Sometimes a painterly effect is appealing. Click here for a sample collection of painterly photographs.
Because Photoshop supports layers, we can combine various filters and painterly treatments, adjusting them to taste. The creative possibilities are endless !
If you deal with scenes of high dynamic range, high ISO, low light, small files, small sensors, cropped or grainy images or want to make the cleanest enlargements possible from raw files, DxO Pure Raw2 is a game changer and represents a substantial improvement over the Adobe Camera Raw converter. Click here to see a real-world test of this tool.
With curvature of field a lens may focus sharply in the center but the edges will focus at a different distance. The plane of sharp focus is not flat. It extends forward from the lens like a curved wave front. The curve may be simple or complex. This is determined by the optical design of the lens, not manufacturing. Better lenses and macro designs exhibit flatness of field: they do not suffer from this problem.
With de-centering every corner of the image focuses at a different distance. A misalignment of internal elements has been overlooked by quality control. To avoid de-centered lenses, some photographers routinely purchase several samples, keep the best and return the others to the retailer. Budget-priced lens adapters and extension rings can cause de-centering.
With focus shift, adjusting the aperture moves the point of sharp focus closer and farther. This is determined by the optical design of the lens, not manufacturing. For optimal results it's best to focus at actual taking aperture, which is easy with manual-focus lenses. One reason that cinematography lenses are more expensive than still lenses ? No focus shift. See Cinema Lenses: What Are You Paying For?
To get around these problems, we can shoot at small apertures and rely on increased depth of field to get everything in focus, but that's not an ideal solution since image quality starts to degrade once we pass the best aperture. Besides, sometimes we want to shoot at wide apertures.
Some cameras let us compose and shoot in Black & White but they save a full color Raw file. With recent improvements to Adobe Bridge, we have the option to browse monochrome images as they were envisioned.
To view files as they were captured in monochrome, go to Adobe Bridge 2020 > Camera Raw Preferences > Raw Defaults and change from Adobe Default to Camera Settings.
FastRawViewer also lets us browse B&W photos as they were taken - in monochrome - or as they were saved - in color. As the name implies, it's a very fast application, with versions for both Mac OS and Windows. To browse in monochrome, select View > RGB/Channels/BW > BW Conversion
When sharpening an image, strange artifacts often appear at the high and low ends of the tonal scale. Here's an improvement: sharpen the mid tones only.
Some images automatically look sharper than others. Because of visual cues, they convey an impression of sharpness. See Two Barns: One Sharp, One Not for more explanation.
If you want to sharpen your image even more effectively, you can apply this principle three times over. Create 3 duplicate layers (one for each of the low, middle and high portions of the tonal scale) and sharpen each layer separately.
Select and correct the flowers - but not the leaves - with the Color Range and Blend If tools. This is a vast improvement over the standard Curves feature. We can modify areas according to their brightness range. Click here for details.
Images from scanned film and digital cameras with interchangeable lenses are prone to dust. Removing spots can be troublesome and time-consuming. The Adobe Camera Raw Filter makes it much easier to find and remove spots from your images. This feature is a vast improvement over the older Spot Healing Brush.
In Photoshop, click Filter > Camera Raw Filter. The Camera Raw window will open: click on the Spot Removal icon on the upper right. Be sure to select the option Visualize spots. Depending on how far you move the slider to the right, even the tiniest blemishes will appear in clear relief. You will probably find it helpful to de-select the option Overlay.
Use the Size, Feather and Opacity settings to control the size of the spot, amount of blending with adjacent adjacent pixels and degree of pixel replacement. What a superb feature !
Personalized instruction and coaching available. Technical and aesthetic. Live via Zoom. For details, reach out to us via email.
Shooting on a tripod for best image quality, it's not always appropriate to use the camera's self-timer to minimize camera shake. Sometimes we need to work quickly, shoot at an exact moment, perform repetitive manual focus-stacking or appear in our own group portrait.
The Sony Wireless Remote Commander is an inexpensive and portable tool which communicates with the camera's infra-red sensor. It supports remote shutter release, delayed shutter release, video start/stop, image review and deletion. Click here to watch a brief Youtube video.
