Friday, December 28, 2007

2007 Suzuki DL650 ABS V-Strom

I'm closing out 2007 with a great story - my motorcycle touring solution for 2008!

In late November, I dropped in at the local Suzuki dealership for no reason at all - just killing time. The salesman showed me his DL650 V-Strom and I was immediately hooked - finally, the perfect (affordable) touring cycle I had always wanted! I've ridden the BMW F650 and wasn't real tickled with its ergos and price tag. All other similar designs had the same dreaded dirtbike seat my NX250 was plagued with. And at a street price of $6699, the Suzuki DL650 V-Strom was a real solution for my touring Jones.

Having decided against buying a 2008 model (yellow or flat black only - yuk!), I began a search of remaining 2007 models in Oort Metallic Gray. I located several brand new ones going for just $5800 at an Alabama dealership six hours away and got the loan ready to purchase one. With check in hand, I made one last look on eBay for other offerings nearby and an awesome deal had just been posted that day - a used 2007 Suzuki DL650 ABS V-Strom with 6,234 miles and a nice list of farkles (accessories in motorcycle lingo). Right on! I called the dealership, made my deal on the phone ($6200), and asked my son if I could borrow his longbed pickup to bring it home. Saturday couldn't come fast enough...

Tommy Polson and I arrived at Pro Source Motorsports in Ft. Payne, AL on December 8th at 8:30 AM - they opened 30 minutes later. After a brief but thorough look and listen, I jumped at this jewel and wrote the check. It seemed too good to be true. Why was it sold off so early, I wondered?

It was purchased in July 2007 by an experienced rider of many bikes. He outfitted it well and discovered later that his wife would not fit well on it with him. Trading it in at his local dealer, he bought something else. I actually spoke to him on the phone when making my inquiry and he revealed a tipover on the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway that resulted in some scratches to one of the handguards and a replaced front fender. Otherwise this bike is like new.

Original Purchase
2007 DL650 ABS V-Strom $6200 ($7199 street)
Suzuki Extended Warranty (to 2011) $400
Suzuki OEM Gel Seat $189
Suzuki OEM Center Stand $189
Hepco & Becker Engine Guards $189
Windstrom Manta Windscreen $185
Avon Distanzia rear tire $150 mounted

My Add-Ons
Kuryakyn LED Battery Gauge $31
Suzuki OEM Swingarm Spools $19
Symtec Grip Heaters $28
Bestem T-Box Hard Top Case $80
8-Fuse Eastern Beaver Harness & Powerlets $105
Battery Tender $45
Sunstar 16T Front Sprocket $26
EBC FA174 HH Sintered Rear Brake Pads $36
Bestem 992 T-Top Hard Case $80

My Modifications
Rear Power Panel (scrap diamondplate)
PVC Koozie Kooler Tube $30 (my design)
LED Side Marker Lighting $30

The Suzuki V-Stroms are popular adventure tourers in their fifth year of manufacture. They are excellent values compared to BMW and Aprilia offerings, and are well supported online with accessories and a wealth of forum-based information too. Go get you one!

December 29th: First Ride

Took Suzi out for her first roadrun today under partly sunny Tennessee skies and 50 degree afternoon temps. Ran some backroads in Powell and stopped to visit a friend and show off the new ride. The bike offers easy handling for a wide range of traffic and all the power needed to cruise the interstate. Smooth shifting and excellent seating positioning makes me look forward to longer days and destinations further away.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

1984 20/2.8 Nikkor AI: First Impressions

I recently picked up a 20/2.8 Nikkor AI from Adorama for just $255 shipped - an exceptional buy with curiously higher prime lens prices appearing just prior to the Nikon D3 body release. This optic, along with the 35/2 Nikkor AI, is getting pretty scarce. Go try to find either one of 'em - it's pretty hard.

My sample 20/2.8 is a circa-1984 model - the rubber focusing ring slicked over after years of use, and the classic black Japanese laquer still very shiny. Except for a small filter ring ding up front, it's in good shape for a well used lens. The aperture blades look like new, it focuses fine and the mount is clean and unbuggered. An E- grade lens sample to the letter.

With just a smidge of heft due to its complicated glass components, the 20/2.8 adds little weight to my D40 body. The AI construct requires I operate the aperture ring manually - unnecessary with AI-S designs. At 30mm's of actual view, focusing is accomplished with the electronic rangefinder and requires constant chimping to ascertain sharp images. The 62mm filter size is commonplace but I'm fitting dedicated circular polarizers to my primes for greater readiness in the field - they're cheap enough these days to do it.

The 20/2.8 AI rates right up there with the better AI/AI-S designs and offers a pretty view at infinity and up close. I've discovered a tripod is just as necessary with wide angles as a tele when scenics and architecture are the subject. Flash quickens the shooting process but manual focusing begs for attention and deliberation. Hyperfocal calculations are worth working out for shooting in close quarters and taking compulsive image grabs.

All in all, this optic takes me back to yesteryear's methods of shooting - it'll be fun mastering this focal length and seeing how 'wide' I can apply its vision.

PS: I managed to repurchase my 35/2 Nikkor AI from the fellow I sold it to. He never used it, so agreed to let me have it back for what I sold it for - $168 shipped. They start at $200 on eBay and go up from there, folks. And they will only get harder to find...

Friday, November 9, 2007

1973 135/2.8 Nikkor-Q AI'd - A New Standard?

As the facetious title suggests, I purposely selected this optic among my collection of AI Nikkors to prove a point. It has been my rant for several years now that the current crop of consumer Nikkors is woefully inadequate when it comes to their primary purpose in life - image quality. Oh sure, they focus faster than you can pick your nose - they'll even do it while you pick your nose. But eventually, the misgivings of Nikon's whizbang optical technology are staring you in the face. Poor telephoto performance. Serious CA, distortion and other optical issues. Forced shooting at higher ISO's with smaller maximum apertured lenses. Where's the progress? It's not in the AF-S, VR and nanocoatings, friends. It's all about basic lensmaking and the real images your optical tools are recording on the sensor.

Now, every Nikon DSLR body is a work of art. Even the diminuitive D40 is a stellar performer within its amateur-based capabilities. I bought one as a 'gap' body while waiting for the D300 to materialize, and it is surprising how many things it does well. Especially the image quality - better than several of its predecessors. But those consumer kit lenses will drive you nutty if you ever take a close look at what they are giving you.

