Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Great Depth of Field Debate

Does Focal Length Change the DoF?

Before we get any 'yes it does' or 'no it doesn't' responses and before anyone reads my article, the best, most well written article I have found on this subject, should be read. You can read the article here:

So, those who believed that for amateur photographers, generally the focal length changed depth of field, before reading the above article, you can now stand down. If you couldn't be bothered to read the article well, I've kindly reproduced the important section regarding this subject just for you:

As far as I am concerned, well done Cambridge in Colour for finally putting this to bed, case closed.

Sharpness - What is it and Why Don't I have It?

Why Photographs Aren’t Always Sharp
Please note, you can view any image in this tutorial at a bigger size by clicking the image.

After comments by a judge at a recent competition night and looking at some of the general images on my club’s gallery site, it has become obvious that there are some image sharpness issues among the member’s images. I know that all of us are affected by blurred images and that at times this is an art choice by the photographer however, there a considerable number of images that aren’t sharp in our galleries and beyond.

The reason I have put this tutorial together is because I want to be able to help people understand why the problems exist and what they can do about overcoming them. There is a possibility that people just don’t know ‘why’ that this is happening to them.

Out of Our Control
There are reasons for poor image sharpness that we can’t easily fix and these are usually because of a technical problem or an equipment shortfall. The kit lenses that come with new cameras for example often produce poor quality images especially at extremes of zoom or at the edges of the lens which is mainly due to their cheaper build quality. Also, some more expensive zoom lenses perform poorly at their extremes and there is also damage and breakdowns thrown into the mix as well. These issues can only normally be overcome by replacing or repairing the equipment. There is another issue where a lens can back or front focus but that is a very technical fix and we won’t be discussing that particular issue in this post.

What We Can Control
There are several reasons for blurred shots and they will be listed below in a section of their own. These problems are usually caused by a lack of knowledge, experience or an outside influence but they can be overcome once we can identify them. However, identifying the problem is usually where people fall down because if you don’t know why it is happening, then you can’t fix it. So, that’s enough words about nothing, let’s get into the tutorial.

Common Causes of Focusing Problems 
  1. Shutter Speed Too Slow
  2. Camera Movement/Camera Shake
  3. Depth of Field Too Narrow
  4. High ISO & Cropping
  5. Focusing on the Wrong Subject
  6. Focusing System Set on an Incorrect Mode
  7. Camera too close to Subject
Shutter Speed Too Slow
This normally occurs when hand holding cameras and the light is low. This is likely the biggest cause of blurred shots for most photographers especially beginners. For e.g. using a 400mm lens at 1/30th second will likely cause blurred shots. This is because we cannot hold the camera steady enough for 1/30th second duration and therefore this movement or shake manifests itself as a blurred image. These images are normally completely blurred all over with nothing sharp at all as per the image below.

With longer lenses such as 100mm or greater, the movement is exaggerated greatly at the subject end. For example if you hold a snooker cue out horizontally and look at the end, it will be moving around much more than at your hand end and this same thing happens at the point of focus with the subject when the shutter is open in your camera.

In the days of film photography there was a general rule that in order to get sharp images from a hand-held camera the shutter speed needed to be at least one second divided by the focal length of the lens. So the layman’s method of using this would be if you were shooting with a 100mm lens then the shutter speed needed to be at least 1/100sec. Of course we don’t have 1/100th second shutter speed on the majority of cameras so we would select the next faster speed of 1/125th second.

This rule is generally still true today but of course in film days all 35mm cameras had a film size of 35mm. Today we have cropped sensors and anti-shake systems such as Image Stabilisation (IS) in Canon or Vibration Reduction (VR) in our Nikon cameras and lenses. These have an effect on this general rule which we need to be aware of so that we can work out the shutter speed correctly.

For full frame camera bodies such as the Canon 5D series or the Nikon D800 series etc. the above rule applies correctly because their sensor is comparable in size to the 35mm film in older cameras. However, with advent of cropped sensors the above speed calculation varies depending on the camera because the focal length changes depending on the amount of crop. What the term ‘Cropped Sensor’ refers to is a sensor that is smaller than the standard 35mm film or full frame sensor and just to make it more difficult, different camera types and different manufacturers make a variation of different sized sensors. The amount that sensor is reduced from the 35mm size is called the ‘crop factor’.