The 2019 MacBook Air is a powerful and portable computer with a Retina display at a favorable price-point: ideal for travel. This model gives us two Thunderbolt 3 ports: very high performance and compact but rather inconvenient for photographers.
If we don't want to carry around a collection of adapters, we can attach a j5create ULTRADRIVE MINIDOCK or similar device. The 8-in-1 model provides an abundance of connections and is itself delightfully small and affordable. It does not need a separate power supply.
Without sufficient access to fast RAM, Photoshop will hang, pause, delay, spin... etc. Photoshop really wants RAM for its scratch disk. To eliminate these problems and gain performance, your scratch drive should be very large and it should be on its own dedicated drive.
If we want a cheap and easy Photoshop scratch disk we can simply plug in an external SSD drive and specify it in Photoshop > Preferences > Scratch Disks. There should be nothing else on the drive and it should only be used as a scratch disk.
Be sure to specify the scratch disk as the first disk in the list, before your main drive. This frees the main drive to provide actual program code, while the scratch can serve as a dedicated disk for temporary memory. Drag the scratch disk entry above the main disk. Power users can specify multiple scratch disks.
Of course it's best if we have an internal SSD with its fast on-board connection to the computer, but even an external SSD drive will be better than no separate drive at all, especially if the drive uses a fast connection like USB 3 or Thunderbolt 3. The more RAM you have, the more Photoshop will use, so get a much larger SSD drive than you think you'll need. I use a 250 GB SanDisk External SSD with a USB 3.1 connection.
When we orient a digital camera in portrait mode on a typical tripod head, movements are restricted and the camera sits off to the side of the rotational axis. The Photodiox Exxy L-Bracket solves this problem at an affordable price-point.
With an L-bracket, shooting in portrait orientation is just like shooting in landscape mode: all tripod movements are available to us and the camera can be centered over the axis of rotation: we can stitch vertical images together to make images of considerably higher resolution. Not absurdly wide panoramas: photos in landscape mode with optimal quality.
Below is a photograph stitched from 3 overlapping vertical images made with a 42 megapixel Sony A7RII and an affordable used 75mm lens (see below). Cropped to the 4x5 ratio, the resulting file is 80 megapixels. Each section of the final image is taken from the central portion where resolution is highest. At 80 megapixels we have matched or exceeded the image quality of far more expensive equipment but we may not need that much resolution unless we plan to make and display very large prints !
Once you attach the L-bracket to the bottom of the camera, you can mount the camera either vertically or horizontally using a standard Arca-Swiss style dovetail quick-release. The rear screen moves about freely and you still have full access to the battery and memory card. Click here for a Fotodiox Youtube video which features this product.
Some mirrorless cameras offer a narrow choice of in-camera aspect ratios: 2x3 and 16x9 only. If we like to compose in the 4x5, 3x4, 5x7 or other ratios, we can apply removable painter's tape to the rear of the electronic viewfinder or EVF. This works well indoors, but under bright sunshine we can't always see the EVF clearly enough for precise composition, focus and exposure adjustment.
An affordable loupe like the Hoodman comes to the rescue. There are more inexpensive models on the market, but be sure to choose one with a diopter adjustment on the eyepiece. The Hoodman loupe works as designed: in very bright light we can effectively view the EVF. If the EVF has been masked to a different aspect ratio, we can compose in that ratio. In-camera control of aspect ratio would be ideal, but this solution will mimic that missing feature at an affordable price point.
The diopter adjustment works well and we see a clear image with no barrel or pincushion distortion. The Hoodman works nicely when the camera is tripod-mounted and we wear the loupe on a lanyard. In other words, it functions best when we use it like a loupe. There is nothing to attach to the camera which might damage the paint upon removal. For my Sony A7RII, I use the 3 inch model.
If you've ever tried working at short range with a small tripod-mounted camera, you'll know that minute adjustment of position can be troublesome. An affordable four-way focusing rail like the Neewer makes it easy. Four-way rails allow you to precisely move the camera from side to side or front-to-rear. Be sure to choose a model where everything is geared and the positions can be independently locked.
