Archive January 2011

Photography for the Health Challenged

Posted by on Jan 31, 2011 in Blog | 3 Comments

This posting about Photography for the Health Challenged – my thoughts and experiences


When I do a blog posting, one of my criteria is that I am writing about something that I think most other people would not know about or a subject that is not on the net.   So I thought about this subject that you don’t really see written about.

A more accurate title might have been ” How photography is helping me enjoy life, while dealing with my Mastocytosis disease”.     Most people have never heard of mastocytosis.   And there are relatively few of us with that disease and I am not sure how many are doing photography.   So it may be a really small group of people who would be interested.  Although I would love to hear from them  and do plan to post this on a couple of MASTO  (our nickname) sites.

But then I thought that there are all sorts of physical/ health issues that are challenging lots and lots of people.   And with the baby boomers getting older that number will only climb.  I bet there are lots of photographers dealing with their health issues or wanting to deal with them.   And more still people who are struggling day to day and might be inspired to start photography to energize their lives.  It did for me.

So I think this posting may be interesting for all of those people.

My Health Challenge – Mastocytosis

If you really want to know more about this disease I would recommend going here, The Mastocytosis Society or here,  Mast Cells Disorders Forum.   The first one has a good description of the disease and what is going on with research.  The second is great if you or a loved one has it and wants to get or receive advice.

So here is my story.  Since I was 30 (I am 60 now).   There was always something off with my health.  Heart palpitations, bad back, IBS, panic attacks, strangely tired, complete loss of energy, flushing for no reason.  In my  late 40’s/50’s I had to go to the emergency room for turning red and nearly passing out after falling down, having sharp pain, taking penicillin, taking NSAID’s like ibuprofen. And worst of all….. I would get bloated and bad hangover like feelings after a beer or a glass of wine.  Despite all that, I kept fairly active from my 20’s till about age 50 with backpacking, x/c skiing, sailing, bicycling, hiking, raising a family, get a MBA,  running, swimming. working out.

But it got harder and harder to do that stuff.  It seemed like anything that got to be close to being aerobic would make me tired and dizzy.  So eventually my doctor said “something is not right”.  She sent me to an Allergist who said it could be one of a few things.  Then some tests including a visit to the Cancer Center for a bone marrow biopsy  (that was fun).   All that verified that I had Indolent Systemic Mastocytosis.   Indolent means that, while its progressive (keeps getting worse) its not aggressive.  Systemic means its my whole body.  Kids get cutaneous mastocytosis which has symptoms of rashes….somehow I miss that phase.

Mastocytosis a disease where my body does not know how to stop making mast cells.   We all have mast cells.   Those guys are the ones with histamines and dozens of other chemicals.  We have them in our body to help our immune system fight invaders.  I think histamines enlarge the small blood vessels so that white cells and nutrients can get to an infected area.   Almost all people have a mechanism in their body that says….OK….we have enough mast cells….stop making them.   But in my case that function is gone so my body keeps making them.  So when normal people react to an allergy they have a histamine release.  It will make the nose stuffy,  maybe turn the nose red.  In my case the same thing results in hundreds times more mast cell releasing histamines and all the other chemicals.   I turn red and hot and want to get sick and pass out.  Same with drinking alcohol.  Some people get red faced….I get  sick.  Pain, causes the same thing.

So there is no cure.  It will slowly progress.  But since I seem to have been dealing with this since I was 30… progression is slow.   I already notice a difference between  now and when I was 55.   The treatment is lots of lots anti-histamines, no alcohol, no NSAIDS, only certain antibiotics, no stress, no hot summer sunshine (makes me flush and get sick), can’t get aerobic  (I think its a body temperature thing.)  Even with drug and an avoidance plan I still get tired in the afternoon, have IBS-like issues, and get tired and dizzy, even after about 2-3 mile walk. Some times on shorter walks.   Some days I just want to relax around the home.

I know lots of people have a lot worse problems than this.  But that thought does not help me much.

Photography saves the day!

I guess I have to give credit first to Geocaching.  Its a large worldwide treasure hunting game.   I would be willing to bet there is a hidden cache with a few blocks of ANY reader of this blog.   I have found them all over the US and in Europe.   I think the only country with none is North Korea.   Anyhow,  You have to get out of the house to do this.   It involves walking around the neighborhood, downtown, parks, the ocean shore, the mountains, the woods.   To find these hidden caches you really have to look at things and nature to decide what is out of place.   Well…. what I found was that I was looking at the same old familiar stuff that I had seen for decades in my city, state, or travels…. but I never really looked at the details before.   Aside from the game I really began to appreciate how cool a rock looked or a tree.   How neat a building, a wall, a window looked.  Or how the time of day influenced how things looked.

So I started to carry a point and shoot with me taking pictures as I searched for geocaches.   As I got the more easy geocaches under my belt, I started working on ones in the foothills and mountains near us (Sacramento).  But I found that I had trouble on some of the trails.  I would get tired or need an immediate bathroom somewhere.  One time we went down a hill, found the cache, but almost did not make it up the trail because I got hot, then tired, then….