For example, if we use a 100mm lens as an easy reference and mount this lens on a cropped sensor camera such as the Nikon APS-C format SLR, D5200, we need to know the crop factor to work out the focal length and ultimately the shutter speed required to capture a sharp image when we shoot handheld. I happen to know that this camera has a crop factor of 1.5 and for the techs amongst you, it means that the sensor is ¾ of the size of the 35mm or full frame sensor.

The effect that the crop creates is that it multiplies the focal length of the lens. So, we multiply the actual focal length of the lens (100mm) by the crop factor (1.5) which is 1.5 x 100mm = 150mm. Therefore, the 100mm focal length of the lens fitted to a camera with a crop factor of 1.5 changes the focal length to 150mm. This means that we now need a shutter speed of 1/150th second and again as most cameras don’t have this speed we use the next higher which is 1/160th second.

With Canon APS-C cameras such as the EOS 650D, they use a sensor that has a 1.6 crop factor. If we then use the same formula 100mm x 1.6 = 160mm, this means that the shutter speed should be at least 1/160sec for hand held shots.

Now having worked all of that out, we can almost disregard this information if we have Image Stabilisation or Vibration Reduction in our lens or camera body. What these systems do is attempt to counteract camera shake by moving a group of lenses using gyroscopic sensors that detect movement. In earlier lenses Canon state that you would be able to shoot hand held 2 stops slower than normal. With the later lenses they claim that you can achieve up to 5 stops slower although it is likely that in reality it is 3 or 4 stops.

What this means is that you can achieve hand held shots at slower shutter speeds. For example, when using a 100mm lens without stabilisation on an APS-C camera, we know that we need a shutter speed of 1/160th second. However, if that lens has stabilisation that can reduce the shake by 4 stops then theoretically, we only need a shutter speed of 1/20th second (rounded up to 1/30th sec).

I'm sure that's all as clear as mud!

Camera Movement/Camera Shake
This is a very similar problem to what’s defined in the previous section and it can definitely be caused by the slow shutter speed mentioned above. However, there are a number of other things that can cause movement of the camera at the decisive moment and I’ll start explaining this with a story.

One night shoot in Melbourne, we were at Birrarung Marr by the Yarra River shooting night shots of Princes Bridge. I was helping out with some of the less experienced members when I was asked by an established photographer to give them a hand. He said to me “try as I might I cannot get sharp shots, can you see what I’m doing wrong?” After checking out the camera settings and the mounts on the tripod for rigidity I asked the photographer to go through the actions of taking a shot. It only took one shot to see the problem but I asked him to take several just to ensure that this was the consistent problem. What was happening was as soon as he used the remote and opened the shutter, he grabbed the tripod leg to steady himself and wait for the exposure to end. He was not aware that he was doing this and this was what was causing the camera to shake and give him a blurred image.

Other issues can be the wind blowing the camera on a tripod or the tripod stood on unstable ground such as a wooden walkway, soft vegetation or a floating jetty when people are moving about. Having the stabilisation mode on when the camera is mounted on a tripod can also cause shake that blurs an image. Even the lifting of the mirror in a DSLR can cause shake in certain circumstances. Another common cause is using the shutter button instead of a remote release on a longer focal length lens. To see why this is the case, mount your camera onto a tripod with your longest lens. Extend it to full zoom and then switch on live view and focus on an object about 200 meters away. Then zoom the live view in as far as you can and let the camera settle. Then, whilst watching the LCD screen touch the camera shutter button, this will show you how much movement occurs and I think you'll be surprised by this.

Depth of Field Too Narrow
Depth of Field (DoF) is the most technical of the focussing issues listed here and it is the amount of the photograph from front to back that has acceptable focus. This is a very common issue and it can be due to a lack of understanding regarding DoF or maybe because at that time it was all you could capture given the circumstances. Commonly, close up or macro photography creates the situation where the image has very little in focus. This is due to the characteristics of the lens, the aperture and distance to subject all contribute to this problem. Learning to manage focus points or manually focussing is essential to get an acceptable shot. This is not a tutorial to explain how DoF works so here is a description of how it changes. In general, the longer the focal length is, the narrower the DoF will be. The wider the lens aperture is (smaller number) the narrower the DoF becomes. The closer the distance to the subject is the narrower the DoF becomes.

