the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Archive for January, 2013

6D Impressions

Seattle Great Wheel

Sample image from the Canon 6D of the Seattle Great Wheel.

I’ve had my new Canon 6D for about a month now. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much chance to use it. I did do a portrait shoot a few days after receiving the camera, was able get out for half a day last Friday, and also carried it along on a day with friends on Saturday when we went to the Woodland Park Zoo. I’m not going go give a full review of the camera, there are many other blogs and websites that have already done that. In some of the reviews I’ve read, the 6D is getting bad marks for not having as many features as similarly priced cameras (the Nikon D600 in particular).

However, I am not the least bit sorry I upgraded to this camera (particularly when switching to Nikon is not a realistic option considering my investment in Canon lenses). Now, remembering that my opinion is biased by coming from a Canon 50D, I am really loving the quality of the photos coming out of the 6D. With the full-size sensor and the same processor as the 5DIII, the image quality is fantastic.

The two biggest issues I had with my old camera were noise and focusing. Considering noise, the 6D is exceeding my expectations. The noise level at ISO 3200 is quite low, producing high quality images. With my 50D, ISO 3200 produced images that I would never want to use them for any high-resolution purpose. I’ve read that the noise for the 6D is still low at ISO 6400, but I haven’t used a setting that high.

Focus is one of the issues the 6D gets downgraded on in online reviews. This is largely because the camera only has 11 focus points (instead of 39 in the D600, and 61 in the 5DIII). However, to me, thefocus ability of the 6D is a huge step over the 50D. With my 50D, I always had a lot of problems with the autofocus, particularly when used for portrait work. With the 6D, the focus is dead on every time. There may not be a lot of focus points, but those it does have work great. Further, the camera also focuses in very low light. Since I take a lot of night-time shots, I love this feature.

I also really like the built-in GPS. With images taken with my 50D,  I’ve tried to locate my images manually in the Lightroom Map module. No more; now the camera does it for me. Very sweet! The GPS feature does continue to use the battery when the camera is turned off, draining the battery faster. So I’m training myself to turn the GPS on and off. Seems, to me, like a small inconvenience for such a great feature.

The camera also has built in WiFi, and with an app from Canon, you can control the camera from your smartphone. Believe it or not, I don’t have a smartphone, so I haven’t tried this feature yet. However, I will likely be getting one soon and am looking forward to using it with the camera.

Another feature I haven’t heard much about in the reviews I’ve read, is the camera’s size. It is the smallest full-sized sensor camera available. It is considerably smaller than the 5DIII, and weighs about half a pound less. Considering how much my photo backpack weighs, I like this size and weight.

Overall, I’m very happy with the camera. I like its small size and lighter weight,  and the quality of the images are outstanding. If you are a Canon user and want to step up to a full-sized sensor, you should check out this camera. Sure it has some features missing that I’d like – such as more focus points and a second card slot, but considering the price difference between it and the 5DIII (the 6D is about $1500 less), especially when the 5DIII doesn’t have some of the features I want (such as GPS), I’m glad I got this camera.

Seattle's Union Station

The interior of Union Station in Seattle. The Canon 6D didn’t have much problem with the extreme range of contrast in this image. While I did shoot some HDR here as well, this single exposure (shot RAW and processed in Lightroom) is certainly acceptable. Images settings: 17- 40mm lens set at 29mm, f/8, 1/13 sec, ISO 200, +1 exposure bias

Gorilla Silverback Pete

Pete, the silverback male of troop 1 at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. He didn’t look particularly happy to have me taking his picture! I would of had a hard time with this image in my old camera, but the Canon 6D worked great. The focus is right on in this low light situation and the noise at ISO 3200 is not bad at all. Image settings: 70-200mm lens at 165mm, f/2.8, 1/60 second, ISO 3200, no exposure bias, small crop

Seattle Lions

Two of the lions in Woodland Park Zoo. Again the Canon 6D worked great in relatively low light, focusing spotlessly on the male lion. Image settings: 70-200mm lens at 200mm, f/3.2, 1/640 second, ISO 1600, no exposure bias, minor crop

Six Years Ago this Month

Fishing boat in winter at Gig Harbor,\I haven’t been out shooting lately. I’m planning to go out tomorrow, but with a forecast of rain, I’m not sure how much photography I’ll be doing. While it is rainy here now, that wasn’t the case six years ago, when we had a big snow storm here in the Puget Sound region. I was still living in Gig Harbor then, and risked life and limb to drive down a big icy hill to get to the city waterfront to take get some shots of a rare case of snow on the harbor. These images are from that snowy January day in 2007. If you lived around here at the time, I’m sure it’s a day you remember.

Sea Fury

Harbor Christmas

Cold Harbor Morning

Harbor Snows

Shameless Plug for Tanya’s Website

Tanya Sorenson BeckerI haven’t written much about Tanya on my blog. She is a communications instructor teaching at Bates Technical College here in Tacoma. However, she is also seminary trained and is the volunteer chaplain at the Oasis Youth Center, also here in Tacoma. Oasis serves LGBT youth in Pierce County. Tanya also occasionally performs weddings and funerals. In that regard, she has a new website which I made for her and uploaded yesterday. I admit to being a bit slow on getting her site up. She wanted it up last November, shortly after the gay-marriage law passed in Washington State. Better late than never!

I am not much of a web designer. For her site, as well as my own, I used a Lightroom plugin from The Turning Gate. Their plugins are relatively easy to use, and I found the one’s I’ve purchased are worth the money. If you are thinking about making your own website, and have Lightroom, you might give them a look.

