Wednesday, March 30, 2011

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New and old 135mm lenses compared.

Which Lens... (1) by Kinematic Digit
Which Lens... (1), a photo by Kinematic Digit on Flickr.
I recently did a comparison between a Canon EF 135mm L F/2 and an almost 40 year old Nikkor-Q Auto 135mm F/2.8 lens. Quite surprised how little difference there is between the two.

Between these two images, I would say that the $1130 price difference between the two seems a bit much. But keeping in perspective. One is a modern auto focusing lens, while the other is all manual. But it does go to show that if you look hard enough you can find a great lens for a bargin.

The 135mm focal length isn't a length that is all unforgiving however it is somewhat important that you have decent eyes to focus properly.

Which Lens... (2)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

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Why Designers need to be Marketers

I came across a great article today titled, "Why We're All Designers", by Laura Weiss which discussed the importance of design as a big part of MBA's next job.

It covers some very interesting points on the design process and in how important it is with the engagement of the public eye. Value propositions can be easy to quantify by numbers, experiences and professional associations who we recognize and have certain expectations but everyone regardless still needs an understanding of communication by design.

The general public is still pretty visual and it's very shortsighted to think that only the lowest common denominator relates to visual communication. It's very important to understand that most businesses cannot afford to be trained or hire individuals with degrees in marketing or even business administration. Schools and Universities train thousands and thousands of business and marketing people, but only a small percentage of them get hired to work within their education parameters.

One of the key lessons I consistently teach my students is how important a designer fits in a marketing communication strategy. However if there is to be any value attached to the work they do, it must show that they are not just meeting a client's superficial expectation, but also meeting the marketing objectives of the client's needs.

Many designers are guilty of creating aesthetically pleasing work without regards to whether or not it meets any marketing objective. Having a big idea is much different than understanding the big picture. Identifying the target demographics, the value propositions/return on marketing investments, the logistics, competitive advantages, etc... are some of the many lessons that I cover in my Marketing Communication class. But I teach them more than just how to become 'marketers', rather I teach them to learn how to use their work to translate the messages of their clients into messages that the public relate to and understand. My student's work become less motivated by looking good but become better examples of looking successful.

In recent assignments, my students also demonstrated the importance of going beyond the process of their design, to successfully market their ideas by their own manual intervention via social media channels and not just by relying on the traditional medias to carry their message after they have been handed the design. By carefully identifying key markets and medias, but also identifying influencers that matter, they were able to spread their messages by transmitting their ideas to a much larger reach than they would have by the traditional means.

Designers have to be more than computer jockeys that are good at operating design software to create their client's advertising message. They are more likely to convince a small or even medium sized business to use their services than an MBA graduate. Designers have a great opportunity to show value in their services by demonstrating that they are more concerned about the big picture rather than just the big idea.  As an example, by being metrics driven, designers can show just how much they really understand the target audience's response to the work they produce. They are less motivated by the delivery of the product, but more concerned about the performance of their service.

In past years, many marketing professionals have hired designers to do their bidding, but even in those scenarios, when a designer has an understanding of marketing, they offer the marketer complimentary skills, but also a better integration of the two skill sets when they both understand each other. Beyond that, all visual based vendors and not just designers, have the opportunity to change the perception by businesses by adding the value proposition of their marketing understanding.

As a simple case example: A small/medium sized business identifies their need to market themselves. There's several ways they can go about this:

