Tour of Britain photo shoot

The rest of Team Sky (3)

Today, I’m not at work. In fact, as you read this, I should be starting to make my way back from North Yorkshire after a long weekend of photography (heavy rain/floods permitting).  It all started a few years ago when my long-suffering wife suggested that, instead of hijacking our family holidays and leaving her on her own in a cottage (without power on one memorable occasion) whilst I go out to take pictures, I should have a couple of dedicated weekends a year instead. So, that’s what I’ve be doing this weekend!

Getting read for my jaunt to Whitby, the surrounding coast and the North Yorkshire Moors reminded me of my last photography outing – a trip to watch the Welsh stage of the Tour of Britain a couple of weeks ago.  I contemplated trying to catch the race in two places but, in the end, decided that Welsh roads, traffic and weather were likely to conspire against me getting ahead of the peloton so, after a quick location scout on an already-crowded Caerphilly Mountain, I took up position back in the town, sitting on a street sign, on the last corner before the finish line, in a spot where I should see the riders come past me twice.

"This is the line..."I was amazed at how close to the action it’s possible to get with the Tour of Britain. Back in the mid-90s I went to watch some stages of the Network Q RAC Rally and could literally stand on the side of a forest track half way up a mountain as cars shot past at very high speed but I imagine these days “health and safety” have taken over and it must be a lot more controlled. The last kilometre of the cycling has barriers for crowd control but with two loops of Caerphilly Mountain inside towards the end of the race the crowds were up there, rather than in town. I later saw from the television pictures that the mountain spectators were all over the road, right up to the riders, shouting encouragement, just like on a stage of the Tour de France or Vuelta a España – very un-British and fantastic to see.

I know we’ve had an amazingly successful summer of cycling here in the UK with the Team Sky/Bradley Wiggins Tour de France success, followed by the Olympics (road and track) and even a fourth place for Chris Froome in the Vuelta but it was great to see so many people out for the Tour of Britain. Sadly, Wiggo pulled out of the Tour that day and mountains were never going to lead to a strong finish for Cav (his last few days in the rainbow Jersey) but it was great to see another Brit in the shape of Jonathan Tiernan-Locke take the Gold jersey (before he went on to win the Tour two days later).Matt Stephens  After the presentations, I could (almost) get to the Team Sky bus (the “Death Star”), could definitely get close to the other teams, and even managed to say hello to Matt Stephens (Race Controller and TV Presenter). Unlike some sports, it seems that the stars of professional road race cycling are still (reasonably) accessible for the fans.

My #ToB2012 in numbers: stage 6; 405m/8h15 travel; 3h wait; 2 cameras; 621 images/1 video to edit; 1 autograph :-) Thanks @
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

Although my wife thought I was mad to drive to Wales and wait around for hours to take some pics of blokes on bikes zooming past, I had a great day out.  Here are a selection of the images from that day – and I’ll be back at my desk and blogging again later in the week, hopefully with a load more pictures to share.

Three trips to London just to get one image right: I hope it was worth it!

Unless they’ve been living under a rock, it would have been difficult for anyone in the UK to miss the fact that the Olympic Games took place in London recently and that Team GB and Northern Ireland (Team UK surely?) did rather well.  In true British style, many of us (myself included) were deeply cynical about many of the decisions made by the Olympic organisers (I still think that the ticketing was a mess, and that sponsors got a little too much brand exclusivity for their money) but, as the medals came flowing in, our positions softened and the nation came together as one in a way that I honestly don’t think I’ve seen before.  Strangers spoke to one another in the streets (where I live in rural Buckinghamshire that’s normal – at least on weekdays when the commuters are at work – but not in London) and the universal common denominator of comment was no longer the British weather but the success of Bradley Wiggins, Jessica Ennis, Katherine Grainger or one of the many other athletes who have become household names this summer.

Less broadly publicised (although the Mayor of London Presents website is a good resource) were some of the surrounding events taking place in London during the Olympic (and Paralympic) Games and it was purely by chance that I attended a London Bloggers Meetup for a photo walk along the Thames taking in the light shows on many of London’s landmarks.  Actually, I didn’t really manage to attend – I started out with the group but, because I’m a photographer first and blogger second, I fell behind, missed the boat and ended up on my own photo walk (I still got a set of photos that I was pretty pleased with). Except for one of them, showing the Union Flag projected on the side of the Houses of Parliament, which looked OK in camera but was pretty awful when I got it loaded into Lightroom.

