the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Photo Techniques

Photographing Ancient Ruins – Knossos

180418_Crete_4608The Palace of Knossos is the capital of ancient Minoan Crete. It is reportedly Crete’s most popular tourist attraction. Ancient ruins, particularly popular ones, present a photographic challenge, at least to me. We see photographs of the ruins in guidebooks and on postcards and want to get similar shots. Yet, often the sites are only have limited hours that do not correspond with the best light and are usually overrun by tourists. How to get a few decent shots without obtaining special access (like the photographers whose images you see on the postcard)?

Knossos is the perfect example. When Tanya and I were there, the last admittance of the day was at 3 p.m. We got there about 2:30 p.m., and I was hoping the crowds would be a bit less. However, as it turned out, we picked International Monuments Day (April 18th) to visit – the good news, free admission; the bad news, more people. It wasn’t overrun with tourists, but there we weren’t alone either. Further, 2:30 p.m. is not a prime time for photography, the light is harsh and contrast can be a big problem.

And you can forget about using a tripod. Even if it would not cause a problem with the crowds, tripods (and large professional cameras – whatever the definition of that is) are not allowed. This is a common policy at many historical sites and museums (occasionally I’m surprised and they are allowed, such at the Met in New York and in the Notre Dame Basilca in Montreal).

So what is your average photographer to do? Here are a few tips I’ve discovered that help me photograph at ancient ruins (and other popular sites).

1. Use a telephoto zoom lens – if you don’t want people in your shots, you will need to zoom in to crop them out. A wide-angle lens is good for providing a big scene, but it is almost impossible to use one and not have people in your image.

2. Shoot details – sure shoot an image with the whole building, but if you want to not have people in the shot, shoot details.

3. Don’t crop too tightly in camera – often you will not have the best vantage point to take a shot. If you think you might be making perspective adjustments Lightroom or Photoshop, don’t crop too tightly in-camera. Leave some room to crop after the perspective adjustment is made.

4. Avoid sky when shooting into the sun – we often don’t have much choice about time of day when visiting a historical site, and that scene you’ve been dreaming about shooting is toward the sun. Cut out the sky to avoid the contrast. For example, one of the most common shots you will see of Knossos is similar to the featured shot above, except that it usually shows some sky as well. Here, shooting toward that sun, I cut out the sky to avoid bad contrast and a totally white sky.

5. Shoot in the shade – again, not having much choice about time of day, shooting in mid-day can cause lots of contrast problems. Look for compositions that are in shade and avoid the contrast of partial sunlight.

6. Up your ISO – often you will be shooting not out in the sun, but in a dimly lit rooms or grottoes. Without a tripod, remember to increase your ISO.

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The Throne Room at Knossos is dimly lit. I used a high ISO in order to capture the image.

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To shoot the Queen’s Room, I had to shoot a bit from the side rather than straight on. I purposely did not crop tightly in-camera, giving me plenty of room to make a perspective correction in Lightroom.

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This mural at the South Portico is another example of shooting wide, and in this case, also upward to avoid a distracting plastic barrier, and then making a perspective correction.

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These old large pots were in the shade, allowing me to more easily control contrast.

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Another set of large clay pots – details like this are easy to photograph without other tourists in the shot.

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This room next the Queen’s Room was closed and only visible from a small window. No other tourists to worry about and in the shade solving contrast issues.

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Scanography – Fun on a Cold Rainy Day

Winter just seems never to end. We’ve had nothing but a cold, rainy March so far. So what should you do when bored and stuck inside on a rainy winter day? Try your hand at scanography – photography using a flat-bed scanner. If you don’t already own such a scanner, you can often find them cheap at a second-hand store. The images shown here were taken with my Epson Perfection 2450 Photo scanner that I purchased several years ago at Goodwill for $5. The trick is getting such a scanner to run on your computer – often drivers are not available for newer versions of Windows. For example, Epson offer a driver for my scanner for Windows version after XP.

