Creating a photo collage the easy way

cubacars2Earlier this week I published a collage containing my top 10 images from last years Monochrome Madness, an open competition with only monochrome images. I got a few questions, how I was able to create it.

As usual, there are several options to create such collages. Some of the options might be Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, GIMP* or  Scribus*. (* these apps are open source and available for free legally!) I uses something completely different: Collage Factory Free. This is the light version of a software specialized for creating collages. The light version does not have all features of the complete version. Thus you might call it CrippleWare! Despite this, it has enough features for me.

First of all, you select a template. You can always modify the collage by adding further images, delete place holder or re-arrange them. You can also change the size and the angel simply by clicking on one of the blue dots in the edges of a frame and pull it or click on the red dot above the frame and spin it around as long as you like it.

Next, you select your images and pull them in the free space on the left. From here, you distribute them manually with your mouse or click on one of the automatic buttons in the upper left area (“fill random” and so on) I usually distribute them on my own.

Now, you can add a text box, if you want to. You can use every installed font. The software goes you some effects to add, like shadow, border or fillings.

Not everyone like the default background. That’s ok! You can change it. the app comes with many different option for the background: simple colors, color gradients, patterns and background images. You can even chose your own image for the background.

The last step is choosing the image size for the final image ind jpg format. Here we have the strongest restrictions in the software. There are only very few sizes available in the free version. For me, it’s enough. But, decide on you own. Don’t forget to save the creation in the edible format of the app, too. So you can change parts later, if you don’t like your original creation. The file format is a structure, that contains even the selected image. So, you can even move the edible file i.e. to an external storage and won’t loose one of the used images.

I attached screenshots from the app of a complete workflow. I created a collage from my Cuba images.

If you try the software on your own, please let me know, if you like it and, maybe, you can publish your creations somewhere and leave me a link to it. I’d like to see your creations!

Enjoy!

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High Dynamic Range Images

dsc_1194-h3e_wA few days ago, I got another interesting kind of photo software from MacPhun: Aurora HDR

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. Before I start a review of this new software, I want to explain the basics in this concept first.

Dynamic is the variance from brightest to darkest parts of a natural scene, which is visible lossless when looking on it or capturing it in a single frame. Comparing the capabilities of the human eye and a modern digital sensor, you’ll find a huge difference. According to (Source), the human eye (although not the best in nature!) has a dynamic range of about 20 f-stops (out of 23 – a range from starlight lit scenes to white snow in full high standing sun at noon without clouds in the sky). So, you can see details in the dark, even when the surrounding scene is very bright – or vice vera. The sensor of your camera has a dynamic range of 6 – 8 f-stops in jpg files (depending on the quality of your camera). In raw files you’re able to capture dynamic ranges of about 10 – 12 f-stops (also depending of the quality of your camera) . Why jpg-files are so bad and why you should use raw files instead, was the topic for a past post.

But back to our todays topic: HDR. To cope with the reduced dynamic range compared to our natural experience through our own eyes someone invented a technique to capture more information for an image. Therefore you have to take more than one shot of a scene by using several shots of an identical frame, but modify the exposure slightly by shifting the exposure time without changing anything else. You take one correct exposed shot balanced for the mid-tones. Next, you take an under-exposed image (i.e. -1 f-stop) and next an over-exposed image (i.e. +1 f-stop). The under-exposed image represents the highlights, so you should be able to see all the details in the bright partes of the image. In this image all dark parts might be black, but that’s fine for now. The over-exposed image is the opposite of the under-exposed image. Here, you get the details in the dark parts, while the bright parts are blown out and nearly white.

Don’t try to simply adjust your aperture, by changing the f-stop. Although, this results in a modified exposure-time, it also changes the characteristics of the image: the field of depth is changed, while the exposure balance stays the same 😦 That’s not our intention!

You have to use the “+/-“-key on your camera or switch to manual mode, to dial in the corresponding exposure times manually. Keep in mind, +1 f-stop means doubling the exposure time twice (.i.e. 1/100s -> 1/50 -> 1/25s) and -1 f-stop means dividing the time in halves twice  (i.e. 10s -> 5s -> 2.5s).