So where is the solution? That's simple. Give me $1500 - $2000 and I'll hand over a pro quality Nikkor that will (1) put some meat on your mitts and, (2) reward you with pristine images every time you shoot. This is lensmaking - sharp, sharp, everything is sharp. No excuses and ballyhoo about antialias filters and uberzoom ranges wider than the Equator. Nope - just good glass, man.

Our Test Lens
So. Back to the 135/2.8 Nikkor-Q. What's your point, you say? Just this. As a far-from-heralded classic optical design - in fact, a converted pre-AI lens at that - the following images prove that good lenses have been available for decades. Using my modest little D40, I shot this series of test images wide open at f2.8, midway at f8, and stopped down to f16. The subject was chosen to allow detail and contrast to be easily evaluated - bare concrete is as bland as it gets, but when it shoots well you've done something right.

The subject is about 60 feet away (infinity) and you're looking at the 100% cropped section. No postprocessing has been done inside or outside the camera. Let's look at some pictures:

f2.8 @ infinity

f8 @ infinity

f16 @ infinity

As you can see, this early-1970's Nikkor is superb across the entire range of f-stops. It will outshoot every Nikkor zoom under $1000 - nd do it at a cost of $75-$120 bucks.

Icing on the Cake
Just to add another layer of evidence, here's an image using a Kenko Pro 300 DG 1.4X Teleconverter with the 135/2.8 Nikkor-Q. Factoring in the digital 1.5X conversion, the Nikkor-Q grows from a 202/2.8 into a stronger 283/4 telephoto. If these two unlikely partners can shoot well together, you've just upped the ante for superb photography by a whopping $125! Let's see what the camera shows us...

effectively f16 @ infinity (f8 w/ teleconverter)

Just as important as infinity focus is close range shooting. Can an old Nikkor pass that test too?

Here's another center crop of an image shot at less than three feet...

... and here's the center of that crop. Any questions?

The Nikkors of old had awesome contrast, sharpness and an imaging elegance that today's technology is slowly leaching out of our glass designs. Didjaknow, for example, that internal focusing, aspherical elements and other 'advances' actually increase distortion, CA and other anomolies in modern consumer optics? Combined with sloooow f4 and f5.6 maximum apertures, this explains the poor wide open performance, edge of field softness and slower AF response in today's consumer zooms. Sadly, even modern primes are not the match of their grandparents as plastic and offshore manufacturing take their toll.

Regarding lens speed, there's no such thing as a slow AI. Several of the 1.8 versions shoot very well wide open and represent the best value in AI's - the 1.4 and faster designs offer little more than a brighter viewfinder image with soft images until you're 2 stops down in many cases. What will you have to spend to get that kind of speed in a 'modern' lens? Four figures at least. Before you shell out the big bucks again on a 'better' lens than what you already have, take a look at the manual focus Nikkors for your architectural, scenic and portrait work.

You can still buy Nikkor-Q (and other pre-AI), AI and AI-S lenses as used equipment. In practical terms, any AI will improve your image quality - even the slowest ones. But the introduction of a full frame FX sensor in the D3 is going to exacerbate your opportunities as prices on these optical gems are escalating rapidly. Once the full frame mentality becomes fertile, the run on AI and AI-S Nikkors could be worse than weekend shoppers on the blue light special aisle at Kmart.

Looking for a new standard for your personal expectations in digital photography? It's been here all along...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

AI's on the Rise - MF Nikkors are Appreciating Rapidly!

You may have noticed the upward trend in prices for Nikkor AI and AI-S manual focus optics. There seems to be a reevaluation in the street prices for these stalwarts of Nikon's heritage glass. And the release of Nikon's FX sensor will only intensify the interest in AI/AI-S Nikkors. Hey, it might even drive Nikon to retool and build these lovelies again!

AI/AI-S Price Trends
A 105/2.5 AI-S is averaging $200-$250 on eBay and elsewhere for a pristine lens. That's as much as $100 more than I paid for my excellent sample less than a year ago.

I just bought an E- grade used 20/2.8 AI-S at Adorama for $255 shipped - a fortuitous buy compared to the $350+ samples on eBay and at major retailers. This focal length, along with the 35/2 Nikkor is getting more scarce.

I bagged a clean, late model 24/2.8 AI-S earlier this spring for $169 shipped and that model is also starting at $200 at many retailers.

The 200/4 AI model is uniquely plentiful with average to brand new samples at many retailers and on eBay - but again, the pricing runs upward of $200+ for the better ones.

I'm currently looking for a pristine 50/1.8 AI-S Nikkor as it is more optically useful than the 1.4 model. It shoots better images wide open as well as holding up image quality further down the aperture ring. The 1.4 version only gets good at f4 and poops out at f8 - what good is a 1/2 stop of optical speed if it can only use 3-4 f-stops to get exceptional image quality? Ditto for the even worse f1.2 Nikkor... don't let the label fool you here.

AI Conversions
My 135/2.8 Q Nikkor was properly AI'd and shoots very good images compared to modern lens formulas. Not collectible, but as a quality AI conversion sample, it is well worth owning for the $75 I paid a year ago.

There are plenty of AI'd Nikkors to choose from at very reasonable prices - but do your research! Conversions vary as does the historic quality of pre-AI optics. Some shine and some make pretty paperweights. Bjorn Rorslett has dependable information on AI Nikkors and serial numbers can be tracked to determine year of manufacture, single or multi-coating and other specifications worth knowing. Yet, earlier Nikkors can be superb performers too, as in the case of the pre-AI Nikkor 50/1.8. And AI conversions are not very expensive for a worthy candidate.

AI vs. AF
The simple truth is, you can't buy a Nikkor zoom for under $1000 that will equal the image quality of these veteran optics. A good friend recently submitted unsharpened images taken with his 35/2 AI-S Nikkor and they were rejected by one microstock agency because they were 'too sharp'!

Several Japanese sources have a selection of exquisite samples that they sell at a premium - I enjoy the chase to hunt down top quality values at online retail websites as I keep an eye on eBay for good deals there too. Discriminating photogs who are looking for maximum sensor resolution are using AI's more and more for landscape and other high quality applications where a high-speed AF zoom is just not needed.