I know a bad workman blames his tools but that image is really fuzzy on one side – spoiled by my 24-85mm f2.8-4D lens which seemed good when I used to shoot on film, or on a cropped-sensor DSLR (my old D70) but which has shown itself to be very soft around the edges (especially at zoomed out and at wide apertures) since I switched to a full frame D700. Nikon say this there is nothing wrong with the lens (they still charged me a chunk of money to service it though) but Ken Rockwell also found it lacking in sharpness in his review so I’d have to say it’s a design “feature”, not a “bug”.

A return trip to London a couple of days later with my family (sans DSLR and tripod but with my Coolpix P7100) gave me another go, which was better, but the P7100 just doesn’t have the low-light performance of my DSLR. With a couple of trips to the Paralympic Games planned (as well as a photography weekend coming up in North Yorkshire), I decided to splash out on a new lens (Nikon 50mm f1.4D) but only had one opportunity to shoot the projections on Parliament again.  The original Olympic show ended with the Olympic Games, but a re-worked version is currently running for the Paralympic Games, except that I’m busy at the weekends, and it’s not on this week because Parliament is in session. That left me with two possible evenings to try and get the shot and, as Amazon delivered my new lens so quickly, last Wednesday I was back in London for a wander around Westminster, culminating in lots of night shots on and around the Thames. This time I think I nailed the shot (I hope so anyway!) but it took two hours (8 viewings of the projection on a 15 minute loop) before I was confident I had the image(s) I wanted in the bag.

The final problem is that, when shooting the projection, the clock face of “Big Ben” is just too bright and the highlights are burned out. Unfortunately, the minus one stop exposure that suited the projections onto Parliament was not enough for Big Ben – and that needed to be underexposed by closer to 4 or 5 stops. Thankfully I was able to take two images in the few seconds during which the Union Flag was projected onto Parliament, grabbing shots at -1EV and -4EV (both at an aperture of f4 and using the same focus point). Then, working in Photoshop, I layered the two images, with the darker one on top, and created a mask to hide all but the clock face of Big Ben, allowing the main elements of the -1EV image to show and the composite image to be correctly exposed.

Union Flag on the Houses of Parliament/Paralympic Projections (9)

This is the resulting image and, although a wider angle would have been preferable (as would have been twilight rather than a pitch black sky), I can’t have everything, the weather was kind to me, and I’d rather have a sharp, correctly exposed, image!

Handling camera raw images on old versions of OS X

I use Adobe Lightroom for most of my digital photography workflow but as our family takes more and more pictures on a variety of cameras, other family members need to process images – and I’m not letting them near my Lightroom catalogue!

As we tend to use iPhoto every year to product yearbooks, calendars, etc., the solution we decided on was for me to copy unprocessed images over onto an old Mac Mini, which is running OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) with iPhoto (still version 6, part of the iLife suite shipped with OS X 10.4, which was what originally installed on the Mini).

Old software doesn’t support raw formats

All seemed good until I we tried to import the the first batch of photos that I’d sent over. iPhoto was happy with JPGs but didn’t like the raw images (.NEF from my Nikon D700 and .NRW from my Nikon P7100). Apple’s advice on supported digital camera RAW formats for OS X 10.6 suggested that the D700 should be OK (presumably not with old versions of iPhoto – one forum post suggested I’d need at least iPhoto ’08) but that I needed to install the Digital Camera RAW Compatibility Update 3.9 for the P7100, which would also need me to upgrade to iPhoto 11 (v9.3.2). The iPhoto upgrade was no big deal (£10.49 in the Mac App Store)  but it will only run on OS X 10.7.4 or later.  Lion is no longer in the Mac App Store but OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) is (and it’s only £13.49). Unfortunately, Lion and Mountain Lion will not run on Core Solo or Core Duo Macs (like my Mini).

I refuse to buy a new Mac for this – the whole point of the exercise was to provide a fit-for-purpose solution using the kit we already have – and a new machine doesn’t come into that (heck, I might as well just put Photoshop Elements on my wife’s Windows laptop), so it was back to the drawing board.