  1. They can contact a specific media vendor and have them create in-house, deliver and distribute a message for them.
  2. They can contact a designer to create the message and choose the media for which it will be distributed.
  3. They can contact a business/marketing consultant who will create a marketing strategy, then hire a designer, and then select the media vendor who will deliver the designed message.
Each one has their advantages and disadvantages:
  1. Advantage: Direct to the media and no middle designers/consultants. Disadvantage: There is no guarantee if this is the right media to advertise in or that it reaches the right target audience. In-house designs are often very quick, basic and sometimes very budget driven.
  2. Advantage: Knows how to deliver meaningful messages and maximizes media choices. Generally speaking the media chosen based on experience of the designers will be appropriate. Understands what visual cues that people will recognize and identify with. Disadvantage: Most designers tend to lean towards delivering product rather than service. Once the materials/message is created and delivered they feel the job is completed. Their services can be both affordable and expensive which is both advantageous and not, but still generally more expensive than direct to media.
  3. Advantage: Offers market knowledge and clear understanding of marketing objectives. Knows which medias offer the best value for the client's budget. Customer service driven. Metrics and performance driven which show value in their services. Disadvantage: Generally has less understanding of what visual triggers that a target audience will respond to without at least conducting expensive research or focus groups. Typically will hire designers independent of the media vendors they use which also adds additional costs to the entire marketing objective. Mistakes can be very costly and potentially ruin an annual marketing program.

Obviously it is always cheaper to deal with a direct vendor, but if a business needs to choose some sort of middle consultant to design and produce marketing materials, this is where the opportunity for designers to become a more appealing option when they also offer similar understanding as a marketing consultant.

Designers don't need to become pure marketers or have a degree in marketing (that's not what I try to teach my students), but by understanding where and when their designs are to be used in the market place is far more important than what their designs are about. By being a part of the bigger picture rather than just a big idea, the future designers have an opportunity to not only be the go-to-person for marketing requests by businesses, but potentially be the expertise that smaller business cannot afford in a marketing consultant.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

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Pushing the Limits of the Canon Powershot S95

In my professional work, I use DxO Optics to process my RAW files and in my continuing pursuits to push the s95 camera to the maximum limits I made a discovery this evening.

While processing my images in DxO Optics, in viewing before and after native profile correction, the before image looked totally different from the images I saw in both Adobe Lightroom and in Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP).

Here's the DPP image:


Here's the DxO image before correction:


Surprisingly there's two things I noticed. First it appears I'm getting another 2 or 3 degrees of additional field of view (FoV) out of the RAW file. The second thing is that the RAW file in DPP appears to be corrected to some degree.

Now I know it is impossible to get more image than possible, so this proves to me that Canon deliberately adjusts the RAW files as it gets into DPP. I actually don't really care that much that they adjusted the RAW in a point and shoot camera. I find it more interesting that they have adjusted the RAW file to correct for the distortion that appears to come from the apparent 6mm fisheye lens. For the most part, DPP's image (which is identical to ImageBrowser and I can only assume for ZoomBrowser) has corrected much of the distortion. There is still some barrel distortion which is corrected in DxO Optics automatically.

DxO Optics Lens Profile Corrected:

The DxO Optics corrected image looks similar to the DPP version with the exception of a few things. First there's appears to be a a half a degree of additional FoV (not massive but in this image a few inches all around), and secondly, it corrects all the lines to be straight. Barrel distortion has been completely removed.

Now to be fair to DPP, I also turned on its profile corrections to see how much of a difference there is between the two. DPP does not add additional FoV for one, but also the corner to corner sharpness is certainly much different between the two.



This sample shows the extreme corners and you can see how both the additional FoV and the corner sharpness is an improvement on DPP. Now to be fair to DPP, you can tweak it enough to regain some sharpness, but it comes at a cost. If you're using the unsharp mask settings in DPP you run the risk of creating a strange contrasty edge (almost like it's a fine 1 point outline/stroke around edges. This is really obvious in white and mid-toned elements). Because of this issue, most of the settings has to be kept at a minimum to avoid it. This basically renders most of those adjustments useless and doesn't come close to what DxO Optics is able to push out of this camera.

In closing, this demonstrates that with the right RAW processor, you're able to get a little more out of this already great little camera, but I'm pushing it to limits that certainly makes me leave my 5Dmk2 at home for simple walks, or at the very least to carry far less lenses than I used to. The added bonus is that you get a fisheye lens at the most extremes of this camera, and with DxO Optics, you can certainly take advantage of that extra image to correct for distortion not just in the lens, but also in geometric correction giving you a little bit of a tilt-shift capability in a point and shoot.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

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Perigee Moon and Stacking in Photoshop

I'm certain by this time, there's probably a million photos of the Perigee moon also known as the "Super Moon".

