them up personally but they do post out.

Do you cut your own mat board?

  • Got a full sheet mat cutter from Frameco. Get matt board in bulk on special (about half price) from frameco when its on sale. Mostly black or white, but we have a few other colours for when we want to use them.
  • I get them cut on a machine at Frames Now, 577 Dorset Rd, Bayswater North
  • Yes, I cut my own mat board.
  • No, Frames Now Doncaster (they will do it on the spot for less than $10)
  • I have bought board and cut my own at our workshop nights (sometimes the person running the workshop cuts them. I pay them for it.

What cutter do you have? where did you get it from?

  • Logan Compact Classic Mat Cutter 301 (from eBay many years ago)
  • Matt Cutter 660 FrameCo
  • I have a Frameco Mat Master
  • I cut my matts with FrameCo cutter and Ruler Guide.
  • Frameco Cutter
  • Logan Artist Elite from a guy on Gumtree
  • Logan 2000. It’s just an angled blade holder, which you run against any plain thick straight edge, preferably hardwood or a steel bar to reduce friction.
  • I have a Logan 350-1 Compact Elite (I get my blades from The Art Shop in Bayswater (https://theartshop.com.au/)).
  • Logan model 440-1
  • A Logan 1m modified and permanently mounted to clamp board when cutting
  • Logan compact classic mat cutter (81cm)

Where do you get your mat board from?

  • Framing shops or shopped around online
  • Any framing shop
  • Gumtree I haven’t had the need to use it yet.
  • I buy the large sheets of Matt Board from FrameCo.
  • Any framing shop ie: Frames Now
  • Various Artist Supplies
  • I bought the remainder of WCC’s when it was sold off and haven’t bought any for a long time. Previously I have purchased mat from Riot Art.
  • To date FrameCo but will look for other alternatives next purchase
  • I purchased my last mat board from https://www.artstoreonline.com.au 53 Warrigal Rd Hughesdale Vic 3166.
  • I buy large white mat boards and cut to size.

What colour mat board do you use?

  • Off-white
  • Generally black, sometimes white
  • I use Either Dark Charcoal or Off White coloured matts.
  • Black or white
  • I have a few shades of white .. warm and a cooler white, textured and non textured surface
  • WHITE ONLY
  • White
  • Near-white. It looks good, and doesn’t make smudges on the next print in the comp box
  • I predominantly sue white for competitions however for personal use I use a wide range of colours.
  • ​Standard ‘off white’, not sure of actual name
  • I mostly use black mat board because I like the strong contrast of the black to the tones of my images
  • Black and white mainly!
  • I have both black and white board. I have a couple of boards that I was given to me by a framing company that had loads of spares

Do you buy pre-cut mat board in standard sizes, or order mat board cut to your dimensions?

  • No
  • Never
  • I order cut to specific dimensions, mostly I recycle what I have at home
  • Purchase in full sheets size and I cut to whatever size I need at the time
  • Yes I get a few sizes cut to my normal printing size of photos. I buy a few at a time and they give a discount for multiples.
  • Cut to A2 and then I modify it from there
  • I cut up the big sheets with a “stanley” knife, with difficulty. I size the mounts to fit a cheap frame (eg 30 x 40 cm from the variety shops) to hang the print on the wall for a while.
  • I buy sheets and cut to size myself.
  • No
  • I custom cut my own mats to the printed image.
  • Order mat board cut to my dimensions mainly!

What do you use for backing? (foam core, box board, backing board, etc)

  • 3mm foam core
  • For competitions thin cardboard.
  • 3mm foam core – also in bulk from Frameco (on sale… have enough in stock for a couple of years more before we need to find another sale)
  • 3mm foam core, or mat board cut offs, or just cardboard for smaller prints.
  • Screen board
  • Use foam core at 3MM thickness. I Buy the large sheets and then cut it to the size.
  • Foam core usually and I take no notice of VAPS stupid 5mm rule
  • All the strength of a mount is in the back, frames can cope with only so much thickness, so I use a single piece of cheaper but still heavy card.
  • I use foam core for backing.
  • Mat Board
  • Just a thin creamy white art backing cardboard that is easy to cut with my blades
  • Foam core before, but prefer backing board now!
  • Foam core, self-adhesive & non adhesive, 5mm & 3mm.
  • I attach print at top only, with tape. The backing board is the piece cut out of the mount board, reversed and attached with quality masking tape.

