“We all use apps on our laptops, tablets or phones. So why don’t cameras have them?” Wayne Cosshall wonders.“Imagine if you could install apps on your camera and there was a nice market of camera apps from which you could choose.” Not only could third-party developers produce and sell camera-enhancing apps, but many photographers themselves could also produce apps to do the things that they wanted to do.”
Because modern photographic equipment is so technological, many assume there is little you can do yourself to solve problems, and that every “solution” must be bought. But this is not the case.
On Digital ImageMaker, I recently wrote about the GigaPan Epic, a motorized camera platform for shooting panoramas and creating gigapixel-resolution images by stitching. That got me thinking about the do-it-yourself (DIY) mentality in general.
The Epic motorized platform is designed to enable people to mount compact point-and-shoot digital cameras on the platform and shoot huge panoramas. It does this brilliantly. For Digital ImageMaker, I reviewed the base model for point-and-shoots. But the company that makes GigaPan Epic also offers a more expensive model, with an adjustment that lets you mount a somewhat larger camera, including some compact DSLRs.
When I looked more closely at the basic model for point-and-shoots, I saw that it would be quite easy to adapt the unit so it could hold a larger camera. After a little bit of thinking, it took me about a half an hour to solve the problem. I simply used a $3 piece of aluminum, a hand electric drill and a device to tap a thread in a hole. Click here to see the solution I devised. This adjustment allowed me to mount a Canon 350D which I had converted to shoot infrared. Thus, I was able to use the Gigapan to do infrared panoramas, such as the one shown here.
But the DIY mentality doesn’t end with shooting. For my inkjet printer, I’ve built a small angled platform that allows me to readily feed sheets of aluminum that I’ve pre-treated with an inkjet-receptive coating.
Other devices I have built include a small-but-useful macro light that I assembled from some batteries, a couple of bright white LEDs and a switch.
Being willing to try building things myself has solved a number of photographic problems without requiring me to spend a lot of extra money on new accessories.
On the Internet, an active DIY community exists within photographic circles. One I have found fascinating is the active community of camera software hackers. It turns out that some Canon digital cameras have firmware (the software built into the camera that controls its processor) that can be modified. These modifications can open up new functions that Canon never intended for that model, such as RAW file capability, intervalvometer functions (setting the camera to take an image every so often), and much more. The CHDK software acts as an add-on to the existing firmware.
One can only imagine what wonderful things would result if camera manufacturers would open up their cameras to add-on software in the same manner as your computer or iPhone. It would be even more wonderful if they would make it easy to add this new software.
YouTube has wonderful videos on all sorts of DIY endeavors. For example, one clip I found amazing showed a Japanese photographer who has modified a scanner to act as a camera. Click here to see the YouTube video of the resulting scanner-cam. The resulting images have been posted on Flickr. There are in fact many people actively converting scanners into cameras.
Other creative do-it-yourselfers have experimented with inkjet-receptive coatings and inkjet-transfer films to create stunning works of art on different types of metals, marble, wood, and fresco materials. The best known in this field is the trio of great artists: Dorothy Simpson Krause, Bonny Lhotka, and Karin Schminke, who form the Digital Atelier. Bonny has even created her own inkjet-receptive coating that she shows how to use in the DVD training courses she sells on her Digital Art Studio Seminars website.
Certain areas of photography seem more DIY-oriented than others. Areas such as astro-photography and macrophotography have a long tradition of DIY solutions to various problems.
Studio lighting is also an active area for DIY projects, with people making their own lighting rigs and light-modification screens, etc.
Panorama photographers have often made their own rigs. But perhaps the biggest single area of DIY activity is pinhole photography. Many of us have done something in the area, either by drilling a hole in a DSLR body cap and mounting a piece of aluminum foil or by making a whole pinhole film camera.
Indeed many companies that now provide digital-imaging products started as DIYers working at home in their basements or garages. When they found out there was a small market for their inventions, they went from there. Indeed, many companies start out in the garage, including corporate giants such as Hewlett Packard and Apple.
The reward that comes from doing it yourself is not just that of saving a bit of money. When you do things yourself, it makes your photography different from everyone else’s, either because you can do something they can’t, or you are doing it in a different way.
Another benefit is the opportunity to recycle items that might otherwise end up in a landfill.
Plus, there is the satisfaction that comes from making something with your own hands. This is important to those of us who spend a lot of our time working on the computer each day.
Personally, I get a huge sense of satisfaction from identifying a problem, finding the solution and making it work.
If you are a DIY-oriented person, don’t let the technological sophistication of modern devices intimidate you and stop you from trying a project or two. You don’t necessarily have to get engaged with the electronics or software to make meaningful improvements that can help your photography as well as other people’s work. Give it a go.