So that was not working…but… I had the photography bug.  I kept taking more photos….wanted a better camera….a vicious cycle.

I transitioned from geocaching to photography  ( although I still maintain some of my own caches and look for others occasionally)

So now I have a couple of DSLRS, a nice set of lenses and all the other stuff you need to have fun.

But here is the deal why its good for me and why I would be suggesting it for others suffering from health issues.

  1. It gets you up off your favorite chair and doing stuff.
  2. It gets you focused on something other than your personal problems.
  3. You are creating stuff and that feels good.
  4. You can get feedback.  Some will make you learn and grow.  Other stuff will make you want to try harder.  And compliments sound Soooo good.
  5. You get to look forward to seeing something in the future.   Tomorrow can be something new and great.
  6. You can do it in your house, your back yard, your street, or anywhere else.  You can go wherever you are comfortable doing it.  You can take images while walking, riding in a car, sitting at home, in wheel chair, sitting at a park bench.
  7. You don’t have to be strong or in good shape.   But getting up and doing stuff should be good for you.
  8. It provides a way to meet new people – your subjects, clubs, galleries
  9. It makes you an expert in something where you will want to share ideas and others will want your advice
  10. You get to see the world again but in a different light and from a different angle.  For instance,  I have never noticed dawn and sunset light like I do now… did I miss it before.
  11. You can take a break for a few days if you need to and then get right back into it….no problem.
  12. You get to learn new stuff.    I think that there will never be a time when I know that I know it all about photography… I get to grow in this art form for the rest of my life.  It opens all sorts of new reading material to see and photo galleries/ museums to visit.
  13. If provides for gifts that you can give to friends and family.
  14. If you get paid for it… helps to make the equipment affordable
  15. When I have a portion of a day, then I can take a hike.   So I can tailor my photography for the way I feel at the moment.  And each level is fun.
  16. You can participate in forums about something other than your health issue.
  17. Its something you can do that has absolutely NOTHING to do with politics
  18. And best of all… gives you a reason to start a blog.


So I am having a blast with my photography.  There are some days I do not have the energy to get up and get out.   But then on the days that I do feel well.  I have a blast.   And on those off days I get to relive those  good times as I am processing the images.   And I love that too.  I have to feel REALLY crappy to not want to do that.    It makes me feel vibrant even though I and not as “vibrant” as I could be if I were 100% healthy.

I suppose you could also say that painting, or collecting items, or lots of other stuff can have the same benefits.   But I have found and would like to recommend photography as a great hobby or pastime for those of you with health challenges.

Aperture Microstock Workflow

Posted by on Jan 21, 2011 in Blog | Leave a comment

This Post is about my Aperture Microstock Workflow for ensuring your images are selected.



Note that I have been an Aperture user for about 3 years.  I am self taught.  I have read several books on this software and sat through many free and purchased tutorial videos.  But…. I am not a professional.  What I am about to explain may not be the best way to work your images…but its my way (why do I think of Frank Sinatra right now)….. This blog should have some value for relatively new Aperture users whether its for microstock, regular stock, or just personal use. During my point and shoot days I mainly used Apple’s iPhoto.  I think this is a great program and gets better every year.  If I wanted to do something special I would open the image in Photoshop.   But when I started ramping up my photography and got involved with microstock,  I needed something more.  I was accumulating A LOT of images,  I had to put the required metadata ( name, caption, keywords) and the stuff that can be automatically put on your file (camera, lens, focal length, shutter speed, aperture setting, ISO, etc).  Oh and now I need to put a copyright statement in too ( ©Bobkeenan Photography ).  And I had to do a lot of photo manipulation.  Photoshop was overkill on capability and iphoto just did not have enough. So I checked out using Adobe Bridge and PS but it was not intuitive enough.   I played with Lightroom. Its close to what I wanted but still did not have that intuitive feel that I am used to with most Apple Apps.  Then I found Aperture….And it was just right.

Aperture Microstock Workflow

Prior to processing

The first step is to take a lot of pictures.  Good microstockers think of a theme or a message they want to tell.  They select a location.   They review where and when the sun will rise and set.  Maybe they will hire models, bring remote flashes, reflectors, backdrops……. I am not that kind of microstocker…and that is why I can never depend of this for a living.  But I have fun and I think that it is realistic that I can get enough income to match my camera equipment addiction….some day. So this is what I do.   I grab my 5DmkII or 7D, depending on the kind of location I am going to.   I attach the lens that I want to work with.   Sometimes I will grab a complementary lens, sometimes  a circular polarizing filter, sometimes a coke ND gradient filter, some extra CF cards and a spare battery.  If the light is low I bring a monopod.   And then I am off to my location. The location may be my backyard, the neighborhood, the zoo, downtown, bird sanctuaries, almost anytime I leave the house I have a camera. I immediately put a hood on the lens and uncap it.   I do not like filters for protection.  I have had too many shots ruined by them.  I put the camera in Av mode.  And I set a bracketing of exposure with high speed frame rate.  The width of the bracketing will depend on what I am taking.  Low diffuse light I use a small spread.  Harsh light and shadows a much larger spread.  And if I am going for a HDR (high dynamic range) shot I spread it all the way.