Even with rising prices, these lenses are solid values that are being honored in the D200, D2x, D3 and D300 DSLR bodies with full metering capability. Consider adding a critical focal length for your favorite passive shooting enjoyment - you won't believe your camera could shoot that good...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Popup Flash Light Modifier

This little modifier inverts the popup flash output to the ceiling and spreads the light out. Simple and effective. Find some rigid electronics packaging with enough flat area to create a bounce surface and I'll show you how to make one..

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The plastic piece is about 3X5, has a gentle upward curve, is notched at the bottom, and held in place with common masking tape against the flash head's storage area. Scissors and aluminum ducting tape are all you need to make it with. Trim the shape and notch the bottom so it will fit well into the fe flash's storage cavity.

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Effective flash to subject distance is limited to the40GN flash but does remarkably well in most close quarters.

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Not bad for a piece of scrap plastic packaging material and aluminum duct foil tape... and it slips into my smallish camera bag just fine.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Devibed, Clarified and Saturated

I was playing around with yet another D40 test image in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.2 and came up with a neat application of color controls for an all black subject - automotive tires. This cropped, straight shot was definitely ho-hum and also tough to 'preset' into something artistic, so I simply looked at making a more rich image in its own right.

I played with the Vibrance , Saturation and Clarity sliders to do this little trick. And here's the skinny on those controls:

Saturation - affects all colors of an image
Vibrance - affects only primary colors which is effective for enhancing colors without affecting skin tones and other nonprimary color mixes - cool idea, Adobe!
Clarity - performs a subtle Unsharp Mask sharpening routine to selective areas of the image

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The Straight Shot

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Slider Settings: 100 Saturation -100 Vibrance 100 Clarity

No contrast, color temperature or exposure adjustments were made. The oversharpening is apparent, but the color shift does wonders for an otherwise dullish subject.

Lightroom continues to impress me with its seemingly endless control over all aspects of an image. I still feel like I'm scratching the surface...

Thursday, November 1, 2007

D40 Hands-On: Nikon's Infant DSLR

My Baby Nikon had its first outting at a polo match in the fashionable, hurricane-hit community of The Villages in North Florida in late October. Gorgeous weather broke out after a week of drizzle and I was ready with 5 lenses to try out. Standing on an elevated grandstand, it was a cakewalk to shoot from my seat. My Dad and I also went to the playing field level for behind the scenes images too. (images coming...)

Hands On
As a tot among Nikons, the D40 behaved very well but, as expected, is a little infantile in its abilities. Overall, image quality was no issue but mechanically it is clearly a toddler at times. Handling was easy for my smallish hands and button layout is typical Nikon. I covered the unprotected LCD screen (no clear plastic cover is provided for this model!) with a pre-ordered Giottos multicoated glass LCD protector to keep its baby blue preview window clean and unscuffed. A small EN-EL9 batt powers this pup for ~470 images. All in all, a sweet addition to it's more famous siblings.

AF was typical of most amateur DSLRs - fairly quick but unable to keep an adequate tracking on moving objects. I also utilized my 70-300 AF in a manual manner to see if if I could keep up with the polo horses and 7-minute chukker sessions - not too bad, not too good. AF-S really is a necessity. My 24-120 VR worked properly but, again, the D40's amateur level AF was not stellar.

Automated exposure was baffling - even in bright sun, as the D40 tended to overexpose easily. I discovered that the sensor you focus with also becomes the weighted area the meter concentrates on - even in Matrix AF! I'll assume poor parenting on my part and promise to do better next time...

Menu manipulation is really spiffy with a double-tap on the "i" button taking you to a toggle-controlled Information menu of basic settings - ISO, Mode, Flash, etc. I use the Function to set ISO like the D40's bigger brothers can. I'm still trying to get the menu o the rear LCD to stay off while i'm composing, but it doesn't appear to be an option. Aggravating as it is no fun getting its glare in your eye at the viewfinder.

I defaulted to using the internal viewfinder for monitoring the D40 with its Nikon-standard exposure and flash compensation routines. In such a familiar interface, I have barely needed to consult the manual on this camera. Its simplicity is its best feature for rapid AF-S lens changes, easy-to-choose shooting modes and long battery life - I shot 470+ images with a mix of flash and plenty of chimping - just as specified.

My parents offer themselves as typical images we shoot a lot - check these two out as a testimony to the D40's kind rendering. Excellent in-camera sharpness negated the need to add any here beyond a typical tweaking in WB warming.

The D40 is cute and cuddly - a perfect choice for any digital shooter's firstborn camera body. (I mounted the DK-21M viewfinder magnifier from my recently sold D200, so youknow this baby is a real member of the Nikon family.) Don't wait - you can never be too old to beget one of the best little Nikons ever made - the D40!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Honda NX250 Psuedo Motard!

This isn't a photography article, but if you've read this far on the blog, I hope you won't might a diversion 'round about now...

Three years ago I had a fun little Honda NX250 dual sport motorcycle stolen at my previous residence. Although I reported the VIN number and kept a vigil for my lost ride, time seemed to work against any odds in recovering it. Only a photograph and memories remained...

In October 2007, my former employer's HR director called me and said the police were looking for me - what!? They had recovered the Honda! Several weeks later (after the TN DOT cleared an altered VIN), I picked up the well used 'cycle and brought her home. fortunately, she runs well and apopears to have suffered little mechanical harm - the former 'owner' must have had some appreciation for it.

Since then, I have spent hours cleaning and rebuilding my old friend and thought a simple progression of images might interest those with similar interests (see, it's still about photography,sorta...). My objective this time around is to create a motard - a street-tired version of an offroad bike. A true motard has tires and wheels of the same diameter - I'm sticking to the original rims due to cost.

Replacement parts needed to refurbish the stolen NX included: Kenda Challenger street tires, a rear sprocket, front and rear brake pads, clutch and brake levers, tail light, spark plug, rear brake pedal rod, and other hardware bits needed to make for a safe ride. I've disassembled the bike to refinish the braking surfaces, lube all drivetrain points and cables, flush radiator for new antifreeze, repaint the exhaust pipe and do a bunch o' cleaning of old grease and dirt off the wheels and frame. The plastic fairings got a scraping up too, so some model paint minimized the visual damage.

