Dracil’s BlogJournal

December 2, 2008

Top of the Rock HDR experimenting

Filed under: photography — Tags: , , , , — dracil @ 11:57 pm


Some fun with HDR.  Regular exposure image on the left.  HDR on the right (using two more shots at -2 and +2 exposure).  These were taken from the Top of the Rock.

This was done using Photomatix.  I also experimented with exposure blending.  It doesn’t have nearly as much noise as HDR but it also feels like the picture gets covered in a layer of gray.


August 17, 2008

Paranoia and rights

Filed under: Controversy, News, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , , , — dracil @ 1:19 am

Looks like there’s been another fight over photographers’ rights.

Paranoia really makes people do stupid things.  That’s why we have all these stupid feel-good but completely useless laws and restrictions, like the increasingly stupid TSA rules in airports.  As someone said once, the root passwords to the American constitution are “terrorism” and “pedophilia” (and “drugs”, though more so in the past).

That said, this guy does seem to be going out of his way to stir up trouble.  The way he’s doing things, even though he is legally allowed to take photos in these places, he may just end up earning himself a lifetime ban instead which he won’t be able to do anything about because he’d be trespassing in that case.

There was also an interesting article linked in the comments where a bunch of people dressed up as Best Buy employees one day and then recorded the experience.  It deals with some similar issues on answering questions/knowing when you are trespassing/not trespassing.

While we’re on the issue of paranoid and rights, UK police confiscated the board game “War on Terror” (where a spinner randomly determine’s which player’s the terrorist state) because it includes a balaclava (which said player wears) because it could be used for… oh, terrorism.  *rolls eyes*

July 20, 2008

Camera sensor cleaning…

I shouldn’t have checked my camera for dust.  I really shouldn’t.  Especially knowing my personality.

I think out of sheer coincidence I noticed a spot on one of my pics.  Then I decided to do a test shot and do Auto Levels in Photoshop.  And then I saw all the dots on the screen.

6 hours, several dozen pec pads, lots of E2 solution, and almost 200 test shots later… I finally reached a point where it was clean enough that I didn’t want to risk making it worse.

(The reason the pics look different was the first was shot at the sky while the second was shot at a piece of paper with flash in my living room.  I think the light gradient in the second shot is because the the lamp is to the right, and the weird pattern is just the paper’s texture/wrinkles).

Anyway, much of the time was wasted cleaning the wrong part of the sensor.  I basically confused left and right as I was cleaning and I was trying to remove those specs in the bottom left corner unsuccessfully (there was more.  Also, note to self: that means clean the top left corner).  I should’ve read #4 on the Copper Hill cleaning method.  Would’ve saved me a lot of trouble.

Also, I need to use less solution/wait longer.  A lot of the time was spent removing the streaking caused by using too much solution.

I really hope future cameras will have a more effective dust removal system… (Olympus is supposed to have the best one right now)

Realistically, the dust isn’t actually noticeable in normal usage.  These images were stopped down to F/22.

Anyway, I *was* going to blog about the Tour de Fat which I was at today, but after this ordeal, I think I’ll save it for the morning.

July 6, 2008

Corona Heights

Filed under: personal, photography — Tags: , , , , , — dracil @ 11:46 pm

As I was bored, I decided to look for a new park in SF that I’d never explored.  I settled on Corona Heights, which is a bit NW from the Castro Station.

Yeah, it was a bit of a hike.  Worse than walking up to Coit Tower because the ground’s rougher and the wind.  Oh, the wind.  I felt kinda unstable at times while going up because of how strong the wind was especially with an unbalanced 7KG backpack behind me.

I tried to do a panorama which was ok, except I forgot one very important thing.  Manual exposure!  I just kept it on program mode so the lighting was different as the scene changed.  I’ve tried to fix it but it resulted in a reverse exposure effect.  i.e. the parts that were too bright are now the darkest part of the panorama, and the parts that were too dark are the brightest.

Processing the panorama wasn’t easy either.  It was over 40000 pixels wide and took over 1GB of RAM.  If I had a slower computer I don’t think I would’ve bothered.  :P

Oh, did I mention how bad the wind was?  It was so bad that when I moved my tripod to the edge, all the pictures turned out weird like there was some sort of Photoshop distortion effect applied to it.  Also, I used my bag as a stabilizer (about 4KG with much of the equipment removed) and… well the hook kinda broke.  It’s still perfectly usable but it no longer retracts.  Some piece got loose and the spring got separated from somewhere.

