Monthly Archives: February 2014

Low-Light Photography and A Night at the Museum

Cyborg Rex

The Cyborg Carnivore – that light looks like a laser eye

I am not a big partier.  I used to go out more during  my college days, but that was eons ago and I would now much rather do something sans crowds….unless, of course, it’s an interesting venue and I can tote along my camera.

My company’s 2014 Employee Appreciation Party  was held at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.  With the exception of a few exhibits, we had the entire place to ourselves.   I couldn’t refuse the photo ops, now, could I?

Greg Hills Talk

The Dance Floor and The Welcome Speech

I knew the light would be low or bright only in spots, but I did not want to take along a flash because I did not want to ruin the ambience that available light bestows.  Flash would have created shadows and would have destroyed any of the neat available-light colors seen in these photos.

Hall Of The Dinosaurs #1

Hall Of The Dinosaurs #2

Hall Of The Dinosaurs #3

The shots above are of the Paleo Hall, where tables and food stations were set between the skeletons of pre-historic denizens

So, I set the ISO high – varying it between 1000 and 2500 on my Canon 1DX and used my Canon 24-70mm version II lens.  The shutter speed was between 1/40 and 1/60 and the f-stop was set to 4.

I applied what  is called  the “spray and pray” method of image capture (I’d never heard this before until just recently).  It means you hold down on that shutter button, clicking away  (the “spray” part) and “pray” that one of the images comes out the way you want it.  I’ll go with that.  It’s always worked for me in the past and I have plenty of memory cards.

The View From My Table

A View of the Dance Floor from My Table

The Foucault Pendulum

Foucault’s Pendulum

Hall Of The Egyptians

Hall of the Egyptians

The Paleo Hallway

The Paleo Hallway

Ready To Do Battle

Face Off!

Stegasaurus

Spotlight on the Stegosaurus

Triceratops

My Favorite Dinosaur:  The Triceratops

I applied noise-reduction software to all of these images because the high ISO settings required elimination of the inherent grainy look.

Becky And Friend_H5T7981

Me and A Friend

I joke that someday, when I become a famously-recognized (and wealthy) photographer, I will rent this museum’s Paleo Hall for a reception.  Winking smile

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Filed under Canon, Canon Lens, Equipment, Houston, low light photography, Photography

The Poker Game: Multiple Shots of the Same Person in A Single Image

Aces Up My Sleeves

This idea has been bubbling around in my head for a few weeks, but I had to get all of my western gear together first; my company is having its annual employee appreciation party and the theme is “Denim and Diamonds” (cocktail attire or upscale western wear).

I got all dressed up and decided to play a poker game….just me and my selves with the cards I ordered from SmugMug with my pretty face on the card cover (my sister says it’s difficult to distinguish that it’s my face on the cards – oh well).

The multiple-image-in-a-single-composition premise is easy. With a caveat.

1. Pick a scene where the background and lighting are not going to change and there will not be any movement. I used my mother’s dining room. I really wanted to find someplace with a poker table and poker room ambience – like the game room in the basement of the San Luis Hotel in Galveston where I photographed the groomsmen for a wedding – but I figured someplace like that would have charged me for the room use. Mom’s dining room was fine.

2. Set up your camera and tripod and frame the area. If you are the subject of the photo, then either have someone else push the shutter button for you, or use a wireless remote (or a shutter release with a very long cord). For the image of me standing, the wireless remote was in my pocket; for the rest of the me’s you see, the remote lay on the floor and I triggered it with my big toe (yeah, seriously).

3. Once you have the images you want, download them to your computer. I opened up the images in Lightroom first and applied the same exact settings to all of them (it helps to have created a Preset), then, I saved them as TIF files.

4. Now, there are several ways to do this next step in Photoshop; I just opened up each file one at a time rather than use the File-Scripts-Load Files Into Stack. The idea is to have all of your image files open at once. You need a background image that you can use as an anchor. That image could be a photo of the room with nobody in it or it could be one of the multiple images captured. That is the option I chose.

Note:  to see larger versions of the images below, click on the image.

The Anchor Image

5. I then went to each of the other photos of me, selected the Rectangular Marquee Tool and drew a box around the image.

Copy the photo

6. I copied that image (Ctrl-C).

7. I went back to my anchor photo and pasted (Ctrl-V) the copied image.

8. That pasted image is the one that shows up. If you look at your Layers Panel to the right of your screen, you will see that the pasted image is a Layer.

Your Layer

9. At the bottom of the Layers Panel, select that little icon that kind of looks like a camera (the Create New Layer Mask).

10. Now, look at the Layers Panel and note that beside your newly-pasted photo Layer is a white box; that’s the layer mask.

Add Layer Mask

11. Over on your Tools Panel (the left side of your screen), switch your Foreground and Background so that the black square is on top and the white square is on the bottom.

