Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Photography Update

Some time ago, I published series of posts on my blog on the subject of photography—the series begins with the link, then goes through the subsequent posts in order.  I thought I would bring you up to date on my techniques (although I am not sure this photograph, taken in the Carleton College arboretum, merits being released for posterity).

I use a Canon Rebel XSi. I think if I were wealthier, I would go for one of the more expensive Canons, but the Rebel serves my purposes fairly well.  I went with the Canon because my earlier Canon lenses from the pre-digital age fit the new camera. In any case, I figure you can’t have too many dots-per-inch, especially for far away raptors.

Now I use a fancy Canon 100-400 EF lens. Its a long story, but I managed to fall flat on my face and on top of my old, $600 lens. That lens was insured, so we upgraded. Anyway, this lens contains image stabilizers and I usually hand-hold it. I use a monopod mostly for lugging this heavy toy around.

I also use a Tamron 1.4 tele-extender. I think this pushes my lens from 400 mm to the mid-500s. If you buy a tele-extender, be sure to check if it is compatible with your camera and lens before you purchase it. It might not fit even though it is supposed to. Or it may interfere with auto-focus. My camera and lens takes so long to autofocus and, because I am often unhappy with where the lens chooses to focus (like the bird’s breast instead of the eye), I am often happier manually focusing. Autofocus is also almost always unsatisfactory for dragonflies.

I take my photos in RAW format. I use a computer program called Capture One to convert the image to a .tiff format. Capture One is used my professional photographers and the latest versions are very expensive—they have left me behind, so I use an older version.

Next, I take the image through photoshop. Photoshop is an expensive program, but, there are great academic discounts if you are in anyway connected with an educational institution. Photoshop Elements is also an option. Generally I crop the image, get Photoshop to automatically adjust the curves, and bump the saturation up to 21. I often use a Photoshop add-on called Neat Image, which can do wonderful things by smoothing out the background and sharpening up the foreground. I think there are some free alternatives out there that do the same thing. Google “noise reducing Photoshop plugin."

Finally, for web images, I reduce the dpi to 72 and save the image as a .jpg file. At this resolution, I save the file at optimum size.  Then I use a free Internet program called picmonkey.com for some final tweaking, often just sharpening the image up a bit.

All this sounds like a lot of work, but the process flows along fairly quickly. I am often surprised when my photos do not turn out as I expect, either for better, but more often for worse. Digital photography really requires sunny days, unless you, unlike I, have fancy flash equipment like the pros use.

I would enjoy hearing from any of you who have different ways of handling digital photography. Why not share your systems through the comments section in this post? I am sure other readers will also be interested.

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