How do you attach the print, mat board and backing board together?

  • Print hinged top middle with tape to the mat board, pieces of double sided tape to attach mat board to backing
  • Magic tape top left and right on print, Hinge mat to backing on the top. Then double sided on the sides and bottom
  • Hinging tape at top of print onto back of matt board. Double sided tape patches around print and outer margins of matt board to hold backing
  • I stick print onto Matt with masking tape. Thin cardboard goes over back of print, never had a problem with print moving or buckling
  • The image is attached with acid free tape, the mat board/ foam core is attached with double sided tape, If I only have cardboard then I use masking tape.
  • Mounting tapes specific and double sided tapes
  • I use a couple of pieces of printing tape at the top of the picture to hold it to the mat and then I use the adhesive dots from Bunnings to hold the mat and foam core together.
  • Double sided Tape
  • I use photo-corners stuck onto the backing card. I transfer the window location from the mat to the back by assembling them and pricking each corner, to avoid getting pencil marks on the mat. Then I rule short extension lines on the back so I can position the print and slip the photo corners on. Once the mat is on the print doesn’t fall off. The two cards get joined face-up with little dots of PVA glue about 3~4 inches apart. A book or whatever on top holds and protects it while that’s setting. The mat can be opened later on, by inserting a table knife and twisting, and it’s re-usable after the little lumps of glue are prised off. No tape or glue ever touches any part of the print, front or back. No sticky tape or glue is anywhere on the outside of these mounts.
  • I use masking tape across the top of the print and double-sided Sellotape around the backing board to hold it to the mat. I find this to be simple and very effective.
  • Double sided tape
  • I use a one sided invisible tape (if you want maximum longevity-use acid free tape) to position the print on the mat board and then a double sided tape (Kikusui 12mm) to adhere the backing board to the mat board with the image in-between.
  • Use mask tape, double sided tape mainly, but time consuming and stressful as it is hard to get it just right!
  • Mostly top hang print to matboard (free hang), then double sided tape for board to backing

Any other advice you have to offer?

  • If you stick to standard sizes of print you can buy pre-cut matt board online, but I never seem to have a standard size after cropping the image.
  • Unless using a high end printer, black and white printing is tricky at home. (colour casts are very hard to avoid.)
  • If people are new to printing, you need to have a tutorial about paper profiles. Soft proofing. Monitor correction for printing
  • Use a very sharp stanley knife when you are cutting the foam core. i normally stick the mat onto the foamcore before cutting. it is easier to get it straight on the mat board just lining up 2 edges instead of 4. i sit it on one corner of the mat board and then once stuck i will cut around the other two edges
  • Use your printer often but, if the nozzles clog, use printhead cleaning fluid. Attach an external waste ink tank to your printer
  • I don’t print much, but the aim is monitor-to-print match (or at least no nasty surprises) no matter who prints it (so long as they publish their profiles for you).
  • Calibrate things, first the printer-paper-ink-driver_settings combination, also the monitor if it’s not certified “accurate out of the box”, and pay attention to the print viewing light. My knowledge resources are Jeremy Daalder’s notes at imagescience.com.au, and Les Walking’s advice at our meetings and at the big trade shows. I use a couple of RGB custom paper calibrations done by Image Science (one for the gloss paper, one for the matt paper, $50 each, sometimes they are half-price in March or April).
  • I got a good monitor when I upgraded my PC, and consider it worth it. It’s controls do what they say without weird interactions, eg I can calibrate and profile it at one colour temp, then to match the room lighting at another time I can adjust it to another temp and brightness and then do a print without getting nasty surprises.
  • After adjusting I use soft-proofing, which often makes the picture look (very) dull – but that is how it will print. This uses the custom calibrated printer profile file. People using commercial print services should be able to get these files from that service, for that services printers and papers (most definitely not “canned” profiles). (see imagescience.com.au/services/fine-art-printing/icc-profiles or ??).
  • Printing is an art in itself and not to be taken lightly, there is much to learn about paper selection, preparing for different papers, changing brightness for prints compared to digital images etc. Calculating the cost of ink is difficult and if my printer failed, I may not purchase another as paying a professional printer yields better results (though at a cost).
  • I found using a mat cutter is a skill easily learned within an hour. Selecting the best paper to suit a particular image I find extremely hard.
  • Having a good dedicated working area helps immensely.
  • Having a systematic method of working from the original image dimensions outwards ( ? needs explanation} – it’s all about custom framing.