I had been messaged several times this evening if I was taking shots of the super moon and I of course joked that I can uprez one of my old photos with Photoshop by 14% pretty easily.

But this isn't just about photographing the moon, but on how stacking is done.

Figure 1.
First off, from my experience, the best shots of the moon is to find the sharpest aperture on your lens, which is usually safe to say, F/8 and then you need some shutter speed. The moon moves pretty fast, so ideally you want to be somewhere in the 1/400 of a sec or better. This will usually mean that you need to turn up your ISO. But there's a slight catch to doing this, the higher your ISO, the more noise you introduce.


This is where stacking multiple images comes in. The idea of stacking is to bring several images together and by a process called Median averaging, you basically average out several images of noise.

Step 1: Depending on what program you use, you'll want to open up all your  images into Photoshop. If you used Lightroom, you can tell the images to open into Photoshop as layers as demonstrated by Figure 1. Select all the layers in the layers palette.

Figure 2.
Figure 3.
Step 1a: Conversely you can open individual files into Photoshop and then open the Scripts option under the File menu command and choose Load Files into Stack... (Figure 2). Choose Add Open Files or you can browse and add them into list. Click on the checkboxes for both "Attempt To Automatically Align Source Images" and "Create Smart Object after Loading Layers". Skip to Step 4.

Figure 4.
Step 2: Once you've selected all the layers, go to the Edit menu and scroll down and select Auto-Align Layers... (look at figure 3 & 4). Leave all the settings on defaults and make sure that the check boxes for Vignette Removal and Geometric Distortion is off.

Figure 5.
Step 3. Under the Layer menu, select Smart Objects  and the submenu Convert to Smart Object (Figure 5.).

Figure 6.
Step 4. You should end up with single layer with an icon as displayed in Figure 6. The little document icon show's that it is now a smart object.

Figure 7.
Step 5. Select the Layer menu again and under Smart Objects you'll have access to another menu called Stack Mode (look at Figure 7.). Select Median and after a little bit of a wait, it should be apparent that most noise has been eliminated.

You should end up with a result that is sharp and relatively noise free. It should be pointed out that if you're dealing with a slow moving object, you should take as many consecutive shots as possible to avoid any misalignment of your multiple images.

The final results can be adjusted with a slight contrast adjustment and slight sharpening in Lightroom:
The 12 images stacked (This was reprocessed with less sharpening applied 03-20)


Single Image for reference before stacking and processing

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

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Do you need a dSLR or will a Point and Shoot do?

Point & Shoot sample straight out
of the camera.
This might be an odd one to compare, but in the age of miniaturization, why would anyone want to carry around a 4 lb camera around on a regular basis. There's a compelling argument to tote around the best point and shoot camera you can afford, mainly because of the weight. But what about the image quality?

There is no doubt in my mind that a dSLR camera system is better, but to most people's eyes their expectations are generally well met by most point and shoot cameras.


The original point and shoot image I took when viewed through the LCD display was also a bit deceptive. Even at the smaller size displayed here, it looks pretty good, but once it was viewed larger on my screen I could see the issues a little more clearly.


Knowing what I know about photography helps, but also my understanding of processing also makes another difference. There was sensor blooming issues with this subject I shot, so I had to be very careful how I did my lighting. Still it produced over exposed images and noise, even at ISO 100. Once I started to do some post processing it started to match the dSLR version quite well.

Shot with a Nikon s600 at ISO 100 F/5.8 @1/20 of a second - retouched in Adobe Lightroom
A little adjustment with the black point, tone recovery, white balance and clarity fixed up the image quite well.  Considering that it's easily 10% the cost of the dSLR set-up I think the images are very comparable.

