Lighting for photographing a painting

Here is an example of what happens when you photograph a painting with an on-camera flash.  The light reflects straight back at the camera, making the painting seem “washed out,” especially toward the middle. Using a light on each side of the painting creates shadows on each side, but, the contrast and evenness of the lighting make it much more flattering.  Having lights to the side also help show the texture and brushstrokes better… this picture is too small to see that though.

You could, of course, shoot the picture with the on-camera flash, as long as you shoot it from an angle.  The painting would be skewed a little bit though, and, the lighting wouldn’t be nearly as even.

The image on the left was shot with a light on each side of the camera, each light being at about 30°  from the painting.  The picture on the right was shot with an on-camera flash.

The image on the left was shot with a light on each side of the camera, each light being at about 30° from the painting. The picture on the right was shot with an on-camera flash. Oddly, the shadow under her jaw is completely messed up in the on-camera flash picture... The artist must have used a less reflective paint in that area.

Posted in Photography technique

Photograph negatives and slides – scanning alternative

I read a pair of articles recently (here and here) about how to get a good image capture of a slide or negative without  a dedicated film scanner.  I have a dedicated 35mm film scanner (Nikon 5000 ed), but, I have a bunch of medium format film, which is about 5 times the size of 35mm film, that I haven’t been able to scan.

In short, you need a camera with a very good sensor (resolution and dynamic range), a lens that can resolve great detail and focus very close (macro), a diffused and even light source, a way to keep the film completely flat, and a way to very precisely keep the image sensor and film very close to parallel.

To keep the film flat, I cut holes that are about the same size as the image on the film (6x7cm) in a pair of pieces of cardboard, and sandwiched the film between the cardboard.  With the lens I used (Canon 100mm macro), and the distance I needed to shoot from, I knew that there could only be about 2mm variance in the distance from the film to the sensor.  It took about 20 minutes and quite a bit of experimenting with clamps and “braces” to get the film acceptably flat.

Today was very overcast, which made a bright and evenly diffused light source… Such clouds only come five times a year in the Phoenix area.   I put the camera on a tripod, aimed at the featureless and evenly lit sky, removed as much dust from the negative as possible with a camel hair brush, and put the negative very precisely and evenly aligned on a tripod in front of the camera.

I set the camera to the lowest ISO to capture the most dynamic range and detail possible, and set the aperture to f/14 to get the most depth of field possible without having issues with diffraction.  I had no idea how to expose, so I let the camera pick the shutter speed… 1/30 second, which worked out just fine.

Photographing a negative - alternative to scanning

Photographing a negative - alternative to scanning


I opened the RAW file in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), but had no idea where to set the color balance, or any other settings, so I left the settings at default, and had ACR open the image as a 16-bit file in Photoshop.  Negatives are a “compressed” format, and since I knew that I would be making huge color adjustments in Photoshop, an 8-bit file wouldn’t have had enough information to make smooth color transitions.  .JPG files are 8-bits, and compressed on top of that, so I wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere near the number of colors needed if I had shot a .JPG.  The top image shows what the capture of the negative looks like.  You can see why I had no idea what color corrections to make in ACR.

I inverted the image, which means that colors are switched to their opposite color.  For example, white becomes black, black becomes white, cyan becomes red, red becomes Cyan, magenta becomes green (and vice/versa), and yellow becomes blue (and vice/versa).

The inverted image was very flat, as to be expected.  I could have adjusted the red, green, and blue manually, but, since this was my first try, I used some tools in Photoshop to help me get quickly to something close to correct.  With the White Point tool, I clicked on an item that should be pure white… I chose a white spot on the cabinet that was in the sun.  With the Black Point tool, I clicked something that I knew should be completely black, which was the shadow area of one of the bicycle tires.  I made a manual adjustment to add brightness in the mid-tones.  It’s still a little dark and blue-ish, so, if this was an important image, I would add some red and green to the highlights to brighten the image.

With my 21 megapixel Canon 5D mark II and ultra-sharp lens, the film grain is visible, and the details are sharp.

Basically, I have made a DIY slide duplicator.   I’m very pleased that I have found a way to capture medium format film. I believe I could get excellent results if I took more than a few minutes adjusting colors, and use software to clean up the film grain (or, leave the film grain, for effect).  I think I’ll get an old medium format enlarger film holder, and stick a diffuser on it.

This river radio was shot at the Salt River.  These tubers do it in style!

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See all of the pictures on a website

Here is a way to see all of the photographs somebody has on their website, without seeing all that dreadfully boring text, or having to click through all the links.

Paste this into the address bar of a browser:

You are now in the in Google’s image search window.