After shooting with a view camera for decades, many of my photographs are made at close proximity to the subject where even a slight change in camera position has a pronounced effect on composition. For example, see these photographs of Tulips which were made with a Sony mirrorless camera only inches from the flowers. Exact camera position can make or break an image.
To see a brief Youtube video about the Newer 4-way Focusing Rail, click here.
Another advantage of a 4-way focusing rail is that we can position the nodal point of the lens directly over the the tripod's center of rotation. This step is critical for making successful stitched panorama and mosaic images at less-than-infinity distance.
The image above was made from 16 exposures, employing both focus-stacking and mosaic stitching to provide unlimited depth of field and avoid parallax artifacts. For focus-stacking I use Helicon Focus and for stitching I use Photoshop. Helicon allows you to import RAW files directly: there is no need to save as TIF or DNG first (but it's faster if you do).
At the left is the histogram of an 8 bit grayscale image file. Because of the shallow bit-depth, we can observe gaps in the tonal scale. This is also known as banding. As we continue to adjust the image, banding gets worse. The more corrections we make to 8 bit images, the more artificial they can look. For best image quality, we want to avoid banding.
If we simply change the file mode from 8 bit to 16 bit (Image > Mode > 16 Bits/Channel), Photoshop will not interpolate new values to provide intermediate tones as we perform adjustments.
Here's the trick: after converting to 16 bit depth, change the size of the image, even slightly. This will force Photoshop to interpolate all the pixels. As the histogram on the right demonstrates, the tonal scale is now smooth. Any subsequent adjustments to the tonal scale will be performed in 16 bit and no banding will be introduced.
Piezography K7 Carbon pigment prints are made with a graded set of pure carbon monochrome pigment instead of colored inks. They look beautiful and unlike ordinary inkjet prints will last as long as the paper holds together. These images are considerably more fade resistant than archival selenium-toned silver prints.
Unlike the color images we can make using OEM inks from Epson, Canon, HP - whose colors fade and drift at varying rates, depending on paper, lighting and storage conditions - carbon pigment prints do not fade appreciably.
To see how color inks fade and drift over time, see Aardenburg Imaging, an independent testing service.
Piezography Pro is impressive: superb tonality, highest dMax, optimized gloss and matte options. Most important: the ability to combine neutral, warm and cool shades along the tonal scale. My favorite toning effect consists of warm shadows which smoothly transition to neutral high values: a linearized blended tone.
The Piezography inks sets consist of 6 or more graded inks made of pigment, not dye. Given that the ink is mainly Carbon-pigment-based, this method is considerably more archival than typical color inkjet printing.
For monochrome photography, Piezography Pro is Printing Nirvana. The results far exceed the tonal quality of typical printer inks (3 gray shades) and general-purpose profiles designed for making color photographs. Unlike profiles made with the open-source QTR tool set which are based on only 21 measurements, Piezography profiles are measured and linearized using 128 steps.
Piezography profiles are completely linear, with no banding, bumps or gaps in the tonal scale. Subtle tones in the shadows are not compressed to pure black. Highlight tones are not clipped to white.
To see what you are missing, print their Proof of Piezography target image. Using Piezography, all 128 steps are clearly delineated in even gradations and your printer delivers better image fidelity than most calibrated monitors (see The K7 Standard and Monitor Display Systems and related articles on the Piezography blog).
I previously used the MIS Eboni inks and relied on the Quadtone RIP documentation and forum. Compared to that approach, Piezography offers the following advantages:
Print Tool is a custom layout and printing application for MacOS with Epson and HP printers. It can run standalone or with a Quadtone RIP workflow. Print Tool supports JPG, TIF, PSD, PNG and GIF files in 8-bit or 16-bit RGB or Grayscale.