With a new helmet and Cortech GX jacket, I'll be on the road in late Oct/early Nov. I'll also be mounting an old metal Army ammunition box as a 'pannier' to carry photography gear. It's essentially watertight and should make a rugged container for a camera body and two lenses plus a flash.

Thanks for listening to my sentimental tale - I'll have more adventures to report once I get on the road and look for photographic scenes to display...

11/4: Still not on the road yet - speedo parts are getting hard to acquire, so I may do a simple parts mod and get the front wheel on without one. Arghh!

Motard Mule

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Norman P1250D: Watt-Sec to GN Calculations

I recently had a stroke of good fortune - a retired photographer living in my parents' subdivision in Florida was selling a Norman strobe kit for $500 and through them offered it to me. Thinking this would be a great way to earn of few easy dollars, I did a little auction tracking on eBay to determine if a resale would make any money - not really. I told him so and suggested that he sell it himself - getting $500 should be a cinch. Another week goes by and my Dad calls to ask if I'd take the kit for $300 plus $70 in shipping. Say what!? The rest is history...

I now own an awesome 4-head Norman strobe kit, which includes:
Norman P1250D watt-second power pack
(4) LH2000 2500 w-sec lampheads with 150W halogen modeling lights
(1) 8.5" high output reflector
(1) 5" high output reflector
(1) 5" rotating barndoor ass'y
(2) 16" soft light reflectors
(2) 16" rotating barndoor/diffuser assemblies
(1) R9110 Rapid Cool blower fan
(2) 42" shoot-through white umbrellas
(1) 42" Westcott Halo umbrella softbox
(1) metal Norman snoot
(1) 42" collapsible fabric gobo
(2) heavy duty steel light stands

"So what's a 1250 watt-second power pack gonna make for light?", I ask myself as I clean and set up the new gear. Watt seconds is a "fools errand" as they say on Pirates of the Carribean - it doesn't apply itself readily to flash photography. No iTTL or automation - just lots of metering to create main/fill/key ratios based on personal experience.

Besides, strobe photogs are more interested in the apertures they can shoot at - DOF and bokeh are what really matter - and creating beautiful light, of course. So to make the GN conversions for a flash power reference, I put the following lighting reflectors, diffusers and umbrellas through a "watt-seconds @ 10-foot X ?? aperture" benchmark test to determine the range of GN's produced with the various power setting/modifier configurations.

250 watt-seconds @ 10 feet
8.5" high output reflector: f13 = GN 130
16" soft surface reflector: f13 = GN 130
16" soft surface reflector w/ diffuser: f9 = GN 90
Halo 42" umbrella softbox: 7.1 = GN 71
24" silver umbrella: f5.6 = GN 56
24" 'deep' silver umbrella: f5.6 = GN 56

750 watt-seconds @ 10 feet
8.5" high output reflector: f22 = GN 220
16" soft surface reflector: f20 = GN 200
16"soft surface reflector w/ diffuser: f16 = GN 160
Halo 42" umbrella softbox: 14 = GN 140
24" silver umbrella: f11 = GN 110
24" 'deep' silver umbrella: f9 = GN 90

1250 watt-seconds @ 10 feet
8.5" high output reflector: f29 = GN 290
Halo 42" umbrella softbox: 18 = GN 180

The Norman P1250D power pack has a maximum of 1250 watt-seconds (really?) with switchable 250, 500 and 750 watt-second settings. Each LH2000 lamp head uses a 150-watt halogen modeling light which can be set to correspond to the lighting ratio between lamp heads for a consistent preview. At the power pack, I can plug in as many as four lamp heads in the following combinations: 1@1250, 2@750/500, 3@750/250/250, 3@500/500/250, 4@500/250/250/250 or 4@250/250/250/250.

Got the owners instructions from Holly Enterprises in North Hills, CA - many thanks Brent for your help! I have a much better appreciation for the Norman brand now...

Needless to say, this just scratches the surface, but I am loving every minute of this gear and have a whole new skill to learn!


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Nikon DSLR Intervalometer 101

Time lapse photography is very cool when you can actually see it all happening at one time. Apple's QuickTime Pro ($30) makes that possible by taking hundreds or thousands of individual images and sequence them together into a 'movie' of sorts. To do this, go to your Nikon's built-in intervalometer - Nikon calls it Interval Timer Photography (its menu is under the Camera icon on your Nikon DSLR body).

(D200 Users: On page 89 of the D200 manual, you get a simple directions and tips on camera positioning, using Manual vs. other modes, etc. that are likely to be the same or similar on other models.)

First, you set the Start to either Now or Start Time. 'Now' is immediate with a 3-second delay before the sequence begins. 'Start Time' can be set for hours and/or minutes according to the clock settings you have in place.

Second, you navigate to the Interval screen and set the time BETWEEN frames in hours/minutes/seconds. (see Step 4 calculation)

Third, you set the Select Intvl* Shots menu to record the number of shots X the quantity of each frame (for bracketing) = Total Number of Shots recorded. (see Step 4 calculation)

The Start Menu will let you initiate the sequence by selecting On and pressing the Enter button on your D200 body. Upon completion, copy files to your computer and use QuickTime Pro or another popular video editor to combine your images into a streaming presentation. Then upload to your web host for distribution. That's it!

Intervalometer Setup
Let's use a sample scenario that will last about two hours - a mountain scene, ball game, or similar situation. Here are the basic steps to determine the intervalometer settigs you will use.

1) Convert hours into minutes: 2 hours = 120 minutes
2) Determine total number of seconds: 120 X 60 = 7200 seconds
3) Determine time length of finished sequence: 300 seconds(at 30 fps)= 10 seconds of playback.
Use these fps rates to calculate:
U.S. TV Video: 30 fps
European Video: 24 fps
High Definition Video: 24 fps
4) Interval Rate: 7200 seconds of sequence divided by 300 final sequence frames = 24-second intervals for a 2-hour recording

Calculate a few scenarios ahead of time and you'll be ready to setup and shoot with no delays.