Switch Foreground and Background

12. Alt-Backspace.

13. You will see your original anchor photo; your newly-pasted photo is  hidden underneath (“masked”).

14. To bring forth just that part of you in the pasted photo, select the Paint Brush from your Tools Panel and start “painting” over the empty space where the next image of you is supposed to show up. Note: you can make the “paint brush” larger or smaller by hitting the bracket keys.

Painting

15. Do the same steps above for however many images you took of you, that you want incorporated into a single composition.

All Painted In

Here’s the Caveat:

To allow for an easy process, make sure that each image of you is not overlapping a previous image of you. Notice that the image of me sitting on the right is in front of and a little to the side of the image of me standing against the curtain. I didn’t realized that I was overlapping myself. That caused some difficulty. You see, whenever I “painted” in that image of me standing, I accidentally painted over the image of me sitting. Remember, each photo I took of myself was just a single image with the rest of the room empty. So, by accidentally getting a little too generous with the paint brush, I would paint over an already-existing image, and get a blank spot where I was sitting previously.

After you have all of the players in that one photo, then you can start editing the overall look of the image. To get the kind of old-timey look I wanted, I applied a number of presets from OnOne’s Perfect Effects.

The Winner and Losers

This is an easy, fun process that opens up a lot of creative avenues.

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Filed under Lessons, Photography

A Short (and Unscientific) Review of Tamron’s New 150-600mm Lens for Canon Mount

Canon 1DX and Tamron 150-600

The Canon 1DX  and Tamron 150-600mm lens

Because this Tamron 150-600mm lens is so new, Lensrentals didn’t have it in stock for my original reservation date. So, I told them to send it when they could. One week later, it was in my hot little hands. Here’s my take on this brand new lens.

The Tamron 150-600mm  lens retails for $1069 at BH Photo and at Adorama and is available for Canon, Nikon and Sony mounts.  Right now (well, as of Feb 15), you can only pre-order the lens here in the USA.

Out of the box:

  • It weighs .03 lbs less than the Sigma 50-500mm, so both are equal in terms of heft.
  • When I first received the lens, I discovered that the lock switch did not work at the 600mm focal length. A Lensrentals tech told me that the lock switch was there only to work at the 150mm focal length to make sure the lens didn’t accidentally move out to a longer length while one was carrying the lens on their shoulder.  Really?   I should think the lock switch is supposed to work at any focal length, and not just the 150mm focal length. I may hate the locking mechanism on my Canon 100-400 but at least it works at all of the focal lengths.
  • If you have microfocus adjustment on your camera, test the lens to make sure the focus is hitting like it should. On my 1DX, it was spot-on. On my Canon 5D Mk III, it was front-focusing.

A Day at the Park

I took my Canon 1DX and this lens out for a morning spin at Brazos Bend State Park, located about halfway between my home and Houston. Btw, mornings are the best time to go out there for birdlife and for few-to-no crowds. I made a return trip later in the day and the place was packed. I got out of the car, looked at all the people and then at the full parking lot at one of my favorite stops, got back in the car and came home.   As I was exiting the park, I looked over to the entrance and saw a long line of cars waiting to get in.  No thank you.

How did this lens do?

As far as image resolution – and this is my opinion only, based upon my own photographic results – I believe this lens is as good as or better than the Sigma 50-500.  I kept the f-stop between 8 – 10 because I’d read other reviews indicating sharpness was better achieved at these apertures (same as with the reviews I’d read about the Sigma lens).   Had it been an overcast day rather than the gorgeous, sunny day that it was, my ISO would have moved from 500 up to probably 1000 – 2000.  As it was, I kept my ISO between 250-500 depending upon the light at any one spot.  My shutter speeds ranged between 200 – 800.

After reviewing the magnified images on my camera’s LCD screen, I was ready to throw in the towel concerning this lens.  Then, when I got the photos downloaded to my computer and I could get a better look at them, I was blown away at the sharpness. Yet another lesson to me that I should never quite trust what I see magnified on my camera’s LCD screen in terms of resolution clarity.

(Note:  To see high-res versions of these low-res uploads, click on each image)

Ibis

The original, cropped a little to get rid of extraneous stuff.  Only adjustments were my normal curves and sharpening – things I apply to all of my images so nothing else special was done

Ibis

65% crop of the original

BUT…. while this lens produces very nice images, it still has some quirks.

Focusing…..Oy Vey

I’d read other reviews about this lens having an issue with tracking and focusing. Yup. I had problems myself, but I don’t think to quite the extent that some reviewers experienced. Tamron didn’t do such a great job with the focus tracking, and I had a difficult time trying to get the lens to focus on anything in motion. Out of all of the photos I took while tracking movements of the birds, maybe 2 or 3 were in-focus. And I was using a Wimberley gimbal tripod head to keep things steady. I highly doubt I would have gotten those 2 or 3 decent shots had I tried to hand-hold the lens even with image stabilization engaged.  The Sigma 50-500 was much,  much better at tracking action images like birds in flight.