One of Print Tool's many compelling features is the ability to print on custom-sized paper with equal borders. This is vital because many of the standard paper sizes do not work with 8x10 and other traditional ratios. Unequal borders can easily spoil a composition: equal borders are a must !
|Paper Size||Image Ratio||Image Size||Cropped Paper Size||Border Width|
|8.5 x 11||4 x 5||6 x 7.5||8.5 x 10||1.25|
|8 x 10||8.5 x 10.5||0.25|
|5 x 7||5 x 7||8 x 10||1.5|
|12 x 17||6 x 8.5||8.5 x 11||1.25|
|11 x 14||5.5 x 7||8.5 x 10||1.5|
|2 x 3||6 x 9||8 x 11||1.0|
|9 x 20||4.5 x 10||8 x 11||0.5|
|Paper Size||Image Ratio||Image Size||Cropped Paper Size||Border Width|
|11 x 17||4 x 5||10 x 12.5||11 x 13.5||0.5|
|5 x 7||10 x 14||11 x 15||0.5|
|2 x 3||8 x 12||11 x 15||1.5|
|10 x 15||11 x 16||0.5|
|Paper Size||Image Ratio||Image Size||Cropped Paper Size||Border Width|
|13 x 19||4 x 5||10 x 12.5||13 x 15.5||1.5|
|12 x 15||13 x 16||0.5|
|5 x 7||10 x 14||12 x 16||1.0|
|12 x 17||12 x 17||13 x 18||0.5|
|11 x 14||11 x 14||13 x 16||1.0|
|2 x 3||12 x 18||13 x 19||0.5|
|Paper Size||Image Ratio||Image Size||Cropped Paper Size||Border Width|
|17 x 22||4 x 5||16 x 20||17 x 21||0.5|
|5 x 7||15 x 21||16 x 22||0.5|
|11 x 14||16.5 x 21||17 x 21.5||0.25|
|12 x 17||12 x 17||17 x 22||2.5|
|2 x 3||14 x 21||15 x 22||0.5|
|9 x 20||9 x 20||11 x 22||1.0|
For example, I like to make proof prints on US letter paper (8.5 x 11 inch), with a 1.25 inch border. This comes out to a 6 x 7.5 inch print on 8.5 x 10 paper and is very easy to set up on Print Tool. This requires trimming our 8.5 x 11 inch paper to 10 inches long, as shown above. Another nice size is exactly 10 x 12.5 inches with a 1.5 inch border. We merely trim our 13 x 19 inch paper to 15.5 inches long.
XRite Color Checker Passport Photo 2 is a an affordable solution consisting of a portable target and software. It works with Photoshop and Lightroom to give you accurate color balance wherever you shoot.
The tool contains RGB and CMYK values, gray steps and other standard color patches. The newer Passport Photo 2 also contains an 18% gray card.
The test photo above was made under typical incandescent home office lighting and shows before and after profile correction. To watch a Youtube video about it, click here and see the X-Rite promotional video here.
Sony full-frame sensors deliver high resolution in a very portable package. The 60MP Sony A7RIV full-frame sensor delivers 6,336 x 9,504 pixels: a 21x32 inch (50x75 cm) print at 300 dpi. (The older A7RII and A7RIII sensors deliver 5304 x 7952 pixels: an 18x27 inch print at 300 dpi).
The tonality and dynamic range are superb. At ISO 100 there is no apparent grain or sensor noise whatsoever at 100% magnification. Using the DxO Pure Raw2 converter, we can make noiseless images with smaller sensors and at higher ISO: see above for discussion.
To get resolution like this across the entire image, we need to shoot lenses at their best aperture and keep the camera very steady. The larger the print, the more important this becomes.
Brian Smith's Ultimate Guide to Fullframe E-Mount FE Lenses is comprehensive and regularly updated.
Although less frequently updated, here's another survey and evaluation of native full-frame lenses with electronic coupling for Sony E-Mount cameras by Phillip Reeve: Sony FE Lenses: a Comprehensive and Independent Guide. He also provides these additional helpful articles: The Best Lenses Below $499 for the Sony A7 Series and Beginner’s Guide to Manual Lenses on the Sony A7.
For news about digital equipment of all stripes, see Digital Photography Review.
For fine-art subjects (as opposed to snapshots, sports, wedding and fashion), manual focusing is preferable. we're rarely working quickly and we can't trust the camera to make the right artistic decision. For example, see below where sharp focus has been applied off-center.
Because the Sony provides focus-peaking and magnification, it's like using a loupe on a view camera. Mirrorless cameras provide a level of precise focus that can never be reached while looking through an SLR or rangefinder window.
