Friday, May 15, 2020

Halfway to that new computer, and counting down...

Yes I know -- these are re-posts of art done six and seven months ago! You don't have to tell me about the time that's going by ... in fact, we're halfway to the new computer that will mean I can get everything installed and working perfectly (theoretically, at least. I realize there will be issues -- there always are). The last few "touching base" posts have involved photos, but I wanted to post art today, since this is an art blog, after all. I literally cannot squeeze art out of the of the old desktop without risking its life, so the only option is ... re-post some of the nicest stuff I did in 2019, when I picked up the threads and ran with them.

In case you're wondering ... well, my brain is full of ideas. I can SEE the images I want to render; but there is no way I can create them. Not with the existing video card. On the plus side, we're in mid-May now and cruising down the other side of the year to Christmas.

What am I doing with my time, since I can't do art? A lot of blogging (I have three blogs; this one, plus travel and personal, and am considering doing a photo blog). But mostly, I'm writing. A second novel is already done, a third is in the works and half done at this time. Four of my short stories have been published in the SF and Fantasy press in the last year or two, and one is being reprinted. Next year, when the pandemic is done (please gods, it will be done), I'll be on the trail of literary agency representation; and if the books are as promising as I think they are ... well, now.

At the moment, though, art-wise, we're just marking time. Best I can do is keep the images in mind and then slide back into art with a computer that can do the work easily, and do it well.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

What went wrong?! (And how to fix it)

To most efficiently answer a question just asked, I’m going to tackle it in a new post. First: relax, take a deep breath! The most common question in photography is, “What went wrong?” And it’s been that way since the first photograph ever taken.

Numerous things can go wrong, but the simplest of all (and trust me, we all do it sooner or later) is where you forget to reset the camera after that special job you did two days ago … your images are consequently rubbishy, and perhaps you had no chance of taking them again. The camera remembers the last settings you tapped/dialed in, and if you have a scatterbrained moment you’ll end up with something just plain sad. (You can also find yourself shooting into the sun to get any photo at all, which won’t produce a good image; or the day can be so overcast, your pictures are almost monochrome, flat dull and boring. See below.) So ―

The question actually was, “How do you rescue photos that went wrong?”

Well, it does depend on *how* the photo went wrong. If it’s out of focus, you’re mostly out of luck. If it’s blurred by camera shake, the same (prevention is better than cure here). But if shots are just way too dark, or too washed-out pale and colorless, so long as they’re not blurry, you can do a lot with them.

The ultimate dull day photo! What can you do with it?
(Disclaimer: dull-day photos can have a tendency to be “soft” too, even if they’re in focus. They can look mushy, even if you held the camera steady. The “mush” effect is down to the camera’s aperture being too large Without getting technical ― big aperture = soft picture. Small aperture = sharp picture. It’s a *lot* more complex than this, but that’s the first rule to bear in mind. The only way to get a small aperture on a dull day, without trading off for a loooong shutter speed and risking blur from camera-shake, is to increase your ISO setting. Any halfway decent camera has this function … the instruction booklet is your friend. Generally speaking, the lower the light, the higher the ISO you want. Higher ISO settings mean the camera gathers and records more light, so you can have reasonable shutter speeds as well as acceptable apertures, even if conditions are dim … theoretically. The more automatic the camera, the more it’ll take you along for a ride, so you’ll always need to be careful. End of disclaimer!)

Back to original question: for the moment, forget about why the picture is under- or over-exposed and looks like crap. Can it be saved, and if so, how?

I can’t give you a how-to for your specific camera or software, because they’re all different. But I can point you at a free program that’s a godsend for working with iffy images and turning out lovely results in a fraction the time of mucking about in Photoshop. Go to and get the latest version. I’ve used this for ten years, and I swear by it. For my purposes, it’s the best thing ever. Now…

When a photo is too dark, too pale, or has no color, how do we save it?

Let’s work with one that’s washed-out pale and colorless (because that’s what I have to hand). Open it in the program. First, before you do anything, use your eyes. Just LOOK at it. See exactly what’s wrong with it.

An old grumble about digital images is they can be harsh, hard, too contrasty, with no information recorded in white areas, and dark zones crushed straight to black. Within the two problem areas (blank whites, dead blacks) there’s an amazing range of possibility. You’ll have to trust your own eyes to know when you’ve achieved what you want, and the good news is that even thoroughly lousy photos usually have a wealth of “information” hidden in them, which you can reveal by jiggling the settings. Have a look at this, for example:

See at full size, please. My word of honor: it's the same shot, before & after!
You might be tempted to pounce right on the “Brightness” setting, because it’s the word you best understand (what’s this Gamma thing, anyway?) but ― please don’t. Brightness is the setting you want to resort to last, if at all. Brightness will affect the whole image, meaning dark areas, mid-tones and highlights all get lighter or darker together, which is almost certainly not what you want. Gamma, on the other hand, controls the “ratio” between dark zones and bright zones. The easiest way to understand how this works is to use it, do it, and see it work. It’ll start to make sense as you play. But ―

Before you get into fiddling with the Gamma, take a long, hard look at your image. Is it harsh, is it contrasty? Digital pictures so often are, it’s actually worth having a quick mess about with the Contrast setting, just to see how it improves the picture, in concert with Gamma correction. Eight chances in ten, it will.

Because digital pictures tend to be contrasty, you want to flatten the contrast. From a default value of 0, drag the slider left till the image looks unpleasantly dull. It probably looks far worse than when you started … but if you study it closely, you’ll almost certainly see that “information” has become visible in both the bright and dark areas, detail you couldn’t see before. Aha! Now you’ve got information showing up, the next step is to improve the ratio (!) of dark to light areas, to recover the lovely tonal balance an image should have. This is what Gamma does.

