About me (you may skip this post ;-)

I keep a list of  topics about which I want to write. Some of them are reviews of gear, some are small photo projects which are yet to be realized. But today I feel more like introducing myself briefly. I do not write this post out of vanity but more out of something… let’s call it “reverse curiosity”. When reading blogs I often would like to know who is behind the words. Knowing a little about the person sometimes helps sorting and understanding the content.

20130624Selfportrait-001Selfie (and how it was made)

So… hi ! I am Julian Eichhoff, 34, married, father of two daughters. I am the person behind lumenatic.com. The blog is a one-man-show, there’s just me (although I would welcome co- or guest authors, drop me a line !). In my day job I am a mechanical engineer, working for a company which builds automatic fire extinguishing systems.

Needless to say I love photography. Taking images, creating, being creative is what drives me. I have a hard time leaving home without a camera, a feeling to which some of you might relate. I consider myself a “serious amateur” or “prosumer”: I do not earn my money with photography but I apply a very high standard towards my images (hands up – who just thought “blabla, who doesn’t” ? ;-).

A few years ago I tried to go a little commercial with my photography, charging for the shootings I made. It was never intended to be my full time job (and it never went there). Quickly I learned that there is much more to being a professional (as in “paid”) photographer than just taking images and editing them. It involves marketing, acquisition, selling, negotiating… Those are all activities which are not very much down my alley, so I did not actively pursue commercial photography any further. Another big factor in that decision were my two children. After my day job they occupy most of my free time, and what is left is dedicated to photography.

Naturally I take an insane amount of images of my daughters, which I share on a private blog with friends and family. The rest of my “photo time” is dedicated to this blog and the projects I conduct. I am trying to post once a week, usually on a Sunday.

When starting the blog some years ago I asked myself “There are so many photography blogs and websites out there, why adding another one ?” The answer is simple. I learned a lot from those other sites. Sharing information and knowledge is one of the pillars of the internet community. By writing about what I do and how I did it and what my thoughts are on this and that I am giving back to the community. That is one of the factors which motivates me. Also I enjoy writing and, even more important, creating and being creative (there it is again).

Final words. Hard to find on such a loose post. Perhaps I might condense the message a little. Hi, that’s me, that’s why I take images and write about it, thanks for reading !

 

Product photos made simple (wristwatch)

 

20140512-Watch-Header-001

Recently I bought a new wristwatch. Since I was also looking for a new photo project I decided to make some product shots the lazy way and see how far a camera, a flash and some sheets of paper as reflectors will bring me. You might remember an earlier post where I shot products before an inactive TFT screen. The results I got there were quite good but still on a level where I could show the products on eBay or my blog. This time I wanted to achieve another look and get images which could be used for a magazine or poster ad.

20140512-Watch-001

All shots were produced using only a camera, a tripod, a flash with a Lumiquest Softbox III and two sheets of plain white paper as improvised reflectors. I used the my office table as background. The shot you see above was made with the flash being off-camera, standing at the 12 o’clock position. It was angled at about 30° towards the watch. To the left and the right I positioned a plain white piece of paper, folded in the middle to make it stand upright on its own. The paper was positioned in such a way that the two folded pieces created a white “wall” which completely encircled the watch. I used the D800 with my Nikkor 105 mm macro lens for this shot. The camera was mounted on the tripod with the center column in horizontal position. That way I could photograph from directly above.

With a watch like this it is all about reflections. The paper and the large white surface of the Lumiquest soft box determine the light pattern on the watch, especially on the outer ring. I had to play around a little to get the above result, shifting the paper back and forth, tilting the flash towards or away from the watch. It requires some tries, but it’s not rocket science.

20140512-Watch-001 Kopie

Similar in this shot. The paper now encircles the watch from roughly the 7 o’clock to the 4 o’clock position. The camera is still looking directly downward, the flash was hand-held at roughly the 5-6 o’clock position, a little further away than in the first image. Vignette applied in Lightroom.

20140512-Watch-002

I am quite fond of that one. The shot was really easy. I suspended the watch from the horizontals column of my tripod with a piece of string, held the camera and the flash in my hands and made some shots in that configuration. Note that a D800 with the 105 mm is quite heavy and one can note shoot like that forever. Holding the flash (to the left of the watch obviously) in your hand has the advantage that you can shoot a series quickly and adjust the light after each shot. Since the tripod stood in the middle of the room the background was already very dark (light going from the flash to the background is dispersed because the background is way bigger and farther away than the flash to the watch). Some brushstrokes in Lightroom did the rest.