MAKE SURE YOU ARE TAKING IMAGES IN RAW. There are lots of discussions about whether you should do raw or jpg.   Take Raw!!!  You will get all of the info from the sensor and not a sampled modified image.  Most of the post processing that I will be talking about will ONLY work well if you have the Raw image. Then I wait  for my muses (I had to add a Greek representation of Muses) to whisper in my ear.  What does that mean…. well.  I think this is the same for everyone.  The trick is to listen and look around a lot.   Every few minutes your attention will be pulled away to something.  Normally you would just keep walking.  But if you are sensitive to these times, then you will find some good stuff.   Something in the scene around you made your brain say “Whoa….. there is something interesting”   So you stop.   Go back and look at what caught your attention and start thinking about what the background is for each position and how the light illuminates the area from different angles….and then I just start shooting.  With a bracketed exposure I get 3 images for each intended capture.  So chances are I will be close to the correct exposure.  I then also run up and down the apertures so I have a variety of dof’s (depth of fields) to choose from.   And then I move on till my muse talks to me again.   Only digital cameras let you do this (unless you have an unlimited film budget).  I remember in the 70’s with film and when I had less money……I would never squander my money doing it this way.  Now,  when I get home I have anywhere from 500-1000 images. OMG……. How am I going to deal with this!!!

Aperture Microstock Workflow: Step 1 – Loading the images

I like to take the cards out of the camera and load them via a card reader.  I don’t like anything attached to a camera that might drag it off a table or armrest.  There are 1000’s of options for setting up Aperture 3 (AP3)and I will just cover some of the ones I use.  If you want to learn more about AP3 read some of the books out there AND/OR go to Aperture Expert .  Its an aperture users group with lots of free advice, articles, forum, video.  They also have tutorial videos for sale.  I have found them quite helpful. So I have my aperture setup to require a manual start.  You can set it to autostart when you hook up a card reader with a card installed. I also have it set-up in the import window to put my copyright statement in the metadata of each image. So I start up AP3.  ( I have a bunch of screen captures that I have inserted in this posting for an example of a load of images. )  The first thing I do is set up a new project.

I give it a name like stock to be uploaded.   The program usually senses the CF card but if not there is a window in the lower left that has the potential sources to import from.   After selecting the CF card all of the images will show up in the window.  This may take a while if you have hundreds of images. You will have an option of importing checked.  They start out all being checked.  I find it is easiest to just import all of them…. this will take a few minutes.  You can start viewing and modifying right away,  but with my macbook pro I find that the computer uses a lot of its processor capability for the importing and raw processing that it will be doing.  Modifying during the import is a bit hurky jerky.  So I wait…. and take a break.

Aperture Microstock Workflow: Step 2 – First Cut

Now you have  hundreds of images to look at.   AP3 has a draft button (right below the lower right corner of the image) that allows you to skip around from picture to picture quickly.  This is important because it takes my macbook pro about 5 seconds sometimes to finish processing each image before you can judge sharpness and other qualities. So starting with image 1 I start scanning through all of them in full view mode.


I put a single star (the rating system available….there is also a color code you can apply….but I like the stars).  by the images that I like.   There will be some images that are just too badly exposed, out of focus (OOF), or poorly composed.   They get no stars.   I may give a star to the set of three (from the bracketing) if its a particularly nice image.   That will give me more options later in case I want to do a HDR or exposure blending (I use a photomatix plug-in). AP3 allows you to sort by a bunch of different characteristics.  I usually sort the images in this project by stars.   You can select ascending or descending.


Descending will put the starred images at the top.   Then its an easy step to select all of the non-starred items and delete them  ( I use command-delete)  Those files will all be sent to the AP3 trash (not your computer trash) so they are there until you empty that trash.


Note some people keep every image they take….. To me that is crazy.  If you shoot a lot you would need many terabyte drives to keep up with that.  So I keep the good stuff and dump the bad stuff. So now you have thrown away about 80% of what you have taken.   So you have 100-200 shots that have potential.   For me, by the end of this whole process,  I will be lucky to get 20-40 good images out of this. Ok…now we have to get more serious.

Aperture Microstock Workflow: Step 3 – Second cut

Is the focus where we want it.  Microstock reviewers love their focus to be perfect, according to what THEY think is perfect.  Usually the focus has to be tack sharp on the interesting part of the subject.  You cannot see this that well in the normal full screen mode (unless you have a huge screen).  But in AP3 you can it the Z key and you immediately see a portion of the image at 100%.


Note another thing that I usually do is hit “option-f”  that will show you, in red, the focus point that was selected.


I use this to see if the there is a camera problem that may need to be adjusted.   So I review the focus of each image.   If its good the rating goes to 2 stars.   I sort and delete the 1 starts.

Aperture Microstock Workflow: Step 4 – Third Cut

Well now you are probably down to 40-60 images First, I turn on the “Highlight Hot and Cold Areas”.



It will make any colors that are saturated at full black show up with blue and areas that are saturated with full white will show as red.  The example above is not the best.  You can see some oversaturated black (shown in blue) in the upper right corner).  There are no oversaturated whites.   I picked an image that was a little underexposed.  I usually pull the raw sharpening and edge sliders fully to the right.