I’m running Windows 7. When I first got the scanner several years back, Windows 7 was still fairly new. To get the scanner to work, I did a Google search on Windows 7 drivers for my scanner model. I discovered that a different Epson model had a driver that worked, so I downloaded that and sure enough, it worked.

Now skip ahead a few years. I tried Widows 10 and decided to go back to Window 7, but when I did so, I lost the driver for the scanner. Well actually, I still had the driver, but Windows would not allow me to install it because it was “unsigned.” This is a case of the software trying to protect your computer from malignant software. I get it, but I really did want to use the scanner again. Finally, after several long Google searches, I discovered there is a way to get Windows to install unsigned drivers. You must first disable the driver signature enforcement, then install the driver. It wasn’t that hard to do, and sure enough, I was back in business.

Since if you pick up a cheap, used scanner, it probably won’t be the same model as mine, I suggest the following. First, go the the manufacturer’s support site and see if there is a driver available. If so, your golden. If not, search Google for an alternate driver. For example, in my case, the Google search might be: “windows 7 driver for epson 2450 scanner”. There is a good chance this will give you a driver that will work. However, if it is unsigned, you still will need some help installing it. So try this Google search: “installing unsigned drivers windows 10”. You will get a number of results that explain how to install unsigned drivers. Good luck!

Once you do get your scanner installed, it’s time to have fun. All of the images here were taken using the scanner. The fun thing about using a scanner for photography, of scanography as it is called, is that you can create interesting effects because the scanner captures an image a line at a time. This means that as the scanner light and sensor moves, you can move your subject either blurring it or making it appear more than once in the frame. I found this is particularly fun for self portraits (just watch out for fogging the glass with your breath).

I found that scanning to TIFF files worked better than to JPGs, but your experience may be different. Once the files are created, I imported them into Lightroom and treated them just like any other file, optimizing them as I saw fit. I found the biggest problem is dust. I’m use to a few dust spots from my camera sensor. With the scanner, you can get hundreds of dust spots, all perfectly in focus. So be sure the clean the glass well when doing your scanography.

Wondering what kind of images you can make with a scanner? My samples here will give you a few ideas. If you want more, just do a Flickr or Google image search for scanography. There is some very creative work out there.


New Transform in Lightroom

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Adobe added a new Transform panel in Lightroom CC in June, and since I typically don’t check what is new in each Lightroom upgrade, I didn’t see this new panel until last month. When I did find it, I thought it was amazing. So much so, that from now on, I’ll be checking each upgrade to see what other new features might be available to improve my workflows.

The old transform was under the Lens Correction panel in the Develop Module under the Manual tab, where there were sliders for you to manually adjust lens, vertical, and horizontal distortions; rotation, scale, and aspect ratio. I made wide use of the vertical and horizontal sliders, but not so much the others. I found it was easier to correct rotations or change the aspect ratio with the crop tool and I usually don’t change the scale of an image except upon export. And while these transform tools where very helpful, sometimes I couldn’t get the results I wanted.

With release 2015.6 of Lightroom, Adobe removed the manual transform sliders from the Lens Correction panel and placed them in a new Transform panel (located directly underneath the Lens Correction panel, see the first screenshot below). The lens distortion slider is gone, and two new sliders, for X and Y offsets, are added. But the best new feature is the addition of automatic or guided distortion corrections. There are six options: off, auto, guided, level, vertical, and full. The pop-up help in Lightroom for each of these options states:

  • Auto: “enables balanced level, aspect ratio, and perspective corrections”
  • Guided: “draw two or more guides to customize perspective corrections”
  • Level: “enable level corrections only”
  • Vertical: “enable level and vertical perspective corrections only”
  • Full: “enable full level, horizontal, and vertical corrections”

There is also a guide tool in the upper left-hand corner with a guide tool. This tool essentially works identically to pressing the Guide button. In both cases, a guide tool becomes active which allows you to place guides on the image to show Lightroom what should be level and vertical. You are allowed to add up to four guides.