Just in case, the +/- 1 f-stop images aren’t enough to bring back details in the dark and / or bright parts, try +/- 2 f-stops or come up with a row of five more images (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2). You could also end up with even more than 5 image for a single series. Expand the series as long as you have any black or white parts in you image. Many cameras assist you in here, while marking these parts blinking (the mode is called ‘highlights’ in my camera menu and works only on the small screen on the back of my camera – the image is ok, only the in-camera playback is marked this way). By using this, you can shift the EV in each direction, as long as all of the blinking parts vanish in that direction. I.e. you increase +EV to get the dark details, but in the same moment, you’ll loose more and more highlights. As I said above, that’s ok. Next you increase your series -EV to capture the details in the highlights, by loosing the darks. That’s also ok. You have to increase +EV as long, as there are no blinking dark parts left and you increase -EV as long, as there are no blinking highlights left. You don’t need to increase in thirds, as your camera might step up and down. It’s enough to use the whole numbers as I mentioned earlier. As you might imagine, all of these requires an unchanged camera position! Always use a tripod for this and disable your image stabilizer while the camera is mounted on top of a tripod!

Back at home, take your series of images (usually 3 or more), make your usual corrections (i.e. shifting the horizon) for all images of that series exactly the same way and pay attention to get correct aligned images at this stage. All of them should show exactly the same cutting and the same orientation, convert them to tiff (for preserving all information – never use jpg in this stage) and use a HDR software, just like Aurora HDR from MacPhun (there are more software products available for creating HDR images) to fuse these files to a single balanced image with details in all parts of the image. Croping should be done at the very last step on the final image! And, that’s the point where I’m continuing soon!

For now, I’ve assembled a small gallery of some of my HDR images. Although, there are some photographers out there, who love very intense colors for their HDR images, I don’t do so! I use this technique very mild to get natural looking images.

Take care!

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Monochrome Madness 2-32

610_5688-st_w

It’s time for another Monochrome Madness hosted by Leanne Cole. Have fun and don’t forget to the check out the other photographers contributions.

Today, I have an image for you, which is kind of typical for November although it’s taken two weeks ago in the early morning of October, 28th at 6:42 a.m. It’s the full moon above a foggy landscape.

When the Romans tried to conquer the parts of Europe north of the Alps about 2.000 years ago, they were confronted with huge dark and dense forests. Because of the Gulf stream, central Europe has a quite mild, but wet climate.* Rain falls down and the forests give back parts of the moisture by sweating fog. For the common sun pampered roman soldiers, these conditions were very frightening. Finally, they were unable to conquer the parts east of the river Rhine, despite their endeavors and they paid a very high price for their efforts. West of the river Rhine the landscape wasn’t forested as east of the river. So, they were able to found several cities in todays France and in todays Germany along the west bank of river Rhine: i.e. Trier, Cologne, Xanten to name a few of them.

Nowadays, we don’t have so much forests anymore. Thus, we have thick fogs ‘only’ in fall and spring. Although, they can occur during summer, too, but only on very distinct weather conditions and only very local.

Take care!

* Imagine, New York is located nearly parallel to Rome in Italy. Rome is locate yet 1° further north than New York, that’s about 111 km. And while New York suffers from snow each winter, Rome almost never sees any snow flake. That’s a result of the Gulf stream.

Rome        41° 53′ N, 12° 29′ O
New York  40° 43′ N, 74° 0′ W

and I’m living about 1,100 km north of Rome

Monochrome Madness 2-31

mm31-610_7840-epcb_wThis week Monochrome Madness hosted by the Australian photographer Leanne Cole has a specific theme. It’s clouds.

Clouds are quite special. They bring structure in a dull gray sky or may pop out in bright white on a sunny day. When thinking of photographing clouds, you might think first of beautiful illuminated clouds at sunset. But, in monochrome there are way more situations for beautiful clouds. Have a look on a past post, when I compared a shot developed in color to the same shot in bw. Another kind of cloud-photography you can often find in fineart and architecture photography: long exposures.