Final setup. I placed the watch in the box in which it came and made several shots. This time the flash was positioned to the left and a reflector (plain white paper) to the right. The result (on the right) is not very appealing since the boring interior lining of the box is visible. Again it’s Photoshop to the rescue ! and voilà, the watch is hovering in the blackness of space.

Final remarks. These shots show the product in an appetizing fashion. I know that for “real” product photos one would do it in a much more sophisticated environment. Also I am totally sure that focus stacking would be applied (=several images with different focus points are taken and the images then layered. The composited image renders every detail of the watch totally sharp. Since I did not do that there are minor areas of the watch not being totally sharp). Another thing what is totally astonishing is the omnipresence of dust. It’s freaking everywhere. And scratches. I wore the watch for a day when I photographed it, and to the naked eye it’s in pristine condition. But on the macro images, especially with a 36 MP resolution, one can see scratches everywhere on the metal. Removing dust and scratches can be partially done during the shoot (dedust the product between shots, polish it with a fresh microfibre cloth), but you won’t get everything. And that is a job for Photoshop again.

The explosion of image data 2003-2014

I ran another archiving session that weekend and once again I thought “Boy, so much data, where is this going to end ?”  The next though in that line was “How did the amount of data develop over the years ?” and so I decided to make a blogpost about it.

I went through my archive and gathered some numbers on the data volume per year. Here is the graph indicating the data increase (note: the graph shows the data volume per year, not an accumulated value).

AmountDataImages

pre 2003: My personal pre-digital era. The images I have in my archive are mainly scanned prints. There are still around 50 film rolls which wait to be scanned one day. Because most of those images only exist on paper or film I decided to leave them out of my statistical review and start with the first digital camera I owned.

2003 – My first digital camera was a Casio Exilim EX-Z30 with 3.1 MP. It was the simplest of the simple point-and-shoot cameras and it was okay for the first time. When I bought it I just wanted to snap pictures, not do serious photography. I emphasize the word “snap”. I was the kind of person who would walk around on parties, occasionally holding the camera into the room and taking an image. Nothing serious. I don’t have to mention the camera shot JPG only (well, there I did it anyway). Therefore the images were very small. In the first years I produced only around three GB in total.

2006 – I got my first DSLR, a Nikon D70s with 6 Megapixels. The D70s marks the era where I started taking photography seriously. Before that the concept of shutter speed and aperture was unknown to me (also because the Exilim allowed no control of the exposure parameters). But knowledge did not come over night, and therefore I continued shooting JPG (yes, I admit it). I did understand what RAW was, but could not grasp the concept why this should be so important.

2009 – At the beginning of 2009 I switched to shooting RAW only and KABOOM ! The annual data volume tripled from around 20 to 60 GB. End of 2009 (actually December 30th) I received my new camera – a Nikon D300s. Besides from leaping to a pro DX body this meant twice the resolution: 12 Megapixels and therefore larger RAW files. I kept on shooting with the D300s in 2010 and 2011.

2012 – I got my hands on one of the first D800 bodies which were shipped (Remember ? After an initial batch Nikon had some kind of manufacturing problem and further shipments of D800 bodies were delayed by months). With the D800 s#!t got real. Not only did I go to full frame but also the resolution tripled. Now an a$$-whooping 36 Megapixels ate away hard drive space like nothing I had seen before. One RAW file occupies around 50 Megabytes. That means with 20 images from the D800 you are at one Gigabyte. Phew. Totally had to learn to deal with that. Also the D800 offers serious video recording, which I started to experiment with (in order not to distort the above graph video files were not counted, just images).

2012-2014 – I sold the D300s and got a D610 as a second body. It has 24 Megapixels. Annual data volume still increasing, even though I try to discipline myself and keep as few images as possible. Modest results with that. If there was a D800-like camera with less Megapixels I’d take it because I personally do not need 36 Megapixels.
What ? What did you say ? Oh, go away with that totally overpriced no-video Hipster Nikon Df !

Bottom line:
The amount of data increased dramatically over the years. Especially the D800 and the appearance of two children in my life severely impacted the heap of Gigabytes I produce each year. Tackling such a Tsunami of images is challenging. I spend quite a lot of time sorting, retouching, exporting, archiving. Especially my paranoid backup strategy (three copies of my archive: Two on-site, one off-site) takes time because synchronizing an archive with > 1 TB makes the hard drives spin. Managing all that data is time-consuming, but I’m rather safe than sorry.

Comparing two popular camera straps

20140426-Sun-Sniper-Pro-II-header-001

Every camera comes with a branded camera strap which is worn around the neck. Besides from being bad for your neck muscles the original camera straps are printed with a large design stating the camera brand and model name.