If my combination of OS X and iPhoto won’t read my raw files, I’ll just need to batch convert them to something else first…

Compiling and installing dcraw on OS X

Dave Coffin’s dcraw is a Linux utility for raw file conversion and I decided to use that on the Mac Mini but it needs a bit of work to get it installed. I found a blog post that describes the process to get the latest version of dcraw working on OS X 10.7 (Lion) but the process is slightly different for earlier versions of OS X.

First up, I installed Apple’s developer tools – XCode.  These are found on the operating system DVD for OS X 10.6 (in the Optional Installs folder) but are a free load from the Mac App Store for 10.7 and later. I did register for a developer account and started downloading version 3.2.6 but then realised that it was a 4.1GB download and retrieving the DVD from the loft was easier. After installing XCode from the DVD, I updated to 3.2.6 using the OS X Software Update utility although other versions of OS X might have a slightly different XCode upgrade process.

The Unix Command Line tools are an install option on XCode 3.2.6 (they can be downloaded from inside XCode from version 4 onwards) but, once these were installed, the next step was to download and install MacPorts.  Again, there are different versions according to the release of OS X in use but I downloaded the .DMG for OS X 10.6 and then kicked off a Terminal session.

Once in Terminal, I entered the following commands:

su admin
sudo port install dcraw

following which MacPorts did all of the work to download and install dcraw and all of its dependencies.

Batch converting raw images on the Mac

With dcraw installed, there are many options for processing images but the basic syntax may be found by opening Terminal and typing:

\opt\local\bin\dcraw

Camera Hacker has some examples of dcraw use but I used the following commands to bulk convert batches of .NEF and .NRW files to .TIFF format:

dcraw -a -w -v -T *.NEF
dcraw -a -w -v -T *.NRW

One final tweak before import the files to iPhoto was to set the file dates to match the camera timestamp (without this, iPhoto seemed to think that the images were taken on the day they were imported):

dcraw -z *.tiff

The resulting files were ready to import to iPhoto for family use, with no risk to the master copies that are stored on my MacBook.

DSLR sensor cleaning hints and tips

I started to write this post back in September 2010 but it’s been sitting in my drafts folder since then, waiting for me to check my facts.  Even so, as I found myself taking up more of my friend Andy Gailer’s time than I suspect either he or I would have liked (as he helped me to clean the sensor on my DSLR a couple of nights ago), I knew it was time for me to finally put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and finish this off…

It’s a fact of life that, the more often a lens is changed on an SLR camera, the more likely it is that some dirt or dust will find its way into the chamber. Back in the days of film it was easy – grit would scratch your negatives, but a few specks of dust were rarely a problem (indeed, the action of winding on the film moved the dust/dirt away from the active area). Ask anyone with a DSLR though, and they will almost certainly regail stories of frustration as they try to remove dust spots from their sensor (or at least the low-pass filter immediately in front of the sensor).

This post has a few hints and tips that might help you if you have ugly spots appearing on your images. I also recommend reading Thom Hogan’s excellent article on cleaning sensors.

Dust off reference image

I use a Nikon DSLR and it includes a feature called teh dust off reference image. The idea behind this is that, by taking an image that shows the dust spots, this can be compared with others and changes made automatically. It’s a nice idea, but it requires the use of Nikon’s Capture NX software. I don’t use Capture NX (I use Adobe Lightroom), so this feature doesn’t help much… I’m not sure what Canon (and other manufacturers) do, but probably something to be aware of if you have a Nikon DSLR.

In camera sensor cleaning

My Nikon D700 has the ability to clean its own sensor at startup/shutdown but I’m not sure how effective this is.  Even so, it’s probably worth leaving the option enabled – it won’t do any harm.

Arctic Butterfly

One tool in my friend Andy’s arsenal is his Arctic Butterfly. Basically a selection of brushes with a motor to spin off any dust, this kit allows skilled operators (i.e. not me!) to lift away dust by breaking the static bond that is attaching it to the sensor. You’ll need to lock up the mirror (the camera will usually have an option to do this in its firmware) in order to access the sensor.

It’s a useful tool and on at least two occasions now Andy has helped me to clean away most of the dust (there’s always some left behind). The downside is that the Arctic Butterfly is quite an expensive piece of kit.