Another advantage of manual focus: we can focus with the lens stopped down to the actual taking aperture. This not only helps us preview depth of field, it eliminates focus shift.
This lens is very sharp wide open, all the way out to the corners on full-frame (not just APS-C). In my testing, at 55mm it is just as sharp as my 55mm Micro Nikkor f/2.8 and has excellent blur rendition. There is some barrel distortion at the widest focal length. I purchased my copy used from KEH.
This lens is a highly portable choice for travel and family photography. I use this lens when I want the smallest kit possible. Very small and light due to its retractable design, it weighs only 167 grams and is only 67mm long: shorter in total length than the filter size of many other lenses. You can see some sample images here.
Like many zoom designs, this lens is very sharp in the center and should be shot at f/8 for best corner resolution. Zoom lenses are rarely as sharp as the many prime lenses they replace, but kit lenses like this are great when we consider their portability and affordability.
If you have one of the Sony APS-C cameras - or shoot a full-frame Sony camera on it's APS-C setting - it's a highly portable choice for travel and family photography. I used it for all these photos of Paris in 2012. Mounted on an NEX-7, the entire kit easily fit into the pocket of my coat. It weighs only 194 grams and is only 60mm long: shorter in total length than the filter size of many other lenses.
Sony mirrorless cameras have a very small flange-to-focus distance, allowing us to adapt a wide variety of 3rd party lenses such as Leica, Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Voigtlander, etc. To shoot manual lenses, a simple affordable adapter is all that we need. I was disappointed with a no-name bargain adapter (it developed a light leak which resulted in flare), but have had good experience with Fotodiox Sony E-Mount adapters.
For fine art subjects (landscape, still-life, portraits), older lenses are often an excellent choice. Many perform just as well as the newest ones, the only difference being that they are manual focus and have no built-in stabilization. Available in the used market, they are affordably priced.
As you can see from my list of lenses, I like vintage Nikkor designs. Some give very neutral blur rendition. Others give a slightly luminous blur rendition, which according to this article by Christopher Perez, can be attributed to "under-corrected spherical aberrations behind the point of focus".
There are countless lenses available in the normal focal length but for its combination of image quality, flexibility and low price I chose the 55mm f/2.8 AIS Micro Nikkor from 1979. You can buy this lens used on eBay or from KEH but after decades it is still available for purchase new because it's a fine performer even by modern standards.
It focuses down to 1:2 but is very sharp at all distances due to what Nikon calls Close Range Correction: a floating internal element. At its closest magnification of 0.5X, it's close to the top of the heap on the coinimaging.com Hall of Fame
With this model, no lens shade is required because the optics are recessed within the barrel. Because this lens does not open wide it is light and portable, taking 52mm filters like many other Nikon designs. I love macro lenses: they are usually free from chromatic aberration and geometric distortion. Many standard lenses are sharp but if you like to shoot at close distance without needing an adapter and you appreciate not needing a lens hood or corrections in post-processing, this is a fine choice.
For a collection of images made with the 55m f/2.8 Micro Nikkor, click here.
For a very portable high-quality lens, consider the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 Series E. This lens is only 33mm long, weighs only 155 grams and takes standard 52mm filters. Mounted on a Nikon-to-Sony adapter, it's still only 61mm long: shorter than any of the "kit" lenses (and sharper too). You can buy it used on eBay or from KEH. I inherited mine from my father.
A member of the Nikkor E series, it was offered as a smaller and lighter version of the 50mm f/1.8 AI-s from the late 1970's to the mid 1980's. Although this model does not focus as close as the AI-s, the optical design is the same. Shot on crop-sensor, it delivers the equivalent field of view and magnification of 75mm: an ideal portrait length.
As these full-frame sample images illustrate, it's a superb performer at all distances, very sharp with lovely blur rendition.
The Voigtlander 75mm Color-Heliar f/2.5 was introduced in 1999 and the Leica screw-mount version is portable, affordable and sharp with a 10-bladed aperture and excellent blur rendition. Although not officially a macro lens, it performs very nicely at close range using a stretch adapter or extension tubes. There is a very slight pincushion distortion which is easily addressed by the Adobe Camera Raw profile for this lens.