For example, a short focal length (16mm) and a narrow aperture (f/16) and a large distance to subject will give you an enormous DoF.

In contrast to this, a long focal length (magnifies the blur), a wide aperture and short distance to subject will give you an extremely narrow DoF.

Below is a couple of charts that as a rough guide, attempt to show the changes to the DoF when any of the variables are changed. I have used a 5D with a full frame sensor to create these tables therefore, figures may vary depending on the camera used as this is only a guide to show how the changes effect DoF.

Distance to Subject Changes

1. Depth of Field extends 62.9 metres in front of the subject and to infinity beyond the subject.

Aperture Changes

 High ISO and Cropping
Some of you may wonder why I have included this in a sharp image tutorial. However, as any wildlife photographer will testify, you often can’t get close to a subject and the light is low so a higher ISO is needed to get a sharp shot. When your images are processed and you end up having to crop an image substantially to get a favourable result, you magnify the effects noise in the image and in most cases this effects sharpness. To this end I do not shoot wildlife in anything other than ISO 100 and if I cannot use this setting I will forgo the shot rather than be disappointed later.

In the image below, you can clearly see the noise in the image. This was taken at ISO 1600 using a Canon 450D which doesn’t have very good ISO performance. The noise has pretty much rendered the detail in the flower as useless.
Missed Focus or Focussing on the Wrong Subject
This is a very common issue and is undoubtedly caused by a lack of understanding of the cameras focussing systems. Anyone who always uses their camera on multi point focussing mode will most likely have suffered from this problem more often than not.

So why is this a problem?

The multi-point or all point focussing mode, regardless of how many focus points your camera has, will always focus on the closest subject that falls under one of the focussing points. Provided of course that there is enough contrast for it to work. The camera will not be able to focus on subjects that have no contrast such as a white wall or other plain areas. The problem with using this mode is that the camera does not know what you need to focus on so therefore chooses the closest and this may not be what you want in focus. Obviously, this becomes even more of an issue when you have only a narrow DoF to work with.

The image blow is an example of what can happen when a multi-point focus is used in a situation where it doesn’t work correctly. This has also been made more obvious because the dog is very close to the camera and the DoF is very small making the eye even more blurred. Obviously the dog’s nose has high contrast therefore the camera has focussed on it as it is the closest high contrast object under the multiple focussing points. What the photographer should have done is taken control of the focussing system or use manual focus to get the eye sharper.
There are three options that would have allowed the photographer to focus this image correctly.
  • The easiest and least sophisticated option would be to switch to manual focussing and focus on the eye. However, this may not be an easy task if the dog is moving its head around.
  • The second option would be to switch the focus system to allow you select the focus point that is over the dog’s eye but again difficult if the dog keeps moving.
  • The third and the option that I would choose would be to enable the centre focus point only and focus that point on the dog’s eye. Then whilst still half pressing the shutter button, recompose and grab the shot.

I always have my camera set with only the centre point activated but this can also create problems when you don’t have an understanding of how the system works. The two images below are taken with only the centre focus point active. The girl was initially in the centre where focus was achieved and has now been moved to the right third of the image to create a better composition but she has moved away from the centre focus point. Because that focus point is now on the background trees, the camera has done what it has been instructed to do and has re-focussed on those trees and now the subject is blurred

The choices to rectify this are exactly the same as with the dog image above however, because the girl is more stationary than the dog then all three are viable options. It is also likely that the multi-point focus would have worked correctly in this shot because the girl is the closest to the camera and the depth of field from this distance is likely enough to keep the subject entirely in focus.
Focussing System Set on the Wrong Mode
Separate from the focussing point settings is the focus modes and in Canon cameras they are One Shot, AI Focus and AI Servo. Here is a quick description of what they do
  • One Shot – This is a static mode that retains the focus even if the camera is moved away from the original focus point and the shutter remains half pressed. This mode is useful for static subjects that won’t move after focus is achieved such as portraits and landscapes.
  • AI Focus – Best used with a single focus point, this is the first of two dynamic focus modes and it is chiefly used for subjects that may move around in the same area such as a bird hopping around the branches of a tree. The focus will stay on the object provided that the point that achieved the original focus is kept on the subject.
  • AI Servo – Again, best used with a single focus point this is a similar mode to AI-Focus but is used where the subject may be moving around with the addition of being able to track the subject if it moves towards or away from the camera as long as the focus point is kept on the subject.