- For unattended sessions, use a tripod. If outdoors, secure your tripod well to prevent wind from knocking it over, protect from rain, etc.
- Prefocus to avoid inaccurate or random AF operation
- Use WB Preset and shoot in Manual Mode to maintain a consistent exposure - or leave in P, S or A for continuous metering during changing light conditions
- Use a fresh battery and a blank CF card to avoid running out or power or memory
- Have fun!

I'll report on the postprocessing and QuickTime conversion portion of this process when I receive the latest QT version from Apple...


Saturday, September 8, 2007

LR Grayscale Conversion Primer

I am fascinated with Lightroom's Grayscale Mix palette - it is far more comprehensive than Photoshop's few controls for accomplishing this essential photographic effect.

The following images serve as a primer for graycale conversion in Lightroom. Colors and their temperature are key ingredients along with the color shifts you can introduce to 'create' a grayscale to your liking. Emphasis can be place wherever you feel it is needed to define sky, subjects, shadows and highlights at values you desire - it's rather amazing what Adobe has programmed into Lightroom for us, so start experimenting on a full scale image to learn what it can do for you.

Follow the sequence of images and the 'builds' I have created to accomplish the final image...

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Straight Grayscale Conversion (no corrections)

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+100 Red

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+100 Red +100 Orange

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+100 Red +100 Orange +100 Yellow

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+100 Red +100 Orange +100 Yellow -70 Blue

As you study the progression, you can see how different areas react to the 'color change' we invoke on a grayscaled RGB RAW image - from shadow area to midrange to sky, etc. Keep in mind that we have not left the RGB color space, so these images can be printed in color - especially if you do on to use Split Toning - or converted to an 8-bit, single channel grayscale.


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Getting Creative with Lightroom 1.1

Grayscale Conversions and Split Toning go hand in hand, as these sample files well demonstrate. Start with a well made grayscale conversion using LR 1.1's new Grayscale mix controls - and move right into the Split Toning pallette for endless fun in colorizing your black and white compositions.

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Color Original

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Optimized Grayscale Conversion

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Split Tone 1

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Split Tone 2

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Split Tone 3

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Split Tone 4

As you can see, the iterations are infinite - moving the highlight, shadow and saturation sliders in Split Toning produces many variations that will affect different areas of the original - all based on the original colors. Temperature and Tint also play a part in the Grayscale Conversion process. We have a lot to work with in LR 1.1 - so let's get creative!


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

RGB: The Universal Color Space

RGB is really the only legitimate color space. We see in RGB. Cameras record in RGB. All other color spaces come out of it - LAB, CMYK, etc. But as photographers, all we care about initially is RGB - and which one to shoot in and process in.

RGB comes in several flavors too. On your DSLR, you can choose between sRGB and Adobe RGB for JPG shooting - RAW is a different story. For RAW there's another color space just waiting to be discovered. Here's the short list:

sRGB is the smallest color space and designed for use on the web, for thrifty prints at White House Custom Color, JPG's sent your Mom and clients, slide shows and web galleries - in other words, monitor viewing and small photo prints. sRGB's narrower color space compresses wider color gamuts to print/view most acceptably on low end devices - again, monitors and small prints. Opening files in this color space will always result in clipping of some colors - don't shoot in sRGB unless you don't have anything else - view it as an output space.

Adobe RGB is a wider color space that translates well into high end print media. While bigger than sRGB - and the preferred color space to shoot high quality JPG's - there is still clipping of some portions of color . It's most useful as an output color space for commercial printing and custom enlargements after conversion from RAW postprocessing in the ProPhoto color spaces. Therefore, Adobe RGB is also not the best starting point for original image files. What! Why? Because it does not contain all the colors your sensor can capture - read on...

ProPhoto RGB is the largest color space RAW images can be converted to after they are captured off the camera sensor. Read that again. ProPhoto RGB is actually a wider gamut than the human eye can see, which is perfect for our purposes. Postprocessing and editing RAW files in ProPhoto RGB can be performed in an 8-bit or 16-bit color depth and will retain all the sensor's pixel information until you convert to either a Adobe RGB or sRGB color space for monitor viewing and prints.

Unlike Photoshop, Lightroom does not burden much color management on us and has removed most if not all the color space concerns for us - it uses ProPhoto RGB as a RAW conversion default and allows us to convert to Adobe RGB and sRGB at the time of output. I like that - even if I can't see it on my display. Keep your monitor well tuned - or buy a decent one to start with - and you will spend more time working on your images and less time worrying about color spaces.


Grayscale Conversions: the Science Behind the Art

I always review the science behind photography to better understand - or just figure out - whatever I'm attempting to do. To condense the specifics behind grayscale conversions, first we need a little background about conversion to Grayscale from RGB...

What is RGB? What is Grayscale?
RGB is nothing more than three separate channels of 256-step, 8-bit grayscale images taken through a Red, Green and Blue filter overlaying the sensor in your DSLR. Each one records a different luminance range depending on the subject colors as they pass through the RGB filtration. Look at an RGB image in the Channels pallette in Photoshop and you'll see what I mean. None make an ideal grayscale...

Grayscale, in the purest sense, is a 256-step, 8-bit image - that's all. Those of us in the graphic design field refer to these as halftones when printed in black ink only. They have real limitations in representing all the tones of an original image and that has fomented the development of duotones, tritones and quadtones in the traditional history of lithography (printing). But I digress...

Downsampling a three-channel RGB image into a 256-step single channel image renders a pure black-and-white image - the trick is getting a pleasing or accurate representation of the scene. Traditionally, we have seen folks (1) simply desaturate an RGB image and yank Contrast, Brightness and Exposure controls with abandon to achieve their desired effects. Then, an 'educated' way to render a grayscale emerged by moving the image into LAB space and singling out the L channel for a clean, neutral grayscale image. That's true, it is, but now you have 1/3 of the data and a significantly smaller printing file to work with. You can see why we hear so much talk about this subject...

RGB to Grayscale Advantages
Keep an image in RGB makes sense in two ways - image control and file size. You want to keep both, right? Modern output devices are so handy that downsampling to a single channel of information is practically foolish - alright, it is - really. Software can create a superb grayscale rendition in so many ways that an RGB image shouldn't be viewed as a color file exclusively. It's application in grayscale conversions is practically unlimited - and its color data is the secret ingredient.