The lens shade is integrated into the design and the lens cap fits over the shade, making it even more portable in actual use. Weighing only 230g, it takes 43mm filters and with lens hood and cap is only 65mm long: less than the filter size of many modern designs. Even with the lens hood in place and an adapter attached, this lens fits in your pocket ! You can carry it for long periods of time.
Perhaps the weakest point of this lens is purple fringing under situations of extreme contrast, which can be corrected in an editing tool. It's not a perfect lens by modern standards but it's highly useable in most situations.
There are faster lenses in this focal length, but I prefer lenses which do not open very wide: they are smaller, lighter, more affordable and optically superior. Lenses which open wide often have mediocre performance at wide settings, particularly away from the center of the image. If not, they are prohibitively expensive, large and heavy.
For a collection of images made with the 75m f/2.5 Color Heliar, click here.
The 135mm f/3.5 Nikkor AI-S is a manual focus prime lens made from 1977 to 1981 and has minimal distoration, excellent optics and a built-in lens hood. Only 81mm long, it takes 52mm filters. It's very portable - and very affordable - when compared to modern offerings. If we shoot stationary subjects and use a tripod or high shutter speed we rarely need autofocus or image stabilization... especially at 1/20 the price !
Photographer and lens-tester Christopher Perez writes "I think the Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 AI-S should become my 135mm "control" lens. It is the standard by which I could measure all other 135mm lenses."
For a collection of images made with the 135mm f3.5 Nikkor AI-S, click here.
Like the 135mm f/3.5, the 200mm f/4 Nikkor AI-S is a manual focus prime lens with minimal distortion and excellent optics. It was built from 1981 to 1996 and has a built-in telescoping lens hood. I love telescoping lens hoods !
Keep in mind that a 200mm lens at f/4 has the same blur rendition and shallow depth of field as a 100mm lens at f/2 - or a 50mm lens at f/1.
Because it opens to a maximum aperture of f/4 it can take standard 52mm filters and is a very portable and affordable alternative to modern offerings. In situations of high local contrast, it can exhibit some color fringing but that is easily corrected.
For a collection of images made with the 200mm f/4 Nikkor AI-S, click here.
The 35-105mm Zoom Nikkor Macro was introduced in 1983 and is available at modest price in the used market. A manual focus zoom, it opens no wider than f/3.5 so it's compact, taking 52mm filters like the 55mm Micro Nikkor and many other Nikkor designs.
At 105mm this lens has extremely neutral blur rendition and is quite sharp at all distances. It can be used in place of a 105mm prime lens.
On a full-frame sensor, stopping down to f/8 or greater improves corner performance considerably. Click here twice for a full-size sample image shot at 105mm: 4x6 feet on typical web browser.
At widest apertures, if we're looking for the highest corner resolution this lens is better suited to APS-C format or close focus, where we use only the central portion of the image circle.
This lens has 16 elements in 12 groups and a ring which shifts the internal arrangement, allowing you to gradually transition to macro mode. At the 35mm setting, it can focus down to a 1:4 ratio. If we add a short extension tube the lens will focus very closely at all focal lengths.
For a collection of images made with the 35-105mm Zoom Nikkor Macro, click here.
The 75-150mm Nikkor E f/3.5 was introduced in 1980. It's a lightweight, manual-focus zoom. I inherited my copy from my father, who used it on his Nikon film camera back in the day.
The "trombone" push-pull design provides a single ring to adjust both focus and focal length. This lens takes 52mm filters, has 12 elements in 4 groups and is quite sharp once stopped down. Most important, it has very neutral blur rendition which makes it a wonderful choice for portraits and close work.
This lens is featured on NIKKOR - The Thousand and One Nights No.42.
For a collection of images made with the 75-150mm Nikkor E, click here.
The 70-300mm Nikkor AF ED is very affordable and portable compared to similar offerings. This model provides autofocus on Nikon cameras, but no image stabilization. I use a simple Fotodiox Nikon-to-Sony adapter which does not provide autofocus.
Stopping down to f/8 or greater improves corner performance considerably. At widest apertures, if we're looking for the highest corner resolution this lens is better suited to APS-C format or close focus, where we use only the central portion of the image circle.