For a better contrast, you should use a yellow-filter in front of your lens. This filter works on the color spectrum inside the natural ‘white’ light. The gray tones are moved (other colored filters would do the same, but working on different colors). That part of the light, that has the same color of the filter, is intensified (that means: becomes brighter), while the complement color is alleviated (which means: becomes darker). This effect is very welcomed in black-and-white photography to get a certain mood in the resulting image.

Back to our yellow filter. How does it work? Yellow becomes brighter, while blue becomes darker. So, white clouds pop out of a dark sky.

Why should you do this? Black-and-white film (and software, too, when not correcting this), get too bright skies without much structure. A quite dull image!

Other possible filters are colored in orange, green, red and blue. Each of them works on the mentioned color to brighten it and on the complementing color to darken it. Each of them has its certain field of work. The yellow filter, instead, is the most commonly used filter in landscape photography.

Although not photographers, you can find the effect also in movies by i.e. Alfred Hitchcock or Leni Riefenstahl.

Take care!

up, on to the wall!

Hey, you like to go out and taking photographs? You brought back (and bring back at least occasionally) a card full of great photos? Raw-development is also already done? And now? Only using up several giga-byte of storage on your computer?

How often do you look on your photos stored on your computer, usb-stick or cell-phone? Do you show them around? How do you do it? Do you put them online to a web-forum, your blog, at g+ or at flickr? Isn’t there more? What else could you do with your photos?

Many years ago, when photos were taken on film, you’ve had to bring the film to a lab for development. A few days later you got your developed film back via postal service or fetch it from a store. According to the order you placed with the film, you also got at least one print in 9x13cm (3,5×5 inch) or 10x15cm (4×6 inch) from each photo.

Nowadays you can find self-service print stations in supermarkets, drugstores and small photo shops. These might be the replacement for the ordered prints I mentioned above. I guess, this is used mostly for photos taken at family events like birthdays, christmas or weddings. Photos taken during a vacation might end in a self-designed photo book. According to the ads, they seem to be very popular. But is this all? No!

There are also labs around, that are offering prints in bigger sizes. I ordered some of such prints in 30×45 cm (12×18 inch) or 40×60 cm (16×24 inch) to put them on a wall. What a great impression. I put them with a passepartout in a wooden frame behind a sheet of glass. Thus, the print is saved well. But, the glass is mirroring. Especially in quite darker parts of the photo. Nevertheless, such a big photo not only reminds you to that special situation, it also can motivate you.

Transportation

Up to DIN A4 (20×30 cm / 8×12 inch) prints are distributed in a hardened envelope and transported by the usual mail service. Bigger sizes prints, instead, are distributed rolled in a cardboard tube and transported by a parcel service. Furling such a print is easy for distribution, but has a big problem: the print memorized the time being rolled and tends to roll up again after being unrolled. Additional, you are in risk of kink or bend the print while pulling it out of the tube. These kinks often are irreparable damages.

Alternatives

For some time, there are also a few alternatives available: Canvas prints, metal prints (composite materials) and Acrylic prints.

Canvas

A few weeks ago I ordered two canvas prints sized 60x80cm (24×32 inch) to test the quality. They came in a parcel as expected. Each frame wrapped in air bubble film separately and together in a stable cardboard box. Despite their size, they are surprisingly lightweight compared to a conventional framed print.

Interestingly, both canvas prints have an impression of depth and three-dimensionality. It seems for me, as if I could really touch the subject in the image, when looking at them.  That’s a very different experience compared to conventional prints. Maybe, that’s a result of the structured surface of the canvas material.

Unfortunately, on all four sides you’re losing parts from your image. That’s because of the canvas is pulled over the wooden frame and fixed at the back. Depending on the thickness of the frame, you lose several centimeter / inches. Therefore, make sure, you don’t have any necessary content in these border parts. Some (if not all) print shop know about this problem and face it with different options to choose from. The simplest option is accepting the loss. Or, you can add extra space for the wrapping in white, black or fitting to the image. Now, it’s up to you, to choose the best option for your purpose.

You don’t need a picture frame or a gallery system necessarily to put such a canvas on the wall. Simply put needles in the wall and use the wooden frame inside the canvas for hanging your picture up.