Photoshop vs. Lightroom
Photoshop's Channel Mixer allows for varying the levels of each RGB channel to maximize the potential of the original color image. When converting to a grayscale, this tool can individually alter the luminance of each channel, significantly altering its appearance to meet your personal criteria. But, being a little long in the tooth these days, it's limited controls are becoming apparent.

Lightroom 1.1's 'conversion' tools actually exceed Photoshop's with eight color sliders versus PS's three. Unique to LR is its ability to affect temperature and provide an Auto-Adjust after each adjustment - providing a much wider range of control. Warming and cooling the color areas produces big differences in grayscale rendering and will help you achieve a pleasing conversion with practice. Split Toning allows for highlight and shadow colorations for even greater nuances. With Lightroom, you have serious grayscale conversion software at your command.

Today, it is commonplace to leave your grayscale conversion in the RGB color space at the output stage - this gives greater depth and richness to the tones and allows for 'colorizing' in sepia and other tones. Or mixing color areas with grayscale areas - common in wedding images.

Any way you look at it, grayscale conversions are being made better with the new tools in Lightroom 1.1!


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Lightroom: Color Spaces & Workflow

I've been reading Martin Evening's LR book and am learning a ton about it. For example, when you see your images the first time around in LR they may appear dark but still have a full histogram representation. This is due to a 1.0 linear gamma as the file comes directly from digital camera RAW files. (Explains why the LCD review on the camera is never the same too!) What this means is that if displayed as-is, color and exposure adjustments would be overly sensitive with very tightly packed midrange and very stretched out highlight characterization. To view your images more like the human eye, LR uses sRGB-based controls which make subtle changes possible without overdoing anything - especially in the Exposure and Blacks sliders.

Now, before you freak out and assume this must mean all your fine artistic images have been squeezed into an inferior color space - they're not. In fact, all images can be set to open in either a 16-bit RGB Prophoto or Adobe RGB color space - and kept there until final output is determined. The interface simply utilizes an sRGB 'response curve' to control editing.

So your saved master RAW files are just as exquisite as they were when first captured. But where are you taking them? Well, you decide of course, but Martin suggests we use external drives to avoid internal drive/CPU failure catastrophes and maintain portability - unless you have those fancy plug-in hard drives on your tower. I'm doing so with a 160GB Maxtor I picked up from for under $100.

Overall, LR is becoming a well used application on all my images. A quick review and flagging of keepers, followed by color corrections/preset treatments and/or cropping, and a web gallery for immediate distribution to friends and business interests is a simple routine now. Here's where LR really shines. Setup your viewing to scroll through and flag the keepers - use the arrows to navigate and press P to flag or U to unflag. Then perform an initial color adjustment to a good representative image. Select similar frames you want to adjust and use Synch to add that adjustment to all the others. You can still adjust individual frames but this is where LR saves you a bunch of time. You can Synch everything from color edits, cropping, sharpening, noise reduction - the whole scrape or just what adjustments you want to.

After that it's time to make a Collection(s) that will segment the images for printing or web gallery display. You should be able to LR 400 images in a couple hours once you get comfy with this woprkflow. Most of my time was getting the workflow understood and learning keyboard shortcuts.

I PP'd a recent wedding assignment (650+ images) in about four hours - no record but well under my previous methodology- and I'll be twice as fast the next time. I downloaded, reviewed, flagged, color corrected, cropped, and output a web gallery of my Labor Day weekend Boomsday images (350+) in about two hours - I was rockin'!

I can see my use of PS CS quickly being reserved for elaborate web/graphic design and complex image edits (clipping paths, serious cloning, etc.) from here on out - it's just too laborious to use all the time anymore.


Monday, September 3, 2007

Boomsday - The Biggest Fireworks Display in the USA!

This may be little ol' Knoxville's biggest claim to fame other than the UT Vols football team. Boomsday is a $1 million dollar pyrotechnical display of nearly astrological quality. This teaser image is just one the images I culled out from my Labor Day weekend shoot along with a few scenes from the 1982 World's Fair Park as well.

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See the full Boomsday 2007 slide show!

Shot with 18-70 ED and 70-300 ED Nikkors on a D200, I positioned myself within 100 feet of the launch zone - it was a humbling experience. The sheer noise level was incredible. This year they abandoned a popular musical choreography approach and simply barraged us with an endless stream of launches that produced some amazing light and pattern combinations. I shot the entire fusillade nonstop and culled what is presented in the slide show.

Instead of using the traditional Bulb method of opening the shutter, waiting for something interesting to happen and shutting it down manually, I used 1/20-1/60th shutter speeds at a 1250 ISO. This technique more sharply captured the ambient light and action surrounding the launches explosions and seemed to add another dimension to the images.

Much credit goes to Adobe Lightroom for an expeditious review, pick, edit, and conversion of the images into the Flash web gallery. This program is phenomenal for cranking out photo presentations lickety-split and has revolutionized my postprocessing workflow.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Power Purchasing Nikkors

In the quest for the Digital Grail of Nikkor optics,there are two principle methods of purchase - eBay (and other similar auction/Buy It now resources) and online retailers. Let's look at them a little...

The advantages and disadvantages of eBay-style purchases are obvious - pay the stated price or wind through the auction process for a potential 'win'. You can ask questions and check their rating as a seller, but that's time consuming and offer no real buying advantage. Without written assurances, you have little recourse but to accept your purchase as long as it is what they described. It can easily become a 'pig-in-a-poke' situation and we'll find ourselves reselling that item ourselves. It works, but...

Online Retailers
This lesser known resource requires a little more upfront effort but has some real advantages to gain. As in any typical retail relationship, a solid dealer will offer you more assurances of satisfaction and options to return without debate. I have used both methods about 50/50 and like this one for it perks. For example...

Once, I checked up on a none too common 35/2 AI-S I was tracking on eBay and noticed it was being sold by XXX Camera. Hmmmm, why not check their website and see if it's for sale there too? I can get an idea of what they want and ... maybe I can buy it before it is bid on and lost to a savvy eBayer!

Sure enough, they had it listed in their used gear for $110 in an 8 condition. I pulled up my Nikkor serial numbers reference webpage, gave 'em a call and had the kindly salesman give me the specs and a thorough examination of its condition on the phone. As a late model AI-S, all the important areas checked out and I bought this gem for $122 shipped with a 48-hour no-questions-asked return opportunity.