If its a portrait or some image where tack sharp is not necessary I leave that adjustment alone. Next I correct the exposure.   I rarely move the exposure slider.  It seems like it provides too course of a change.  First I will back the black point down till the highlighted blue is mostly gone.

This does not all have to be gone because having some pure black in the image helps with contrast and I think it makes the colors look richer.  On the other hand…I hate blown out white areas.  So I use as much adjustment on the recovery slider as is necessary to get rid of the red highlighted areas.   Then I go to the curves adjustment.

Most of the time I use the curve in normal mode.  But if you have an image with some bad overexposure areas and recovery does not help enough, you can use the extended mode to pull the white balance to the right until the red highlight areas go away. The next thing I do is add a little contrast to the image, with the curves adjustment.  To do this you select a point on the lower right that represents the darker areas and pull that point down a bit.   It will make the dark areas a little darker without going to black.  Then take a point in the light area of the curve and lift it a bit.  It will lighten the lighter areas without blowing them out.  The curve now looks like a shallow “S” and you have just added contrast.

The exact placement of the points on the curve is an “art” and you just have to play with it to get a feel for it.  But its a powerful tool. Even after all of this you may have areas that are too dark because they are in the shadow or too light because of the sun or clouds.  Under the curves adjustment there is highlights and shadows adjustment.

Use these carefully.  A little goes a long way.  Too much and they will destroy the look of the image.  But you can improve the image by using these.   It’s like a poor man’s HDR.   HDR is better because you will be blending to get a proper exposure and with this you are stretching the information in the image. I will also check for Chromatic Aberrations (CA) or purple fringing.  CA does happen.  I see it on bright days in areas of the image where there is a dramatic change in contrast.  AP3 has an adjustment for that and I think it works pretty well.  Just move the sliders until the CA goes away. Next I do straightening. As level as I think I get stuff….it usually is not perfectly level.  Sometimes I want an angle and more of an angle is needed. I will crop next.   Cropping helps with composition by eliminating distracting stuff in the periphery and positioning the main subject in the best position. All of these are easy fast fixes.

Aperture Microstock Workflow: Step 5 – Final Cut

I go though the images again for a final cut.   The ones I want to keep get 3 stars.   Usually there will be two similar images will a little different DOF or composition.   Microstock sites don’t want to be in role of picking your best image from similar ones.  They want you to pick the best.   So I pick the best of similar images.   I get rid of the 2 stars.  Now I am down to the last 20-40 images and its time to do the final clean-up.

Final Clean-up

The images are in pretty good condition by now.  But I look at them again further work.   This take a little more time…but its with only 20-40 images and not 1000.    The next thing I will do is look for distractions.   It could be a stained rock (like in my example), a cigarette butt,   a person face (that I do not have a model release for) or a lot of other stuff.  So I use the retouch brush. You can find it here.

I usually used the softest brush and mostly the clone mode.

I try to pick samples from a distant section of the image.  All of this is done in the zoom mode.   I may also use the dodge and burn tools to make sure it all looks right.   So here it is with most of the mostly stain gone.

I will also use the burn and dodge tool to fix any light/dark issues in the image that the curves and shadows/highlights did not take care of.   By the way I enlarged the cursor/target/brush on my screen so it is more viewable.  In real life it is smaller.

I may also use the color adjustment.  You can just pull up the saturation adjustment but that is a gross color booster and I prefer to be more select.  So I will use the eye dropper to select a color that I want to boost and then adjust that color.   There is a final non/raw sharpening adjustment.  I have found even small adjustments with this ruins some of the details of the image at 100% and it looks artificial. I will also use some of the plug-ins.   Two that get a lot of use are PTlens.

It takes the camera metadata of camera and lens and automatically adjusts for lens pin cushion and fish eye effects.  The other thing that I use is the combination of horizontal, vertical, and rotational adjustments.

I have been able to correct images that I had to take from an undesirable position.  It can almost behave like an artificial tilt shift lens.  For instance I found this great old building in Port Townsend WA.  It was about 8 stories high.  I had to take a picture from the ground level.  I wanted a view as if I was in another building on the 4th floor.   Instead I got this that showed the distortion you would expect from taking a photo of a tall object.  PTlens allow me to adjust it so it looked like I took the shot from 4 stories high.

The final adjustment that I make will be denoise.  With the cameras I have there will be no noise issues below an ISO of 300-600 (depending on the camera).  Note that these camera probably have no noise issues up to (500-1150) ISO but, with our adjustments we have pushed and pulled the image information around and have created noise…or at lease we have brought the noise into the light of day at 100%.   I have tried lots of de-noise stand alone programs and AP3 plug-ins.   DFine used to be my favorite. But currently I think Topaz’s De-noise does the best job.

I use the preset adjustments for RAW files staring with Raw lightest and working my way up.   You can view it at 200% but I drop it to 100% as that is where microstock images are reviewed.   I try to not go higher than the raw moderate adjustment.  There are 4 levels above that but I think that you start to loose too much detail and will be reject as over filtered.   Sometimes I will try to get an image with an ISO greater than 1150 where I have pushed the shadows too much and I either will not be able to get rid of the noise OR too much detail will be lost.   So a few images may bight the dust in this process. So now your done with the images…..You are ready for the next step and that is preparing the meta data.