From a default value of 1.00, drag the slider left (Gamma down) or right (increase Gamma), till the picture looks good to you. Everyone’s preference and eyesight (not to mention, monitor settings) are different; you’ll have to decide what’s right for you. When you’re happy, sit back and look at it. Looking good? Think it might be better?

Please view at full size...
We all tend to judge our pictures against shots we see in magazines and brochures, and by and large these are color-saturated, sometimes even over-saturated. It’s worth at least trying this out, so see if Color does improve your image, before you call it good and save it. You can always undo, if it makes a mess. From a default value of 0, drag the slider right until the color is too vivid, then pull it back till it looks just right for this picture.

In Irfanview, you can also muck about with the R,G,B values (Red, Green Blue) of an image; but you will probably be appalled at the results if you start fiddling with these. It takes a lot of practice to use this efficiently, and it can be a world of frustration. My advice would be, in the early days, leave them alone unless you’re actually wanting whacked-out results! In due course, play with them … learn as you go. Have fun.

TIP: if your image has red areas, keep an eye on them. If you overdrive the color, your reds will become blocks of color without any “information” inside. This is your clue that you’ve dialed up too much color. Dial it down again till the reds contain information, and you know what this image will naturally tolerate. (If you want to go beyond this, you’ll need to be working in layers, which puts you in Photoshop, GIMP, Krita, Affinity Photo, and so forth; and that’s far too technical for the average user, so we won’t go there today. But for reference, Irfanview, Krita and GIMP are free; this doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg.)

By the time I was finished rescuing my photo of autumn vineyards just outside Willunga, I’d flattened my contrast by -26, flattened my Gamma to 0.51, and poured a lot of color into it … +128. These are not instructions: every single image is different! I can’t tell you what numbers to type in.

If the image you’re trying to save is way too dark, basically, do the opposite of everything that’s been said here, LOL. I don’t have any blackout images to hand, so I’ve used a washed out image, (yes, the sad result of forgetting to reset the camera. I did reset it ― retook the images from a slightly different spot, and only when I got home did I discover the phone line running right through the sky of the correctly-exposed pictures, spoiling them. The pesky phone line drove me back to the pictures with the incorrect exposure, and the result? Nice).

Hope this helps!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Touching base with pretty things

Touching base in April with images -- not specifically art, but straddling that line where photography and art merge, one into the other. Why? Because my big PC (which handles the 3D art programs) is staggering, and if I try for a long render, it'll croak! Also, it's permanently offline with an uncooperative modem. And I can't get a new system till Christmas! So 3D adventures will just have to wait ... but I do want to touch base at least once a month, keep this blog juuust ticking over, and say hi to everyone, especially when we're all locked down so tight, I know a lot of people are increasingly bored out of their collective gourd! So...

The big news for me personally is that I took the plunge and bought a new camera in February. The bummer deal (and that is putting it mildly) for the whole world is that by the end of March the pandemic was hitting everyone, everywhere; and as a result, I can't take the new camera anywhere until about September! To set your mind at rest --

Dave, Mike and I are in the safest place in the world, in South Australia. This state is starting to see days with zero new cases reported ... SA was able, via stringent measures and public cooperation, to hold the number of cases reported locally to very low numbers (in a state of 1.7m people, most of whom live in the metropolitan area, only 433 people have tested positive by the time we start to see our "zero days." Never more than twenty people, maximum, were hospitalized at one time, and I believe the most people at one time in ICU was six, (possibly seven). There have been four  -- yes, just 4 -- fatalities in this state, but my information is that each them was literally too sick to be rescued after contracting the virus overseas, most often on a cruise ship. One's heart goes out to the families of those four grandparents who, tragically, came home to die ... at the same time, one applauds SA, where -- at least to this point -- no one actually who fell sick here has perished, because medical care is top-notch, free, and fast. At this time, I'm extremely proud to be a South Aussie.

So, where are we at this moment? In lockdown, yes; in self imposed exile ... not taking the new camera anywhere -- being good and "staying home." But in the few expeditions where I had the opportunity to field test it, I was impressed: Leica lens elements, 20.3MP, 1,005mm zoom, far better "register" than any of the Fuji cameras, which all gave very harsh images. I'm loving my Lumix TX90 and -- well, roll on September, when the lockdown lifts and we can go places! We'll be visiting Mount Gambier, Clare Valley ... lots of places. Having said that, at this moment we're all well, and working hard. I'm writing. I've sold four short stories to SF and fantasy magazines, and am working on a second novel. Am also looking forward to the end of the year, and that new desktop PC with the "oomph" to run the demanding imaging programs, but till then...

...well, till then I'll touch base now and then, either with photos or art, even if the art is reposted ... or perhaps a review of an artist, or art book? However it works out, Christmas will be upon us before you know it. Someone said not to long ago, "Once you get past Easter, the rest of the year goes like a shot." Uh huh. Easter was last weekend, and I spent the four-day "break" (a misnomer, because when you're in lockdown there's nothing to take a break from; and Dave had shifts right through Easter) transferring hundreds of Gigs of data to and fro between drives. Now I have access to every digital shot I've ever taken, back to the first 1MP Kodak camera we ever had, in something like 2001. So with every image at my fingertips...

--suffice to say, there's no shortage of images to share! And there is a line where art and photography blur, one into the other. I like to think that I'm riding that line a lot of the time. And yes, this year, like a kid, I'm waiting for Christmas! There will be a post called "Happy New Computer" at some point! Then I'll spend a few days getting everything installed, and we'll get back to 3D art. The wonderful world of Iray. Till then -- have some more photographic eye candy here.

See you in May! (Or perhaps sooner, if some of the art ideas in my imagination that don't involve long renders bear fruit...)

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