To get higher resolution or built-in image stabilization, professionals who make very large prints may require a better lens - at much higher cost - but if we shoot at best aperture, print at reasonable size and avoid the corners of the sensor, this lens offers long reach and light weight at an attractive price-point.
For a collection of images made with the 70-300mm Nikkor AF ED, click here.
Don't purchase a set of filters for every "odd-ball" size (and carry them into the field). An inexpensive step-up ring can save you money, space and weight. If you add a step-up adpater ring to your smaller lenses, they will take a larger lens cap and you can purchase a single set of filters.
This tripod is neither the largest, smallest, heaviest or lightest - but the Bogen 3021 BN Pro is an affordable all-around solution. It's built strong enough and light enough. It's not made of carbon fiber but unless you are a trekker... who cares !
Sorry, I do not recommend ball heads: when we adjust the camera in one direction, we lose the other two planes of orientation. Ball heads are hit-and-miss. They drift as we tighten the knob, due to the weight of the camera. For precise work, they are practically useless ! I recommend geared tripod heads for general use. For careful positioning of small cameras at close distance, I recommend a 4-way Focusing Rail.
I like the Manfrotto 3275 410 geared tripod head, which is rated for holding cameras up to 11 pounds. It lets you make fine adjustments in 3 directions, independently. It's small, light and strong. It's a treat to make adjustments this way: there is no drift. I use it with cameras that are comparatively light in weight, like wooden field cameras and digital cameras.
Geared movements let us make minute compositional adjustments, critical when shooting small objects at close distance, like these Tulip and Telephone photographs which were made with a Sony mirrorless camera. There are better geared tripod heads on the market like the Arca Swiss C1 and D4, but the Manfrotto is considerably more affordable.
For heavier equipment, consider the Manfrotto 229 tripod head. It's rated up to 16 pounds and has no problem holding a Sinar P with 5x7 back, extension rails etc.
Here's a cold-weather tip: wrap some pipe insulation around the legs and hold it down with some inexpensive duct tape. This will keep your hands warm when you carry the tripod. Pipe insulation is very inexpensive but you will find this very helpful in winter time. It also helps if you want to carry the tripod on your shoulders: it's soft on the body.
The Oben CT-3535 Folding Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod with BE-208T Ball Head folds to only 12 inches and weighs only 2.5 pounds. It fits in just about any backpack or shoulder bag and is therefore ideal for travel. It also converts to a monopod and comes with a ball-head that will orient vertically. Ball heads are suitable for travel when weight and size must be kept to an absolute minimum.
You can watch a Youtube video about this tripod here.
I use this combination when traveling with my Sony A7RII. When possible I replace the Oben ball head with the Manfrotto 3725 410 head shown above. Even though it weighs as much as the tripod, it is finely geared.
A leveling tripod base like the Manfrotto 438 sits just below the tripod head (see yellow arrow). You get a level platform without having to adjust the legs of your tripod. This piece of equipment doesn't weigh very much but makes life much easier - especially when shooting in the field, where the ground is rarely level.
On the right you can see the leveling base in action. The tripod is not level - as the red line shows - but the tripod head is level, because we have adjusted the leveling base beneath it.
With such an arrangement, we can pan the head horizontally (or move the 3 gears of the 410 head in any direction we like) and we don't have to correct anything afterwards. To adjust the leveling base, just loosen the lever and use the bubble level. It's much faster than changing the length of the tripod legs. If you've ever tried to work with a tripod that isn't level, you'll appreciate this improvement !
To see a nice Youtube video about the Manfrotto 438, click here.
At right is an image which can tell you if your monitor and printer are reasonably color-calibrated and profiled. Click on it to see it full-sized. You should be able to see all the shades of all the colors. Can you see the purple rocks in the fish bowl ? Is there plenty of detail in the shadows of the sand dunes ?
Now print these images on your printer and see if the final results looks like what you see on your monitor. Ideally, they should match, very closely. If they don't match, then perhaps your monitor is off or your printer needs to be profiled... Probably both !