Rocket blower

I spent at least half a day working through a multitude of boxes, drawers and even some more unlikely places hunting high and low for my Giottos air blower but I can’t find it anywhere.  If it doesn’t turn up soon, I’ll almost certainly replace it as it’s an excellent investment for blowing loose particles away.  The trick is to hold the body with the lens mount facing down, then blow upwards (so that any dirt falls away from the camera and towards the ground). If you’re lucky, this is all you need to do to clear away the dust, but never use compressed air blowers (the propellant can sometimes get squirted onto the sensor) and, certainly never be tempted to blow with your mouth! I found, to my cost, that even a dry mouth will result in saliva on the sensor… which leads me onto the next tip…

Sensor swabs

Sensor swabs can be used for removing stubborn stains (like saliva… or grease).  Available in specific sizes to suit full frame 35mm or APS-C sized sensors, I have used the Photographic Solutions Sensor Swabs Pro product previously, but my swabs seem to have gone AWOL with my rocket blower…

As it happens, Andy had some swabs from Visible Dust that probably did a better job – the main difference was that they needed to be  moistened with a special fluid instead of being pre-moistened and sealed in a foil packet.

Checking for the presence of dirt on the sensor

Regardless of the technique(s) used to clean the sensor, it’s necessary to check for the continued presence of dust/dirt on the sensor.  Some spots will be too small to view with the naked eye but, thankfully, it’s relatively straightforward to take a photograph that will show any problems.

  1. Take a picture of a plain object (e.g. a sheet of paper) from about 10cm away in good light. Make sure that you use the following settings:
    • A narrow aperture (e.g. f22) for maximum depth of field.
    • Zoom in as far as possible.
    • Focus to infinity (you may need to do this manually).
    • Some people suggest setting the exposure to +2.0EV but I tend not to do this as the dirt will still be visible on a grey image and over-exposing may blow out the image leaving no dust spots visible.
  2. View the image at 1:1 scale in your favourite image editing software. It may take a while to view the whole image (with several scans across and up/down) but it should be possible to see if there are any remaining dust spots. If the largest ones have gone and there are only a few left (especially at the edges), it may be advisable to cut your losses and leave them there…

Disclaimer: I feel the need, in today’s increasingly litigious society, to point out that this information has been given in good faith but that I can’t be held responsible for any damage to equipment as a result of following the advice on this website.

New cameras, raw image support and Adobe software

In yesterday’s post about my Nikon Coolpix P7100, I mentioned that I’d had to invest in new software when I bought a new camera (as if a new camera wasn’t a big enough expense). As I’m reading about Adobe’s beta of Lightroom 4, I thought it was probably worth eleborating on this, as once of my friends also had a similar experience last year – and it’s something that pretty much all Adobe users will come across if they buy new cameras and shoot raw images.

Whilst some might argue that there is no noticable difference between a fine JPEG image and something generated from a raw file, the simple fact is that multiple edits on compressed files will lead to a gradual degradation in quality. I prefer to capture in the highest possible quality, work on that, and only save to .JPG at the end of my workflow (typically before uploading to the web, or sending to a lab for printing).

So, when I bought the P7100, I found that I needed the latest version of Adobe Camera Raw to read the .NRW (raw) images that it created. That wouldn’t have been a problem, except that Adobe Camera Raw 6.x doesn’t work with the software I was using at the time – Adobe Lightroom 2.x and Photoshop CS4. So I purchased Lightroom 3, although I have to make do without editing my P7100’s images in Photoshop – it’s just too expensive to upgrade at the drop of a hat.

It’s not just me – a friend who bought a Canon EOS 600D last year suddenly found that she needed to upgrade from Photoshop Elements 8 to Elements 9 in order to work with her raw images (she could also use Apple iPhoto… but it’s seriously limited for anything more than the most basic of edits).

With the coming of Lightroom 4/Photoshop CS 6, I guess we’ll see Adobe Camera Raw 7 and, if past history is any judge of what’s coming, I’ll expect that will not work with Lightroom 3 or CS 5. In effect Adobe is forcing us to upgrade their software, in order to use the raw capabilities of a new camera.