Because many people find these original straps not very attractive there is a huge market for alternative camera straps. Today I want to present two popular third-party camera straps, the Blackrapid R-Strap and the Sun Sniper Pro II. I am using the Blackrapid R-Strap for quite a while now. But since I have two cameras and sometimes carry both with me I got the Sun Sniper too.

20140427-SunSniper-vs-BlackRapid-002

LEFT: Blackrapid R-Strap RIGHT: Sun Sniper

The Blackrapid R-Strap is shown on the left, the Sun Sniper on the right. Both models are worn around the shoulder and offer a broad padded section which distributes the weight of the camera comfortably. The padding of the Sun Sniper can be taken off, the padding of the Blackrapid is fixed. When worn around the shoulder the camera dangles at your side, fastened with a metal loop which slides on the strap. To use the camera you raise it to eye-level without taking off the strap. The metal loop slides upwards with the camera. After you finish shooting, the camera slides back down. It is a simple, but effective concept. Both straps are made of a durable narrow woven Nylon fabric, quite tough material. The length of the strap is adjustable to fit the photographer’s height and camera carrying preferences. The Sun Sniper also sports a steel wire which is woven into the strap. The wire is a cutting barrier and shall prevent thieves from cutting the camera off your shoulder. The guys at Sun Sniper are so convinced of their product that there is a free insurance with every strap. If the strap gets cut by a thief and your camera stolen because of that you get 1.000 €. Besides from being very tough the steel wire is very thin and flexible, you won’t notice it if you don’t know it’s there.

The fastening system on the Blackrapid consists of a carbine hook which slides on the strap by means of a metal loop. The carbine attaches to a small metal connector which is screwed into the camera’s tripod mount. The carbine itself is secured by a locking mechanism to avoid accidental release of the camera.

The fastening system on the Sun Sniper also includes a metal loop which slides on the strap, but there is no carbine hook. The connector piece is screwed directly into the camera. To ensure free rotation of the camera the connector piece is outfitted with a metal ball bearing (marketed as a “genuine bearing” – good to know it’s not a fake one…).

20140427-Blackrapid_vs_Sun-Sniper-001

Blackrapid fastening system

20140427-Blackrapid_vs_Sun-Sniper-006

Sun Sniper fastening system

The Blackrapid offers a plastic fast connector system to open and close the loop. To be honest, I never used that. If I want to take the strap off I just pull it over my head. The Sun Sniper has two pairs of velcro flaps on the top side of the padded section. Between these two pairs the length adjustment piece can be locked.

As an innovative feature the Sun Sniper Pro II has a shock absorber system. A section of the strap has been laid in a zigzag-pattern and vulcanized with rubber. This structure is supposed to act as a dampening element so minimize camera movement when you are walking or riding a bike. To be honest again – that’s nice, but I think it’s more a feature from the realm of marketing. Yes, of course the construction looks neat and from a mechanical point of view represents a shock absorber. But I doubt that it adds to the carrying comfort in a noticeable way.

Both straps are of an excellent quality and offer a lot of carrying comfort even after hours. The construction on both straps is very similar with only small deviations. Needless to say there are more models out on the market, these are just two models out of many. Other models have a special curvature to be more practical for women, other models have additional securing straps for action photographs. Both the Blackrapid and the Sun Sniper are around 60 € each at the time this post is written. There are also cheaper models from other manufacturers. Whichever model you choose – don’t save at the wrong end. If your camera and precious lens crash to the ground because you are using a cheap strap with a poor build quality – does the price difference justify the damage ?

Nikon Releases Firmware Update to Fix CLS Issue

D800-captionThis just came in via email. Nikon finally released a firmware update (A 1.10, B 1.10) for the D800 and D800E. Among the fixes is the CLS issue:

“When the built-in flash was set to Commander mode, remote Speedlights sometimes did not fire. This issue has been resolved.”

Finally there is a fix ! I am currently not at home but will update and test the camera as soon as I get hold of my D800. Another annoying problem also has been fixed:

“In some rare cases, the memory card access lamp remained lit for longer than usual, and some time was required before any operations could be performed. This issue has been resolved.”

That also occured often with my D800 and I am happy the issue has been removed.

TO ALL D800 USERS AFFECTED BY THE CLS ISSUE: Please update the firmware and let me know the outcome in the comments section !
=================================================
Here is the full list of fixes and updates (taken from here).

