Monday, October 31, 2011

B&W Plugin Review

I received an email a couple of days ago from DXO offering me, as a Zenfolio customer, a discount on their Film Pack 3 software. I am not a big fan of most plugins. I've always felt that they mostly do things that you can already do in Photoshop, but they automate the process for commercial photographers who need to churn out a  lot of work quickly or people who want an easier path that doesn't require the long learning curve of some more complex Photoshop processes.  A few do things Photoshop can't do alone. There are a lot of them that do things I don't want to do to my photos but B&W is one of the things I like to do.

DXO's Film Pack 3 is a program that simulates the look of various color and B&W films with or without the grain. There was a Nov. 1st deadline on the discount offer so I decided to download the trial version and check it out before deciding. To compare it to what I could already do I used Lightroom to convert an image from my tall ship cruise to B&W and tinkered with the settings in LR followed by a bit more tweaking in Photoshop (top left) I was particularly concerned with the cloud detail in the sky while holding the foreground contrast on the ship and the dock.I was fairly impressed with the results (top right) although it too has a bit of tweaking in PS after the initial conversion from color and adjustment in Film Pack.

I came close to deciding I wanted it but then decided to check out whatever else was out there and looked next at Alien Skin's Exposure 3 plugin. Exposure is nearly twice the price of the Pro version of Film Pack. Like Film Pack it simulates both color and B&W films. Again I converted from color in Exposure 3 and played with the controls to try to accentuate the clouds. I got a decent bit of contrast in the clouds but don't like the hot spot behind the top mast and I lost a lot of contrast in the hull of the ship and the dock even with some tweaking in Photoshop after.

Finally I tried NIK's Silver Efex Pro 2. Silver Efex only converts to B&W, not color (NIK has a separate Color Efex software that I haven't looked at) but it does a stellar job in my opinion. With minimal fiddling on my part and no learning curve the sky is awesome, exactly what I wanted and even the foreground is great. Although the hot spot is still there behind the top mast, it isn't burnt out. Had I used their "Control Points" I might easily tone it down but I haven't figured that part of the software out yet. Note that I did no further work in Photoshop on the Silver Efex version. Even the edge effect and toning was done in Silver Efex. There are toning options in Film Pack and Exposure too but I didn't save any of them the the image I tested with.

These were very quick tests of each one using only the one image. In fairness maybe I could get the same out of the other two that I got in Silver Efex if I spent more time learning them and I will try other images before the trials expire but right now it looks like Silver Efex is the choice for me. Reasons? Aside from my obvious happiness with the rendering of tones in the sky I'm not interested in color film simulation so that part of the other two has no appeal for me. Actually I'm less interested in B&W film simulation than I am in getting the best possible tonality in my B&W images. Film Pack and Exposure both seem to be primarily focused on getting accurate representations of specific films. Silver Efex has film simulation for a variety of films but is aimed more at overall control to get the most out of a B&W image. It is the middle priced offering of the three. If you are a member of NAPP there are member discounts for each of the three. In fact the NAPP member discount on DXO's Film Pack Pro version is better than the limited time Zenfolio discount I was offered.

If you are considering any of the above I suggest that you do as I did and get the trial versions of all three to 'test drive' with some of your own images. I prefer Silver Efex at this stage of my tests because I am a landscape photographer and skies are important to me. You may find that one of the others is more appropriate to your images. At this point I expect that Silver Efex Pro 2 is going on my Christmas wish list.

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the above software producers and I receive no consideration for for having done the above comparison/review.


Fifty one or two years ago, when I was young and had an impish turn of mind, I put a lit candle in the window of the cemetery vault, the one in the photo above. The sash was not locked. I just raised it from outside, lit the candle, dripped a bit of wax on the windowsill, set the candle in it and closed the window. Later that night, after the wave of trick or treaters had subsided I retrieved the candle and went home.

The following day our neighbor, who also lived on the far side of the cemetery from the center of the village, commented that she had hardly anyone come to trick or treat her. It seems that none of the kids had been willing to walk past the cemetery and only those who were driven around by their parents (not common in those days) had gotten to our end of town.