I’m pretty sure this should be covered by the warranty…

Well, the less than perfect panorama means I’m gonna have to do this again.  Though I’ll probably try a different hill.  Either Tank Hill (which is right next to it), or Grand View Park, which is close to Golden Gate Park in Inner Sunset.

July 1, 2008

Analysis of keeper photos

This was an interesting exercise.  Using yesterday’s SF Pride pictures, I broke it down in terms of f-stop and shutter speed and then looked at the number of pictures I kept and threw away at each setting.  Here’s the ratio of keepers to pics taken.

f/4.5 – 1/1
f/5 – 5/8
f/5.6 – 36/59
f/6.3 – 18/47
f/7.1 – 69/84
f/8 – 137/160
f/9 – 34/40
f/10 – 9/13
f/11 – 1/2
f/29 – 1/3
f/32 – 1/3

Shutter speeds:
1/500 – 21/30
1/400 – 67/81
1/320 – 55/70
1/250 – 121/150
1/200 – 29/39
1/160 – 7/20
1/125 – 6/9
1/100 – 3/5
1/80 – 1/1
1/15 – 1/1
1/13 – 1/1
1/8 – 0/4

Data may be kinda screwy though since I spent most of the day overexposing on purpose even though I eventually ended up restoring them back to normal exposure (yay RAW and also that’ll teach me to rely on just looking at the picture on the LCD instead of using the histogram/blinkies).

But from the data, it does seem that for the Canon EF-S 55-250mm IS lens, from f/7 to f/9 has the best keeper rate, which is probably where the images are sharpest.  f/8 is probably a good setting to use.  For shutter speed, I think it’s not particularly surprising that the fast shutter speeds tend to be best since movement is minimized (since I was on a tripod, this would be mostly subject movement).  The really small aperture/slow shutter speeds is from the zooming effect experimentation.  It turns out that F/13 or around that is pretty good.  You can see a bit of blur, but it’s not overdone.

June 28, 2008

Tea Garden, Critical Mass, Birds, and Aliens

Had a surprise call from Joyce who was free for lunch (she’s usually not free).  So we went and got stuff from Tea Garden.  Boba was good, I thought the meat portion was a little small but otherwise ok, but Joyce said her noodles had been cooked too long so were kinda mushy.  This ended up being a bit of an extended lunch break.  But it was a pretty slow day at work.

After work realized that it was Critical Mass today and I actually knew the time and when it would start, so I actually had time to go prepare unlike the previous times where it caught me completely by surprise.  As such I was able to get some shots of people waiting to start.

I put on my telephoto lens (Canon EF-S 55-250mm IS) and then had fun with it as this was my first time actually using it.  Critical Mass actually became a lot less interesting with these lens and instead, I started photographing birds instead because I was able to get a lot closer (image wise) to them than I’ve been able to before.

Watched Aliens with Ching later on.  This is the special edition version, which is different from the original version I’ve watched countless time back home.  I’m not actually convinced that this version’s better though.  It fleshes the story out more but it also breaks the flow a bit and diminishes the impact of the alien encounter once Ripley and co. went down to the planet.

Then Ching insisted on showing me Death Becomes Her, which I eventually realized I’d seen before.

June 25, 2008

Photographers’ Rights

Filed under: Controversy, photography — Tags: , , , , — dracil @ 11:02 pm

One thing that’s come up a few times when I or people I know have been out taking pictures is whether we are actually allowed to do so.  Apparently, in the US, the answer is YES most of the time.  Note, this is purely in the legal sense.  Using common sense and possible ethical dilemmas are another matter.

Situations that I’ve personally encountered so far are:

1) Whether it’s ok to take a picture of a “haunted” house even if the owner is willing to call the cops on you
2) Whether movie theaters have the right to confiscate your stuff if they find you taking pictures inside the theater
3) Whether you can take pictures of people in general even if they object.

The answers to these three questions appear to be yes, no, yes.

In the first case, as long as you’re not on their property, they cannot do anything.  You’re not trespassing and that’s really the key point.  In the second case, nobody can take your stuff without a warrant basically.  If they do, they set themselves up for criminal charges.  The third case is probably the most complicated, because the context matters, during when the picture is taken, and whether or not (or how) the photo is published.  Generally, if the person is in a public place (even on private property) and cannot expect privacy, they’re fair game.  However, you cannot reveal private information about the person or misrepresent them in any way.