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Generative Art

Early this year in one of the rare moments we were allowed to visit the NGV, I was entranced by the display in the foyer – a huge screen with an endlessly dynamic pattern, shifting and heaving and transforming. This was Refik Anadol’s algorithmic ‘quantum memories’, a representative of a genre called Generative Art, which uses computer code, randomness, and algorithms to generate artwork. The images it generates use an AI program trained on millions of nature and landscape images harvested from the internet to generate an ever moving pattern that evokes a sense of an ever changing landscape, of flowing water, of waves ….

A still photo of the Quantum Memories, a huge, dynamic video installation that generates an ever changing pattern using complex computer algorithms, random numbers, and AI image construction (despite the title there seems to be nothing particularly “quantum” about this artwork ); Installation by Refik Anadol’, NGV 2021. Photo by GS

You can read more about generative art in Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generative_art, or do a web search.

In brief, Generative Art, also called Code Art or Algorithmic Art, generates artworks using autonomous systems that can automatically determine features of an artwork without direct human input. It often uses computer coding with random number generators to direct the generation of artistic images. The artistry draws inspiration from many sources. Sometimes it comes from the intrinsic beauty of the mathematics – think Mandelbrot Sets. Sometimes it draws inspiration from Pop Art and makes heavy use of geometric patterns.

Where does this fit in with photography? In Quantum Memories it draws on photography, and hence there is a clear nexus between Generative Art and photographic processing.I figured I could use the principles of generative art to transform photos in interesting (and unpredictable ways). With some hunting around I came across Michael Bromley’s Chromata which gave me some ideas to start with. That led me to the Processing software package, that simplifies some low level image processing using Java language and I used this to make my own Generative Art program Here is a small gallery of images I have made using this program.

I have now rewritten my code into Javascript (not related to Java, despite the name) using the P5js javascript library so I caould share my program via an interactive a web page. If you are interested to try this out using your own images, you can read more at https://resources.waverleycameraclub.org/geoffs-photo-doodler/

p5.js is a JavaScript library for creative coding, with a focus on making coding accessible and inclusive for artists, designers, educators, beginners, and anyone else! p5.js is free and open-source because we believe software, and the tools to learn it, should be accessible to everyone.

https://p5js.org/
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Geoff’s Photo Doodler

The notes below should help get you started using my “Photo Doodler” program. First there is some background on what got me started on this project, then I give some examples, and then some brief instructions. Programming credits are at the end.

Generative Art

Generative Art or Code Art or Algorithmic Art generates art using autonomous systems such as computer programs, typically using random number generation to produce unique outputs. I’ve written more about generative art HERE. The program I have written redraws an image you provide using algorithms with randomly directed pens that doodle over the image (or draw randomly placed circles) according to adjustable parameters to produce (sometimes) interesting results.

Geoff’s Image Doodler

Some Examples

Below are some images I have processed. They should give you some idea of what the program does. These are not presented as world class prize winners, but as samples to illustrate different styles of image that can be produced. These are “image compare” graphics. Drag the blind to the left to see the processed image, drag it right to see the original image.