And speaking of focus, I discovered that it’s practically non-existent if using any of the focus points other than the ones in the middle of the screen. My 1DX has multi-focus points, and I sometimes use different points whenever I am in Servo Mode because the part on which I want to focus (like the eyes) may be in the far left, far right, upper or lower portion of the image;  to have moved the focus smack dab in the middle of the composition would have cut out a part of the subject.

Aside from the items above, focus – as long as I used the middle focal points – worked just fine and was relatively quick.

Image Stabilization (VC)

Because I kept the camera and lens on a tripod, I didn’t really use image stabilization except a couple of times. It’s just different from what I am used to with my Canon lenses.  At least the image stabilization with Tamron is not so jumpy and unpredictable as with the Sigma 50-500.

A Couple of Questions:

  1. Do I think this a good lens to use for sports (or any other type of fast action like birds in flight or bears battling for a prime spot at Brooks Falls)? No, not at this point in time. Won’t be until Tamron gets their focus tracking issues fixed – if they ever do  (Tamron, I hope you are reading this post).
  2. Would I purchase this lens for my own uses? Hell yeah! I’m gonna get one….AFTER waiting awhile in the hope that Tamron gets all that focus stuff fixed. It’s a fantastic lens for getting stationary or reeeeaallllly slow-moving shots, but not so much for the faster action.

Ibis In The Tree

Little Blue Heron

Soakin Up The Rays

Gator

This lens doesn’t quite match the resolution output of a Canon prime, but like the Sigma 50-500, it’s an affordable option. Since my credit scores are not quite to the point that I could attempt to take out a loan for the Canon 600mm, this Tamron 150-600 (when the focus problems hopefully get ironed out) will be a great alternative.

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Filed under birds, Brazos Bend State Park, Canon, Equipment, nature, Parks, Photography, Tamron 150-600

More Sigma 50-500mm Loveliness

Soooo, in my last post, where I describe my weekend trying out a rental Sigma 50-500mm on my Canon 1DX, I mentioned my next bit of fun would be with the brand spankin’ new Tamron 150-600mm lens.  Unfortunately, Lensrentals doesn’t have them in stock yet, so my reservation had to be moved further back for a time when the lens *is* in stock.

Therefore, I thought I would publish a post with more photos taken using the Sigma and my 1DX.  Apertures were set between f8 – f10 and the ISO ranged anywhere from 250 to 2000.  This setup was either anchored to a Wimberely gimbal head and tripod, or it was steadied atop a pillow as I photographed from my car window (I now own a Grizzly bean bag as this taught me a lesson about big lenses and shooting from car windows)

Coming In For A Landing

Migratory Snow Geese

Ibis and Geese

Ibis and Geese Amicably Breakfasting Together

Ready For Battle

Ready to Do Battle (Crayfish aka Crawfish aka Crawdad)

Coming In For A Landing

The Runway is Clear for Landing…..?

Poetry In Motion

Poetry in Motion

This coming week, I will be receiving from Lensrentals the Canon 600mm L II lens.  I want to see if it fits into my new Tamrac backpack that I ordered specifically to fit this lens during my 2-week stay in Alaska this August.  Plus, I just couldn’t stand it and wanted to play with another big honkin’ lens on my 1DX and Wimberley.

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Filed under Brazoria NWR, Canon, Equipment, Photography, Sigma lens, Texas, Wildlife Refuge

Photography in The National Parks: My Five Favorite National Park Photos

The National Parks Traveler has just published my latest article on their site.  It’s slightly different from the recent post I published here regarding my 15 favorite images because for this NPT article, I had to pick just the national park favorites.  So, if you are interested in taking a look, click on this link to be taken to the Traveler’s site where you can see not only my five faves but also read the story behind each photo and how I captured that particular image.

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Filed under Arches National Park, Big Bend, Equipment, Katmai National Park, National Parks, Photography

A (Unscientific) Review of the Sigma 50-500mm at the 500mm Focal Length

Blue-Winged Teal

Blue-winged teal (I think) at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

As of late, I’ve been suffering a little cabin fever on the weekends. I want to do something photographically (other than edit archived images), but don’t know what. My part of southeast Texas is not the most photogenic for landscape imagery, but it is definitely a treasure trove for bird photography; Brazos Bend State Park, a number of wildlife refuges including Brazoria and Aransas NWRs, the wetlands parallel to the Gulf Coast and Padre Island National Seashore are all within a 30-minute to 4-hour drive away.

