To save your house from hurricanes you can build it between rocks like this in Britany, France.
Today I’m starting in the 8th year of this continuously running series of presenting monochrome images and I still love doing it.
Today, we’re back in Iceland again. This is Djúpalónssandur beach located on the south-western edge of Snæfellsnes peninsula.
Yesterday, this old guy turned 11.
In July, I was accepted as a guest blogger at nikonrumors.com. Here’s the full post for you, too.
When traveling, I love to be at the sea. I love the uneven coasts more than sandy beaches. I can spend hours photographing waves rolling in and the water sputtering between the rocks. These sprays, unfortunately, appear in different places but never together at the same time. So, I end up with many, many images of the same scene, but with differences in the details. Wouldn’t it be nice, combining these images?
When having taken the single images by using a tripod all of the frames are identical and could be merged by using an HDR- or DRI-software like i.e. Photomatix or AuroraHDR. But, these programs automatically remove those parts changing from frame to frame. So, what else can be done now?
In the early years of digital photography, the dynamic range of the sensors wasn’t as good as it is nowadays. To increase the dynamic range one took a series of identical frames by using a tripod with different shutter speeds to get images where certain parts were exposed correctly and accepting other parts either underexposed or overexposed. After a mild development in the digital darkroom and exporting the images in TIFF format to preserve the most possible information, the frames were imported into a group of layers in i.e. GIMP, Photoshop, or similar software able to work with layers and layer masks to create the final image. You usually don’t need to create your images with a higher dynamic range this way anymore, because of improved sensors and special software taking over the hard work for you. But this workflow is still useful.
In case, your kind of discouraged now, because I’m talking about layers and masks, don’t stop reading. It’s easier than it seems to be 🙂
I’m describing the necessary steps by using The GIMP because everyone can download the software for free from here (http://gimp.org/downloads). It’s available for macOS, Windows, Linux. For Photoshop the steps are nearly identically.
First, create a folder on your disk and put the original images in this folder. This step isn’t necessary but eases the process and makes it more clear. I took three images for creating my final image, but you can include as many as you want to merge, at least two. Keep in mind, the details you want to reveal shouldn’t overlap.
Now, you can start GIMP and click on “File” and choose “Open as Layers”. In the next dialog, navigate to the folder, you created in the first step and select all images in this folder, you want to merge. Now, you have a pile of images, but you only see the one on top of the pile. When clicking on the eye icon left to each image you can make a single (or more than one) image visible or invisible. You can always see only the uppermost one of the pile with the eye icon switched on. I recommend to re-sort the images now, so that the image with the most details you want to
preserve is the bottom image. For all of the other images, you have to add a mask: the layer mask
There are two kinds of these masks: white (= full opacity) and black (= full transparency). What does this mean? Think of a sheet of paper you would lay on your photo. What do you see? Right, you only see the sheet of paper, but not the photo. Now, imagine taking scissors and cut a hole in the paper and lay it back on your photo. You can still see the while paper but through the hole, you can see a part of the image underneath the paper. That’s the principle of the layer masks. White means cover-up while black means the holes in the cover.
When adding a black layer mask to all image layers expect the background, you can only see the background. Make sure, all images are taken from a tripod and are neither cropped nor re-balanced along the horizon in post-processing. Otherwise, you must rearrange them now to make sure, they are laying exactly one over another. There are tools available to do so. Adjust the opacity of the upper (= moving) image and switch to the 100% view to do so. There are tutorials available online explaining these steps in detail, so check them out if necessary. I recommend leaving these steps to the final image and do as little as possible to the source images.
Pick the brush tool from the toolbox and select a white color. Click in the black layer mask and paint the white color, where you want to make an additional detail visible. Do this for all details and on all layers masks. Simply paint the white color where a certain detail is located you want to discover and be included in the final image. You only need to paint upon the detail included in the image where you’re working on the layer mask. In case, you painted too much and want to revert it, change the color to black and paint over the white, or use the eraser tool. Imagine of doing a collage where you cut out different parts of other media and stick them on a background image.
After discovering all the details you want to include in your final image, save your work file as XCF (the native file format of GIMP) or PSD and then export it to TIFF. Despite you could also merge all layers to one and work further with this file, I recommend exporting and do the final work on this resulting TIFF file like removing dust spots with the stamp tool, balancing the horizon, and cropping the image. So, you could come back and adjust your work without the need of starting from the beginning.
When everything is fine, export it to JPG and you’re done!
In the past I wrote about tripods. A tripod always has a head to mount your camera on. There are many discussions, what kind of head is the best: ball-head, one-way tilt head, two-way tilt head, and three-way tilt head.