So why can these modes get you into trouble when they are used incorrectly?

Let’s take the photograph we looked at previously with the girl and the trees in the background. If we have the girl positioned in the centre of the shot and the focus mode on the camera set onto ‘One Shot’ with just the centre point active. If we then half press the shutter to lock the focus and then ask the girl to move slightly to the right to get a better composition and take the shot all is well and as long as the shutter is kept half depressed the girl remains in focus. If we change the settings slightly so that the camera is set on ‘AI Servo’ instead of One Shot and re-run this scenario, we find that as soon as the girl steps away from the focus point, the camera re-focusses on the trees in the background.

As an alternative scenario to the one above, let’s again look at the photograph we looked at previously with the girl and the trees in the background. If we have the girl positioned in the centre of the shot and the focus mode on the camera set onto ‘One Shot’ with just the centre point active. We then again half press the shutter to lock the focus but this time ask the girl to move nearer to the camera she will walk out of the depth of field of the focus point and we will no longer have focus on her resulting in a blurred subject. However, if the camera setting is changed again to ‘AI Servo’ and the girl walks towards the camera, the focus mode will keep the focus on the girl as long as the focus point stays on her and the shutter remains half pressed.

Camera Too Close to the Subject
On the odd occasion usually during close up or macro photography we can have a scenario where the camera cannot attain focus because it is closer to the subject than the minimum focussing distance for the lens that is in use. Normally this isn’t a problem because there is a setting in the camera that says that the shutter cannot be released without first attaining focus. However, in some DSLR’s this setting can be overridden and the shutter can be released without first achieving focus on the subject. Once the setting is over-ridden then it can apply to all scenarios because the shutter can be pressed whilst the lens is still acquiring focus resulting in a blurred image.

Note* Some images in this tutorial were sourced from the internet. If you feel that any of these are your image(s) and it has had its copyright breached please advise me ASAP and I will arrange to have the image substituted. 

Dave Sumner

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sharpening - The High Pass Method

First of all, why use High Pass Sharpening? Well the reason I use it is because I want control the sharpening, to be able to turn up or down the amount of sharpening after I've applied it and use masks so I can selectively sharpen. This method allows me to return and adjust it again even after I've saved the file.

Before sharpening any image using any method, all other processing should be completed. Usually, sharpening is the last step of any post production editing.

So what is the process involved? With your image editing completed in Photoshop, you are ready to apply sharpening or with LightRoom open your image into Photoshop.

1. Create a new duplicate layer (CTRL & J)or if you are working in PS and have a lot of layers and the last layer is an adjustment layer then use CTRL, ALT, SHIFT and E to create a new layer with all the layers below applied but not flattened. Name this layer 'HP Sharpen'.

2. With the new layer active (highlighted), on the menu bar select 'Filter/Other/High Pass...'.

3. Your image should have gone grey and new 'High Pass' window will have appeared. Please ensure that the 'Preview' box is ticked in this new window.

4. Adjustment of the 'Radius' slider  at the bottom of the new window will now start to show the areas of the image through the grey that are going to be sharpened by this process. Each image requires a different setting depending on image size etc. however, if you go too far with the radius, the image will be grossly over-sharpened.

Note* Once the High Pass process is complete, it is possible to reduce sharpening to an extent using the opacity of the layer. However, if you under sharpen the image you cannot increase sharpening beyond the maximum that was set using the radius slider. Therefore it is wise to slightly over set the radius (over sharpen) a little during the High Pass process so it can be re-increased if  the opacity is set too low.

5. Once you are happy with the settings, in the new window select 'OK' to set the high pass into the image. However, the image will still appear to be grey.

6. Now look across at the layer on the right side of PS and just above it should be a pull down menu with 'Normal' selected. Pull down that menu and select 'Overlay'. Your image will now have appeared normal with the High Pass sharpening applied.

