Blog Keywords

Popular Posts for the Month

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Zuiko and Kids at Night

Shooting at night is already a challenge. Shooting kids moving frantically during the night, is even more challenging!!

E-30 with Zuiko Digital ED14-35mm F2.0 SWD + FL-50R
14mm, f/4.0, 1/60s, ISO800

Thankfully, the E-30 with the Zuiko Digital ED14-35mm F2.0 SWD and FL-50R proved to be a match for that situation.

I used a very casual technique. Knowing that the 14mm and f/4 provides ample angle of coverage and deep depth-of-field, I can candidly shoot freestyle without looking at the viewfinder nor the LCD. Just scope the shot from waist level, and snap. Rapid 5 frames-per-second provided additional assurance for some shots. The rapid SWD AF with 5-point diamond pattern on the E-30 was very responsive indeed. If not, how could I capture these shots at their most revealing moments!!

Children move fast. Don't wait for them. Just snap in their environment and perspective. A fast system is an added advantage to cope with their 'slippery' movements!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Zuiko and New Books

There will not be any further equipment acquisition for the next couple of years, particularly the lenses and bodies. My equipment rationalization is complete; with two high-end DSLR bodies, four pro-grade lenses and two flashes.

E-30 with Zuiko Digital ED50mm F2.0 Macro with Hoya C-PL filter
50mm, f/5.6, 1/13s, ISO800, maximum polarization

I have decided that the next step of my photographic journey is to expand my knowledge into new areas, in particular with creative lighting and post-processing techniques that include printing.

I already set up my complete digital darkroom last August that consists of a HP Pavillion Elite with a 19" screen and a Canon iP4500 printer. Main software includes Olympus Studio for RAW files processing and GIMP for image manipulation and editing. I feel that this setup is adequate for my post-processing requirements.

E-3 with Zuiko Digital ED14-35mm F2.0 SWD
14mm, f/4, 1/25s, ISO800, -0.3ev

What is next? Definitely more depth and experimentation. Maybe more creative lighting techniques, emphasizing on shadow placements and details. Maybe more on context and texture. Definitely more content emphasis.

So why these books?

Well I guess that my last serious book purchase was back in 2004, particularly more into the technicality of getting the perfect exposure. One book that I really learned a lot from is Creative Exposure Control by Les Meehan. The way he conveys the idea of getting the perfect exposure is clean and simple, and all within 128 pages!!

I have to confess that I am actually in a minor state of photography mental block. The new lenses that I acquired force me to explore new methods and techniques. These lenses are very different in application and results. And, it definitely has affected my previous casual workflow.

I need new ideas, new leads. I have been reading professional magazines, mostly out-of-circulation copies that I can get for a few ringgits. I find the ideas refreshing and new, but I cannot relate them to my style. I need a sense of control in finding my new photographic direction.

I need to re-educate myself.

What other than a book written by pros who use the Olympus E-system. Really perfect! The book, aptly titled Perfect Digital Photography was written by Olympus Visionaries Jay Kinghorn and Jay Dickman. The coverage includes the complete workflow starting with image capture, to image correction, and concluding at image printing. I have learnt throughout my digital adventure, digital image making requires perfect workflow to make the image outstanding. This book, I hope, will help me re-educate on the much finer aspects of digital workflow.

E-3 with Zuiko Digital ED50mm F2.0 Macro with FL-36
50mm, f/2, 1/100s, ISO100, -0.3ev

I am also an avid fan of minimal lighting. Most of my flash photography philosophy revolves around the use of minimal flash without affecting the ambient or available light. I guess my skills need to be updated, particularly with the more complex wireless flash system. I find that Kirk Tuck's idea of flash techniques is ideal for me. I stumbled upon his blog by accident, particularly in my search for a pro who is using Olympus E-system. Well, incidentally he just moved into Olympus from Nikon; thus, I will be following his blogs to discover more interesting ideas.