Some tripods came with a certain head attached to the middle-column which is not replaceable while other come with replaceable heads or even without a head, where you have to buy one on your own choice.
For wildlife photography these heads are not really helpful. The tilt heads are not fast enough to follow the animals and the ball head can’t be fixed fast enough to be a stable ground. Therefore I have a gimbal. I simply dismount the head from either my tripod or my monopod and attach the gimbal instead. Because of the design, the gimbal is quite stable but I can move it around very fast, if needed.
When sitting in a hide where I have enough room to set-up a tripod, I mount the gimbal on top instead of the ball head. When I want to move around in the field or wait in a tiny hide, the gimbal will be mounted on the of the monopod. Both work very well.
My gimbal is made of aluminum and weighs about 1 kg. It’s 19.5 * 7.5 * 21 cm ( 7.7 * 3.0 * 8.3in). It has the correct screw thread (3/8 “) to attach it directly on most of the tripods and monopod with detachable heads. The plate to mount the camera follows the arca-swiss standard. So, if you already have such a plate, it will fit here too, if not, never mind, the gimbal brings one. There are also some long tele lenses around where the lens mount flange is also fitting in an arca-swiss mount without a separate plate. According to the manufacturer’s specifications, the gimbal should be able to carry gear up to 18 kg (39.7lbs).
The heaviest lens I used a couple of times weighed about 5 kg. When adding my camera there was about 6,2 kg attached to the gimbal, resulting in about 7.3 kg to carry for my tripod.
To mount such heavy gear to the gimbal needs some fine adjustment to distribute the weight equally. That’s why the lens mount flange is below the lens and the flange is that long. Even when the screw on the top left side is loosened the camera and lens have to be in balance. Now, you tighten the screw a little bit, that you can still move the camera easily up and down but it does not have to swing back automatically. The same for the horizontal turning.
I own this gimbal for about 3 years and I’m very happy with it. Compared to the standard heads, this is really a game-changer, also for the monopod. In my other post, you can read about me first struggling a bit when using the monopod. The gimbal helped me out a lot.
When I got the gimbal, it was quite hard to move the swing, but after a short time, the oil inside became softer and the swing was easier to swing up and down.
For a long time, I wanted to go out photographing this bus station at night. Different from other photos taken of illuminated buildings, I opted for going out late to make sure to have a black sky. You know, usually, I go out at “blue hour” for taking such photos. I’m quite happy with the results. I really like the kind of graphical look.
You might have noticed some images online on social media created with Luminar 4 beta. I was also able to have a short test on the beta version recently. I gave it a try, hoping the flexibility and image quality of Luminar 2018 would survive and bring it to a new level in terms of supporting more recent cameras, too.
When starting Luminar 4 and looking at the user interface, it’s very similar to the older versions. As a user of the older versions, you’ll feel being at home at once. Slowly, you’ll discover the improvements, as most of them are under the hood.
For those of you, not familiar with older Luminar versions: it’s a photo editing software in means of processing and enhancing an image just the way the lab did in the old film days. It’s not for doing compositions and montages. It’s for processing raw files and develop them as well as enhancing jpg files i.e. lighten the darks, correct the horizon, remove dust or noise, correct distortions or enhance contrast. All the tools are organized into 4 groups (essential, creative, portrait and pro), plus raw development (canvas) and levels. All edits are done without changing the original file
A very important improvement is the progress in the AI filters. AI is short for “artificial intelligence” and means, the software is analyzing the image and tries to improve it in a means of a very natural mood. I tried it with some of my own images and I was very impressed. Here, in this post, I included an image taken during my recent trip to the baltic sea. It was taken at a windy fall afternoon. The sky was mostly grey with some small blueish areas in between. Not, what you want to have in your images. The bracket fungus on this tree is located on the shadow side of the tree. So, we have a kind of backlit scene that helpt blowing out the sky in the image while having the correct exposure for the tree and the fungus.
You know, I’m a raw shooter and don’t use the out-of-camera jpg’s, because I know, the raws have much more details, which are lost when shooting in JPG only.
The next image is still the same raw but handed over to the AI of Luminar 4. I know, other raw developer software can do the same, but it’s not as easy as with Luminar 4.
No further processing, then simply clicking on the AI for analyzing and improving the sky parts. Done!
But, the AI can do much more. You can also use it for replacing the sky. Although I don’t need it in my workflow and don’t like such editing in general, I tried it for you. Luminar 4 comes with a set of different skies, but you can also use your own skies. So, you could take a photo of the sky in addition to your photo and combine them in Luminar 4 for getting the final image.