Online retailers frequent eBay constantly. Call them if they haven't received any bids yet and have the item listed on their website. You may be able to avoid the auction process and save money too - that's power purchasing!


180/2.8 ED AI-S Nikkor - go loooonnnnggg!

Here are a few images - and 100% crop enlargements - taken in the Great Smoky Mountains on New Year's Day 2007 to demonstrate the remarkable quality the renowned 180/2.8 ED AI-S Nikkor.

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All images shot at f8


24/2.8 Nikkor AI-S: A funny little lens it is...

Funny because of the way this lens performs on my D200 - or should I say the way the D200 performs with this lens. Here's why.

In the course of using the Electronic Rangefinder to confirm focus (since the image is so small), I was horrified to see soft images emerge from my first few frames. I got a lemon, I thought - hodgbodkins! But then I noticed that after the ER llight came on I could turn the focus ring quite a bit before the ER light went back off - now that's funny.

So, starting from infinity, I took a frame right after the ER light came ON while turning the focus ring - and another just before it turned OFF. Voila! Sharp images occurred at one extreme end of the ER's focus range - and garbage on the other. Funny, huh? Take a look at these 100% center section crops - no PP whatsoever:

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Soft Center at Infinity Side of ER

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Sharp Center at Closest Focus Side of ER

So what to do? It's simple really - I start the focus ring scale turned to the right and move towards the infinity setting. As soon as the ER light appears I stop - that's where sharp focus will occur. Chimping confirms whether I am on the money or not. A little slow but, then again, it is a MF prime...

With a 52mm filter size, this Nikkor model will utilize many accessories I already have - including the Lester Dine Macro Ringlight (a major reason for buying it). The 24/2.8 AI-S is in perfect shape with nary a mark in the paint and perfect glass. It weighs next to nothing and at an effective focal length of 36mm , the 24/2.8 Nikkor AI will make a great 'normal' prime for many subjects.


AI > DSLR Mounting Reference

Did you know that you can mount pre-AI optics on a D40 - and NO other current Nikon DSLR?

This and other details are available on Thom Hogan's site at this webpage - a valuable reference of not only Nikkor acronyms but AI/AI-S compatibility on Nikon DSLRs as well. Not all current Nikon bodies are the same - no news there - but the functionality of various optics on them is.


Nikon D300 Financing 101

When it comes buying a new camera, too many emotions can cloud the opportunities we may have right in front of us. Then the pricing of new models can scare us off and we tend to 'hold out' until some discounting miracle occurs, which normally happens when that model is about to be discontinued.

I am committed to maintaining state-of-the-art equipment with a minimal investment. Owning, but seldom using, multiple camera bodies is very costly long term. Technological advances make these items lose their value quickly enough and resale becomes truly disappointing when little cash value is left. I also don't need more than one camera body either, so learning is enhanced when concentrated on current technology. It also keeps us prepared for further developments that will add real value to our most precious commodity - knowledge.

Therefore, I am no longer a sentimentalist as I once was regarding my main shooter - I have plenty of antique cameras to fondle for that. This is a purely personal perspective and not one everyone shares, I know, but we all get so excited when new models come out - and equally dismayed when we can't afford one! I don't want to be in that position and have created a strategy to avoid it.

By viewing our cameras as we do leased items, we can maximize their value over time while we also minimize the actual cost of ownership. I adopted this approach when I sold my D70 to acquire a D200. I lost more money than I should have because I waited too long - a mistake I won't make again to acquire a D300. So, assuming you own a D200, here is my course of action to upgrade to a D300 as soon as they are available (I have already pre-ordered, BTW):

1) Buy new body at best price upon release - i.e., D200 = $1679
(future discounts offer little real savings over entire model life)
2) Sell current body & recoup an average 60% of purchase price - i.e., D200 = $1000
(estimated resale value of D200 when D300 is released)
3) Use new body for 24 months - repeat Steps 1 & 2

I have conservatively calculated that if I can recoup just 60% on my D200 DSLR body, the cost of ownership of a D300 DSLR will amount to $399.99 a year - or about $33.33 a month - for the next 24 months. If I keep the camera longer, that cost goes down even further.

It's a business expense for me as well, so I save again at tax time. By recapturing the remaining value in your D200 immediately, purchasing the Nikon D300 body can be no more expensive than a new prosumer body model. (A golden nugget here is the fact that the D200 isn't being discontinued. That will preserve resale value longer than if it was deleted from Nikon's lineup - our unique opportunity to upgrade!)

Therefore, I have decided I will NOT retain DSLR gear beyond 24-36 months - the rate of depreciation makes resale and new equipment acquisition a more expensive approach the longer you wait. In view of the enormous value Nikon is including in its newest upper end cameras, it would be financially smarter to purchase a new Nikon 'sooner than later' with such competitive pricing in play.

PS: Ritz Camera pre-orders list the D300 at just $1799 - let's hope that's the actual street price!

The Frugal Mule

D200 vs. D300 Features

The following is a compilation of the feature differences between the D200 and D300. With a proposed 60,000 unit production schedule each month, these compelling advancements will make the D300 the next most popular DSLR Nikon has created. Enjoy...

• 23.6 x 15.8 mm CMOS sensor
• DX format
• RGB Color Filter Array
• Built-in fixed low-pass filter (with self-cleaning unit)
• 13.1 million total pixels
(• 12.3 million effective pixels
• 3:2 aspect ratio

Image processor
(Real-time lateral chromatic aberration compensation and refined high ISO noise reduction)

A/D Conversion
14 bit

Image sizes
• 4288 x 2848 [L; 12.2 MP]
• 3216 x 2136 [M; 6.9 MP]
• 2144 x 1424 [S; 3.1 MP]

File formats
• NEF (12-bit or 14-bit *, compressed or lossless compressed RAW)
• TIFF *
• JPEG (EXIF 2.21)

Scene Recognition System
(greatly enhances the accuracy of, auto exposure, auto white balance detection and auto focus
in the camera)

Picture Control System
(allows photographers to fine-tune and adjust fundamental rendering options for their pictures so they can define the exact tone, sharpening, brightness and saturation they prefer)