Well, re-educating myself will be the next challenge. I don't know how fast I can accept new ideas, or I even change. Hmmm... new discoveries beckon?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Zuiko and the Rainforest

A beautiful scene within the jungle trail; a hint of haze is imminent!
The Sumatran forest fires are a real hazard!

Malaysia is blessed with its tropical beauty be it on land or at sea. Malaysia is also blessed with the abundance of rain and precipitation throughout the year. These two conditions really make the E-3 and the Super High Grade Zuikos feel at home!

About a 20-minute drive from the city center to the east side lies the Forest Reserve Institute of Malaysia. The 486-acre facility is home for a plethora of scientific and academic activities for forest research and conservation. It is quite surprising that this little hamlet nestles just next to the hustle and bustle of city life; practically it just located mere hundreds of meters from the nearest main highway in Klang Valley!

The forest canopy high up!

The main attraction at FRIM is the Canopy Walk, which allows the visitors to traverse along the forest canopy along the 5-sectioned 15-meter pathways that is about 90 meters above ground!!! But, what luck for my party... it was raining by the time we reached the entrance. The gates was closed!!! And this was after a 15-minute hike up a steep hill!!! Boy, was I disappointed!

Racing down the hill to escape the heavy rain. Watch out for the slippery rocks!

As it was raining heavily, my E-3 and the Digital Zuiko ED7-14mm F4.0 was drenched. I was not ever worried one bit, as the superior weather-sealing for both camera and lens have surpassed many thunderstorms before!

A quick shot of the small waterfall, I was leaning on the biggest rock for support.
The In-body Image Stabilization system was awesome; shot in 1/2s!!

We had to rush down to the nearest camp shelter, which was a 500-meter descent across thick jungle and slippery and rocky slopes. Along the path, a small stream passes through that ends as a small waterfall near our camp shelter.

The whole party seeking refuge under the small shelter.

Well, we are scheduling another trip next week for the Canopy Walk, and the FRIM organizers will reschedule it as it was paid for already. This will be awesome, as I was told that in fair weather the skyline of Kuala Lumpur will be at its mercy!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Zuiko and a Wedding Preparation

There is an obligatory wedding that I have to do this coming weekend. I have to confess, I haven't shot weddings for quite a long time, actually the last was back in September. And, things have changed a lot, especially my gear.

Back then, my gear was more mobile and small. However, since last August I have been upgrading my lenses from High Grade F2.8-3.5 zooms to Super High Grade F2 zooms. The transition was rather quick, with the dual F2 zooms acquired by October. My rationalization into these lenses was more of need rather than want. I really need F2 aperture to cope with low lightings, and the shallow depth-of-field provided by F2 to F2.8 range is just exquisite for my workflow. I don't really need F1.4 for now, and maybe never.

The major penalty for large aperture is weight and size. But, with F2 aperture, I essentially have multiple prime lenses. And they are really great!! The promise of tele-centric design in the E-system philosophy also guarantees very good performance from wide open aperture to F11; this is just before diffraction kicks in. Well, this is superb because there's a lot aperture range that is highly usable for high quality output.

Around January of 2009, I added the E-30 body to my setup and later the Zuiko Digital ED7-14mm F4.0 ultra wide lens. With the already acquired Zuiko Digital ED50mm F2.0 Macro a couple of years ago, my dual-camera setup is complete.

Olympus E-30 with Zuiko Digital ED14-35mm F2.0 & FL-50R
This will be the workhorse camera; thus the focus is on lightweight body and high powered flash unit

The wedding in discussion is my sister-in-law's. Yeah, you know what that means! Ultra-high expectations!!

The solemnization will be on Friday night, around 8.30pm, at my in-law's house. This is the most auspicious occasion for a Muslim wedding, all the focus will be on the bride and groom. It is a very closed event, with only family and closest friends and neighbours in attendance.