Acryl

I also ordered an acryl print. It’s much more expensive than a canvas print. The look-and feel is similar to the conventional prints mounted behind glass and you don’t have any losses and the borders of you print. Delivery is also in a flat cardboard box. The surface is sensitive for scratches. Thus, it comes with a protective foil, that you have to remove after delivery.

For this kind of print, you definitely need a clamp behind your print to hang it up. Not every print shop includes it per default. So, look carefully for it.

Storing

I like to change my prints every a few times a year. Thus, I have to store them somewhere. Storing conventional print is easy. They don’t need much room. I take them out of the frame and store them in a folder, I bought in a store for artists (painter). It’s a cardboard map big enough for A2 prints. Usually it is used by art students to collect their works. And, my photo prints are save inside, too. It’s also quit easy to reach them when I want to change one.

Canvas prints are way bulky. You also have to take care of them, while storing them. The material is quite sensitive for pressure. You have to avoid, that something else lays on top of a laying canvas frame or might press an edge from the side while storing them standing upright.

Acryls are also not so easy to store. OK, they are not as thick as canvas and less sensitive for pressure. But, you have to save the surface from scratching and, most importantly, handle the jutting clamp on the back.

Conclusion

For me, each of these different materials has its own pros and the quality is very similar. At the moment, I like the canvas print most, because of the mentioned feeling of depth.

But, I don’t want to conceal a drawback. You can only use the predefined formats for your print.Usually, the print shop offers his products huge variety of formats you can choose from. But, supposed you have i.e. a panorama in a format, not available at any print shop. In this case, you can print is on paper and cut off the unnecessary parts, cut a passepartout and build a frame on your own. This is not possible with the other materials.

I’d like to get your comments. What do you think about hanging your own photos in i.e. your living room or your hall. Have you ever tried, hanging up your own photo? What kind of material do you like most and why? Are you interested in printing you own photos now, if you didn’t do so before?

 

How to select your best photo from the bulk

Back, in film days it was easy. You took a film with 20,24 or 36 shots on your trip and gave it to the lab after coming back home. Or, depending on your destination, you even were able to find a lab in your trip location. A few days later you got your developed film and a bunch of prints, depending on your type of film and the selected service. But, this was quite expensive. 1 film containing 36 shots with development and prints was as expensive as a todays 32 GB SD-Card from a medium quality brand (or a 128 GB SD card, when including inflation considerations).

But, what can I do with a 32 GB SD card compared to the 36 shots on film? Do you remember my post on jpg vs. raw? Assuming, one photo needs 25 MB storage, I’d be able to take about 1.300 photos with only one card.

While I’ve chosen my frames very carefully to avoid bad shots when I was photographing on film, I now often waste room by taking additional shots for different angles, take safety shots in tricky situations or when standing on wobbling ground. Or I try different settings, or taking redundant shots from similar plants / flowers / landscapes / posings  … – you name it. This results in a full memory card with lots of photos to be checked.

In my last post on this I mentioned the star system, for marking bad shots with a waste-bin, good shots with 1 star. Next filter all shots and select those with 1 star and mark the best of these with 2 stars. Repeat this until 5 stars are given to your best shots from that trip or shooting. This is a good workflow for finding the best shots, but it won’t help to find and compare similar photos taken in different places or on different trips or on different times. Here you’re on your own – up to now.

Maybe you’re stumbled upon Google’s image search, where you can put an image in the box designed to put the search term into and Google will show similar images from the web.

You can have this on you own computer, too. How? With the new app “snapselect” by MacPhun.

At the first start the app asks you for your images folder. Next, all images in this folder and all other folders below this starting point are read and indexed. For my image folder containing about 10,000 images this step lasted about 30 minutes or so. It creates a folder inside your home directory (Library/Application Support/com.macphun.snapselect_1.0.0) to store small pieces of data for each of the scanned images. In my case this folder needed about 1,1 GB of my hard disk space. But, this is necessary to do the magic: comparing the images and show similar images from all over your image folder, regardless when and where you took that image. Instead of this, it can also use your Lightroom, iPhoto or Aperture catalog. But, I haven’t tested one of these, because I don’t use any of them.