Tayna’s site is Wed As You Wish. The photos of Tanya on it (like the one here) are ones I have taken. The rest are no-cost, royalty-free photos. I feel somewhat like a hypocrite using these no-cost photos, as I generally believe that the advent of microstock sites is driving prices down for all stock photography, making it harder for full-time professionals to make a living. And though I have a few photos available as microstock, I stopped submitting to microstock sites several years ago. But, microstock is not going to go away, and I didn’t have the time to shoot all the photos myself for her site. Still, I feel like a hypocrite…

Enough confessions. If you get a chance, check out Tanya’s new website, Wed As You Wish, and tell me what you think.

Restoring a Masterpiece – the magic of custom white balance

Girl at the Window by Dali

Girl at the Window by Salvador Dali with custom white balance

Since I always shoot in RAW, I almost always have the camera set on auto white balance (since I can change it during Lightroom processing). My Canon 50D does a fair job with the white balance, though I usually have to bump the purple a bit (the images are a bit green). I’ve just picked up a Canon 6D (more on this in a later post), and the auto white balance seems to do even a better job. However, in certain situations, the auto white balance setting is totally fooled. Such was the case when I shot in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Reina Sofia Art Museum in Madrid on my recent trip. It seems that my camera, if not most cameras, have a hard time with artificial  light – often because there are multiple light sources (with different color characteristics) plus colored reflections off painted walls.

I suppose a quick primer on the color of light and white balance is needed (if you know about this stuff, skip this paragraph). All light has color. Daylight is naturally a bit yellow and warm. However, the same daylight in the shade is often blue because of the light coming from a blue sky. Light from tungsten bulbs is very warm and orange-yellow; light from fluorescent bulbs is green. The human eye does see these colors, but the human mind overrides what we see because the mind “knows” what color things are supposed to be and corrects for the “wrong” colors produced by the light. For example, snow is white, right. So when we look at a snow field in the shade on a sunny day, we see white snow; but in reality, the snow is blue in color. Same for a white piece of paper being lit by a tungsten lamp, it looks white, but in reality, it is colored orange -yellow. (Want proof? Try this experiment. Take a plain white piece of paper. Set it upright against the base of a table lamp with a tungsten bulb by a window. The paper should look white. Now, go outside [preferably at dusk, while there is still light in the sky] a ways off from the house and look back in the window at the paper. It should look orange or yellow tinted. This is because your mind is now “correcting” for the outside light, not the inside light.) While our minds can do this nifty little trick, cameras cannot. This is why digital cameras have white balance settings (and film cameras have different types of film for different light conditions). The white balance setting attempts to correct for the color of the light to make white white, black black, and grey grey. If you shoot JPEGs (instead of RAW), it is important to get the right white balance setting, or you may end up with color tints you don’t want (for example, using a daylight setting in the snow example above will result in blue snow in your image).

Girl at the Window auto white balance

  Original image with auto  white balance

White balance settings in cameras are far from perfect. Often a scene is lit by more than one type of light (a scene with significant areas of both sunlit and shaded subjects for example). This is why I like auto white balance and shooting in RAW – the camera makes a guess, but if it is wrong, I can easily fix it.

However, sometimes I have no idea what the color of the light and no idea what the true color of the subject is. In these cases, it is difficult to get the color right. In these situations, following best photographic practices, you should set a custom white balance for your camera (many digital cameras have this option, it typically involves taking a photo of a white or 18% gray piece of paper. Alternatively, you can take your image of the paper with any white balance setting, then in Lightroom, correct the white balance by using the white balance eyedropper tool [also known as the white balance selector tool] on the paper). While it doesn’t take very long to set a custom white balance, it is only good for those exact light conditions. If you go to a different room, say in an art museum, you need a new custom white balance. Needless to say, I’m typically not that dedicated. So when in the art museums on my trip, I just used auto white balance and thought I’d try to correct later.

When I looked at the art museum photos after the trip ended, they typically had orange color casts, as in the examples here (Girl in the Window by Dali from the Reina Sofia Art Museum,  and By the Seashore by Renoir and The Dance Class by Degas both in the Metropolitan Museum of Art). In Lightroom, I played with the white balance, but couldn’t seem to find a setting I liked.If I only had a neutral color (black, white, or grey) in the images, I could use the Lightroom’s custom white balance eyedropper tool and correct the color cast.  My frustration was made only worse by the realization I had no idea what color Degas, Picasso, Renoir, Dali, or Van Gogh, etc. intended in their paintings, even for those areas that looked white, black or grey.

However, I soon figured out how to restore the correct color to the art masterpieces. It is my habit, when taking photos in a museum, to also photograph the explanation for the exhibit I’m photographing so I can remember exactly what it is. So in this case, when I took a photo of a painting, I also took a photo of the explanatory card next to it listing the painter, name of the painting, etc. Whether on purpose or not, it turns out, at least in these two art museums, the explanatory cards are printed on neutral-colored papers, and being next to the paintings, they are lit by the same light source.

With this realization, in Lightroom I opened the card photo for a particular painting in the Develop module and used the eyedropper tool on the card paper. Then copying the white balance settings, applied the same settings to the photo with the painting. It was as if magic, suddenly the colors popped and the paintings looked even better than I remembered them in the museums. Masterpieces restored by the magic of custom white balance.

By the Seashore by Renoir with auto white balance

Original image shot with auto white balance

 By theBy the Seashore by Renoir with custom white balance

By the Seashore by Auguste Renoir corrected with custom white balance


















The Dance Class by Degas with custom white balance

The Dance Class by Edgar Degas corrected with custom white balance

The Dance Class by Degas with auto white balance

The Dance Class as originally shot with auto white balance