I will be in a very cramped situation to move around in such a small space; the main hall being about 18 feet wide with 20 feet long. Every other part of the house will be similar or smaller. Now, that's very challenging when you add another scores of people in attendance! It's like stuffed in a sardine can!!

Inevitably, that's the challenge for every wedding photographer in most situations. Unless the couple is from a well-off family, chances are it will be a cramped affair.

Luckily the next day will be a bit relaxed for me as the couple has engaged an official wedding photographer for the reception. This is the full blown event with many guests in attendance from both sides of the family. I will take a back seat approach and shoot a minimalist style. It's not good practice to be in the way of the official photographer. The good thing is the location will be at a community hall that provides seatings up to 300 guests. At least there's a lot of space for me to move around to silently snipe with my 35-100mm lens!!

Olympus E-3 with Zuiko Digital ED35-100mm F2.0, HLD-4 & FL-36R
This will be the backup camera, with the ZD ED7-14mm providing additional ultra-wide coverage.

My main concern is to optimize the system line-up to ensure my end-to-end workflow is not compromised in any circumstances. Selecting the combination of body, lens and flash is crucial so to ensure the shooting process is as fluid as possible. I did a few shooting scenarios in my house to simulate the scenes, and from the possible combinations I have arrived at the dual camera setup shown in the images above.

The other part of the workflow is definitely on the image parameters and post-processing requirements. In this instance, I have to synchronize all the shooting settings and parameters for both cameras to be identical so that the output will be consistent. For example, I will be shooting in Natural color mode with the Auto ISO setting maximum up to 3200. To combat the noise, I increase the Noise Filter setting from Low to Standard. Bottomline, I don't want to be bogged down with differing outputs and end up in front of the computer screen correcting hundreds of shots. These two activities are important to me. It ensures that my end-to-end workflow to be as smooth as possible.

To further cut a lot of post-processing time, I will be shooting in JPEG Large SuperFine that mimics TIFF-like output. The high accuracy of E-3 and E-30 Auto White Balance and skin tone colors also is the real strength. I do not have to shoot in RAW to be worried of inconsistent readings and outputs. JPEG workflows are much faster, too. This is great!!! Less memory space is used, more pictures can be taken.

Wedding photography is a hectic event, both during and after for the photographer. At the event, the photographer must be alert always for that once-in-a-lifetime moment. Most of the beautiful wedding images are emotionally charged; thus, shooting candid is the best way. Post-processing the images is another hectic event. The final presentation tells a lot about the wedding; and even the most sombre wedding can be presented into a quite happy occasion. The magic is in the hands of the photographer to convey the historic moment in the couple's lives.

The best way to achieve good results is to ensure the workflow works, and be prepared for anything. It's a wedding!! Enjoy!!!!!!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Zuiko and the Star Effect

Star Effect @ F22, originally uploaded by thru-the-zuiko.

I made this shot with the E-30 and Zuiko Digital ED14-35mm F2.0 SWD lens. I set the exposure to Aperture Priority mode, with 21mm focal length. Exposure value was f/22, 1.3s, ISO400, -2.7ev. I developed the ORF file in Olympus Studio v2.3 - which is the latest version - and applied Soft Focus Art Filter effect to give a surreal aura to the image.

A few days back I had been teasing one of my students with some shots depicting star effects on the lamp posts. I compared with a similar shot that did not show the star effect. I did a quick quiz on how I achieved a simple effect without doing any postprocessing tricks or any add-on filters.

He argued that the long exposure was the reason for such effect. I told him, it was not the case. I hinted that the resulting effect was due to the lens behavior, rather than long exposure. He did not agree.

After about half an hour of arguing, I told him it was due to the small aperture, usually at F11 and above. He did not believe me. So, I gave him one night to try it out.

The next day, he agreed that I was right.

Another simple tip to get nice star effect direct from the shot. Nothing else matters.

A comparison of F11 (left) and F5.6 shots. Notice how the star effect starts to diminish as the aperture gets bigger.