Obviously, Adobe would like us to all use its digital negative (.DNG) format for raw images (indeed, Adobe offers a free DNG converter) but, given that neither Canon nor Nikon – the two largest camera manufactirers – are showing any sign of moving away from their proprietary formats, that doesn’t help a lot.

There may be other tools to convert from the P7100’s raw images to .DNG or .TIF for working on, but I can’t help feeling Adobe’s decision to tie Camera Raw to certain releases of its software is a retrograde step, and it won’t encourage me to upgrade my software again until I am forced to (probably by a new camera purchase…).

Nikon Coolpix P7100: Great carry-everywhere camera with SLR-type controls but could do with being a little more responsive

For a while, I’ve been looking for a camera that will fit in my bag so I can take it anywhere, is inexpensive enough to leave in a car glovebox without fear of theft but is capable enough to replace my DSLR in certain scenarios (so, not a mobile phone camera…).

Then, on a photography trip to Cornwall last September, I broke one of my lenses, rendering my D700 next to useless (my 80-200 f2.8 is a good lens, but a bit long for everyday use and without my 24-85 f2.8-4 I was pretty lost). Lacking the funds to replace the lens (I’ve since repaired it and can wholeheartedly recommend Dave Boyle’s Camera Repair Workshop), I decided to purchase the camera I’d been waiting for – a Nikon Coolpix P7100, which competes with Canon’s G12 to replace the earlier Coolpix P7000 (adding a pivoting screen, although not the flip-out type found on camcorders – which is, arguably, a good thing).

Why the Nikon? Well, I have a Nikon D700 DSLR and a Canon Ixus 70 point and shoot (correction – had a Canon Ixus – as my son has claimed it as “his” camera) but the P7100 has a longer zoom range than the G12 (28-200 35mm equivalent) and a better LCD screen. Ultimately the longer zoom is what clinched the deal for me – although I would like to have gone down the Canon route.  Offering full control over images (e.g. aperture priority, shutter speed priority, manual ISO selection, raw capture and even a flash hotshoe) but also fully-automatic mode (and video), it’s a chunky “little” camera/video camera but still small enough to slip in my coat pocket.

The retail price for this camera is £499 and I originally paid around £423 on Amazon but, the day it arrived, I found the price had dropped to closer to £371.  I was just about to return it (unopened) and repurchase but instead, I got in touch with Amazon, who refunded the difference (saving shipping costs) although they did claim this is not normal practice.  Since then, it’s dropped a little further but I think I paid a fair price, given that it was a newly-released camera at the time.  Although I’ve yet to find a case to keep the camera in, it’s pretty substantial and should be able to withstand everyday knocks but I did decide to get a screen protector to cover the LCD panel.  Ebay came up trumps here with some protectors from Protection 24 Films.

So, is it any good? Well… that’s one of the reasons this post has taken so long to write (the comments on this DPReview post are worth reading). It is good, but I can’t quite make up my mind as there have been a couple of disappointments. I’m glad I didn’t get one of the new Nikon 1 series cameras – I don’t need to mess around with interchangable lenses on something for this purpose – but an entry-level DSLR costs about the same as the P7100 and that has no shutter lag/focus delay/ (the P7100 does – and that’s inconvenient when taking pictures of moving objects). Also, the noise levels are not great with noticeable grain at ISO 400/800 worsening rapidly above that (although they do look like grain, rather than the digital noise I used to get with my old D70) but I’d expected better in a camera from this day and age.

Even so, I was looking at my Flickr stream last night and realised just how many of my recent shots were taken on the little P7100. These two were taken last weekend in London and, considering I was holding the camera in the air and using some slow shutter speeds, have come out remarkably well:

An eye on Big Ben

London Eye

These were taken in Lincoln just before Christmas:

Exchequergate

Top of Steep Hill

Lovely Post Office

And these were taken early one morning in October just after I got the camera:

Mist rising over the Ouse Valley

Petsoe Wind Turbines at Dawn

Early morning balloon ride

The grain is noticeable in the full-resolution versions of the dawn shots, and there is some distortion (particularly obvious on the buildings in Lincoln) that I haven’t been able to correct in Lightroom (I need to work out the appropriate settings). I also had to update my Adobe software to use Camera Raw 6.x which meant a new copy of Lightroom (thank goodness for educational discounts) and that I can’t edit my P7100 raw files in Photoshop CS4 (that will be the subject of another blog post, I think).