I’ve illustrated the use of this new features with an image I took in Sainte-Chapelle in Paris last year. The space is small and crowded, tripods are not allowed, and a wide-angle lens is needed. These conditions make it quite hard to a decent level and perspectively correct shot. The original image, shot with my 28-300mm zoom lens set at 65mm (at 1/20 second, f5.6, ISO 6,400),  is shown here below after all Lightroom corrections except those under the Transform panel.

The original shot, not level and plenty of vertical distortion

The original shot, not level and plenty of vertical distortion

The next image, below, is a screenshot showing the Transform panel open in the Lightroom Develop module. No transform corrections have been selected – the Off button is active. Please note, that when using the Transform corrections, it is best to have the lens profile corrections already active in the Lens Corrections panel.

The image in Lightroom Develop module with the Transform panel open.

The image in Lightroom Develop module with the Transform panel open.

The images below are the results of selecting the Auto, Level, and Vertical buttons. In this case, the results from the Full button is identical to the Vertical button.

Image after selecting the Auto button

Image after selecting the Auto button – improved, the image is almost (but not quite) level, and the vertical perspective is improve but far from perfect

Image after selecting the Level button

Image after selecting the Level button – nice job on leveling, vertical perspective unchanged from original

Image after selecting the Vertical button

Image after selecting the Vertical  or Full buttons (without cropping) – better than the Auto button, both horizontal and vertical perspectives well corrected, though not perfectly

Below I show the steps in using the Guided correction either by guide tool or selecting the Guided button.

Guide tool in use, picking two spots to define, in this case, a horizontally level line. The tool opens up a zoom window to allow the exact placement of the two spots.

Guide tool in use, picking two spots to define, in this case, a horizontally level line along the base of the altar. The tool opens up a zoom window to allow the exact placement of the two spots.

Here I've placed a second guide, this one defining a vertical line. With the placement of the second guide, the image adjusts. If it is still not satisfactory, a third and fourth guides can be added.

Here I’ve placed a second guide, this one defining a vertical line along the left-hand stained glass window. With the placement of the second guide, the image adjusts. If it is still not satisfactory, a third and fourth guides can be added.

Here a third guide has been added, creating a further correction.

Here a third guide (another vertical one, this one along the right-hand window) has been added, creating a further correction.

And now, a fourth guide, in this case, another horizontal one.

And now, a fourth guide, in this case, another horizontal one at the top of the altar. Now the image shows a better correction than any of the automated buttons. Results, of course, depend greatly on the selection and placement of the guides.

You have the option of checking the Constrain Crop checkbox at the bottom of the panel. This crops off the white space created by the corrections, but often it does not do a very good job as was the case here.

You have the option of checking the Constrain Crop checkbox at the bottom of the panel (this works with any of the buttons, not just the Guided one). This crops off the white space created by the corrections, but often it does not do a very good job as was the case here.

Instead you can use the crop tool, shown here, and adjust the cropping for a better composition. Here the crop tool was locked to the original aspect ratio.

Instead you can use the crop tool, shown here, and adjust the cropping for a better composition. Here the crop tool was locked to the original aspect ratio.

In this case, I wanted to show more of the stained glass windows, so I unlocked the aspect ratio and extended the crop upwards to make a vertical panorama. This crop resulted in my finished and featured image at the top of the post.

In this case, I wanted to show more of the stained glass windows, so I unlocked the aspect ratio and extended the crop upwards to make a vertical panorama. This crop resulted in my finished and featured image at the top of the post.

 

 

 


Rookie Mistakes

Gorge MoonsetI hope you are having a great summer (or winter for my friends down south). I’m not sure where the time has gone this summer. It seems like I’ve been busy, but have little to show for it. I know my time has not been taken up by photography. I sort my image in my Lightroom catalog by date, and the catalog for July only has two dates in it. Same with August – and those two were from consecutive days of a non-photography trip where the camera barely left the bag. The purpose of the trip earlier this month was a family reunion. Us Beckers gather every year the first weekend in August.