Lines mode. Image a composite of several runs, taking the best bits of each.
Lines mode with lots of Chromatic Pens
Circles mode
Longer Step Length with large Direction Range gives a frizzy look

The Algorithms

The program draws lines or circles. The lines wander about the canvas, using the underlying colour of the image. The motion of the pen is governed by random numbers, with some rules. The program chooses several random new locations to move to, depending on the Direction Range parameter and Line Step Length. The program chooses the random destination that closest matches the brightness at the current location. Thus the program tends to wander along lines in the image where brightness is similar. Choosing a large Samples selecting direction parameter reinforces this matching of brightness, whilst a low Samples selecting direction will give more random movement.

How to use the program

You can access the program at this URL https://resources.waverleycameraclub.org/doodle/.

General comments on the program

This program is still undergoing development, so the instructions below may not be identical to what you see running the program. I may have added new controls, for example, and not yet got around to updating the documentation below.
if you encounter any glitches, please let me know, so I can debug and fix (contact link is on the opening screen).

I have tested it under windows 10 using Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Edge; on android with Firefox and Chrome; and on an ancient Macbook Air using Firefox (but the page would not load using Safari). If you have problems, first of all, try using a different browser.
The program main screen (annotated) in line-drawing mode.

This program allows you to experiment with your images. Not every image will work well with the program. The parameter settings can dramatically affect how the image develops. You can change the parameters at any time. Once you have loaded an image, you can click the Reset drawing button (or R on the keyboard) to clear the screen and continue drawing on a new background. I suggest you load an image, see what happens with default setting. Press P to pause (or resume) if you want to stop and have a close look. Some of the settings allow you to slow down or speed up the drawing. Tweak the settings, see what the effect is. If you find a pattern of drawing that you like try a refresh to clear the previous lines and start with those settings on a blank canvas. Since the code uses random numbers in interaction with the underlying image to direct the patterns, you will get a different pattern every time. Sometimes you may get one part of the image looking good but other parts not so good. You can save that image (press S to save), then restart the drawing, perhaps with different settings… save again. Perhaps you can composite multiple images to show the best bits from a series of trials. Another thing might be to modify the image before loading it – change the colours, perhaps, blur the image perhaps, apply an edge filter (the next version will probably have some options along this line built in).

Program Controls

The program uses javascript to do the processing, so your browser does all the computing. Some browsers may handle the script differently. I developed this using Firefox ver 92.0 on a Windows 10 machine. The script should work much the same on other browsers and with different operating systems, but if you encounter a glitch, let me know.

The main menus and functions

The program starts with the main parameter menu (see image right – there may be some changes as I develop the program) towards the right of your browser window. You can grab the menu title and drag the menu to a different place on your screen if you want.

You can set parameters before loading an image, or load an image and change parameters after. Use the File Chooser menu item to load a file. The menu changes to show the image thumbnail. If you choose drawing-type circles the menu changes to show the circle drawing parameters (screen grab far right).

Feel free to change the parameters to see what effects they have on the drawing. You can pause (or resume) the drawing by pressing P. To save a drawing as a PNG file press S or click the Save drawing button. You can reset the drawing to a blank canvas of the set Background Colour by pressing R or clicking the Reset Drawing button. You can also change the parameters whilst drawing is going on, to alter how the image rendering progresses.

Saving Images

Pressing S or clicking the Save drawing button opens a file save dialog. If you are drawing at the time, the drawing will be paused (you can resume by pressing P after the save). The filename suggested includes the original filename, the date and time YYYY-MM-DD_HH.MM.SS followed by a condensed list of the parameters set for that drawing – this may help if you want to use the same parameters again

  • see next para for an example of a file name
  • I may get around to adding code to save settings for reuse in a later version
  • you are free to change the name to whatever you want in the file save dialog box.