Given that I don’t want to lug a heavy (and expensive) DSLR rig around everywhere – its unlikely I would have taken some of these if I hadn’t bought the P7100, so it’s clearly a useful tool (I use it with my Joby Gorillapod too) but it’s worth bearing in mind some of the limitations before shelling out some cash. Those looking to expand their photography might prefer to get an entry-level DSLR and those looking for a point and shoot may well be happy with a cameraphone – the Coolpix P7100 attempts to fill a very small niche between these two form factors.

From snapshots to social media – the changing picture of photography (@davidfrohlich at #digitalsurrey)

My visits to Surrey seem to be getting more frequent… earlier tonight I was in Reigate, at Canon‘s UK headquarters for another great Digital Surrey talk.

The guest speaker was Professor David Frohlich (@davidfrohlich) from the University of Surrey Digital World Research Centre, who spoke about the changing picture of photography and the relationship between snapshots and social media, three eras of domestic photography, the birth and death of the album and lessons for social media innovation.

I often comment that I have little time for photography these days and all I do is “take snapshots of the kids” but my wife disagrees – she’s far less critical of my work and says I take some good pictures. It was interesting to see a definition of a snapshot though, with it’s origins in 1860’s hunting and “shooting from the hip” (without careful aim!). Later it became “an amateur photograph” so I guess yes, I do mainly take snapshots of the kids!

Professor Frohlich spoke of three values of snapshots (from research by Richard Chalfen in 1987 and Christopher Musello in 1979):

  • Identity.
  • Memory (triggers – not necessarily of when the photograph was taken but of events around that time).
  • Communication.

He then looked at a definition of social media (i.e. it’s a media for social interaction) and suggested that photographs were an early form of social media (since integrated into newer forms)!

Another element to consider is that of innovation and, using Philip Anderson and Michael L Tushman’s 1990 theory as an example, he described how old technological paths hit disruption, there’s then an era of fermentation (i.e. discontinuous development) before a dominant design appears and things stabilise again.  In Geoff Mulgan’s 2007 Process of Social Innovation it’s simply described as new ideas that work, or changing practice (i.e. everyday behaviour).

This led to the discussion of three eras of domestic photography. Following the invention of photography (1830-1840) we saw:

  1. The portrait path [plate images] (1839-1888) including cartes-de-visite (1854-1870)
  2. The Kodak path [roll film] (1888-1990) from the Kodak No. 1 camera in 1888, through the first Polaroid camera (1947), colour film cartridges (1963) which was disrupted with the birth of electronic still video photography (1980-1990)
  3. The digital path (from 1990)

What we find is that the three values of snapshots overlay this perfectly (although the digital era also has elements of identity it is mainly about communication):

Whilst the inventor of the photograph is known (actually Fox-Talbot’s Calotype/Talbottype and Daguerre’s Daguerrotype were both patented in 1839), it’s less well-known who invented the album.

Professor Frohlich explained that the album came into being after people swapped cartes-de-visite (just like today’s photographic business cards!) which became popular around 1850 as a standard portrait sized at 2.5″ x 4″.  These cards could be of individuals, or even famous people (Abraham Lincoln, or Queen Victoria) and in 1854, Disderi’s camera allowed mass production of images with several on a single sheet of paper.  By 1860 albums had been created to store these cards – a development from an earlier past-time of collecting autographs and these albums were effectively filled with images of family, people who visited and famous people – just as Facebook is today!

The Kodak era commenced after George Eastman‘s patent was awarded on 4 September 1888 for a personalised camera which was more accessible, less complex than portrait cameras, and marketed to women around the concept of the Kodak family album.  Filled with images of “high days and holidays” – achievements, celebrations and vacations – these were the albums that most of us know (some of us still maintain) and the concept lasted for the next century (arguably it’s still in existence today, although increasingly marginalised).

Whilst there were some threats (like Polaroid images) they never quite changed the dominant path of photography. Later, as people became more affluent, there were more prints and people built up private archives with many albums and loose photographs (stored in cupboards – just as my many of my family’s are in our loft!).