Aperture Microstock Workflow: Step 6 – Meta Data Preparation

The meta data already has the camera and settings, the date, and your copyright info.

Now you have to put a file name,  title, caption, and finally keywords. I use simple version names with 2-5 words.  I copy that to the title as well.  I think fine art or stock photographers develop a lot of versions of the same image but that does not seem to be a good fit for my microstock process.  Then I put a caption.  Some of the microstock sites have no rules others say they have to be at least 7 words long, don’t start with “A” (A cow in a green farm pasture with trees),  don’t repeat any word.  So I follow those rules. Next is keywords….You can do these on your own.   Sometimes my stuff is different enough that the online help site cannot work.   Actually before I discovered the online site I would go to one of the microstock sites and search for a similar set of pictures.  I would go to the most popular and then copy that images keywords into mine. But then I found Yuri Acurs,   and God love him for providing a FREE keyword service.  Yuri is either the top or one of the top microstock photographers in the world.  His site if full of helpful information.  His keyword page is HERE.

The way I use it is that I select images under the type and pick 25 rows, the default shutterstock (my main revenue maker by a factor of 10) and the default sort of most popular.  I put in 3-5  key words that most reflect my image and the hit search.   It will come up with 25 rows of images that are the most popular selling images that match those words.

I pick the images that are closest to my image.  I hit the accept images button at the bottom of the page.  Yuri’s page then comes up with a page out all of the keywords found on those images and rank orders them by how often the word appears.

It also automatically checks the first 50.   Most sites will not allow more than 50 keyword.   I think it is important to have a good set of abundant keywords.  But they all need to be pertinent or you will get warnings from the microstock sites if you fail in this.  So I scan the list and uncheck the words that do not apply.  Then I go beyond the pre-checked list and usually add a few more.  With that done, I hit the “show chosen words” button.   Another page comes up with the words all neatly in a comma separated format.

I select all of them, copy, and then past into the keywords space in AP3.

Aperture Microstock Workflow: Step 7 – Uploading to the microstock sites

You are almost done.  Create another project and call it “upload a (b,c,d etc)”  and I put in a mix of 10 images.  I have found that if you have similar images only one will be selected and the others rejected.  I have also found that reviewers are people with good days and bad days.  If you get a bad day they may reject the whole batch.  If that batch had 40 images in it…they are gone as far as that site is concerned.  I picked 10 to avoid big losses like that.  The images are usually reviewed in a day or two and then you can upload another 10. All of the major sites, except iStockphoto, allow for FTP transfers.   And THAT is the way to go.  I have tried a few.  My favorite is Fetch. Its simple and easy.  I go to the AP3 folder for upload and do an export.

The export has some more choices to make.  The most important is the file to be exported.   All the sites take jpeg, some take tiff, other raw.   Since jpeg universally accepted that is what I upload.

I go for maximum quality setting either 300 0r 340 dpi.  The color profile should be sRGB.   I shoot and print in adobe RGB 1998.  But most of the internet is sRGB and online images look better in that colorspace. So I go to the export page, make sure the settings are correct, I usually direct the export to the desktop, and I use the “create folder” button to make a folder (named upload a,b,c,etc.).  Then I start up Fetch.  After you do this once it remembers the ftp addresses, login name, and password.  Hit new connection and then drag the 10 image in the folder on the desktop to the fetch window…. And you are done….well almost. You then have to go to the microstock site.

They require that you upload model releases if appropriate, select categories, approve your keywords, and usually select the kind of rights you want to sell your images under. iStockphoto is a bit of a pain in the butt.  FTP is not a feature.  You upload image by image to their site or use a third party software.   A good one is DeepMeta. iStockphoto is VERY particular about its images and keywords.  In fact they have no tolerance for vaguely connected keywords.  So why bother with them, you ask…..   They only accept about 1/5 of the images that the other sites do but ……what they do select sells fairly well with a decent payback.

So let me know if you have any comments or questions.  I hope this helps some of you.

Rationale for a Full Frame DSLR

Posted by on Jan 12, 2011 in Blog | 6 Comments

This posting is about my decision and Rationale for a Full Frame DSLR.

OK…. I was going to wait until I generated enough sales on my microstock sites to afford a Full Frame DSLR camera.  I was going to wait until Canon came out with the next generation of Mark 5D…. the 5DMkIII.

But I am not a good waiter.   So this is my story and logic of going to a Full Frame DSLR camera…. NOW!

First a few words about the cameras before the Full Frame DSLR camera……

I have had Canon point and shoots for many years.  I really loved them and their ease of use and the good quality images that they would produce.  What I did not like is my lack of control over the qualities of each images.  I wanted more control over my depth of field (DOF)  and I wanted more image file information so that when I manipulated the file in photoshop or Aperture 3 that the overall image quality (IQ) would not be affected.  So I got a REBEL XS (1000).  Note that all of the camera images here are courtesy of DPReview..  You can find a great review of this camera here. By the way, I think this is the best Canon entry level DSLR.   That camera enabled me to learn about how to work with a DSLR and gave me a taste for what a decent DSLR could do.