Two documents I’ve found quite useful are listed below:


Now, again, this is just the legal stuff.  It’s not going to stop a thug from breaking your camera (or your neck) or protect you from being lynched when some overly paranoid people decide you’re a pedophile because you took some pictures of kids.  So common sense is still a necessity.  :P

June 18, 2008

Police officer on horse

Filed under: personal, photography — Tags: , , , — dracil @ 12:14 pm

This is why I carry my camera everywhere now. Although he was gracious enough to stop and let me take a picture, I was still in a hurry as the Muni was about to come so the picture is not as sharp as it could’ve been.

June 3, 2008

The road to obsession is paved with hobbies

Filed under: personal, photography, Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — dracil @ 12:50 am

As far as my sudden interest in photography goes, I think my interest has just been growing exponentially. For years I just thought cameras were a total waste of time. Part of it is I hate having pictures taken of me. Then I got an old camera from my parents. I still didn’t use it for the longest time. Then I started using it, and it was kinda fun. And then one day I lost that camera. And I felt a little empty.

But that gave me an excuse to get a new camera. And after much research I picked up the Canon SD870 IS. Good camera. I love its wide-angle lens and ease of use. It was cool seeing how many people around me got the same camera. Great minds think alike. ;) I started taking a lot of pictures after that. Started carrying it with me all the time. Heck, I’ll even admit I started attending events just so I could take pictures.

My shooting spree was abruptly halted when I ran out of space on Picasa. Their pricing plan seemed rather bad in the long-run, so I decided to look elsewhere. Flickr’s free version is junk, but their paid version is pretty good. But then I saw all the features over at Smugmug (2.5 minute videos with no size limits? Sign me up!) and I decided to settle there (BTW, if you use PKROb2JeSlvik as your coupon code, you can get $5 off (and I get some money for my subscription)). Given that the site seems to be catered to professional photographers, somehow or the other, I ended up looking up photography books on Amazon.

So I bought Scott Kelby’s The Digital Photography Book. I also got Volume 2. Great author. Love his humor and the books are quite useful (though I have to say, the books themselves aren’t of the best quality, I had to look through 7 books to find a copy of the first volume that wasn’t obviously worn). It also made me realize a lot of the limitations of my P&S camera.

I even tried the CDHK firmware hack for my camera. But like 3rd-party hacks in general, it comes with some fairly annoying limitations (having to use a 2GB card to load the firmware on my camera, and I couldn’t quite get the RAW to work, and it was painfully slow to use anyway).

Well, since I had received a pretty sizeable tax rebate, I decided I might as well bite the bullet and use that to get a DSLR. After looking around I decided to get the Canon EOS 450D because it’s rather new (I like new). Being Canon, I assume I’d be more familiar with its interface, and it seemed like Canon cameras perform a little better under low-light conditions (compared to Nikon). It also helped that there was a sale and some other discounts that I used that made the price more reasonable. I really liked the Sony A700 too (awesome viewfinder), but it’s almost twice as expensive and has some other limitations (IQ seems to be worse than other comparable DSLRs).

Of course now that I have a DSLR I am also learning its limitations (it is a Single Lens Reflex after all, and that means changing lens and that means dust problems). Though hopefully I’ll find one awesome general use lens so I can kinda “cheat” and not change lens often. :P

I’m still a fairly unformed ball of glop as far as where I want to specialize (with how expensive good lens are, it really is specialization). Though I’ve been more interested in close-ups of stuff recently (which the default lens aren’t very good at), I also like taking general pictures of animals/nature.

The lack of a movie mode in DSLRs is also disappointing. It’s actually kinda ironic since good video support is why I got into smugmug and down this road.

To a smaller extent, I think my interest in expensive photographic equipment may be channeled frustration at not really being able to do as much astronomy because of the weather conditions here. They’re both about buying and looking through expensive glass and then fretting about whether or not using it will damage it. :P Heck, some of the companies are even the same (Canon). And there are quite a few people who have an interest in both hobbies and wind up doing astrophotography, which I’ll have to try some time.

Part of the fun (of either hobby) is definitely looking up all the options and thinking about all the things that can be done. I think it reveals a bit about my personality, for better or worse.

I can envision a similar process going on when I finally get a car.

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