  • “Custom Setting f13 has been changed to Assign Movie Record Button.
  • With Custom Setting f13 changed to Assign Movie Record Button, Assign MB-D12 AF-ON is now Custom Setting f14.
  • Custom Setting f15: Assign Remote Fn Button has been added.
  • The following functions have been added or renamed when the D800 is used with the Communication Unit UT-1 running firmware Ver. 2.0. A Network (UT-1) option has been added to, and Wireless transmitter has been renamed Wireless transmitter (WT-4) in, the setup menu.
    Function that has been added:
    HTTP server mode
    Use to view the pictures on the camera memory card, or to take photographs, from the web browser on a computer or iPhone.
    Functions that have been renamed:
    FTP upload mode (previously Transfer mode (FTP))
    Use to upload photos and movies from camera memory cards, or to upload photos as they are taken, to an ftp server.
    Image transfer mode (previously Transfer mode (PC))
    Use to upload photos and movies from camera memory cards, or to upload photos as they are taken, to a computer.
    Camera control mode (previously PC mode)
    Use to control the camera from a computer running Camera Control Pro 2 (available separately) and save photos and movies directly to the computer.
    To enable support for these functions, Communication Unit UT-1 firmware must be updated to Ver. 2.0 or later, and the Wireless Transmitter Utility must be updated to Ver. 1.5.0 or later. When camera firmware is updated, network profiles specified with earlier firmware versions cannot be used. Network profiles must be created again.
  • Support for the updated version of Communication Unit UT-1 firmware has been added.
  • Support for CompactFlash memory cards with capacities greater than 128 GB has been added.
  • When AF-ON only was selected for Custom Setting a4 (AF activation) and the AF-ON button was pressed to initiate autofocus during viewfinder photography, focus remained locked even after the user took their finger off the button, and the shutter could be released at any time.  However, specifications have been modified so that the shutter cannot be released under the following conditions if the camera fails to focus.
    – Autofocus mode is set to AF-S (single-servo AF)
    – AF-area mode is set to Single-point AF
    – Custom Setting a2 (AF-S priority selection) is set to Focus
  • When values for 12 or 18 lenses were stored with AF fine-tune > Saved value in the setup menu, only some of the lenses for which values had been stored were displayed under List saved values. This issue has been resolved.
  • When the live view selector was set to live view photography with Custom Setting g4 (Assign shutter button) set to Record movies, a value for preset manual white balance could not be measured. This issue has been resolved.
  • When the built-in flash was set to Commander mode, remote Speedlights sometimes did not fire. This issue has been resolved.
  • In some rare cases, the memory card access lamp remained lit for longer than usual, and some time was required before any operations could be performed. This issue has been resolved.”

How to add a signature watermark to your images

When presenting your images there is a unique way to make them stand out from the crowd: Sign them. Text watermarks are very easy to implement. In Lightroom you can define a text which shall be watermarked to each exported image. I’ve been doing that for quite a while using only the URL of my blog, http://lumenatic.com as a watermark. You can knock this up a notch by  signing your images with your handwritten signature, just like painters would sign their masterpieces. You might have noticed that during insect week I already introduced those signatures:

I chose to combine my handwritten name with a shortened version of my blog’s URL. Note that you do not have to use your name necessarily. You could also write the name of your business for example, in my case “Lumenatic Photography”. But since I have quite $#!tty handwriting I stuck to my name.

20140420-Insects-signature cutoutThis is a step-by-step guide on how to create such individual watermarks.

 [Disclaimer: This is not the only way to get the job done. Perhaps there are smarter ways to use Photoshop for this purpose (I am anything but a PS guru). It is a way that worked for me, must not necessarily work for you. Also I want to state that of course I did not invent this. I learned about the creation of signature watermarks from other tutorials on the web.]

Get a pen and paper and write down your name. A lot. Write it as often as it takes to achieve a version you like. Use different pens. I tried an ink pen at first but the tip was too wide and the details of the letters on my name got lost. I finally used a fine black pen. In total I needed four A4 sheets of paper until I had a signature I was happy with (as I said, my handwriting is not the best. In primary school I as forced to redo a lot of my homework because of bad handwriting but that educational concept did not work for me :-)20140425-signature-001Once you have produced a signature you are happy with proceed to scan it. Use the highest resolution possible, so that your signature can also be applied to high-resolution images.

20140425-signature-002Open the scanned signature in Photoshop. Yep, this time you need Photoshop. In many posts I point out that all editing can be done in Lightroom, but this time you need a more powerful tool.

If necessary, crop the desired signature out of the bulk of other signatures in the scan.