My next camera was the Canon 50D.  A good review of that camera can be found here. Of course,   I feel that this camera is a really good 2nd camera.  With each camera I continued to upgrade my lenses.   I experimented at first with the kit (lenses that come with the camera) and then better primes and zooms.   Most of my early microstock work was done with this camera.  It had a slightly larger sensor (3.32 vs 3.28 cm2) and higher pixel density (15.1 vs 10.1 MP).   I think I could have kept this camera until I was ready for a FF camera as its a very nice…..semi professional camera, but then the 7D came out.Another excellent review here. I had to sell the 50D to afford this camera.  By the way Ebay is a great tool to do that.   I was all excited about the 19 point AF system with 8fps and HD movie capability.  And I got another bump in pixel density to 18MP.

But…… For the first week or so…. I could not take a decent in-focus photo.  No matter how hard I tried.  No matter how careful I was….. about 8 out of 10 images were out of focus (OOF).   I did some detailed lens calibrations on the AF….and discovered that it was the camera’s fault.  By the way,  throughout all of this learning I got A LOT of help from DP Review Forums.  You can get yourself out of a lot of issues by searching these forums or just asking a question.  It is instantaneous free help.   Anyhow I sent the camera back to Canon.  It turned out to be a bad AF system.  When I got the camera back I verifed, via the lensalign system (see earlier post).  But strange thing.  I was still unhappy with about 70% of my shots.  The focus was off or the exposure was not metered well.

It turned out to NOT be the camera.  It was me…… and the camera.   The 7D, in my opinion, is a big step in photographic tools.   You really have to understand how to use the AF and metering systems.  So lots of re-reading the manual and reading supplemental books.  And then lots and lots of taking photos.  I eventually got to the point where I was happy with 90% of the shots I was taking.  Its a great camera.  BUT…. there was one thing I did not like.  The ISO performance in low light.    I like to take photos of fruits and vegetables.

My best place to take pictures of stuff like this is the Sacramento Farmers Market, which also happens to be under a freeway.   In addition, while we get sunlight in Sacramento 70% of the year,  the other 30% (Nov-Mar) is mostly cloudy.  Stack all of that together and it means poor light in a subject matter rich environment.

You can see the images that I have for sale here. Or all of my food images here that are for sale.

With the 7D you can push ISO to about 300 or so.  With apertures around 6.3 or wider, on IS (image stabilization), hand held with shutter speeds @ 1/30 sec, using a 17-55mm f2.8 IS lens.    On the darker days I have to push ISO beyond 300 to 400 or higher.   That’s when you start to see the noise in the shadows.  And I have noticed that the noise will clean up fine with a program like Topaz’s DeNoise, BUT  (there always seems to be a but)  you do loose some of the complex quality details in the image.  And I have also noticed that with the 7D noise at ISO’s of 800 or higher that any of the denoise programs seem to see the noise as part of the image and they have little to no effect on the noise.

That made me wonder about a Full Frame DSLR camera.

Canon’s entry level full frame camera is the 5DMarkII.

Another great Canon camera with a really good review here.

However (could have used ‘but’… ) This camera is about 2 years old.  Getting a bit ‘long in the tooth’.  AND it would set me back about $2500.  AND about 50% of my lenses would not work with it.   Most of the new lenses that Canon has been putting out are APS-C lenses.  They won’t work on a Full Frame DSLR camera.  I think Canon can generate a lot more sales on those lenses because of all of the APS-C lenses they sell.

In any case, getting a Full Frame DSLR camera would probably entail getting at least one new lens now and more in the future.

So why go there at all?

Well,  its this noise issue.  I have read in reviews and I have enough general understanding of DSLR’s to know that if you have a larger sensor that you can capture more light.    And depending on the MP rating of the sensor,   there will be a lot more image information.  This should and does mean less noise.  But how much better is it and will it be worth all the extra money.   I was also struggling with questions like,  “should I sell my 7D and APS-C lenses to afford this Full Frame DSLR camera”.  But I really like the AF system and the 8 fps capability of the 7D.  AND the 5DMarkII is 2 years old.   I think its analogous to “Dog Years”  so its like a 14 year old camera in human years (maybe that’s stretching it a bit).   On top of all of that Rumors have it  (the best rumor place is Canon Rumors) that the Canon 5DMarkIII will be out next year with AF capability like the 7D and maybe a higher frame rate too!!

Oh My… What should I do…..

I like the 7D but for noise,  Full Frame DSLR would be better….I think,  but my camera budget (my weekly allowance + microstock sales) was not big enough,  the 5DMkIII won’t come out for a while………

My decision was….. Keep what I have (except for a couple of APS-C lenses I don’t use much… sell those),  And get the 5DMarkII!!!