Zuiko and The Camera System

Camera system? What is it?

Is it something to do with just DSLRs, or other similarly complicated forms of camera? Or it's just simply photography made more complex with gadgets?

What I observe is that this term scares a lot of people thinking of doing some form of serious or enthusiast photography. It's too much for them, the thought of mixing and matching the parts of the camera to make the system work is perplexing. It's like rocket science!

Well, when I am confronted with similar questions by would-be enthusiasts, I would simply ask back this simple question: What is the purpose and interests?

Now, why would I ask that?

Simply because to build a system camera is actually fun, if you already have the main purpose in mind. Too many times I hear regrets and shortfalls in expectations in both fora and discussions on the subject. Too many times I see money not well spent for a simple need that grew into vexxing wants.

Some people jump into the DSLR bandwagon expecting the digital revolution will give them the magic wand to get beautiful pro quality image. Now, that is simply wishful thinking. And I am not touching talent and business cunningness here!! And to their realization, they can't make it to work; thus, blaming the sytem as being too complicated. The lens is not right, the noise is too bad, or simply the model is not beautiful!!

A quick analysis of their problems lies not to the gadgeteries, but to the overall workflow. To me, this is what represents the real system camera; the end-to-end workflow from image creation to image presentation.

When approaching a system camera concept, the camera itself (with it's ancilliary attachments such as lenses, portable lightings, tripods/monotpods, and supplementary power) is just a tool. Nothing more, nothing less. So does the post-processing in the camera or computer using image manipulation programs, or just simply outsource them to a very good photo lab. These gadgets are part of the overall workflow. Not to forget, a good reliable bag or carriage system that does not bog down the shooting process is also important to the workflow!

Coming back to my initial question. What is the purpose and interest? This is one of the toughest question to the aspiring enthusiasts. Most of the time, they would not know!

This is the chicken and egg moment!

In this instance, I will advise them to get the cheapest set that they can afford and use a basic image enhancement tool such as Windows Picture Manager. Well, that was where I started, too! The standard kit lens that comes with current DSLRs is already very good for the beginners, and I always ask them to explore their specialization to zero-in the best workflow.

Sometimes, only the basic DSLR kit and a simple photo lab are required. And, if this is sufficient for more than 80% of the needs, does it really matter to get into more complicated things? Well, that's a tough one!

The question is again boils down to the desire to do more. To learn more. To use better equipment. To develop better workflow. The journey to better photographic experience continues. In time, I advise them to do a reality check and review their photographic journey. Is it all worth it?

Most of the time, I find them learning something new and eager to explore new challenges. That's what makes us human, and that's also what fires the fun in exploring the ultimate camera system for them. "What lens should I buy next?", they asked. Or, "Do I need a flash?".

There is one instance when one of my friends asked me on how to do night car racing photography. My first question was "How is the lighting there? Adequate for EV8?". Well, the first thing he asked was, "What is EV8?".

E-P1 with M.Zuiko ED14-42mm F3.5-5.6
42mm, f/5.6, 1/8s, ISO1600 (EV4 lighting)

You can see that my first query was on lighting, or the existence of available light. In the end, this is the essence of photography itself!

My next query was "How are you going to handle the low quality output?" Then he replied, "Is that a problem?". In this instance, I already set the workflow in place, as the situation definitely called for some level of post-processing, especially in noisy/grainy images!

After establishing the start and the end of the process, only then I advise on the camera requirements. The lenses, the exposure, panning techniques, monopod or the need of the flash, noise reduction software, etc., etc.!

He already had the subject and interest in mind, and this made my advise so easy. I even went out to simulate the situation on a street nearby my office block. And he was amazed at how simple things are when a full understanding of the workflow can simplify a highly complicated camera system!

Bottom line, get your purpose right, and learn the strength and weakness of your workflow. If your workflow requires an expensive Full Frame system, so be it! But, it's an overkill if you are simply doing Cartier-Bressonesque style with the current Full Frame system.