In the search window, type:    site:

Replace my website address with the address of the website you want to search.  For example, if you want to see all of the images photographer Jeff Newton has on his website, you would enter site: into the search window.

This doesn’t work all the time, but, it can still be quite useful.  I don’t know why, but, when I do the image search for this professional photography website, I only see the images that are in my blogs.  When I checked the pictures in my flickr page, I received 300 random (as far as I can tell) images, and 300 random thumbnails, even though I have about 18,000 images there.  Searches for images in facebook, myspace, and twitter were mostly useless.

I read an article that said you can find websites that are using your photos by hovering over an image, and clicking More Sizes.   Unfortunately, you have to check them one at a time.  It didn’t detect images that I have on Google Earth.

Posted in Photography

Halloween pictures on Mill Ave.

The pictures from Halloween on Mill Ave are here:  Halloween Pictures on Mill Ave.

Halloween pictures on Mill Ave

Halloween pictures on Mill Ave

Posted in Events

Tour de Fat, Tempe, 2011

Pictures from the Tour de Fat are here: Tour de Fat pictures


If anybody knows this girl, please have her contact me.  I would like to get a model release from her.

Picture of girl smiling at Tempe Tour de Fat

Tour de Fat participant

Mechanical lift bicycle

Mechanical lift bicycle

Posted in Bicycles, Events

Vertical images are becoming rarer.

Vertical images are becoming rarer.  There are three reasons for that: Computers, cell phone cameras, and digicams (small, consumer digital camera).

The reason this concerns me is because many pictures must be shot vertically to be most effective.  For example, if you want to get a picture of person who is standing, and you want to emphasize what they are wearing, you would want to shoot vertically.

The pictures below show a less obvious example of when a vertical picture would work better.  The subject, being the tallness of the dust storm, isn’t obvious enough that people who are not comfortable shooting vertically would think to try a vertical shot.

Vertical picture of dust storm

Vertical picture of dust storm

Horizontal picture of dust storm

Horizontal picture of dust storm

Very few of us use a monitor in the vertical position.   The two pictures above are the same size.  If you are using a laptop computer, the vertical image almost fills the screen from top to bottom, with huge open spaces on the sides.  It is not as pleasurable to look at the vertical image as it is to look at the horizontal image, because the horizontal image fits the dimensions of the monitor much more comfortably.

The pictures below are the same size (21 megapixels), shot from the same spot, and with a fixed focal length 100mm lens.  I put the pictures on white backgrounds that are the same aspect ratio as my monitor to show what they look like when viewed on a monitor.    The horizontal orientation fills up much more of the monitor, making it easier to see more at a glance.  On my monitor, which is about 20×12 inches, it’s like comparing an 8×12 inch vertical image with an 18×12 horizontal image.   Consider that pictures viewed in a browser — for example, on a facebook page — will be much smaller.

Vertical picture as viewed on monitor

Vertical picture as viewed on monitor

Horizontal image as viewed on monitor

Horizontal picture as viewed on monitor

The horizontal picture looks larger because the computer didn’t have to shrink the picture as much to make it fit on the monitor.  Most people would think the horizontal picture is better because it is easier to see the shopping cart (being the first week of the semester, restless ASU hoodlums had carried the shopping cart to the top of Tempe Butte, and hung it from the fence).  But, I feel that the vertical picture is a better, because the tallness of the tower adds to the context.

Most people would throw out the vertical picture, which is a choice that was made because of how the computer displays the picture, rather than what the picture really looks like.  Remember how pictures were chosen in the old days, when choices were made by comparing prints, and orientation made no difference?

In addition to the trend of choosing horizontal pictures because monitors and browsers display horizontal pictures better, cell phone cameras and digicams are slightly less likely to get good vertical pictures.

It is important to hold a camera steady when taking pictures that are not supposed to be blurred.  Even an un-initiated 14 year old knows to delete a photo when it gets too fuzzy.   Blurriness is an issue with any camera, but, it becomes more of a problem with digicams and cell phone cameras because they produce a higher percentage of unusable vertical pictures.  And, there are more than 100 times more pictures taken with call phone cameras and digicams than with high quality cameras, so the vast majority of images floating around are from cell phone cameras and digicams.

We’ve always had a tendency to shoot horizontal pictures because cameras have generally been designed to be held horizontally.  But, they can usually be held vertically with very little difficulty.  That is not necessarily true for cell phone cameras and digicams though.

On a cell phone, the shutter release button (or whatever they call it on a cell phone) is sometimes in a place that is awkward to press when the camera phone is rotated for a vertical picture.  Considering how hard it is to hold such a small and light item steady, this is more important than it seems.

You can’t hold a cell phone to your head to get a third point of contact for more stability.  The farther you hold something from your body, the less stable it will be.