Dust Reduction
• Self-cleaning sensor unit

Auto Focus
• 51 focus points (15 cross-type sensors)
• Multi-CAM 3500DX

Focus Point
• Single point from 51 or 11 focus points
• Liveview (Tripod mode): Contrast AF on a desired point anywhere within frame

AF Area Mode
• Dynamic Area AF [9 points, 21 points, 51 points, 51 points (3D-tracking)]

Exposure Compensation
• +/-5.0 EV
• 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV steps

• Default: ISO 200 - 3200 in 1/3, 1/2 or 1.0 EV steps
• Boost: 100 - 6400 in 1/3, 1/2 or 1.0 EV steps

• Frame coverage 100%

LCD monitor
• 3.0 " TFT LCD
• 922,000 pixels (VGA; 640 x 480 x 3 colors)

LCD Liveview (frame a photograph using the camera's high-resolution LCD monitor)
• Handheld mode: TLL phase-difference AF with 51 focus areas (15 cross-type sensors)
• Tripod mode: focal-plane contrast AF on a desired point within a specific area

Continuous shooting
• With built-in battery: up to 6 fps
• With AC adapter or MB-D10 pack and batteries other than EN-EL3e: up to 8 fps (for up to 100 consecutive shots using a SanDisk Extreme IV CompactFlash 1GB card)

• Compact Flash Type I or II

Vertical grip
• Optional MB-D10 battery pack / vertical grip
• One Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL4a, EN-EL4 or EN-EL3e or eight R6/AA-size alkaline (LR6), Ni-MH (HR6), lithium (FR6) batteries, or nickel-manganese ZR6 batteries

Not bad upgrade for just $1800...

For a great visual comparo of D200 vs. D300 features, go to the Digital Website - excellent report there.


Shutter Life Expectancy

Now here is a worthy cause - shutter life expectancy based on reality!

You can select the camera you own and enter data into their database for a history of that camera's shutter life results - the existing info is very interesting - and somewhat scary too!

Go to: Shutter Life Expectancy


Sunday, July 1, 2007

Graphic Design with Photoshop CS

Have you discovered the power of creating fully finished graphics in Photoshop CS? With the ability to incorporate all your image editing, special effects with basic layout tools, you have essentially infinite creative control in one application.

Here's a sample of an ad I did entirely in Photoshop CS2. Normally, I would normally create bitmaps and import them into Quark Xpress for layout, but to get this look, and save a ton of time and aggravation, I did the whole job in PS CS.

One-Stop - Photoshop!
Taking a stock photo, I applied a texture effect to separate it from the more real instrumentation rack. Then, I chopped out the middle for some white space to add the message and added the drop shadows. Determining the best the layout with all the various elements being visible is a real designer's joy. Editing and resizing is so easily done inside PS CS. Color experimentation was another convenience that is not easily done in switching programs and reimporting images, etc. Matching the colorization of the stock image to the text was a snap - another long step in Quark Xpress. And the fact that type is rendered as vector art in PS CS2 now is another big plus!

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Web Design with PS CS
Another well known venue for PS documents is the web. Design consists of creating logos, art, text and supporting images into one document. Layout is accomplished with a series of common elements that appear on each page and content for each webpage. Individual webpage are composed by making approporiate layers visible and saving the composite image as a JPG image. The JPGs are then imported into Dreamweaver or other web editor and treated as typical HTML pages with image links for navigation - simple, flexible, consistent and fun!

The following two samples are websites I designed entirely within PS CS2:

Integrated Solutions

Amberwood Custom Homes (still under construction)
In this site, we intend to include slide shows of custom home details and designs for selection and modification by customers.

The advantages of using PS CS is remarkable - every element can be created and manipulated in one document. Future edits and redesigns are easy, and output resolution can be maximized for print or web uses. Why would you use anything else?


Go Superwide - in Chicago!

Nothing beats a superwide view of life - broad, spacious, landscaping perspectives are always in vogue. Bigger streetscenes and panoramas are just waiting to be captured.

The Sigma 10-20/4-5.6 HSM DC ($499) is a great buy among the current crop of superwides. It ranks high in sharpness compared to similar Tamron and Nikon zooms - with the Sigma being the wider of the bunch. Let's take this superwide to Chicago and see what we can take in...

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The Bean is a huge metallic art form/tourist attraction... intentional distortions are addictive with a superwide. You could shoot here all day!

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Architecture is another subject you won't run out of in Chicago. With the Sigma 10-20, keeping the verticals and horizontals straight will create visually enticing scenes without obvious distortion. Getting creative is not hard work with this great optical value.

Yes, Chicago is a great place to go wide - superwide!

Superwide on the Inside: Custom Home Interiors with Sigma's 10-20 DC HSM

In preparation for a website I was commissioned to build, we shot a custom home interior for a custom home builder. I used Sigma's 10-20/4-5.6 HSM DC with all shot taken at f8 - f10 - the sweetspot for this superwide zoom. While DOF at f8 is not a problem at the 10mm setting, it becomes necessary at 20mm to go up to f16 for maximum depth.

Using your superwide with view camera techniques (swings and tilts), orient the lens to bring the image into proper alignment visually - a planoparallel relationship to the subject is needed to minimize distortion. Further corrections to straighten verticals can be made on the computer where compositions cannot be perfectly attained in the viewfinder. Then, go on to retouching and sharpening.

Fill flash was provided by my SB 600 / SB800 units and Lightspheres - in close quarters these have proven to be really effective where umbrellas are just out of the question as they cannot be hidden easily from the image area or provide the omnidirectional lighting needed for illuminating large spaces.

Without further adieu...

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You don't need to shoot an entire room if you can communicate the purpose of each room with enough details - the sideboard added the details needed in this scene...

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By necessity, I had to retouch out the feet lightstand in the hallway of this image...

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The exaggerated lines in this bathroom scene are almost uncomfortable - I'll let the photo editor decide how much ceiling they would want to show here...

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Some shadows (behind the door and by the nightstand) are needed to prevent the impression of an overlit image. My goal was to prevent the viewer from locating the source or direction of your lighting. I had a magazine editor ask me if I used additional lighting in this series - wow, each one was shot using the Lightshpere. I took that as a compliment!