• Quirky wide angles and big skies

    Though many say they don’t like it, I am a sucker for quirky wide angles, especially when big skies are involved. Here’s an favorite of mine, taken with the Nikon D80 and 10-24 lens.

    Watcher - B&W redo {Explore}

    Since then, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to explore and experiment with wide angles and the interesting perspectives they produce. Here are two recent shots, taken with the Nikon D7000. The first one uses the Sigma 17-50 f2.8 at its widest angle setting, and the second uses the Sigma 8-16.

    Number 17

    Lifeguard wide

    One should be able to see the difference between the two shots. While both explore similar themes and subjects, the second is far more radical in its portrayal, and certainly less concerned with “realism” in its abandonment of vertical lines in favor of ones that “keystone.” Note also how the sky gets that radiating look in its cloud formations in the wider perspectives.

    By of further demonstration, here are two shots, one below and one above Manhattan Beach pier.

    Manhattan Beach pier, wide - B&W

    At pier's end

  • Capturing images in Black and White

    If like me, you don’t have that Ansel Adams knack for visualizing an image in gray tones, perhaps the following tips will help you figure out how your photographs can work as Black and White (B&W) images. First, if you want to receive immediate feedback as to what your image will look like, shoot monochrome. This may be a paradigm shift for you because the experts have told you to capture in color, then convert to B&W in post-processing. The myth, left over from the days before you had a competent DSLR, is that capturing directly into B&W is an irreversible process. Not so if you capture RAW images.

    When you do this, avoid if you can the blah grayscale option. Instead apply color filtering to your B&W capture. Here’s what I do with either of my DSLRs (Nikon D80 and D90). I go into the Picture Mode (D80) or Picture Control (D90) menu and select the monochrome option and enable a color filter. Which color you use is up to you, but I find red, orange and yellow to give me the best results for most situations, and I use green occasionally. When you select one of these color filters, this is somewhat equivalent to attaching a physical color filter of the same color without having to worry about having the right diameter for your particular lens. Nifty, but keep in mind that it’s not perfect. Think of it as an approximation to give you a rough idea of how a B&W capture will work out.

    Nikon D80 Monochrome filters

    Nikon D90 Monochrome filters

    Make sure you set the camera’s capture format to RAW, and later, if you repent from having chosen B&W, or if you want to try a different filtering technique, you can switch back to color. With Nikon RAW files (NEF), ViewNX will let you swap Picture Controls to revert back to color. Whether you do this or capture your original image in color, this brings us to our next option for generating B&W images with pop to them.

    Bring your color image into your editor of choice, make any adjustments you want to make to color, white balance, sharpness, or whatever else you want to modify, and then bring up your application’s color filtering tool — again avoid the grayscale conversion. In Paintshop Pro X2 (PSPX2), this interface presents you with a color wheel, as shown below, that lets you set any color filtering you want. You can start to see the additional flexibility in this approach: you can have a plethora of shades of yellow or green or cyan (try finding that filter at your camera store) or anything in between, allowing you to tweak the output exactly as you want it.

    To demonstrate how this works, let’s review a couple of images from yesterday’s discussion.

    B&W, as shot in-camera

    Color, reverted from RAW in ViewNX with White balance correction

    B&W conversion with color filtering in PSPX2

    Result from B&W conversion (including contrast and sharpening)

    B&W, as shot in-camera

    Color, reverted from RAW in ViewNX with White balance correction

    B&W conversion with color filtering in PSPX2

    Result from B&W conversion (including contrast and sharpening)

    As you can see, applying color filtering for B&W conversion in post-processing gives the greatest flexibility and enables you to improve monochrome output quality. My recommended approach is to shoot RAW with a Monochrome filter in the field to preview whether a shot works as B&W on the spot, i.e., as an aid to visualization, then go home and tweak away in post-processing to optimize and maximize the quality of the final image.

    One word of caution with this approach: it just so happens that the filters I like best, red and orange, tend to reveal more noise in blue skies. Green filters, on the other hand, produce the least noise. We could get technical here about Bayer sensors containing a majority of green pixels which when excluded with red or orange filtering leaves us with a noisy image. But instead I’ll just recommend that you experiment to see how this approach works for you.

  • Matrix metering’s idiosyncrasies (part 3)

    In our quest to further understand how the D80 and D90’s Matrix metering match up or differ, we follow up yesterday’s indoor samples with a bright, midday scene with lots of contrast. Will the D90 still show a tendency to expose brighter than it’s older sibling? For the sake of brevity, we will examine the first 3 test cases as follows.

    Description Nikon D80 Nikon D90
    1. Here we set the focus dead-center, as shown. With the cameras set to ISO 200 aperture priority at f/11, the D80 exposes by 2/3 stop (1/160 sec vs. 1/250 sec) brighter than the D90.
    2. With a simple change of focus from the center point to the one above it, now focusing on a darker spot of the scene both cameras open up exposure by 1/3, and the difference between their exposures remains at 2/3 stops.
    3. Finally, leaving the AF point the same, but panning right to focus-lock on a dark spot, then panning left to compose, opens up the exposure for both cameras by an additional 1/3 stop, again leaving the difference between the two cameras at 2/3 stop.