If you set parameters then load a new image, the parameters are not reset. If you reload the page, the parameters on the menu are set to default values.

yourFileName-_2021-11-08_08.53.14_np100circles_lw1.2_sl5_dr90_ns3_
cs90_cbtrue_pc0_ca0.1_al255_bm_BLEND_bg_0,0,0_it1.png

Explanation of the parameters and what they do.

The table below lists the parameters that you can change, and gives a rough explanation of what they do, but since random functions are involved, these are only a rough outline of the sorts of things you may see as the drawing develops. Feel free to change the parameters as the image develops. You can change the drawing to see how the lines move; reset the drawing to restart from a blank background, save a sequence of images as the drawing develops … so have a play.

ParameterInstructions
File chooserShould open an Open File dialog, allowing you to load a file to work on (.jpg, .png, .gif file types only). A thumbnail of the image is shown in the Image panel. Drawing starts immediately an image is loaded unless you have put the drawing into Pause mode (in which case click the Resume button or press P to restart drawing.
Number of PensWhen drawing lines, this determines how many lines are drawn simultaneously. More pens may increase the speed at which the drawing is rendered. A small number of pens may mean the drawing occurs only in a few small patches. The pens are initialised to random locations and directions whenever an image is loaded or the drawing is Reset.
Drawing typeThe default is to draw lines, but you can also draw circles (see below)
LinesThis mode draws squiggly lines (depending on the settings), controlled by the parameters below and a set of random numbers generated by the program. You can repeatedly draw an image with the same settings with the same start image, and the result will be different every time. Some bits might come out better in some versions than others, so you can always combine several variations using masks etc to make a composite with the best of each of the drawings.
Line WidthLine thickness in pixels.
Line step lengthDetermines how far the next points are from the last point in each cycle of drawing. A small number will produce reasonably smooth lines. Choosing a large number will produce more polygonal lines as the program draws straight lines between points. If you choose a large Direction Range with a large step length you will get a hairy looking image.
Direction rangeWith a small direction range the next step will generally be along the line of the past segment so you get fairly straight lines. With increasing values in this setting you will get increasingly twisty lines.
Samples selecting directionThis works together with Direction range. A random number determines the location of the next point in the past direction plus or minus a random change in direction (Direction range). This random selection is repeated Samples selecting direction times, and the best match to the brightness of the preceding point is chosen for the next point. If this setting is 1, the move is entirely random. If you choose a large number, there will be many possible directions to select from, so the line will tend to follow brightness contours more closely.
Percent chromatic pensThe default draws a line from a point using the colour of the loaded image at that x,y coordinate. If you increase this setting you will get increasing numbers of pens that use just the red, green or blue channel of that colour to set the line colour.
chromatic brighteningThe single channel “chromatic” pens tend to be a little darker overall than the original colour (they lost the brightness of two of the channels). This setting will increase the brightness of these single colour channel pens. Chromatic brightess of 1 will leave each of the colour pens at full brighness, rather than the brightness of the original spot, which doesn’t make a nice image.