Digicams are generally not too hard to hold vertically, but, they are still not as comfortable in that position as a professional camera.  Digicam users often compose pictures by using the LCD screen on the back of the camera, even though their cameras may have optical viewfinders — Same issue as with the cell phone cameras… the camera needs to be held against the head to get the third point of contact for more stability.

The equipment we are using and the way we view pictures are causing us to produce more horizontal pictures.

What does this mean?  Fewer pictures of individual skyscrapers and more pictures of skylines.  Fewer pictures of individual people and more pictures of groups of people.  Fewer pictures of bridges taken looking down the road, and more perpendicular pictures of bridges.  It means we are looking at different things than we used to.

Posted in Photography, Scenic

Embiggen on Flickr

When I send a link to somebody to get to a slideshow on Flickr, I always have to have them make an adjustment to Flickr’s settings to make the pictures look right.  The lower-right crop of the picture below, entitled “Embiggened,” shows the problem:  The embiggened image is soft, compared to the reference picture on top, and the “Normal” crop, which shows what it should look like.

The image in the lower right shows what Embiggen does to images in the Flickr slideshow.

The image in the lower right shows what Embiggen does to images in the Flickr slideshow.

A person posted in an anti-embiggen forum that as long as Flickr is going to make up a silly word, they might has well have called it “emcrappen.”

This is a typical message I send:
“The slideshow is here:  After clicking the link, you’ll probably want to hit F11 to go to full screen mode (F11 again when you want to go back to regular screen mode), and click Slideshow, in the upper right.  If you are using a medium or large monitor, click Options in the upper right, and remove the checkmark from “Embiggen small things to fill screen.””

I should not need to add the instructions to remove the checkmark.

The embiggen issue is only significant if the pictures are being viewed on a medium or large monitor.  Mine is a 24” monitor, at 1980×1200 pixels.  Laptop users need not be concerned.

When in Normal mode, the image fills a little less than 1/3 of my monitor.

With Embiggen turned off, the image in the Flickr slideshow fills a little less than 1/3 of my 24" monitor.

With Embiggen turned off, the image in the Flickr slideshow fills a little less than 1/3 of my 24" monitor.

Embiggen mode fills the entire screen, except the black areas on the sides (very hard to see in the photo… the proportions of the photo and monitor are not the same).

With Embiggen turned on, the image in the Flickr slideshow fills the monitor.

With Embiggen turned on, the image in the Flickr slideshow fills the monitor.

There is a good use for the embiggening.  If somebody has a slow internet connection, they may prefer to get small images, and yet still be able to fill up the monitor so other people in the room can all see the slideshow.  If there are more than a couple of people viewing the images, they will be at least a few feet from the monitor, and will not see the fuzziness as easily.  I have to be at least four feet from my 24”, 1980×1200 monitor to perceive the images as acceptably sharp.  I suspect that embiggened images are best viewed from another room if viewed on a 30” monitor.

Flickr is a site for photographers, and no photographer wants people to think their images are soft.  The argument is that Flickr should have Embiggen turned off by default, and either allow the photographer or the end viewer to turn on embiggen, if, for some odd reason, they prefer it to be on.

The workaround would be to point somebody to a picture in the Lightbox, like this: Pictures,  and have them use the left/right keys on the keyboard to go forward and backward.  Pictures in the Lightbox are never embiggened.

Posted in Photography

Time-lapse video of Galileo thermometer

This time-lapse video took about 90 minutes to shoot. I turned a space heater on/off/on/etc. during a winter night to make the markers move (see the red reflection in the upper right, just under the water line of the thermometer to know when the heater is on or off).

Posted in Video

The shot I missed

The shot I missed.

Once or twice a year, I think about the shot I missed that could have been one of my most impressive shots.

The assignment for a photography class at Mesa Community College, in about 1998, was to use the whole semester to create a body of work.  We could use our pictures to tell a story, document something, or really, anything we wanted.  We had to come up with our own concept.  I chose to photograph culture on Mill Avenue.

The reason I chose to photograph culture on Mill Ave was because it was the most culturally diverse and interesting areas I had ever seen.  I have doubts that there was anyplace else in America that was more diverse.  The mile from Gammage Auditorium at ASU to what was then the Salt River (now, Tempe Town Lake) was filled with professors, homeless people, the majority of races and religions in the United States, politicians, retired vets, college students, theatre lovers, artists, athletes, fashionistas, and, most notably, the goths.