There are many more options to try and to use for improving your images. In general, the improvements look very natural and much better than they look after using HDR software to process them.
I don’t want to conceal a disadvantage of Luminar 4: Just like Luminar 3, all your edits are saved in the Luminar catalog. Maybe, saving the edits as separate files will come back, as several testers brought this up as a complaint. Remember, it came back with releasing Luminar Flex as a result of the complaints on this same behavior when Luminar 3 was released. Luminar 3 and Luminar Flex are the same, but with the difference in the style of saving the edits: Luminar 3 saves them in the catalog while Luminar Flex saves them as separate files.
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Currently, Skylum offers Luminar 4 with a Launch-Discount either as a pre-order or you can get Luminar 3 at once and Luminar 4 as soon, as it is released. Remember, the release is just around the corner: Nov. 18th, 2019!!! So hurry, to save some money and get Luminar 4 as soon as possible. As in the past, Luminar 4 is for Windows as well as for macOS. You can use it either as stand-alone software or as a plug-in to Lightroom, Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Apple Photos. On the other hand, other plug-ins like Aurora HDR or Nik Filter are usable from inside Luminar 4.
Nevertheless, when you can live with this disadvantage, Luminar 4 is a fantastic software to bring up the details in your images without too much work. So, it can ease your workflow when improving your images! Not convinced yet? Skylum offers a trial period with a money-back guarantee for 30 days!
On my wildlife trips, I often use a monopod. A monopod looks like one of the legs of a tripod, but with a head for the camera on top. I can change the length, so that I can use it when kneeling as well as when I’m standing or sitting. Although, I’m quite tall, the monopod brings the viewfinder of my camera on my eye-level. In my eyes that’s a must!
Wildlife photography means hiding and waiting for the animals to come up, but also moving slowly through the landscape to find some. Some animals are very shy, so you have to disguise to avoid disturbing them. Others are a bit more tolerant when humans approach slowly and carefully. Nevertheless, you have to use lenses with a long focal length. Unfortunately, these lenses not only cross the long distance between you and the animal. Because of their size they are heavy and catching the wind quite easily. The long focal length results in a small view angel. So, the slightest camera movement might decide between a lucky shot and a fail shot.
A tripod might help, but comes unhandy in the terrain. A monopod is in this field a way better solution. You’re still able to move. Only one leg is to justify instead of three. The monopod carries the wight of your gear and eases the handling of your gear to get a good shot. Balancing the horizon is possible by moving your body instead of re-justifying the tripod legs.
While you have to switch off the Image Stabiliser / Vibration Reduction mechanisms when putting your camera on top of a tripod, you have to keep that mechanisms active when working with a monopod.
On my first trip with a monopod several years ago, I felt a bit hindered. I had to learn how to work with a monopod and get used to its support. Nowadays, I don’t want to miss it anymore. But, I usually don’t attach the camera (the lens mount flange when using long telephoto lenses) anymore. Instead, I lay the lens simply on the head without fastening the screw to be a bit quicker and more flexible. When in a hide, I’m using the screw more often, because I don’t move that much and the area in front of me is quite limited because of the hide. A tripod would be fine in a hide, but because of the limited space in a hide you don’t have enough room for setting it up. So, a monopod is also for a hide a suitable solution.
Although, I could remove one leg of one of my tripods to use it as a monopod, I still have my monopod. First, the monopod is made from aluminium instead of carbon fibre and thus it is very solid. I also use my monopod as a walking-stick to stabilise me when in uneven terrain or for checking a creek before crossing it. Second, when using the tripod leg, it’s about 10 cm too small for me. So, usage is quite uncomfortable. But, for a plan “B” it’s good to know, I could switch (i.e. when I could only take one with me).
Many thanks to Steffi for the image. It’s taken in January, when we were on Helgoland.
Although, nearly all cameras nowadays are equipped with shake reducing mechanisms called Image Stabilizer, Vibration Reduction or something similar, you’ll come to a point where you still have to use a tripod.
Maybe, you want to use extended exposure times for creative aspects or for not to adjust the ISO to get images without (much) noise. For night-time photography or during the blue hour a tripod is essential. Other use-cases are still life and macro photography. Especially in macro photography you need a tripod because of the extremely small field of depth when having only a short distance between your lens and your subject.
You know, as a long time follower, I don’t do much macro or still life photography, but much landscape, which includes long-time exposures and night photography. Thus, I’m focusing on ‘my’ kind of photography a little bit more here in the post.
My first tripod was a Cullman. I don’t know the exactly name anymore. It’s middle pillar was moved up and down by a cograil and gear-wheel controlled by an outside crank.