One of the most under-appreciated features of newer-model DSLRs is their ability to capture images with greater bit depth. Bit depth is a way of quantifying the amount of color information in each recorded pixel. It is also a key component of high-level image quality. In this post, we’ll look first at the numbers. Then, we’ll talk about what these numbers mean in terms of dynamic range, color fidelity, and highlight/shadow detail. These are key attributes that influence the quality of the final print.
Not long ago, most cameras functioned in 8-bit mode. Then the higher-end DSLRs became capable of using 12-bit capture. Now they are up to 14-bit, which is a huge benefit to photographers. If you don’t understand bit depth, these may sound like incremental improvements. But they are actually exponential improvements.
To see what I mean, let’s start with a brief review of the numbers. It is simple but non-intuitive:
· There are three primary colors (or color channels) in each captured digital image: red, green, and blue.
· Bit depth describes the number of tone gradations (or intensities of color) provided in each pixel. Most digital images are captured and/or stored in 8-bit, 12-bit, 14-bit, or 16-bit mode.
§ An 8-bit image has 256 tone gradations in each of the three color channels;
§ A 12-bit image has 4,096 tone gradations in each color channel;
§ A 14-bit image has 16,384 tone gradations in each color channel; and
§ A 16-bit image has 65,536 tone gradation in each color channel.
Another way to look at the depth of an image file: A 16-bit image file is twice as big as an 8-bit file.
The major benefit of working with high-bit images is increased dynamic range— the range of tones and detail that the camera can record from the darkest dark to lightest light.
One software company, DXO, now provides public access to its database on camera performance. Here are some examples of the differences between 12-bit, 14-bit, and 16-bit capture:
· The Nikon D2X captures images in 12-bit mode when shooting in RAW format; its dynamic range is rated at 10.9.
· The Nikon D3 captures in 14-bit mode; its dynamic range is rated at 12.2.
Dynamic range is measured like f/stops: an increase of one step is a doubling of dynamic range. That’s a big, big difference.
There is also a noticeable upside in image editing, and in the appearance of the final print.
Figure 1 above is a screen shot of a 16-bit image being edited. Note that the histogram is smooth and even, and shows no breaks or lines.
Figure 2 above shows a screen shot of an 8-bit version of the same image. Note the white lines running vertically in this histogram. These are sometimes called drop-outs, and they show information that is lost when the image is edited . These losses can result in color distortions, posterization, color aliasing, and more.
We lose information every time we edit or manipulate an image. So, the more image information we have to start with, the more information that is available to us as we progress in our workflow.
It pays to set up your workflow to protect as much image information as you can for as long in the process as possible. Most printer drivers can handle high-bit images without difficulty. In my own workflow, I only use 8-bit images for web publishing, e-mail, and the like.
Image-editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom are now set up to use high-bit images. And Adobe Camera RAW and Photoshop provide pretty much the same editing tools for 8-bit images and high-bit images, making workflow choices easier for the photographer. This is all good news for those of us who love creating the most detailed and beautiful prints possible.
What’s re-complicating printing workflows right now is the fact that Adobe Photoshop Lightroom uses a bigger color space—ProPhoto RGB instead of Adobe RGB. But we’ll leave a discussion of printing through Lightroom to a future post.
If you have any specific questions about bit depth, I would welcome your comments.
When you are shooting, no matter what your subject, it is important to make the most of what you have. You should strive to get as many different types of images as possible while you have the time and opportunity to work in a given location or with a particular subject.
Whatever your type of photography, you will have a subject. That subject could be:
--a person or a group of people if you're a portrait or wedding photographer.
--an object or set of objects if you're a food, still-life, or commercial photographer.
--a building or interior if you're an architectural photographer.
--a location if you're a landscape or travel photographer.
And whether you’re a full-time photographer, semi-pro, or amateur, there are always limits on your time. So it makes sense, purely from a time perspective, to make the most of any shooting that you do. Beyond your time, there is also the time of your subject or client to consider.
Plus, you must take into account all of the possible ways the images you shoot today might be used in the future. It can be very frustrating to discover, long after a shoot, that you do not have the right image.A big difference between amateur and professional photographers is the number of images they shoot. Typically, a pro will take many more images of a given subject. No matter what your subject, do you take as many images as you could?
Let’s look at some ways to vary what you are doing so you have more images to work with.
Use more than one lens.
Different focal lengths provide different perspectives and allow you to get closer to or further away from the subject. They also give you other things, such as close focusing with a macro or tilt and shift with a TS lens or a Lensbaby. But do you always make use of all the possibilities? This is where several camera bodies come in handy. You can switch lenses quickly just by grabbing a different body. This is particularly true in situations in which there is changing light or a lot of movement.