As photography met ICT infrastructure, the things that we could do with photography expanded but things also became more complex, with a complex mesh involving PCs, printers and digital camera. Whilst some manufacturers cut out the requirement for a computer (with cameras communicating directly to printers), there were two inventions that really changed things: the camera phone and the Internet:

  • Camera phones were already communications-centric (from the phone element), creating a new type of content, that was more about communications than storing memories. In 2002, Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen, Ilpo Koskinen and Esko Kurvine studied the use of mobile digital pictures, not as images for an album but images to say “look where I am”. Whilst technologies such as MMS were not used as much as companies like Nokia expected [largely due to transmission costs imposed by networks] we did see an explosion in online sharing of images.
  • Now we have semi-public sharing, with our friends on Facebook (Google+, etc.) and even wider distribution on Flickr. In addition, photographs have become multimedia objects and Professor Frohlich experimented with adding several types of audio to still images in 2004 as digital story telling.

By 2008, Abigail Durrant was researching photographic displays and intergenerational relationships at home. She looked at a variety of display devices but, critically, found that there was a requirement for some kind of agreement as to what could be displayed where (some kind of meta rules for display).

Looking to the future there are many developments taking place that move beyond the album and on to the archive. Nowadays we have home media collections – could we end up browsing beautiful ePaper books that access our libraries?Could we even see the day where photographic images have a “birthday” and prompt us to remember things (e.g. do you remember when this image was taken, 3 years ago today?)

Professor Frohlich finished up with some lessons for social media innovation:

  • Innovation results from the interaction of four factors: practice; technology; business; and design.
  • Business positioning and social shaping are as important to innovation as technology and it’s design.
  • Social media evolve over long periods of time (so don’t give up if something doesn’t happen quickly).
  • Features change faster than practices and values (social networking is a partial return to identity – e.g. tagging oneself – and not just about communications).
  • Some ideas come around again (like the stereograph developing into 3D cinema).
  • Infrastructure and standards are increasingly key to success (for example, a standard image size).

I do admit to being in admiration of the Digital Surrey team for organising these events – in my three visits I’ve seen some great speakers. Hopefully, I’ve covered the main points from this event but Andy Piper (@andypiper) sums it up for me in a single tweet:

 

Preparing images for projection in photography club competitions

Earlier this year, I took a day out to attend the Focus on Imaging exhibition at the National Exhibition Centre, near Birmingham.  I spent a fair amount of the day on the Epson stand – some of which was looking over some great printers (a Stylus Pro 4880 is now on my wishlist) but whilst I was there I also had the opportunity to listen to two professional photographers sharing their experience with the audience.

The first of these was Mike McNamee, who spoke about preparing images for print and digital competition exhibition.  In this first post, I’ll look at digital competition entries and a follow-up post will concentrate on preparing images for printing.

(The steps described are based on Adobe Photoshop CS4 on a Mac but the settings should be the same for other packages, even if the methods are different – Photoshop users with Windows PCs should use Ctrl where I have written Cmd).

There are two common image resolutions used by photography clubs in the UK  – 1024x768px and 1400x1050px.  Therefore, when preparing an image for projection in a club competition, create a new document 1024 or 1400 pixels wide, and 768 or 1050 pixels high, 72 DPI (although this doesn’t really matter for projection) and 8 bit sRGB. Choosing the colour space is important as images submitted using another colour space (e.g. AdobeRGB), will appear desaturated when projected.  Optionally, save these settings as a preset:

Screenshot showing Photoshop CS4 (Mac) settings for entering projected images into UK photographic club competitions

Next up, take an image (pre-sharpened during raw conversion and left at full size), select the area you want to show in the presentation and, making sure the Move Tool is selected (V), drag/drop it onto the blank canvas (holding down the shift key whilst dragging/dropping will place the image in the centre of the canvas).

Because the source image will typically be much larger than the target, we need to resize it on the canvas. From the Edit menu, select Free transform (Cmd+T) and zoom out until the controls on the edge of the image are visible (a quick way to do this is to select Fit on screen from the View Menu – or Cmd+0).

Hold down the shift key and drag in the corners until the image fits on the canvas, then press Enter to leave a scaled image on the canvas.  Move this to the centre by selecting the whole image (Cmd+A), then making sure that the Move tool is selected (V) and clicking the Align vertical centers and Align horizontal centers buttons in the toolbar. Deselect the image (Cmd+D).