    When we look at these samples in light of yesterday’s findings we see that now it is the D80 that tends to “over-expose” daytime scenes, whereas for the indoor scene we ginned up yesterday, the D90 exposed brighter. But can we say that across the board? Hard to say without more scenes to examine. Maybe if we had a daytime scene along the lines of what we saw yesterday for our indoor scene, Matrix metering would switch personalities again. And it is this not knowing that drives some people crazy, and others to use spot-metering in Manual mode.

    One final thing to note here is how a strategy of negative exposure compensation would have helped perfectly with the D80: -0.7EV would have been perfect. Not so for the D90. For this particular scene that would have led to 2/3 stop under-exposure, and recovery of those deep shadows (if so desired) would have likely led to visible noise in those areas.

    After 3 blog installments of Matrix metering examples, I’m sure we can arrive at many conclusions. The main take away for me is that over-reliance on auto-magic exposure methods will yield inconsistent, unreliable results. Only when we choose to take charge of our exposures and meter as we deem appropriate to obtain the results we intend to achieve will we be satisfied with the images we make with our cameras.

    Previous installments:
    Part 1
    Part 2

  • Matrix metering’s idiosyncrasies (part 2)

    In yesterday’s blog entry about the Nikon D80’s Matrix metering, we saw a bias toward the Auto Focus (AF) point, and also how in AF-S mode, Matrix metering performs an averaging when focus is locked and the camera is then moved before pressing the shutter release. Today we want to repeat a similar experiment that allows us to compare D80 and D90 Matrix metering behavior to see how they match and/or differ in this regard. Let’s look at five test cases.

    Setup: both cameras used the same 16-85mm VR lens and were set at ISO 400 and f/8 in Aperture Priority mode (except for the 5th case, where we use Manual mode to test TTL-BL). Images were captured RAW and normalized in ViewNX with WB=3500K (except for case 5) and Picture Control=D2XMODE1.

    Description Nikon D80 Nikon D90
    1. Here we set the focus on the vase, a dark spot in the scene. As you can see from the D80’s histogram, its metering attempts to balance a very tough exposure that features dynamic range beyond what can be covered in one exposure. The D90, on the other hand, seems to be protecting the shadows exposing 1 stop brighter than the D80. You can click the thumbnail to see the larger image and the exposure information.
    2. In this next sample, we shift the AF point to the white moulding, one of the brightest spots in the scene. Both cameras close down the exposure, but the D90 now measures 1.3 stops brighter than the D80.
    3. In this next sample, we shift the AF point again, as shown, but before we compose the final scene, we lock focus on a point just the left of the left side of the frame, where things are super bright (i.e., that’s where our light source is), then pan to finish out the composition. This time the exposure closes down significantly for both cameras, but again, the D90 exposes 1 stop brighter.
    4. Here we repeat what we did for the third sample, except this time we also lock exposure (AE-L) before we pan to finish out the composition. This time the exposure closes down even further for both cameras, and the D90 still exposes 1 stop brighter.
    5. For this final case we set both cameras to Manual mode at f/8 and 1/30 sec, using the SB-600 external flash in TTB-BL mode and bounced. Since the exposure was set manually, Matrix metering only controls flash power, a setup that usually produces fairly consistent results (or at least I have thought so), so I wanted to see how the two cameras compare.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to locate what flash power was actually used for case 5, so we are left with a visual inspection of the two images and their histograms, where it would appear the D90 still exposes brighter, but only by about 1/3 stop. With flash, however, both exposures seem to capture the scene well and should be considered acceptable.

    General observations:
    It would appear that the averaging behavior when locking focus and panning in AF-S mode is still alive and well in the D90, as demonstrated by how the exposures for case 3 lie somewhere in between cases 2 and 4. Surprisingly, though I have experienced less tendency to over-expose with the D90’s Matrix metering in daytime scenes, it appears that for the torture test I concocted for this experiment the D80 over-exposes less. Of course, given the terrible lighting in this scene, it’s hard to argue that the results from either camera are acceptable.

    One key point to take away here, however, is how much the D80 and the D90 differ in their Matrix meter’s handling of the scene. The claim regarding Nikon’s lack of metering consistency from one camera to the next seems to be a valid one. However, the over-arching point should be that when faced with a scene like this, expecting any metering technique to “get it right” is not a reasonable approach. As demonstrated by the flash samples, we need to reach into the toolkit and pull out another tool to make the image work.

    Call for samples: If you have other Nikon DSLRs, like the D40x or D300, I’d be curious to see what sort of results you get when performing similar experiments. If you do so and would like to share your results, contact me via this blog entry’s comment section, and let’s see what we can do to incorporate your images in a future entry.

  • Matrix metering’s idiosyncrasies (part 1)

    As has been reported and as I posted in a previous article, the Nikon D80’s Matrix metering implements a heavy bias toward the focus point while using the Autofocus Single (AF-S) mode. But that’s not the full story. To recap, here are some sample images of a high contrast scene taken with the Nikon D80 using ISO 400 and f/5.6 in Aperture priority mode.