As you can see in the photo above, that prank would probably have no effect today. The cemetery is alight all over these days thanks to solar lamps that can be bought in any building supply establishment or even Walmart. There's a streetlight across the road from the vault and I had to work on the photo to make it as ominous as it is. I sort of miss the darkness of old. Halloween was never a favorite holiday of mine but it was a lot spookier back then.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Just the Two of Us

A while back I shot this photo on my kitchen counter. I liked the arrangement of the apples, the fruit equivalent of two people sitting on a park bench or in an elevator. Great natural color in great light. The light is from the window about 12-18" away which faces Northwest, artist's light. I cropped it square and centered the bowl thus violating the so-called "rule of thirds" but I did turn the bowl enough that the apples are on an angle, lending a bit of visual tension.

I've shot quite a few photos on this counter, most of a cyclamen plant that we used to have sitting there. Although I bill myself as a landscape photographer and prefer to photograph in the Adirondacks, a half hour to several hours away, I suspect that half of my photos are close to, or in this case, in my home. There are photographs wherever you are, sometimes right under your nose.

Canon G11, ISO 400, 1/20th @ f/4.5, handheld.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Another Look

Another look at the sunrise back on Sept. 27th. This required some heavy processing in both Lightroom and Photoshop. The foreground was very dark and the sky was nearly burnt out. It was shot with a Canon 7d handheld, ISO 400, 1/30th @ f/11.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mostly Gone

I made a quick trip to the mountains today in hopes of catching some fall color. It is in very late stages though, most trees are already bare. A few patches of color here and there on  mountain and hillsides. The tamaracks are starting to turn an orangey yellow. They are generally the last to turn color.  I have photographed this meadow before many years ago. At that time there was a fallen tree there that stood out nicely against the snow that covered the field and I made a B&W photo on film with a medium format camera. Today I was attracted to range of hues in the leaves and grasses in contrast to the bark on the birch tree.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Snap Judging Snapshots

My Shadow 19??

A short while ago Mike Johnston (The Online Photographer) wrote a blog post entitled "Eschew cliché" that brought to mind the above old photo that I made some 20 odd years ago. It could be longer ago than that. I was a lousy record keeper in film days. One of the blessings of digital is that the camera handles that for me. It was part of a series that I printed for a traveling solo show entitled "Scenes That Only Hikers See", photographs taken in the Adirondacks along trails or from mountaintops. I was reminded of it because of a photo by Lee Friedlander, "Canyon de Shelly" from 1983 which is about half way down in "Eschew cliché" post.

In the guest book that accompanied my traveling show, "My Shadow" received only one comment from a person who didn't say anything at all about the other 20+ photos. The comment was that this photo was cliché. That kind of stung at the time because when I made it I wasn't thinking of any photos I'd seen, certainly not Lee Friedlander's. I hadn't even heard of him at the time, much less seen "Canyon de Shelly". At the same time I had no illusion that I was being 'original' or doing something that had never been done before. What I was doing was reacting to the moment. I was at the summit of Cascade Mountain and was attracted to the small catchment of water and the pattern of rocks. As I tried different viewpoints I liked the way my shadow interacted with the small pool, looking like a continuation of the dark area where the overflow ran off or alternately with the pool looking like the 'speech balloons' that cartoonists put around the words that their characters say. Looking at Lee's "Canyon de Shelly" I suspect he was amused by the way the weeds appear to be hair on the head of his shadow.

So is mine cliché because Lee (and almost assuredly others) did a shadow self portrait before me? Is his a cliché because he wasn't the absolute first to do it? One comment on TOP called Lee's photo "amazing" perhaps tongue in cheek given the early paragraphs of Mike's post. Or perhaps not. His photo is on Artnet and in major galleries. Some people clearly think it's amazing.

I still like my photo. It is a silver print made 'back in the day', double matted and framed. It's not great but I'm still happy with it. I also kind of like Lee's photo for its humor, more than I care for most of his images, which don't feel humorous to me. I will continue as a photographer, to react to the moment without regard for what others may have done and as audience (which we all are some of the time) I will try to react to the image itself without judging it against other photos I may have seen.

Link to "Eschew cliché".

Friday, October 07, 2011

Forgotten Sunrise

When I went hiking last week I took two cameras, the G11 that I carried on the hike and my 7D which I had intended to use after coming out. The plan was that I would be out  of the woods early so I could drive around and photograph the autumn leaves. On the way to the trail-head I spotted the sunrise over Whiteface Mountain and made several exposures near the Harrietstown cemetery. I used the 7D. This is the last one from the series.

After spraining my ankle on the hike and walking out on it I just wanted to get home so I decided to forgo the other photography and completely forgot about my sunrise photos until this evening when I was downloading some images I made on the 7D today.