Imagine: you can select one photo of a red rose, adjust the accuracy slider and see every red rose on your disk. The accuracy slider is to define how much the equality of the images should be – or, in other words, how similar the selected images are supposed to be.

screenshot1Now, you can choose i.e. the best photo for a competition or select the photos to keep or keeping only the best photos on your disk or whatever else you want to reach. In my screen shot above* I selected a folder containing some RAW files containing birds of prey taken at the fall festival in Middelkerke (Belgium) last year. You can see how snapselect grouped the photos showing similar birds and in similar poses. This is really a fantastic help when it comes to select photos.

This is one of the fantastic features of the new snapselect. Go and get your own trial and check it out! You can get it from your Mac App store.

Take care!

* (click on the image to see it bigger)

How to store photos on your disks

As a photographer you collect many, many photos over the years. Back, in film days, there were prints, slides, mounted slides and developed films to store carefully. They had to be stored dark, dry and preferably dust-free.

Today, when we have digital photos, the problems changed a bit. We don’t need that large cabinets anymore, because a digital photo need much less space. But, because it’s so cheap to make a photo, we have much more of them.

In film days, we have had folders for the developed films and hand-written index sheets or card boxes for the slide trays. This was done carefully, to have chance to find a certain photo without much effort.

Today I want to introduce you to my digital filing system.

photo-development-workflowFirst of all, I have my SD card containing the photos. On trips I usually transfer them every evening from my card to my computer and check them. The check is for making sure there is no corrupt file. I also delete bad photos: unintentionally shutter releases, obvious mismatched focus or unrepairable over- or under-exposed photos. Then I make a second copy to an external USB disk and clear the SD cards for the next day.

I create a folder for the trip like: “20140629 – Iceland”
Below this folder I create separate folders for each part of the trip. (note: photowalks and roundtables usually don’t have this additional level)

20140629 – arrival
20140630 – 01 – Gullfoss
20140630 – 02 – Geysir
20140630 – 03 – Brúaráfoss
20140701 – 01 – Pseudo crate field
20140701 – 02 – Viking house
20140701 – 03 – Gjáin Foss

This scheme makes it much easier to find a certain photo later. (keywording is not subject to this post)

As I wrote in my last ‘tech‘ post, I’m a raw shooter. Thus, I have to do my developments, when I’m back at home (on a trip I only develop very few, but really fantastic, photos).

Therefore I create a sub-folder called “edit” inside the folder of certain trip part. Each developed photo is stored inside this edit folder. When I’m ready with all development of a folder, I start a batch process for exporting all developments to JPG-Files. Subsequently I start another batch job, that creates some further sub-folders for the original (printable) JPG and a watermarked file in web resolution.

photo-storageWhen I’m finished with a project, I move all JPGs to my file server, all developed files go to my NAS and all untouched raws to an external USB disk. On both storage devices, I have folders named by the year to hold the folders mentioned above. My file server and my NAS are backed up every day (night) to separate, independent USB disks. The external USB disk with all the raws isn’t backed up separately. Now, the pristine second copy isn’t needed anymore and thus cleared for a new use.

2014
 ⤷ 2014 – Iceland
    ⤷ 20140629 - arrival
       ⤷ big
       ⤷ org
       ⤷ web
    ⤷ 20140630 - 01 - Gullfoss
       ⤷ big
       ⤷ org
       ⤷ web
    ⤷ 20140630 - 02 – Geysir
       ⤷ big
       ⤷ org
       ⤷ web
    ⤷ 20140630 - 03 – Brúaráfoss
    ⤷ 20140701 - 01 - Pseudo crate field
    ⤷ 20140701 - 02 - Viking house
    ⤷ 20140701 - 03 - Gjáin Foss

Both, file server and NAS, are built from regular computer parts and set up with Linux. Thus, I’m able to adapt them easily, in case of new requirements.

My desktop computer is also backed up every night. All those backups are incremental backups. This is copying only the modified files, instead of the whole disk. Thus a backup is finished usually in less than half an hour, depending on the amount of modified files.

Take care for you valuable files. Have a backup!

Happy snapping 🙂