    1. Here I set up the composition with the vase on lower left third, and the center of the frame on the back-lit window. I focused on the window, dead center in the frame (a bright spot) and got an exposure of 1/50 sec.
    f/5.6, 1/50sec
    2. Next, I paned left, focused on the vase with the center focus point, and with the shutter half-pressed paned back to the desired composition. Matrix metering gave a 1/30 sec exposure.
    f/5.6, 1/30sec
    3. Now, I repeated the pan, except this time I locked the exposure after focusing on the vase and before I moved the camera. Matrix metering returned a 1/15 sec exposure.
    f/5.6, 1/15sec
    4. Finally, I moved the focus point to the vase (without panning, e.g., by selecting from the 11 focus points a point that fell on the vase at the same spot where I focused for shots 2 & 3). Would I get a 1/15 sec exposure or a 1/50 sec exposure? The exposure came back at 1/50 sec exposure.
    f/5.6, 1/50sec

    Could this be why folks report inconsistent results with Matrix metering from one exposure to the next? Possibly. Here we have four examples of the exact same scene producing three different exposures. In the first and fourth cases, though the focus point rested on different (one light, the other dark) points of the image, we obtained the same exposure — so we can’t simply conclude that Matrix-metering is focus-point dependent. In the second case, if like me, you use the old Point-and-shoot trick of focusing then panning to get the right composition (rule of thirds and all that), it appears that if you have AF-S selected, you will get a sort of average exposure. And if you happen to lock your exposure at the time you focus, as some people prefer by modifying in-camera AF-L/AE-L options, you will get yet a different exposure. That is, of course, if the scene before you is of the sort that we examined here. If you have a different scene with less dynamic range or different placement of highlights and shadows, the results may differ.

    Finally, note how negative exposure compensation (-0.3 and -0.7 are usual recommended values) would not have helped you one bit. The results would have just been offset (with faster shutter speeds) by the compensation amount and would have been just as “inconsistent.” The moral of the story is that if you want to use Matrix metering, you will need to understand these nuances and adjust. Alternatively, you may decide that for some situations, going with a different metering method may better suit you. That’s what I did, switching to Spot-metering when my head started hurting as badly as it did back when I played tournament chess with all the anticipation of “what move will Matrix make next?”

    To add to the complications, if you shoot with 2 cameras, as I do, or if you are moving from one model to the next, you may discover that Matrix metering doesn’t quite behave consistently from one Nikon DSLR to the next. We will tackle this in our next installment, where we compare the D80’s Matrix metering against the D90’s. We have already seen a preview in the What in the world did my meter just do!? blog entry a couple of days ago.

    Call for samples: Additionally, if you have other Nikon DSLRs, like the D40x or D300, I’d be curious to see what sort of results you get when performing similar experiments. If you do so and would like to share your results, contact me via this blog entry’s comment section, and let’s see what we can do to incorporate your images in a future entry.

  • What in the world did my meter just do!?

    If you are even half human, you probably have asked yourself what your meter has just done to you after you review a photograph in your camera’s LCD. I know I have. And reading about how meters try to turn the shade they measure into 18% gray may just be as confusing, in particular if as Thom Hogan likes to point out, it’s more like 12%.

    Perhaps some hands-on work is in order. Let us photograph three cards, one white, one gray and one black, and let’s see what our cameras do under their various metering modes. A simple setup as shown here should do.


    To make this interesting, we’ll test 2 cameras, the Nikon D80 and the Nikon D90, two alleged bafflers when it comes to metering. For Matrix and Center-weighed metering, we’ll aim at the center cross hairs and in Aperture priority mode, let the camera pick the shutter speed. For spot metering, we’ll switch to Manual mode, move the focus point off the cross hairs so we can spot on a solid shade, then bring the focus point back to the cross-hairs before taking the photo. To make it fun, let’s show the results and see if you can pick out which card was photographed for sets 1, 2, and 3. Ready, set, go!

    Set 1 Matrix Center Spot
    Set 2 Matrix Center Spot
    Set 3 Matrix Center Spot

    Have you stared at these long enough? Okay, here is the answer. Set 1 is for the black card, set 2 is for the white card and set 3 is for the gray card. Don’t be surprised that none of the metering methods got close for the the white and black cards, though I’d like to point out how the D80’s matrix metering made the most valiant effort. Only for the gray card do we get somewhat reasonable results, though I’ll confess quickly that the gray card I generated for our experiment is an approximation of middle gray (RGB=128,128,128). Obviously, this test was rigged.

    The take away here is that faced with extremes in whites or blacks, we need to learn how to compensate against our in-camera meter’s tendency to push the exposure toward middle gray (whether that’s 18 or 12%). After all, the first sample image in this write-up does show the correct shades of white, black and gray, so it must be possible to arrive at the right exposure. Did the photographer perhaps spot-meter against one of the usual suspects? I think you know the answer to that question.

    Additional resources:
    Understanding Camera Metering and Exposure
    Accurate Exposure with your meter

    Past related blog entries:
    Spot-metering the usual suspects
    Understanding the Exposure triangle
    The quest for the correct exposure