Shot with the Canon 5DmkII with the 100mm F/2.8L @ 100 ISO, F/8.0 @ 1/6 second

On the dSLR I also dropped the aperture to match the depth of field as close as possible to the point and shoot. I didn't go to extremes because I also wanted to maintain some subject isolation. In some ways the point and shoot camera is much easier to set-up a close up shot like this. I didn't have to think about a lot of settings and controls to create the image that I created on the dSLR. Which brings up the main point of this exercise, is a point and shoot camera all you ever need?

Simple answer is yes, but the more complicated answer is, it depends. The subject isolation isn't great on the point and shoot, and frankly, the over exposure and the lack of aperture control was very frustrating. If you care about creative control then you should at least consider a fully manual point and shoot like the Canon S90 or a Panasonic LX5. Both great point and shoot cameras that gives you full control of your exposure.

Lastly, if you don't want to spend a lot of money, you can get great results out of a point and shoot camera. Just be aware that there are limitations. If you learn to work within those limitations, there's no reason why you can't have great images out of them.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

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A Social Media Thank You....

As my students wrap up their first Social Media marketing assignment, I wanted to take the opportunity to thank everyone who helped them see the value and the importance of this form of advertising and marketing.

The social experiment started back last year as I was planning how to add this component to my Marketing Communication 2 class this term. Starting in January, both this blog and my twitter accounts were part of an effort to practice what I preach. This blog alone is gaining huge momentum and seems to be continuing to do so. I thank those repeat visitors and any new ones and will do my best to continue my efforts.

As I instructed the importance of social media to my students, they too have garnered an excellent following and in some cases even leads to job opportunities, referrals, and publishers looking to republish their works. This was all in a short period of 5 weeks.

To my students... assignment well done!

Please visit their blog one more time, and do leave some feedback for them.

http://pdagd2.blogspot.com/

Their final assignment is a huge marketing campaign and they have been split into two groups who will pitch their campaigns to a panel of several successful business and marketing executives. A small part of it has social media in it and if you want to continue to follow their efforts, you can find them on my list on twitter here:

http://twitter.com/#!/list/kinematicdigit/pda-graphic-program

Thank you again for all the support.

Warmest Regards
Terry

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

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Under the Light of Heaven - Tilt-Shift

Christ Chuch Cathedral in Victoria, BC - Main Entrance view with Pipe Organs above.

Another couple of tilt-shift shots. I still find this lens very frustrating to use. It still takes 5 minutes or more to set up each shot. I appreciate taking the time, but when I'm standing in the middle of attention, I like to get my shot and move one.

The view of the pulpit 


Saturday, March 5, 2011

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Wind Warning - Tilt-shift image with Cooling Filter Effect

Wind Warning

Another Tilt-shift image with a filter effect that I've been refining in Lightroom. I'm really happy with the real stormy mood it created with this. I don't normally share a before and after shot, but here's the before shot as well:

Friday, March 4, 2011

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POTD - Light Painting

Painted Night
Been a while since I've actually gone out and done some light painting. I had replaced the incandescent bulb in my 4D Maglite flashlight with a 160 lumen LED light. Better on power consumption, brighter, and whiter. I decided that the weather was getting nicer and I've been itching to go out to shoot something with this technique.

The technique is very simple really. First is to find a subject you want to illuminate in a very dark scene. Think about the background you're going to expose, and then consider the angle that you're going to shoot your light.

It's pretty much near impossible to do this with anything less but bulb mode, a tripod and a remote of some sort.

Once you find your subject, you'll need to shine the flashlight on your subject and focus onto that. Then dial in your aperture and open the exposure on the first press. During that time you're going to shine the light on your object and slowly pan the beam of light across the object. In my case I started with boat and in fact the back portion of the boat was shaded by streetlight and the pier's fence. As I slowly pan, I try to keep my beam of light ahead of my camera but not in the view of the camera to avoid casting a shadow of my equipment. I actually move from side to side to essentially reduce any shadow to give away my position.

In this shot it took two minutes of exposure. I painted across the the subject from bottom to top, along the post and back down to the boat. The reflection is generated from my light painting as well so don't shine the light into the water.