I go out to the nearby state park and Brazoria NWR often, but the birds tend to be skittish and are generally too distant for the reach of my Canon 100-400mm lens, thus requiring some degree of image cropping during the editing stage. After seeing others with their big honkin’ primes out at these places, I always suffer a little angst over the fact that I don’t own a super-telephoto, myself. So for yucks and giggles, I reserved a number of super-telephoto lenses with Lensrentals.com to try out over the next couple of months: The Sigma 50-500mm, Tamron’s new 150-600mm lens, Canon’s 800mm prime and I even decided to try out (for the fun of it) the Nikon D800 camera and Nikkor 600mm lens.

This particular post is about my thoughts (with samples) of the Sigma 50-500mm lens at its longest focal length (because I only want the long length for birds – I’m not interested in any of the shorter focal lengths since I already own that aforementioned Canon 100-400mm which I love…well, except for that damned push-pull zoom mechanism).

This is a TOTALLY unscientific review. Everything written here is my opinion only. I’m going to try not to be much of a “pixel-peeper”, either, but I do have high standards that I expect from my full-frame Canons and a good lens.

The photos in this post are relatively low-res;  if you want to see a higher-res shot, just click on the photo and it will take you to that image that I’ve uploaded to my photography website.

My thoughts:

A Canon 1DX and this lens are a little bit heavier for my small hands than my 1DX and 100-400. But then I had no intention of hand-holding this lens as I planned on attaching it to the Wimberley gimbal tripod head I recently won off of eBay (saved myself $200 and it works like a charm).

Canon and Sigma

The Sigma 50-500 at it’s 500mm length, attached to my Canon 1DX on a Wimberley gimbal head and Induro tripod legs

I like Sigma’s focus ring (unlike that stupid push-pull of the Canon 100-400 – what the hell was this company thinking at the time it did that??).

I also like the easy lock switch (My Canon 100-400 has a ring that you have to turn to get the lens to lock at a certain focal length – to get it to stay locked, you need to make sure that ring is turned clockwise as tight as possible).

I’d read in other reviews of this lens that one needed to set the f-stop to at least 8 for optimal sharpness. So all of my images taken at Brazos Bend State Park and the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge were between f8 and f10. Because the weekend has been warm but cloudy and overcast with some rain (and a little bit of sun here and there), and to offset the small amount of light getting in through the aperture because of the f-stop settings, the ISO ranged between 400 to 2000 depending upon the outdoor lighting conditions at any particular moment.

Goldfinch

A goldfinch (I think) at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

Sigma’s OS (analogous to Canon’s IS and Nikon’s VR – image stabilization) is really odd and I don’t like it at all. It was as if the lens took on a life of its own whenever I switched from non-OS to OS. I’d look through the viewfinder and try to focus on a subject only to have the lens actually jump to a slightly different point in the composition. I had to keep moving the lens back to where I wanted the center focal point to be and then quickly snapping the shutter button. I don’t have that issue with my Canon 100-400 or 70-200. As a result, I only snapped a few shots with the OS turned on.

I captured a few images from my car window (cars make good blinds). I did this because had I gotten out of the car (heck, had I even opened the car door), my subject would have flown away. With my 100-400 lens, I don’t need a bean bag for stabilization and it’s easy to hand-hold. With this Sigma lens, I wished I had a bean bag. I’d anticipated this issue, though, so I used a pillow I’d brought from home on which I rested the camera and Sigma lens for stabilization. The bean bag is going to be a near-future purchase.

Hawk

A hawk on a fencepost at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, Texas – taken from my car window

I had pretty much figured this lens just wasn’t going to cut it for me. I’d read too many reviews about Sigma’s inconsistent QC issues, but I figured Lensrentals would have tested the lenses before putting them out for rent (and this lens was inexpensive to rent for a few days).  Nonetheless, I would magnify the view of an image on my camera LCD and what I saw caused me some consternation. So imagine my total (and very pleasant) surprise when I got home and saw the day’s photos after they’d been downloaded to my computer. Ok, some of the shots were a little grainy because of the high ISO, but at an f-stop of at least 8, and on a tripod, my images turned out quite nice! Moral of this story: don’t base your judgment solely by what you see on your camera’s magnified LCD screen.

Conclusion:

I know I only had this Sigma 50-500mm for a couple of days.  So, this review is not in-depth.  That being said, I totally agree with the comment of  one of my Facebook Fans:

This lens will never take the place of a Canon or Nikon prime, but it’s definitely an affordable substitute.

Migrating Geese

Migrating geese making a stopover at Cross Trails Pond, Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Next weekend (hopefully), I’ll see how the newly-released Tamron 150-600mm measures up.

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Filed under Brazoria NWR, Brazos Bend State Park, Canon, Equipment, Parks, Photography, Sigma lens, Texas, Wildlife Refuge