There's all to it!!!

For me, I find the Olympus E-system Fourthirds, Think Tank Photo, Lumiquest, Neat Image and GIMP to be the perfect camera system for my workflow. The future; who knows. Maybe adding the MicroFourthirds into the mix?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

E-P1 and Daffodil

Daffodil by E-P1, originally uploaded by thru-the-zuiko.

I wanted to highlight the strong colors of the petals, the yellows were so striking. The original image had the background adequately blurred, but the background was still distracting.

I cropped the image into a square format, and used the Lomo Effect filter in the The GIMP v2.4. The contrast was increased with additional saturation, while at the same time blackened the background. I further applied additional contrast with a Contrast Mask blending (without negating the mask layer), and a touch of the S-curve profile in the overall tones.

This was finished off with a sparing use of the High-pass filter for sharpening.

The yellow petals just glow in the dark for me!!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Zuiko and the Eternal Wait

I was out and about on a Sunday morning. After an hour-long shopping for fresh groceries at the Farmers' Market, I sped to Shah Alam for a morning walk.

E-30 with Zuiko Digital ED14-35mm F2.0 SWD
14mm, f/2.0, 1/1250s, ISO200, -0.3ev, Pinhole Art Filter effect

I have this habit of carrying at least a camera and a lens wherever I go; at least I try to...

Since it was very cloudy with a tinge of haze, I opted to use the "Hoya Pro1 Digital" Circular Polarizing filter to cut the ugly glare and light refractions. The colors were highly saturated, as the hidden colors were revealed by the filter. This worked marvelously, as the image attests.

The main problem with this shot was getting the right balance of the main subject, central supporting subject and the background. There was a gazebo at the right of the image, and using the E-30 I had to use great care not to capture a portion of the roof (should be just to the right of the minarets).

The main subject was central to the message, invoking solemn loneliness in search for life's main purpose. The background, whilst blurred, showed the distant faith that needed to be omni present to keep any hope and sanity in check. The supporting subject suggest that help is nearby, whenever needed.

Abstract shots are very difficult to create, e.g. landscapes in portraits. Sometimes it just waits to be captured. Just be there, and look for it!

Friday, July 3, 2009

E-P1: The Olympus Gathering

Olympus Malaysia hosted a small gathering for some scores of existing E-system users yesterday.

An excited guest showing his E-P1 shooting skills (a bit odd, actually)

I didn't RSVP my attendance, but that's OK since they knew me!...

Lunch was good, so did the E-P1 presentation. There were lots of nice information on the camera and the intended market; and, seemed to sync with my opinion stated in my review. :)

E-30 with Zuiko Digital ED14-35mm F2.0 SWD
35mm, f/2, 1/80s, ISO250, -0.3ev

A good thing I was not asked to share my experience of the camera, part of it maybe due to my review of it - at least that's what I think. Instead, another serious E-system user, brother Sanjit was on hand to provide his first hand take on the E-P1. Bravo and good job, definitely an eye opener as his photo samples, and especially the video were extraordinary!

Olympus reps showing the E-P1 capabilities

Towards the end, it's all you can eat. Bring your own lens, attach an adapter, test all you want. And the Olympus sales reps were there to entertain any queries relating to the E-P1.

Me? I just blended in the background and actually didn't play with the E-P1 till the end of the event (actually when the Olympus guys started to pack in....) It's then that I got hold of the White-bodied variant! Cool!!!

I think this is my last active involvement with the E-P1 for now. It's not in my shopping list; not because of me not liking it. It's just a matter of need rather than want! I may be warming up to the E-4 or even E-5. I have to wait for another spin around the sun, that's for sure!!

The rumored E-3mk2? Sorry, I am not interested!

Oh yeah, all shots using the E-30 and Zuiko Digital ED14-35mm F2.0 SWD lens wide open. I just love this prime zoomable lens!!!