This year, the get-together was at my sister’s house in Lyle, Washington. For those of you that don’t know where Lyle is, it is a small town in the Columbia River Gorge, on the Washington side of the river, ten miles or so east of Hood River, Oregon. My sister actually lives north of town another 10 miles or so in a house with a fantastic view of Mount Adams. However, I didn’t take any shots of Mount Adams when I was there, the air was quite hazy.

Tanya and I stayed right in the town of Lyle in an Airbnb house with a view of the Columbia River. The only photograph I planned to take that weekend was the image above. I knew by checking the Photographer Ephemeris that the crescent moon would be setting directly down the gorge from Lyle. In fact, I didn’t have to travel far to get the shot. The image above was taken from the deck of our rental.

So why is this post called “Rookie Mistakes?” Because I made a mess of my photo shoot. For those of you that have been to the Columbia River Gorge, you probably know the wind blows there a lot, and the night I shot this image was no exception. So, one would think that I, being somewhat of a professional photographer, would take precautions against camera shake. Well, I thought I did. I used my sturdiest tripod, I bumped up the ISO to 800 and used wide apertures to make for shorter shutter speeds. I shot some 30 images. All of them had camera shake to a certain extent. The one above, the last image I shot that night, was the best of the lot. I used Photoshop’s shake reduction filter, and that helped, but I could have done more. I should have used a weight on the tripod. I should have left the stabilizer on my lens, which I normally turn off when shooting from a tripod, turned on. Bad mistakes. I’m lucky I had even one halfway decent shot.

Mistake number two – the moon (and the planet above it in this image, Jupiter, I think) moves fast. My shutter speeds were between 2.5 and 30 seconds. When shooting stars at night, a 30-second exposure is typically not long enough to have star trails show when using a very wide-angle lens. However, I was not using a very wide-angle lens; I was using a telephoto lens. In everything I shot with a shutter speed over 2.5 seconds, the moon was horribly blurred due to the earth’s rotation. The image above is actually a composite, the moon and Jupiter are a 2.5 second exposure, the rest is a 10 second exposure.

All I can say is that when I downloaded these images to my computer, I was very disappointed. I let the excitement of the photo shoot overwhelm good technique. That’s why it is important to get out and practice your craft as much as possible. Keep working on your technique until it becomes second nature. I guess I’m not there yet. Here I encountered two different, unrelated phenomenon that, had I been thinking properly, should have made me use a fast shutter speed. Neither did. I failed and am lucky to have anything to show. But, I learned a lesson and, hopefully, will not make these mistakes again.


Feeding the Photography Habit when Traveling with Family

The LouvreIf you are like me, it is often difficult to do serious photography when traveling with your family. I wish I had a simple method to address this problem, but I don’t. If you do, please let me know! Or perhaps you don’t think this is a problem. If that is that case, please tell me why.

When traveling with Tanya, she usually requires me classify the trip as  a  “photograph trip” or a “non-photography trip.” On non-photography trips, I can still take my equipment, but I am expected not to disrupt any trip plans with photography. On photography trips, the world’s my oyster and I dictate when and where.

Casa Batlló, designed by Gaudí, on the Block of Discord, Bacelona

Casa Batlló, designed by Gaudí, on the Block of Discord, Barcelona

When we take a big trip, like our trip to Europe last month, they are by default non-photography trips. This is especially true when we travel with others; in this particular case, traveling with my mother-in-law and my son. One word of advice – if you want to get a lot of photography in while traveling, don’t travel with your mother-in-law.