Alpha (opacity)This sets the alpha channel for the line drawn. Alpha of 255 is an opaque pen; 0 will make a transparent pen (not much use). Values in between will give partial transparency which can be interesting. This setting also applies to the background when it is drawn. If you want a transparent background (eg if you want to composite your doodle drawing with other images), set Alpha to zero, reset your drawing (or reload the image) to overwrite the canvas with a fully transparent background, then move the Alpha up to see the lines/circles as they are drawn over this transparent background. Note that your browser will probably show a white background (cannot make your screen transparent), but when you save the doodle drawing, the PNG output file will have a transparent background.
Note there are some glitches with alpha – things may not turn out as you expect because the underlying graphics package has an issue with antialiasing that ignores the alpha setting.
Blend ModeThis drop down offers a range of blend modes to be used when drawing. These are similar to the ones you find in Photoshop or other layered image processing software. The default BLEND overlies each line over any preceding lines it crosses. Play with it to see what effects you get.
Background colourThis opens a colour picker. Depending on the blend mode, you will overwrite the existing drawing (BLEND) or mix with them in other ways. If the colour picker is open, you cannot change any other settings, so close it after setting colour.
PauseThis button will pause the drawing. When paused the label changes to Resume, so you can resume drawing again. You can also use P or p on the keyboard.
Reset DrawingThis button causes the drawing to be overwritten by the background colour.
Iterations per loop (speed)Depending on the size of your image and the speed of your computer and the speed of your browser’s javascript processing, increasing this setting might increase drawing speed. If it is set too large, your drawing will get progressively more jerky in progress. This control is most of use with the Circle drawing mode.
Frame rateBy default, the program will draw 60 frames per second. If you need to slow down the speed of drawing, you can reduce the frame rate down as far as 1 frame a second. In circles drawing mode, each frame draws one circle per “iteration”, so if you increase iterations per loop you will also get faster drawing. In line drawing mode each frame will draw a line segment for each pen (number of pens) and will do this number of iterations per loop times for each frame. The drawing speed is also limited by the speed of your computer. A huge number of calculations occur for each drawing iteration. If you force too many calculations per drawing frame, the frame rate will fall and the program may seem jerky and unresponsive.
CirclesThis drawing mode draws circles rather than lines. In this case the circles are drawn at random positions across the whole image, selecting colour based on the corresponding colour in the original image (as per line colour in Line mode)
Line widthThickness of the circle border (black)
circle sizesize of the circle in pixels. Play with this as the drawing is rendered. Maybe start with large circles to cover the background with colour circles, then progressively shrink the circles to get progressively more definition from the original image
Draw black circle borderUse this check box to turn the drawing of borders off or on.
OTHER CONTROLSIn circle drawing mode the remaining controls work in the same way as in Line drawing mode
P on the keyboardToggles Pause / Resume for the drawing
S on the keyboardPauses the drawing and opens a save file dialog so you can save the current drawing. You can resume drawing after the file is saved by pressing P or clicking the Resume button.
NOTE: if you set your browser download settings to “Always ask you where to save files” the browser should remember the destination when you save successive drawing.
H on the keyboardHide. Toggles visibility of the parameter menu. Useful if you have a smaller screen and want to see the whole drawing as it develops without the menu covering part of your drawing (if you have a large screen you can move the menu (click and drag on the top) to place it beyond the drawing canvas.
Ctrl-scroll wheelBrowser/OS dependent – this alters the zoom level on the browser window. If your drawing is bigger than your screen, you can zoom out to fit more on the screen. However, the appearance of small features on the drawing may look different depending on the browser’s interpolation of the pixels to fit the zoom chosen. Also the menu will get smaller and harder to use.