Vary the lighting.
When possible, do you vary the lighting? This could be shooting with and without reflectors, fill light, changing the angle of the light, modifying its qualities with scrim or such. Or, you can move around the subject so that you explore not only how the subject itself looks from different angles, but how the subject responds to light from different angles. In some cases you can return at different times of day or even times of the year. Don’t forget shooting at night.
Use your camera controls.
You can vary the depth of field, choice of focus point, or shutter speed to remove, reduce or enhance motion effects and much more. How does the subject respond to different amounts of image noise by varying the sensitivity? Would bracketing be useful? Are there any special capabilities of your cameras that you could try?
Digital cameras, and film cameras with the right film, can do more than just capture the visible spectrum. You can shoot ultra-violet and infrared. You can use filters or later processing to remove or modify parts of the visible spectrum. Some subjects respond extremely well to such treatment. I shoot most of my landscapes in infrared.
Vary the point of view.
The point of view is where you shoot from. You can shoot from ground level, up high, above, below (with some ingenuity) or anywhere in between. Often we just shoot the world from eye level, but this is so limiting. Force yourself to try different positions and see what the result is.
Expand the subject.
Even if you have a definite idea of what the subject is, shoot around it. Expand the scene by shooting what is going on further afield. For example, instead of just shooting an interior, shoot the view out the windows. Shoot the environment of a portrait subject especially if you’re shooting outside of the studio and in the subject’s office or home. Look for reflections of the subject in other surfaces.
All the above are just some examples of different ways of working the subject. The reality is that there are an infinite number of images that could be shot, so you will never get them all. The goal is to get more than you do now.
But why is having more better? Here are some reasons:
- Future uses, especially collages and montages, may need a particular type of shot;
- Changing ideas may mean you need a different image than you thought, even now;
- Your creativity will improve the more you work a scene, leading you to see new possibilities;
- A client will really feel they are getting their money’s worth;
- It is better to do it now rather than reshoot later.
It is far better to have more images from which to choose than later wishing you had shot something you did not. This is especially true in the digital age when the cost of capturing an image is so low and the range of possible uses so high.
If you've been shooting digital for awhile (or if that is all you've ever known), try shooting some film while it's still available. There is something different about shooting film that you miss if you're totally absorbed in digital.
Although film may no longer be the predominant method of image capture, the glory days of shooting and scanning film aren't that far behind us. Those of us who started out shooting film still have lots and lots of negatives and transparencies that we regard as integral parts of our archives.
I have many images on film that I would never be able to recreate digitally. One of the best characteristics of film is the texture and grain of the emulsion - how an image records on a particular brand of film. I was always partial to Ilford Pan F and Kodak Tri-X Black and White Negative Film (which happily I can still buy).
I learned about all of the subtle characteristics of different films when I worked in a pro camera shop in my younger days. We sold everything photographic, for both amateurs and professionals. Our store even sold used camera and darkroom equipment. So, I had access to many types of film and some great gear, including large-format cameras and lenses I could never afford at the time. I even shot the BW slide film from Agfa called Scala. I loved that film.
When digital imaging entered the scene, I got involved in the new process of scanning film. I worked with expensive drum scanners such as the Scanview Scanmate and the Crossfield Magnascan. Over time the prices of high-powered scanners have fallen so much that I now have my own 4800-ppi scanner that scans everything from 35 mm negs and transparencies to 8 x 10 negs and transparencies as well as flat artwork. You would think that my scanner would sit idle but actually it gets lots of use. Now that I co-own a design agency there is always a need to scan something.
When shooting film you have no instant verification of either the exposure or the composition. (I suppose you could use a Polaroid back, but it's never the same thing.) When I shot Ilford Pan F I had no idea what the neg would look like or if the capture was even in focus. Plus my beloved camera was mostly manual (I shot the rugged Nikon FM2 – a lifelong favorite) with a built in light meter that told me if the exposure was right on or over/under exposed by giving me a red led +,O, or -sign.
There was always a bit of mystery until I developed the film and printed a proof sheet. Watching the images appear in the darkroom was a magical process that I really enjoyed. Now, I am so grateful to have had "my time in the darkroom." Looking through my proof sheets today I feel a real sense of nostalgia that I miss with digital images. There is something about the material aspect of a proof sheet that I like.
All of the images shown below were shot on black-and-white negative film then scanned on my desktop scanner. Of course, I have used Nik Software to do some tonal editing, but we'll leave that for another post.
For now, if it's been awhile since you've shot film, I urge you to go ahead, buy some film, unpack that old film SLR (or borrow one!) and start shooting! You will be glad you did. (Let me know how it goes. I would be interested to hear more about your experiences!)