On a photography trip, I tend to take the whole bag. But for non-photography trips, I go more minimal. I usually take my camera backpack as a carry-on in the plane, but I don’t typically carry it around when out shooting except when I’m going out by myself (see below). Even then, I take some of the gear out instead of my normal kit. I typically take my Canon 6D body with battery grip, a 28-300 mm lens, a 17-40 mm lens, about 5 or 6 memory cards, a polarizing filter, a split-neutral density filter, a Canon speedlight flash, four batteries, a battery charger, a tripod, my laptop, a card reader, and a few various accessories (lens cloth, etc.). In addition to the backpack, I also bring a Think Tank Pro digital holster  as a smaller bag.

So when on a non-photography trips and heading out with the family, I go with a minimal set of equipment.  I will put the 28-300mm lens on the camera, take the battery grip off, and put the camera in the holster (the camera will not fit in the holster with the battery grip on). In the pockets of the holster, which are rather small, I’ll carry a spare battery, a spare memory card, a cleaning cloth, and the polarizing filter. Sometimes, if I know I will want it, I’ll carry the 17-40mm lens in my coat pocket (no room in the camera holster). Rarely I’ll carry the tripod as well with this minimal setup. This minimal set of equipment allows me to get quality photographs without impacting the family, though I will often have to shoot at a higher ISO than I’d like due to not having the tripod (see my last post).

But my main strategy to get quality photography time is to go out without the family. This usually means going out at night after the family has retired to our lodgings for the evening or getting up extra early and going out prior to everyone else being ready for the day. This is one reason I like to stay near major attractions that might look good at night. On your recent trip, we stayed within easy walking distance of the Louvre when in Paris and near the Block of Discord in Barcelona. When going out on my own, I carry my full kit in the photo backpack and always take the tripod (even with high ISOs, it is hard to shoot at night without a tripod). The added advantage is that often there are not very many people around wandering into my frame when shooting, and even if they do, the exposures are long enough that they typically don’t show up if they keep moving.

Shooting at night also has the added advantage of making the sky easier to deal with. When doing travel photography, you typically don’t have a lot of time at any one destination. So you can’t necessarily wait for those “good” sky days. Often the sky is a mass of clouds without any redeeming detail, and if you place it in your composition, it sits there like a huge blown-out white blob. Not to mention the contrast problem it creates with the foreground and your image’s subject. Not a problem at night. At worst, clouds pick up scattered lights from the city and take on an orange glow, which is easy to fix in processing.

The images accompanying this post are from two nights I went out by myself, once in Paris and the second in Barcelona. Unlike my previous post, these images were all taken with an ISO of 100 or 200 while using a tripod. The featured image at the top of the post is of the courtyard of the Louvre.

The top of the large pyramid in the Louve courtyard with the museum building in back.

The top of the large pyramid in the Louvre courtyard with the museum building in back.

The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, just northeast of the Louvre

The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, just northeast of the Louvre

Louvre, the Seine River, and the Pont du Carrousel bridge

Louvre, the Seine River, and the Pont du Carrousel bridge

Palace of the Institute of France

Palace of the Institute of France

Reflections in the Seine looking toward the Palace of the Institute of France and the Pont des Arts bridge

Reflections in the Seine looking toward the Palace of the Institute of France and the Pont des Arts bridge

Close up on the Casa Batlló

Close up on the Casa Batlló

Close up on Casa Milà, popularly known as La Pedrera

Close up on Christmas decorations on the Casa Milà , popularly known as La Pedrera

Shooting at night can give lucky accidents, such as this shot of La Pedrera with a bus driving through the frame during the exposure

Shooting at night can give lucky accidents, such as this shot of La Pedrera with a bus driving through the frame during the exposure

Barcelona is home the famous Magic Fountains, but there are many other fountains in the city as well, such as this one in the middle of the intersection of Passeig de Garcia and Gran Via de Les Corts Catalanes

Barcelona is home the famous Magic Fountains, but there are many other fountains in the city as well, such as this one in the middle of the intersection of Passeig de Garcia and Gran Via de Les Corts Catalanes

Or the fountains here in the Plaça de Catalunya

Or the fountains here in the Plaça de Catalunya