Drawing Speed

The drawing speed is determined by the speed of your computer, the speed of the javascript processor in your browser, and a number of parameters in the drawing settings. If you want to slow down the drawing, the Frame Rate parameter is useful (see above). Normally the program draws at 60 frames per second. If the calculations and drawings take less than 1/60 sec, the program will wait the remaining time before starting the next frame. At low frame rates, the drawing may look a bit jerky. If you increase the Number of pens parameter then there will be more pens drawing in each cycle, so the drawing will run faster. Another way to speed up is to increase the Iterations per loop parameter. This will also speed up the drawing, though if you take it too far, the computer will be unable to complete all the calculations within the set frame-rate so the frame rate will start to fall and the program may start to get a little unresponsive (too busy to respond to you).

Beneath the drawing you will find an information panel with tells you how many drawing actions (line segments or circles) are drawn per second and the actual frame rate achieved.

Image scaling

If you load an image larger than the available space on the browser window, the on-screen drawing that you see will be re-sized to fit in the available window. This on-screen scaled image may show some artefacts due to the re-scaling – line widths may be affected, for example. However, when you save the drawing, you will get an output file the same size as the original input image that avoids these artefacts from the re-scaling for display.

The panel under the drawing gives details on the resizing.

Privacy considerations

This program is coded in javascript. Nothing is saved on the server. I do not explicitly post any cookies or save any images or settings. Your use of the web page will generate routine web access logs, just as any web page does.

Programming Credits

This program, coded in JavaScript by Geoff Shaw. You can contact me via the contact page of this site. My code uses the following free software building blocks:

I used the Processing development environment from the Processing foundation https://processingfoundation.org/ The javascript interface P5js has an LGPL-2.1 license. The P5.js web editor was a useful tool in prototyping and learning to code javascript and Processing.

The menu system is built using quicksettings.js which is released with the MIT license.

Posted in Advanced Edits, Artistic, beginner, compositing, How-to, Post-Processing, Software | 2 Comments

Triptych making in Photoshop and Lightroom

Geoff Shaw’s suggestions

For some general comments on triptychs see HERE. This post will give a couple of approaches using Lightroom and using Photoshop. I use an example with the three images below (screen grab from my LR catalog).

Lightroom.

  • In Library view select the 3 images you want to make into a triptych. I suggest you put the 3 images into a collection. In grid view, drag the image thumbnails into the order you want in your triptych.
  • Select all 3 images.
  • Switch to Print view. In the default mode it assumes you are printing to A4 paper. Let’s stick with that for now. The screen should look like this.
  • Adjust the settings in the Layout Style panel on the right of the screen.
  • For now, select Single image/Contact sheet.
  • Check down the page to the Page Grid setting and set for 1 row and 3 columns for your triptych.
  • In the Guides section, click Show Guides to see guides for the margins and cell spacing.
  • In Image Settings, click Zoom to Fill to get the images to fill the space (if the images are too large you will find not all the image shows).
  • Choose if you want each panel to have a border and set the colour and thickness (Stroke Border).
  • In Layout, set the left, right, top and bottom margins and the cell spacing (space between panels). As you change these values you will see the changes reflected in your layout.
  • If you need to reposition any of the images in the 3 panels just click and drag to move the image within the space available for it.
  • Once you are happy with the appearance, click the Print to File button at the bottom right. Select a destination file name and click Save.
  • Open your output file in Photoshop and use the usual tools to crop off any excess white space, and resize the pixel size to whatever is needed (eg 1920 x 1080 px max for WCC competitions).

If you want to make a triptych with uneven sized panels or more complex layouts, you can do this using the “Custom Package” option in the Layout Style panel.

  • In the Cells panel click Clear Layout
  • drag the thumbnails from the image filmstrip below onto the print area.
  • Drag the images to where you want them. Use the corners to resize to get them to the same height. (note. Click the Lock to Photo Aspect Ratio checkbox to make sure you don’t distort the images).
  • Print to file.
  • Open the output file and crop and resize as needed.

Photoshop

OK, if you are using Photoshop, you probably have a good idea what to do. Here are some brief suggestions.

  • Create a new empty image of the size you want.
  • Use the View>>New Guide Layout menu to open a dialog where you can set a layout with 1 row, 3 columns and a suitable spacing (gutter).
  • Drag the guides about until you have the guides reflecting the layout you want.
  • Drag the 3 images you want to use onto the canvas. They should be added as new smart layers.
  • Select each image in turn. Use the transform tool to resize and reposition each image within the frame made by the guide lines.
  • make a rectangular marquee in the area you want to be visible. If Snap to Grid is active, the marquee will match the guidelines.
  • Mask the layer.
  • Repeat the resize/reposition/mask for each of the other images.
  • If you want a stroke/shadow etc round each image frame, then you can apply these in the Blending Options for each image layer.

Further reading

There are always lots of different ways to do things… here are some other resources.

  • https://learndamophoto.com/blog/2017/12/28/making-triptychs-in-photoshop
  • https://petercripps.photography/2019/10/22/creating-a-triptych-in-photoshop/
Posted in Advanced Edits, Artistic, beginner, compositing, How-to, Post-Processing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment