Audi R8 shooting

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Following the positive response on my Ferrari FF post I got hold of another RC model car and took it into my studio. Again a red car, but this time it’s an Audi R8.

20140216-Audi-R8-003In the studio I used a black backdrop, placing the model on a table which is also covered by the backdrop material. To separate the model from the background as much as possible (light from above illuminates the black cloth, thus revealing the texture of the fabric and ruining the illusion) I slid a box underneath the car. The less fabric is directly around the car, the less work in post to black out the background.

The shots were made with my D800 and the 70-200 f2.8 lens. I shot at 200 mm and f20 / f22 to receive maximum depth of field. During the shoot I moved the lights around a lot, since getting a pleasing reflection on the car is tricky and requires some try and error. I have not distilled golden rules from my experiences (yet), so you just have to try out and see what looks good.

If you are using studio lighting you will have a modeling light. This is pretty convenient, since you can see the reflections without taking a test picture. But even with the modeling light on I did quite a bit of chimping. It’s your brain, you know. When you see the scene with your own eyes you tend to oversee things. That dust fibre on the car ? Never saw that in real life. On the photo ? Directly observed. Is there a word for that phenomenon ?

Remember that the light source must be way bigger than your model to get a uniform reflection on the car. The car is basically just a giant mirror. Most of the time I used one light (roughly straight from above; I angle the softbox down as much as possible but to have the softbox parallel to the floor I would need a boom arm for the studio flash, which I don’t have). Sometimes a second light was added to highlight the back or the side of the car.

Most of the work in post went into three points: Removing the fabric the car stands on, removing dust and removing defects on the car’s surface (I borrowed the car from our neighbor’s kids, so it is a toy in active service). Perhaps one last word on dust. It’s freaking everywhere, especially when you use a textile as your backdrop. Use a rocket blower excessively, but soon after the car is full of dust again. Frequently de-dust the model and you will have more happy time in Lightroom / Photoshop.

Synology DS414 Network attached storage solution

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After being disappointed by my Drobo for the third time I abandoned it and switched to another RAID system which, in contrast to the Drobo, also serves as a NAS (network attached storage, meaning the storage device can be accessed using your local network). I read some reviews I decided on a Synology DS414 (be prepared to pronounce the brand name loud and clear. I encountered the following awkward situation more than once… after stating what I purchased I was looked at in horror: “You bought WHAT ? Scientology ?”). The DS414 is a 4-bay RAID system which can hold hard drives of up to 16 TB each. I used the drives from my Drobo, 4x 2 TB 3.5″. I chose a RAID6 system, meaning that the data is distributed in such a way that two drives can fail at the same time without losing any data. With 4×2 TB and RAID 6 you have 4 TB of total usable space. With RAID 5 you would have 6 TB of usable disk space. I chose to be consequent with my totally paranoid data storage strategy and chose the “safer” option of RAID 6.

Setting up the DS414 is pretty easy. Connect power, connect LAN (the device also has two USB 3.0 ports, those can be used to connect an external HDD for rapid file transfer. The hard drives are inserted into cradles. Two plastic stripes with rubber thingies are clipped at the side of the cradle, the rubber thingies grip the screw mounts and your HDD is firmly locked. The cradle slides into the DS414 and clicks into position, no tools necessary (you need tools of you choose to use 2.5″ HDDs though). Be informed that all drives you install will be erased upon initialization !

Setting up the software is also easy, one has to say that the installation process is really user-friendly. An installer (“Synology Assistant”) which comes on a CD with the DS414 (or which can be downloaded) launches the process. Then the newest software for the DS414 is downloaded and installed. The whole setup process took around 10-15 min. The DS414′s operating system is controlled using the browser of your choice.  Every user in your network can access the device (if you wish so), you can also grant access to only specific users.

As an example, here is what I did: I created three folders on the DS414. The first one is for the time machine backup. Other users than me won’t have read or write access since the backup shall only be accessible to Time Machine. The second folder is my archive. Here other users (well, only my wife…) have read-only rights. The reason is that I want to be the only one managing the archived files to keep the structure tidy. The third folder is an exchange folder and, well, Nomen est Omen, and logically every user has read and write rights.

Copying my 1,7 TB archive from one of my other archive volumes took quite a while. I used the opportunity to clear my archive of duplicate folders and sorted some folder trees into a more logical structure. Tidying up showed quite some effect ! I managed to gain around 100 GB of disk space.

As I write these words a comparison tool checks if my archive on the DS414 matches one of the other copies of my archive. Once that is done the data transfer is complete and I will put the DS414 under my desk, just were the Drobo stood.

One word about energy consumption. The DS414 can act as a file server, media server and whatnot. It is much much more than a storage device. But that would also mean to have the device powered up 24/7. In my personal usage scenario I use the device for archiving and backups. Hence it does not need to be powered up all day long. When active with four hard drives the DS414 draws around 40 Watts, in standby around 14 Watts. Let’s estimate I will have it switched on and active for around 20 hours a week.

20 hours * 40 Watts *52 weeks = 41.6 kWh. With a market price of around 27 ct/kWh the yearly energy cost for the DS414 would be around 11.20 €. That is acceptable.

Other scenario: Device is powered up 24/7, standy 16 hours, HDD access 8 hours per day.

(16 h * 14 W +  8 h * 40 W) * 365 = 198.56 kWh => 53.60 € energy cost per year. Still ok if you use the possibilities a private server offers frequently.

Last aspect, and I won’t go into details here. As mentioned before you can install tons and tons of software packages on the DS414. They come free of charge and can be installed quickly via the browser-based user interface of the DS414. Your own wordpress server ? No prob. A media center for your movies and photos ? You got it. I won’t parrot all the possibilities here, just go to the Synology website and see what they offer. The only software I installed is an iTunes server, and now it gets interesting. I have a certain amount of music which is not on my iMac. That music would seldom be heard if it was on a backup device. With the iTunes media server you can bind these music files into iTunes from anywhere in your network. Sitting on the couch with your iPad ? Access the server and get the music streamed to your iPad over Wifi. That’s neat.

I will start using the DS414 now and will report on my experiences after a while. Stay tuned.

Third crash – Bye bye Drobo !

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I use a 4-bay Drobo (2nd generation) to backup my iMac’s hard drive and to archive stuff which doesn’t need to be permanently on the computer anymore. The Drobo is marketed as an easy-to-use system which will protect you against data loss due to its intelligent RAID system. The device has four slots for hard drives and the data is distributed in such a way among the discs, that two drives can fail and you still have all your data. Sooper safe, isn’t it ?

Well, no. A few years ago the data was not accessible anymore. The Drobo was recognized by disc utility but could not be mounted in the Finder. That time a friend was able to rescue the data with DiskWarrior. That’s when I decided to alter my backup strategy and not rely on the Drobo alone. August last year my Drobo refused to mount in the Finder for the second time. All four drives were ok, but again Mac OS’ disc utility recognized the Drobo but was unable to repair it. With a corrupted file system (and I have absolutely no idea how that occurred) the device could not be mounted, the data is effectively lost. Thanks to my totally paranoid backup strategy (I have three separate copies of my archive) I could reformat the Drobo and copy the complete archive back on the device from one of the other two copies. The time machine backup was lost, but since there was nothing I needed to recover I just made a new time machine backup from the current content of my iMac’s HDD.

Now the very same problem occurred. Drobo refuses to mount, all repair attempts failed. I could reformat the Drobo and start all over again, but I can not trust the product anymore. Whatever the cause is – I won’t use a Drobo as my backup system in the future, sorry guys !

Looking for alternatives I have purchased a Synology DS414. It has also 4 slots and is not only a RAID system but also a NAS, meaning I can use it as a file server and access data from anywhere. But that will be the topic for another post. The message of today’s entry is

a.) no more Drobo for me and
b.) a single backup / archive is not enough !

Have at least two copies of your archive. To further minimize the chance of data loss use hard drives from different manufacturers and store the hard drives in physically different places, ideally in separate buildings (e.g. your home and a good friend’s home or your office).

Shooting animals through glass

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In lack of freely roaming tigers, lions and other game here in Hanover I often go to the fabulous zoo. We have a 12 month pass and so we can go there as often as we like without having to worry about the duration of the stay. I always take a camera with me and capture the majestic animals (last time we went my wife rolled her eyes when I packed my camera. “Tell me – is there a point when you have enough pictures of those animals ?”. I blinked and looked at her in total lack of understanding. “I don’t understand… what do you mean when you say ‘enough pictures’ ?” That did not compute).
Ok jokes aside. Today I want to share some experiences when shooting animals through glass windows.

The first hassle are reflections in the glass window. Light sources in the background or people standing next to you are always happy to reflect in the glass window and show up on your images. You can minimize those disturbances by wearing dark clothing, it will reflect less than lighter clothing. Now it is winter and I wear a long black coat, that works pretty well usually. The second tip is to bring your lens as close as possible to the glass, so that the camera sees only a minuscule portion of the complete glass wall. Be careful not to touch the glass with your lens to avoid damage (of the lens…). I sometimes also use a polarizer to eliminate the reflections. But when shooting indoors (ape house e.g.) I prefer to use every single photon which can reach the sensor, so for me a polarizer is only an option outdoors.

The rest s done in post. Observe these two images I made of a leopard in the snow. Both images were shot through a glass wall. You can see that the original is somewhat milky, hazy, low on contrast and the colors just don’t pop. That is due to a very scratched and dirty window, the legacy of hundreds of hands and noses leaning against the glass. Thank god for raw files and Lightroom ! Heighten the contrast, increase saturation, add some clarity, adjust white balance… and there you have it.

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Some images do not need many corrections, such as these pictures. The tiger picture only received some saturation boost and got cropped.

20140111-Zoo-glass-shooting-001 The leopard below just got some contrast correction. But wait ! See the yellowish stripe on the top left corner of the leopard image ? Darn, it could have been such a nice image, but that is a reflection. What you see there is part of a gateway to the outside which is behind me.  It is much brighter than its surroundings, thus it heavily reflects in the glass window.

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Let’s take a look at another image I made in the zoo. I encountered that hippopotamus in a lucky situation. There were nearly no people around which could reflect in the glass or stand in the way (I had to shoot from 2-3 m away since the hippo was directly at the glass wall).  And just in that uncrowded situation, which is uncommon for a big zoo, the hippo swam towards the glass and posed for me. Two seconds later – hippo turns around and swims away. Kind of a right-time-right-place-image. The image received only a tad of contract correction, but only a homeopathic dose. There is a slight reflection on the left part of the image (purple-ish stripe going from the snout to the upper left image corner), but in that case the reflection does not disturb the image heavily in my opinion.

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Summary time !
If you shoot animals through glass you have to worry about reflections and loss of contrast due to scratched or dirty windows. Reflections can be minimized by bringing the camera close to the glass, using a polarizer or hoping for a situation and angle that does not produce any reflections. Wear dark clothing, it has the tendency to reflect less in windows than light clothing. Low contrast and boring colors can be fixed in post. And, as always when it comes to photographing animals, bring patience.

Why I am not convinced of home-printing your images

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I am not convinced of printing photos at home. I found it complicated, inaccurate, time-consuming and sometimes even frustrating. Keep in mind – that is my personal opinion, I am not ranting against a certain brand or product, I am just explaining why printing images did not work out for me very well.  You may have other experiences – if so please share them in the comment section !

I own a photo printer (which can also scan, copy and print documents) for about three years now. Picky as I am I chose not the cheapest model but a more sophisticated one from a reputable manufacturer with WiFi, touchscreen and five ink cartridges (black for photo, magenta, cyan, yellow and black for documents). I do not print tons of images or documents, but the printer has been used at least once or perhaps twice a week. And here is why I am frustrated.

The ink cartridges have exactly two operational states: Empty and nearly empty. It is a bottomless hole to bury money in. The cheapest (original) cartridges are 24,50 € for four cartridges (black, cyan, magenta, yellow), but you can also spend 85 € on a five-cartridge “XL” package. Unfortunately I never counted how many prints I can make on a set of cartridges, so I can’t compare the prices to a printing service. But my gut feeling is that professional printing services are much cheaper and – that is for sure – they don’t give you a hassle like battling your own printer. Which leads me to the next point.

The photo paper tray always made problems feeding the sheets. When printing an image the photo tray is pulled into the machine and after the print job the tray returns to its original position. But what did I get ? Frequent jams. The tray goes in but can’t return. Once it jammed so hard I had to exert a little force to unblock the tray. In a nearly comical fashion a little spring and a plastic part flew by my face in slow-motion. I have absolutely no idea where these parts belong, so I could not place them back into the printer. The photo paper tray can still feed the paper, but I have to return the tray manually.

The accuracy of the prints also is annoying. I had countless images which are tilted since the photo paper was not fed correctly aligned. The image borders are also printed with quite some tolerances. Suddenly the foot of your subject is cut off if, on the computer screen, the subject is close to the border.

I can only remember a few prints when I clicked the button in Lightroom and the photo came out of the printer with everything being ok. Usually I have to print multiple times before the image is ok. What a nuisance.

Bottom line – I find printing images at home costly, time-consuming and frustrating. As a consequence I only print images with professional printing services. You might not have complete control over the colors and exposure as a calibrated print at home would have, but since I do not own a printer calibration device it does not make a difference for me.

 

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 55,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 20 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Photographing minerals

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The son of our neighbors next doors is seven years old and collects minerals (“treasures of the soil” as he calls them). When we visited them a while ago I suggested to photograph his treasures along with some of his Lego figurines. The idea was very welcome and so I packed my Lowepro photo trolley and rolled it over to their place.

I chose a simple tabletop lighting setup, photographing the minerals on the dining table surface. To create an interesting background I applied a technique called “El Bokeh wall”  by photographer Laya Gerlock from the Philippines. The idea is very simple – take a sheet of aluminum foil, crumple it into a ball, fold it out again it and tape the crumpled aluminum sheet to the wall. When lit by a flash the crumpled surface throws back countless tiny reflections, which, out of focus, result in a pleasing pattern of bokeh rings. But why blabla when images can tell the story:

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20131222 Minerals Studio setupThe setup requires two flash units. One flash unit illuminates the background, the main light illuminates the mineral and the Lego figurine (the main purpose of the Lego figurine is to act as a reference for the size of the mineral by the way). To avoid harsh shadows on the minerals I attached a Lumiquest softbox to the flash. The images were made with a D800 and a Nikkor 105mm f.28 Micro lens. Since the minerals are 3D and have quite a depth considering we are using a macro lens, use a small aperture (I recommend f8 and up, but that depends on the individual subject). If you are not pleased with the lighting situation, try to elevate the main light a little so that it points down at an angle towards the subject. A second main light, placed to the right of the minerals, might also help. There is no “right” or “wrong”, just try a few setups and see what works.

Keep in mind that in order to receive a pleasing bokeh at small apertures (high aperture numbers) the background needs to be “far” away from the subject. In the setup I used the distance between background and subject measured perhaps 60-80 cm.

And finally, here are the final results from that shooting.

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