So I went to see the CEO/ CFO of the Keenan Bank  AKA my wife and made a loan.  I ordered a Canon refurbish 5DMkII and a 24-105mm L lens.  BTW I think this is a great way to go.  You get equipment that looks brand new,  carries a warranty (short term), and has been fully checked out and calibrated by Canon.  Here is the Canon refurbished store by the way.  Oh… and now, 6 weeks later,  I only owe about $200 to pay back the loan…..not bad.

It came in a week.

I took a few shots next of stuff around my home.   The first thing you notice is the noise.  Not the image noise but the camera noise.   I guess if you move a shutter that is 60% (or whatever it is) larger that there is going to be more mechanical noise….. but it IS noticeable

My first impression – It looked just like the 7D except for the markings.  I turned the camera on.  That took a while.  The on/off switch is down at the bottom, I think where my 50D was.  I like the 7D switch better.   Looking through the viewfinder….. I was immediately disappointed.   I mean I read the reviews and specifications, and I knew that there were only 9 AF points (left). But it immediately felt….. old.   I really liked the 19 AF points on the 7D (right) and used them all the time.  I have a lot more to say about the 5DMkII but let me say that I find the 9 points limiting.   I am constantly moving the AF point around in my shooting and many times the 9 points don’t get to where I want to go….so I focus the closest and then recompose a bit.

But… that’s ok…. I am keeping the 7D for its AF capability and this was really for noise.

So I take some pictures in my home at various ISO’s with both cameras and compare.    I try to keep everything the same so I have an apples to apples comparison.   The 5DMkII is better…. but for some reason it only seems to be better by a stop or so.  An image on the 7D at ISO 400 is about the same as an image on the 5DMkII at 800.  Hmmmmmm  I wanted better than that.   BTW I will post some comparison images here later.   I had a sinking feeling that I had just gone into debt for a few months to get a 2 year old camera  (14 human years….remember), with an old AF system for a stop of performance…….

I re-read the reviews…..I need to withhold judgment on this camera until I go out and take lots of images.  I did that and I am glad that I did.  What I found is that  the 5DMkII has about the same noise as the 7D, in shadows at 800 ISO vs the 400 on the 7D….. but I have to say that it is softer finer noise.  You have to view it at around 200% crops but its better noise and definitely acceptable.   I notice, as I mentioned before, that the 7D noise got gross and hard to clean up at 800 ISO and above.  And before you 7D lovers go ape over this statement……keep in mind that I am talking about viewing the noise at 100% and only in poorly lit shadow areas.   Also to those of you who yelling…. who cares….. I do, and so does every microstock artist  (can I say artist…. I like to think I am  😉  )

More over  I think the noise is still, many time useable, without filtering it, at 1250….. and I have even used it up to 3200 with only minor denoise.   Also its hard to describe,  but the image quality is better.   The funny thing is that, in the last 6 weeks, except for comparison shooting,  I have not picked up the 7D….and I shoot every day.

I was thinking that…. well… I still have the 7D for action shots with its excellent AF system.  But then I had an opportunity to go to the Kraft Feed the hungry bowl in San Francisco.  My nephew, one of the Boston College “big uglies” was playing, Emmett Cleary,  and he got us some tickets.  They were in the fans/and family section and I knew it would put us @ the 50 yard line AND about 50 yards from the field!!

I had a 70-200mm IS f2.8, a 100-400mm IS f4.6-5.6, and a 2X converter.  I had the same set last year for another bowl game with the 7D.  My shots were in focus but I was not happy with the noise.  Its a night game, well lit…but night.   I found that I wanted at least the 400mm and the 400mm with the 2X tele was preferable for filling the frame.   Those shots were done at about f5.6 with a shutter speed of 1/500 sec.  With those settings I was up to ISO 3200.  The shots were neat….but not where I wanted them to be.

So this year I get a second chance.   I was thinking of bringing both the camera bodies with me and both lenses with the converter.   But I was worried about getting stopped for having too much stuff.   That would have been a logistical nightmare having to work my way back to the car.   So I had to decide…which body.   I put the question to my favorite forum on DPReview .   Somebody suggested the 5DMkII and renting a 300mm F2.8 IS.   I found that lens and the older version 300mm f2.8 non-IS lens.  One was $150/ weekend and the other was $50.  I chose the cheaper  (I am still in-debt).  I also planned on using the 2X converter from canon.   I had read that the converter was designed to work with this 300mm lens.  Most photographers would say chuck the 2x but this article promised a good results.    So I brought the 300mm  (its huge compared to my other lenses) and the 2X and the 5DMkII.  I also brought a monopod.

Well I was pretty happy with the results.  With the 2x I was forced to shoot at f5.6, 1/500 sec (shot in Tv mode).  I went with auto ISO so most of the shots are with an ISO of 3200.   About the 3rd quarter I pulled out the 2x and was about to drop the f stop down to 2.8 and the ISO dropped as well.

Here is a collection of the best images.  the 300mm 2x shots have minor cropping and I did use some light de-noise.   The 300mm shots had more cropping but less or no de-noise.