The image will probably look tiny on the screen by now, so adjust the view if necessary, and then change the background colour.  To do this, select the background layer (if there is one – if the background is transparent, create a new layer) then, from the Edit menu, select Fill (Shift+F5) and choose appropriate contents (generally Black), then click OK.

Screenshot showing Photoshop CS4 (Mac) settings for a black background fill

Some people like to add a keyline to their images.  To do this, select the image layer then, from the Layer menu, select Layer Style and Stroke… Pick a size (around 3px is probably fine), select Inside as the position (Outside will leave jagged edges at corners) and select the colour.

Screenshot showing Photoshop CS4 (Mac) settings for a 3px white keyline/stroke

We’re almost done now, but some clubs will require metadata (e.g. Author) to be stored inside the file.  From the File menu, select File Info… (Alt+Shift+Cmd+I) and add appropriate details (e.g. to the IPTC fields) before clicking OK.

Screenshot showing Photoshop CS4 (Mac) settings for adding/accessing file metadata

Finally, save the edited image by selecting Save As… from the File menu (Shift+Cmd+S) and pick an appropriate format (JPEG or TIFF).  Depending on the competition and the software being used, there may be a specific naming format required.

The final image, ready for projection (reduced size)

(The photographic image in this post is ©2010 Mark Wilson, all rights reserved and is therefore excluded from the Creative Commons license used for the rest of this site.)

Cleaning my DSLR’s sensor… the quick (and inexpensive) way

Right now, I’m attending photography workshop in North Wales, learning a bit more about digital photographic imaging. It’s been a good experience so far but, yesterday afternoon, I experienced a small disaster as not only dust but a tiny hair had appeared on all of the images I took, indicating that I had some sort of debris on my sensor (actually, it’s on the anti-aliasing filter, not the sensor but that’s being pedantic…).

Being in the middle of the Snowdonia National Park (albeit in overcast/wet weather) and on a course where I would take a lot of photos, this was not exactly welcome and I feared I’d need a costly professional sensor clean (after a weekend of creating images with hair on them). No-one in the class had any sensor cleaning swabs (not that I’ve ever used them, and I would have been a little nervous too on my still-in-warranty Nikon D700) but, luckily, one of the guys passed me an air blower and said “try this – but make sure you hold the camera body face down as you use it!”.

With the mirror locked up, I puffed some air around inside the body (it’s important not to use compressed air for this) and took a reference image – thankfully the debris was gone (and, because the front of the camera was facing down, it should have fallen out, not gone further back into the camera).

I breathed a big sigh of relief and thanked my fellow classmate. In just over a week its the Focus on Imaging exhibition – hopefully I’ll get along to it and one of the items on my shopping list will be a Giottos Rocket Air Blower

Reading EXIF data to find out the number of shutter activations on a Nikon DSLR

A few years ago, I wrote about some digital photography utilities that I use on my Mac.  These days most of my post-processing is handled by Adobe Lightroom (which includes Adobe Camera Raw), with a bit of Photoshop CS4 (using plugins like Noise Ninja) for the high-end stuff but these tools still come in useful from time to time.  Unfortunately, Simple EXIF Viewer doesn’t work with Nikon raw images (.NEF files) and so it’s less useful to me than it once was.

Recently, I bought my wife a DSLR and, as I’m a Nikon user (I have a D700), it made sense that her body should fit my lenses so I picked up a Nikon refurbished D40 kit from London Camera Exchange.  Whilst the body looked new, I wanted to know how many times the shutter had been activated (DSLR shutter mechanisms have a limited life – about 50,000 for the D40) and the D40’s firmware won’t display this information – although it is captured in the EXIF data for each image.

After some googling, I found a link to Phil Harvey’s ExifTool, a platform independent library with a command line interface for accessing EXIF data in a variety of image formats. A few seconds later and I had run the exiftool -nikon dsc_0001.nef command (exiftool --? gives help) on a test image and it told me a perfectly respectable shutter count of 67.  For reference, I tried a similar command on some images from my late Father’s Canon EOS 1000D but shutter count was not one of the available metrics – even so the ExifTool provides a wealth of information from a variety of image formats.