My second one was a Vanguard Alta+ 203 AP (2nd from the right in the image above)
My third one was a cheap Walimex, a giveaway from a photo magazine as a bait for testing the magazine. (the one on the right) So, I didn’t ever used it for photography purposes.
Now, I own a tripod called Brian, made by the British brand 3LT (3 legged thing), for nearly four years. (2nd from the left)
The Cullman was lightweight, kind of mid-sized and not very flexible to use. The legs were locked by screw closures, as well as the middle pillar. The middle pillar had a crank level to move the pillar up and down with a gear-wheel. Although, the legs were thin aluminium, many parts were made of plastic. And, like all plastics, it became older and sensitive for breaking. Just like mine.
As I needed an instant replacement, I bought the Vanguard. It seemed to me a fitting one. It came with a tray, was bigger then my Cullman, a 3-way head, a quick-mount plate (fits nowhere else, not even for other Vanguards) and had switches to lock the legs (great, but also a weak point when the plastic becomes older) . But, after a short while I missed some things.
Most importantly, it wasn’t big enough in my opinion (I’m quite tall). Next, I had problems coming close to the ground, turning the middle-pillar upside-down is in my opinion quite unpractical. And, when I noticed the problem with the head: the head is mounted directly on the middle pillar, without an option to change it. Thus, I had to look for a new tripod instead of repairing it. 😦
On our Iceland trip I was able to check out several tripods from the other guys. Some were way to small or to heavy. Others were too expensive and others had IMHO a to complicated head (revolver head). When I came back, I checked many brands (company sites), Amazon offers and googled a lot. Fortunately, in September of that year it was Photokina time and I checked many booths. One of the booths was run by 3LT, a quite new British company. I was fascinated by their solution: a small, lightweight carbon fibre tripod with an interchangeable ball-head. The head comes with a standardised ARCA-Swiss® compatible plate. Despite it has legs with 4 elements, it’s quite sturdy. Although, 4 elements are naturally weaker than 3 elements. It’s really a great companion. Although, the Vanguard was quite ok and I was satisfied most of the time. But, it wasn’t able to carry my camera anymore, without tilting its head unintentionally. The head screw is worn-out after 5 1/2 years. So, I was looking for a replacement. The other argument against it, it’s not high enough for me and you can’t change the head.
I own the 3LT Brian for 3,5 years. Until now, I used it on sandy beaches, in surf areas of sandy beaches, during cold winter nights of northern Norway and with heavy gear (~6 kg) while photographing cranes and deers.
Considering the wight of your gear is important for the ball-head and the burden for the legs, especially for the connections between the single elements. The more elements the legs have, the thinner they are and thus the weaker they are. You can fight that problem when choosing thicker (and longer) legs with fewer elements.
The other problem is the material. Carbon is much lighter than aluminium, but it’s more fragile in the cold. So, check the technical data and compare it with the proposed conditions of usage.
When it comes to talk about the height, often the length of middle pillar is calculated into the height by the manufacturer. But, you shouldn’t do this. As the middle pillar is a single pillar, it easily transports even slightest movements and the result is a blurry image. The camera on top of the tripod offers its space to be attacked by the wind, so that even slight wind or even the moving mirror is able to be the source for such movements. Instead, choose the hight of your tripod without counting the length of the middle pillar. When possible, take 3 elements instead of 4 or even more. Choose the legs with the thicker diameter in advance to the thinner ones.
This is my check list for you to consider:
My recent trip to Scotland gave me the opportunity, to test a Rollei tripod. (the left one in the image above). It’s as heavy as my 3LT Brian. It reaches the same height, but its legs have only 3 instead of 4 elements. And, while the legs of my Brian are folded over the head, the Rollei is folded in the traditional way. So, the packed size is much bigger!!
In the gallery below, you can see the Rollei, the 3LT, the Vanguard and a cheap Walimex. Don’t consider buying such a cheap one. I even won’t use it for a smart-phone or a compact camera. (I sometime use it for a flash.)
As every tripod has its pros and cons, you have to balance your own requirements and your budget.
I’d vote for:
When you’re about to buy a tripod, I’d recommend making a list first. Write down your requirements in relation to your field of photography. Check the total wight of the heaviest gear you would use on the tripod and add 50% for security reasons. Next, go to a fair or a large store and try out the available gear. Ask for the maximum weight, the tripod can carry. Wiggle on a leg while the camera is mounted on the tripod. How does it feel? Does it feel sturdy enough? Make some notes for each tripod you checked. Try to meet some other photographers and talk with them. But, do your own decision. Don’t relay on others decisions. They might have different requirements. 🙂
Btw. there’s one more option: the monopod – On this, I’ll do another post soon 🙂