7. By clicking on the eye symbol to the left of the layer 'HP Sharpen' layer, switch the layer on and off to see the effect of the sharpening.

8. If the sharpening is too much, you can reduce it by reducing the opacity of the layer. To do this, ensure the HP Sharpen layer is active and look for the word 'Opacity' to the right of where 'Normal' was. You can either use the pull down menu or hover the mouse over the word Opacity and holding down the left button, slide the mouse to the left to reduce the amount. The adjustment starts at 100% and can only be reduced and once below 100% it can be increased back to a maximum of 100% again.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

HDR What is it and How Should I Process The Images

Shooting High Dynamic Range (HDR) Images

High Dynamic Range Images or HDR as they are commonly referred to are several images which are taken at different exposures and merged in a software program to create a HDR image.

When would I use HDR?

Typically a HDR image is required when the scene that we wish to photograph has more tonal range than the camera can capture in just one exposure. This isn't as clear cut as it sounds because it takes some skill and experience to know when this is required. However, it is true that some people use HDR to create a certain look and may use this process even if the camera can capture the full range of tones in a scene.

How Do I Take Images to Use in HDR Processing?

Many cameras have the facility to take HDR images as a built in feature, usually called 'Exposure Bracketing'. Many consumer DSLR's will allow you take three bracketed shots whereas higher end cameras will allow 7 or even 9 bracketed shots. These by themselves are NOT HDR images but are just several shots of the same scene taken over an range of exposures. However, there are cameras out there such as the Canon 5D Mk3 which also have an additional HDR mode which will produce a number of bracketed shots and a processed HDR image from those shots, in camera.

The standard method of creating an HDR image is to start with several bracketed shots. Now do not worry if your camera has not got a bracketed mode or will only allow 3 shots and you want to take more. You can create bracketed shots manually by changing the exposure manually for each shot.

Why Bracketing and Why Have Under and Over exposed Images?

In photography, bracketing is the general technique of taking several shots of the same subject using different camera settings. With the standard 3 shot exposure bracketing the camera will take one image on the correct exposure, one image under exposed and a third image over exposed.

So what is the reason for the different exposures I hear you asking? Well, if you think about the scene you wish to capture which we know has a wide tonal range from blacks in the shadows to whites in the sky. The camera either exposes for the highlights and makes the shadows black (underexpose) or it can expose for the shadows and blow out (overexpose) the highlights or it can meet somewhere in the middle and get the mid-tones right but make a poor attempt at both highlights and shadows.

So instead of any of these we take three shots, one for the highlights, one for the shadows and one for the mid-tones. We then use a clever piece of software and blend all three of these images together and create an image which uses the best tones from each shot to create the HDR image.

Why You Should be Careful Processing HDR?

It is a fact that the majority of photographers have used the 'Grunge' pre-set effect that is available in some software such as Photomatix to create weird high tone and high contrast images like the one below. I suppose it is a phase that we all go through and ideally move on from after reality hits and we realise that the images are not that appealing to most viewers.

The key to a successfully processed HDR image is when the viewer cannot tell that it has been processed yet the image has good tones throughout the entire tonal range.

Can I Spot an HDR Image From a Normal One?

The tell tale sign of an HDR processed image is usually very dark edges to clouds and the image above is no exception to this. However, in its case it is pretty obvious that the entire image has been given the 'Grunge' type treatment. The image below which has little visible HDR processing but again the clouds are a give away even if they are almost believable given the right weather circumstances.

The best HDR processed image is the one that can't be distinguished from a normal single exposure. The blending of images is carefully controlled so only the areas that need the tones are affected etc. The image below is also a 7 shot HDR but is has been much more carefully processed and is stark contrast to the first image which is way over the top.

So What Software Should I Use?

There are several software programs for processing bracketed images which will create HDR output. Photomatix is a popular choice and one that I have used many times. There is also the popular Photoshop Plug In within NIK Software (Google) suite called Merge to HDR efex Pro and there's also good old Photoshop which has had a merge to HDR tool since CS2.

However, with the advent of CS6 CC there is a new method of processing HDR images and this is the method that I now use. With Adobe Camera RAW version 7.1 or later comes the ability to edit 32bit TIFF images directly in Camera RAW, a feature not yet available in Lightroom as Lightroom cannot yet process 32 bit images.