Ideally, we should have our own custom profile for every combination of printer/paper/ink that we use. The same ink has a unique response to every different kind of paper - and every printer is unique. They are mechanical devices, subject to variation. Just like musical instruments, they need to be tuned up, all the time.
Printer manufacturers like Epson make profiles for their own printers/papers freely available for download and tools like Photoshop allow you to print your images with the profile of your choice. These are not as good as getting your own profile but they're a great place to start and you can't beat the price ! it's hard to get things right, even with all the right tools. Without a calibrated workflow, it's almost impossible !
For best results with color printing, get someone like CHROMiX to make profiles for you. If you only print with one paper, you only have to get one profile made when you get a new printer. If you're printing black and white exclusively, use Piezography. If you don't want to have a custom profile made, then at least get one of the profiles from the public domain. Thanks to InkJetArt.com for the test image.
Even if your monitor has been recently calibrated and you are printing with a custom profile for your printer/paper/ink, you may still end up struggling to match your prints to what you see on your monitor. Why? Because LCD monitors are much brighter than paper and manufacturers are making monitors brighter with each new generation. When editing photos to be printed, we need to work at the brightness level of paper.
If you have a light meter, you can see for yourself that bright office illumination is such that a white piece of paper, or a white wall, gives an Exposure Value or EV, around 9. Actually, EV 9.3 is around 80 cd/m2, so that's good level for digital printing if your photos will appear in a brightly lit office or gallery. Many homes (and some galleries) are darker than that, more like EV 8, 7, or 6 or lower. We need to lower the brightness of our monitor to match the brightness level of our intended display area.
If you don't have a light meter you can use one of the many phone apps, like Luxi. Be sure to use the value for ISO 100, since that is the standard.
Typical LCD monitors don't do well at these levels: they are designed to be brighter than standard office walls. That's why print imaging specialists don't use consumer grade equipment. Instead they use monitors like Eizo and NEC SpectraView, which are designed to perform at paper brightness.
Here's a superb video presentation from Andrew Rodney: Why Are My Prints Too Dark ?. Here's a nice article on the Shutterbug web site, entitled Are Your Prints Too Dark ? Here's another one, by Pat Herold of CHROMiX. it's called My Printer Is Too Dark on the CHROMiX Color Wiki.
In order to make Inkjet photo papers look whiter, manufacturers not only bleach them, they add OBAs: Optical Brightening Agents. Brighteners are commonly added to laundry detergents to make white clothing appear cleaner and brighter. When exposed to daylight (which contains UV light), the OBAs luminesce. They emit blue-white light. The brighter the whites, the deeper the blacks look by comparison. It sounds great, no ?
The problem is that under indoor lighting, they don't luminesce, so your images look dull. With less blue, the same image suddenly looks pink. This effect is known as metamerism, or color shift: your print looks different, depending on where you view it. While harmless for family snapshots, it's unacceptable for Fine Art prints. Traditional Silver-based photographs don't suffer from Metamerism - and neither should a good inkjet print.
To make matters worse, OBAs fade over time. Even if the image looked right under daylight, it starts to look wrong eventually. The print you spent so much effort to make, is slowly replaced, so to speak, with something else.
Not all papers have OBAs: some are made with 100% Cotton Rag, have no OBAs and exhibit no color shift. Two papers I recommend are Epson Hot Press Natural and Premier Smooth Hot Press. Another brand I really like is Canson Infinity Museum Quality 100% Rag papers. Be sure to look for papers which have no OBAs. Canson writes "No Optical Brighteners" right on the front of the box. I like their Rag Photographique: it's very smooth, 100% Rag, has no OBAs and a great color.
To see how different papers and inks fade and change over time, see Aardenburg Imaging. Mark McCormick-Goodhart is a first-rate scientist and a world class expert in the field of image permanence.
Apple's Time Machine is great for backing up your computer, but it's safest to keep your images and other important documents on a separate drive.
Carbon Copy Cloner lets you schedule tasks to back up your files - from one disk to another - as many disks as you like - as often as you like. Back up all your files, or copy only what has changed. Move a copy of your digital files to a backup disk. Back up your OS X system files to another disk. Copy your large Photoshop files to another disk. I schedule these tasks to run in the middle of the night, while I'mm sleeping.
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