The story of Mill Ave that is relevant begins in the 70’s, when the businesses that had been thriving had lost their foothold, giving way to seedy bars, homeless people, and ASU students.  It was a very interesting place, known by the lore of bars like Edsels Attic, Gibson’s, and 6 East.  The area had its own unique vibe and culture that led to the Jingle-pop sounds of the bands that were born there, like The Gin Blossoms, The Refreshments (Roger Cline and the Peacemakers), and Dead Hot Workshop.  Corporate businesses like Urban Outfitters moved into the area, making rent for the small bars impossible to afford.  The only notorious bar to survive into the late 90’s was Long Wong’s.

The last days for the interesting bars were also the last days of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Tempe Arts Theatre.  The patrons of RHPS were the most interesting people ever in the area, with the probable exception of the cowboys and Indians that were there 100 years earlier.  I was taking pictures inside the theatre on the last night the show played there, so I have the last pictures ever taken of that event there.

Rocky Horror Picture Show actor

I captured this image on the last night of The Rocky Horror picture show.

So I had spent many nights on Mill with my Pentax 6×7 medium format camera set to 1/15 second and f2.8, with 400 ASA Tri-X film, and potato masher strobe.

On the night of the missed shot, I believe I had shot six rolls of 20 exposure film, minus 1 frame.  Every photojournalist knew that they should leave at least one frame in the camera in case something happened.  I was heading home with one exposure left.

Having a camera with you is the most important thing when trying to take a picture.  Duh.  I had my camera with me because I was in an interesting and historical place.

Another thing that really helps is being in an interesting place… I was starting to walk across a field/lot/parking lot a couple hundred yards off Mill.  Not so interesting.  But, at least I had my camera.

I heard somebody yell something like “stop,” or “don’t move.”  I turned, and saw a bicyclist moving and turning quickly across the dirt lot with a hand raised toward the person that he was circling around.  I brought the camera up, got it focused on the bicyclist, and was starting to press the shutter release button when I stopped to remind myself that I only had one frame left.  Just then, I saw a stream or flash come from the bicyclist’s hand.  I took the camera away from my face so I could try to understand what I was looking at.

What I saw… What I missed… was a police officer on a bicycle, shooting mace at a person who was fairly close to me, but completely inside the frame.  Even though the mace was coming toward me, I was barely out of range.

I had good composition, the camera was focused, and I missed it because I didn’t want to waste the one frame I had saved for something important.  That’s the life of a photojournalist, I suppose… sometimes the situation comes up on you like a bomb out of nowhere.

In hindsight, I realize that I might have temporarily blinded the police officer with my flash, causing a potentially dangerous situation for the officer.  But, I think everybody would have been Ok If I had taken the picture.  I’m betting that the officer would have liked to have had the picture for his scrapbook.



Posted in Photography

Dance pictures at Graham Central Station

Here are some pictures I shot of the dancers at Graham Central Station on Saturday:

I knew the lighting at Graham Central Station would be a challenge. There is some very harsh lighting, which makes for dramatic photos, but, it is not really bright enough for a lot of cameras to stop the action.

Taking action photos: This is one area where having a really good camera and lens makes a difference. For example, my camera (Canon 5D mark ii) shoots pretty well at ISO 3,200, and I use a fast lens that is reasonably sharp wide open… f/2.8. Even using this combination of body/lens, I had to increase the exposures as much as two stops in post, which means there is a huge amount of noise in most of the images. Cameras designed for sports photographers cost more, but they can shoot decently at ISO 12,800.

I put my camera in Program mode, and Auto ISO. That’s not being lazy… it just works extremely well. Program mode makes the shutter speeds progressively slower at the same time it makes the apertures progressively larger. Auto ISO raises the ISO when the shutter speed and aperture get too close to unusable for “standard” conditions. Better cameras than mine can be programed to more accurately control the relationships between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, but, the settings on my camera work perfectly for what I use it for.

I knew that the tungsten lighting they use at Graham’s is 2,800 degrees, so I could have set the color temperature to tungsten and shot .jpgs, but I shoot in RAW mode so I can make extreme brightness changes in post.

Here is a full size picture to show how noisy it gets:

See how much nicer it looks when it is small:

Dancers at Graham Central Station

Dancers at Graham Central Station

This image was pushed 2.35 stops in post. The camera had set the exposure at 1/60 second. Since the dancers were moving toward the camera, the amount of blur is completely acceptable, and the image stabilizer worked magnificently.

Normally, I would have used my 50mm f1.4 lens because it only needs about ¼ the light as the 100mm f2.8 lens, but I wanted to see if I could get usable pictures with the long lens. The image stabilizer works extremely well on the 100mm lens, and the 50mm lens doesn’t have an image stabilizer, so that was another reason to use the 100mm lens.

I usually shoot bursts of 6 or so frames when the subject looks like it might be interesting. I shot around 400 pictures in 15 minutes to get that set of 32 usable dance pictures.

Posted in Photography technique