The process is basically this, you highlight your bracketed images within Bridge and in the 'Tools' menu select 'Merge to HDR'. This processes the images as layers into Photoshop and creates a HDR image which you can then save as a 32 bit TIFF file. You then have the ability to open the image into Camera RAW and process it yourself rather than having to rely on a predetermined style as in the other programs. Also with the advent of the Camera RAW filter in Photoshop you can work on the image entirely in Photoshop.

***NOTE*** Please take note that processing images in this way can lead to some very large image files, the more bracketed shots that you use the bigger the file. For e.g. the original of the third image in this post is a 7 x 25MB bracketed HDR file. The size of the originally processed HDR TIFF file is 264MB, the JPEG created from that TIFF file is 38MB.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Photoshop CS6 CC Tip 1 - Camera RAW as a Filter

Did you know that in CS6, you can use Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) as filter within any layer?

To try this, open an image into Photoshop CS6 and then hit 'Ctrl J' to create a copy of the background layer. Then with the new layer highlighted, go to the menu option 'Filter/Camera RAW Filter.. and click it.

You will now see the ACR window open, go ahead and make some adjustments and when you have finished, select 'OK' to close ACR and go back to Photoshop. Now switch the layer copy on and off and you will see that the ACR adjustments are now contained into the layer.

Simple but hugely useful.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Adobe Bridge Tip 6 - Copyright

Adding Copyright Information to the Image Metadata

Should I Copyright My Images?

The simple answer is damn right you should, you'd be a fool not to yet how many photographers don't do this simple yet essential task. How many of you post your images to Facebook without any Copyright information on them and what comeback do you have if you find your image on a billboard in the middle of town advertising someone else's product. Take them court and the judge says to you, prove it is your image and then even if you can prove it, the judge says well, where is the copyright information, no copyright then the image must be public domain, case dismissed.

So the answer is, copyright your images and here's how to do it.

Creating a Metadata Template

To add copyright information to your images using Bridge, you first need to create a customised metadata template. As part of this template, you can refer to copyright information somewhere on a website which allows a potential purchaser/user of your images to read your terms and conditions. I placed my copyright information onto my gallery site's blog page and then used the URL in the copyright info in Bridge.

Open Bridge and navigate to the 'Tools/Create Metadata Template...' menu item and click it. In the new window that appears click in the field titled 'Template Name' and give your metadata template a title. Now in the 'Choose the Metadata to Include in this Template' field, put a tick in the 'IPTC Core' tick box and expand it by clicking the triangle next to the name.

Now fill in the Metadata as required ensuring that there is a tick against the lines that are required. Repeat this step for all lines available and that are required in the template and save the completed template.

Applying or Replacing the Metadata in Your Images

You can now highlight your images within Bridge and by selecting 'Tools/Append Metadata' or 'Tools/Replace Metadata' to change the metadata where the following applies:

Append will add values from the template to fields that are empty and existing information is not replaced. 
Replace adds values from the template to empty fields and replaces existing values in fields.
Applying the Metadata Template During an Import
You can apply the metadata template automatically during an import of images by clicking on the 'File/Get Photos From Camera...' menu item. In the window that appears you need to set the parameters as required and then click the 'Advanced Dialog' button in the bottom left corner of the window. You can then set the 'Template to Use' in the 'Apply Metadata' area of the window.

Adobe Bridge Tip 5 - Stacking

Stacking Images

What is Stacking?

Stacking is a method used in Bridge to group similar files together within a folder. For e.g. I have a folder in this example that has 77 images in it and as you can see, the images go off the bottom of the screen. So the more images there are, the bigger the problem when searching through and viewing them.

If I now place the images into stacks of similar scenes etc., I can browse through the images much more easily and expand a stack if necessary. So to stack some images I need to first highlight what I want to stack together, I then right click and select stack/Group as Stack from the list. Once I've done this with the images, the page is much more visible.

You can add a minimum of 2 images to a stack and drag and drop additional images into an already created stack. You can remove any amount of images including all images from a stack by right clicking highlighted images and selecting Stack/Ungroup From Stack.

The number at the top left of each stack denotes the number of images contained within.