Signature-creation-1

Signature-creation-2If the background came out a little gray use graduation curves to make the signature stand out a little more. Then use the magic wand tool to select the background. If your signature has “enclosed areas” (like the inside of an “a” or “B” make sure also to select those. Achieving a good selection at this point is key to getting a smooth looking signature, so pay attention to the details and spend some time. Use shift-click to select more areas, use alt-click to deselect an area which has been falsely selected. After you have selected the complete background inverse the selection by pressing cmd-shift-i. Now everything which has been selected is unselected and vice versa. Your selection should not only contain your signature. The reason for this procedure is that selecting the background is much simpler than selecting the thin writing of your signature.

Signature-creation-3-5Now for the final mile. Copy the signature to the clipboard by hitting cmd-c. Open a new file and make sure the background mode “transparent” is selected (sorry, I use the German Photoshop version, look at “Hintergrundinhalt” which translates to “background content” or similar in the English version).

Signature-creation-4In the new file the transparent parts are shown in a checkerboard pattern.Only the signature remains to be seen.

Signature-creation-5In my scan the signature came out gray. What you want is either a black or a white signature to stand out against the background of your images. Using the dodge/burn tool you can either lighten or darken the letters. Work carefully in order not to overdo it and “smear” the characters by blackening them too much.

Signature-creation-6This is how the signatures will look when finished.

Signature-Creation-8Signature-creation-7Now you can either add further text by using the text tool or you can save the file. You will have to do this in PNG format, since JPG does not support transparent backgrounds.  Use file => “save for web” and select PNG. Be sure that the transparency box is checked (“Transparenz” in the screenshot).

Signature-Creation-9Save the file and that’s it for Photoshop. Return to Lightroom and, when exporting images, choose to add an image as a watermark. That’s it !

Grasshopper evolution

One day it happened that a grasshopper appeared in our bathroom. Before gently complimenting the insect out into freedom again I mounted the macro lens on my D300s (still had it at that time), mounted a flash and took some images. In this post I want to share the evolution of that image. What started as a boring, underexposed snapshot ended as an interesting insect portrait. The message I want to convey is not to give up on an image too quickly. Learn to see the potential of the image and to get a feeling for what a few simple steps in post can do (click here to see a similar post about the evolution of a dragonfly).

First to show you the end result:

The result is very appealing as I find (if one can find a grasshopper appealing, my wife doesn’t like the picture for example). Let’s see how I got there. All retouching work was done in Lightroom, Photoshop was only used to shift the grasshopper around in the frame, something which can not be done with Lightroom. The image started here:

Too dark, textured background of out white bathroom wallpaper. To isolate the insect from the background the texture of the wallpaper had to vanish. Since the grasshopper is darker than its surroundings this can be done without too much of a hassle. So the first step included increasing the exposure, boosting the lights and shifting the whitepoint to the right.

Better. The grashopper is now brighter (in terms of visibility ;-), but in order to remove the background completely more work has to be done. So I used the brush tool to paint only the areas with background. The brush  was set to increase the exposure and boost the lights. So I started painting:

I started with a large brush with a soft edge to paint the large empty areas. When it came to the details I shrank the brush and worked more carefully. After a while it gets hard to determine whether an area is entirely white or not. To aid one in this moment you can use a feature which highlights areas with no information(=an area which is totally over- or underexposed). In Lightroom hit “J” to toggle the highlight mode. Overexposed image areas are shown red, underexposed ones would be blue. “Totally overexposed” means in this case, the are is entirely white and white only. No other shades or colors. Now you can easily determine which part of the image needs some further attention.

I continued painting. In the image below the area below the body needed some more attention. Using a small brush with a soft edge, zooming in, painting and, if necessary removing the brush strokes by holding alt and clicking, the grey parts could be whitened

Nearly there.  What I did not like about this version is that the grasshopper is too low and too much on the right side of the picture. I wanted to move him towards the upper left corner a bit. Unfortunately such an editing step is not possible in Lightroom (as far as I know – if you know better please comment).

Grasshopper Evolution - 6

Opening the image in Photoshop I used the square selection tool and created a selection around the grasshopper. Then I switched to the free hand tool and moved the selection a bit towards the upper left corner of the image. Since I chose a white canvas background in Photoshop the movement left no marks, because everything surrounding the grasshopper is white, too.

Now the composition looked much better. After I saved the image and quit Photoshop all that remained was to export the  image from Lightroom, thereby adding the watermark.

And here we are. The retouching took around five to ten minutes. Working on the details requires a steady hand and some practice, but it gets better with every picture you retouch in that way.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 186 other followers