I also thought that I would include some 100% crops of comparisons between the 7D and 5DMkII.  Its a scene of fruit on a plate.I took a series of shots using the same framing, same aperture, same distance (so focal length changed), and then let shutter speed vary according to the way the cameras Av mode metered the shot.    But then I thought that this would provide a different DOF and that the 5DMkII might fair better in this test because the DOF would be smaller and therefore noisy areas might be de-f0cused more than the 7D, in effect masking noise.  I am not sure if this is true or not (and am too lazy to check it out right now).  So I thought that a fairer test would be to keep the DOF the same.  So I used my trusty iphone pCam app to calculate a different f-stop for the alternate camera to keep the DOF.  This resulted in f6.3 for the 5D and f4 for the 7D.  Oh…. and in Aperture 3 I adjusted the black and white points, put a small s curve in curves and I did a small shadow adjustment.  Yes… all of this will bring the noise out worse but its what I do to most of my images.

So what you will see below is multiple sets of 2 images   the 7D on top and the 5DMkII on the bottom starting at ISO 100, then, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, and 6400.

ISO 100

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

Well…. that test was not as dramatic as I promised.   You can see that the 5DMkII is better and that the noise on the 7D is courser.  I think my test may be flawed a bit in the process of posting it on a blog.   Take my word for it….the 5DMkII has much better ISO performance than the 7D.

So….. I love my 5DMkII.  While I wish the AF would be better….its ok.  And the image quality and ISO performance are just great.   So I suspect that I will use this camera till the 5DMKIII shows up.   People are guessing that they will update the AF system to something like the 7D.   So when it shows up I think I will likely sell the 7D, keep the MkII as my back-up and then the MkIII will be my new camera.   I hope I don’t have to go into debt again.

Autofocus Microadjustment Techniques

Posted by on Jan 4, 2011 in Blog | 5 Comments

This post is about all of the Autofocus Microadjustment Techniques that I am aware of at the time of this post.

Background –  Because I do a lot of microstock focus is VERY important and one of the big reasons fro rejection.  Compounding this is the fact that better selling images usually have a narrow DOF (dept of field) or focus area.  You do this to make your subject “pop” in the image, provide a nice soft background, or sometimes to hide an ugly background.

When I upgraded to a Canon 7D I had all sorts of auto focus (AF) issues.  It turn out to be the camera.  But before I discovered that I thought I might fix the AF issue by using the microstock photography feature (MA) of the camera.

There are lots of good articles on the web about this.  I will refer and comment to them.  And there are at least a couple of products.  I am familiar with one of these (actually two by the same guys.  I will go into some detail on that.

The bottom line is that not all all lens/ camera combination will yield that perfect focus you want out of the box.  And for Zoom lenses I have found that AF DOF usually shifts a bit, forward or backwards, as you zoom.   They say to do your autofocus microadjustment adjustments at the smallest focal length.  I believe that you should do it at the point where you do most of your shooting.  For instance, on my 17-55mm f2.8 IS, I do most of my shots around 55mm.

Autofocus Microadjustment Methods

There are about 5 that I know of.  I will go into detail on the one I like the best.  Note that I use a Canon DSLR (7D & 5DMkII) but the approach should be about the same.

Canon’s Suggested method – It can be found here. Note that this hyperlink is to a “great” page of MA methods done by Keith Cooper at Northlight images

  • 1. Mount the camera on a good tripod.
    2. Set up a target for the camera to focus on. The reference target should have sufficient contrast for the AF system to detect. It  should be flat and parallel to the camera’s focal plane, and centred.
    3. Lighting should be bright / even.
    4. Camera-to-subject distance should be no less than 50 times the focal length of the lens. For a 50mm lens, that would be at least 2.5 meters.
    5. Set the lens for AF and the camera for One-Shot AF, and manually select the centre focusing point.
    6. Shoot at the maximum aperture of the lens via manual mode or aperture-priority. Adjust exposure level to get an accurate exposure. Use low ISO setting.
    7. If the lens has an image stabilizer, turn it off.
    8. Use a remote switch or the camera’s self-timer to fire the shutter. Use mirror lock up as well.

    9. Take three sets of images at autofocus microadjustment settings of -5, 0 and +5, i.e, three consecutive images at -5, three consecutive images at 0, and three consecutive images at +5.
    10. Look at the images on your screen at 100% magnification.
    11. Take additional sets of test images at different autofocus microadjustment settings if necessary until the sharpest image is achieved.
    12. Register the corresponding autofocus microadjustment settings in the camera.

I found this method very tedious and time consume.  And it did not give me a quantitative understanding of the relationship between each autofocus microadjustment adjustment and its effect on DOF.

The Moire Effect Technique – Again it can be found in Coopers’s Posting. This technique is just too cool to not use at least once.  Cooper has a file that you can download and then put up on your computer screen.  It looks something like this.

I guess it’s part of technique developed by Bart van der Wolf.  You set up the camera per his instructions and use your camera AF.  Then use your autofocus microadjustment settings to see if you can improve the adjustment.  This is definitely fun to do (although my wife would not think so).  But same problem as the previous method.  I can’t get a good feel for the autofocus microadjustment versus what its doing to my DOF.  The other problem is that with either of these methods is that there is no way to tell if your sensor is parallel to the focus target.  It it is not then you are building in some inaccuracies.

The Printed target –  There are several charts on the internet using printed targets.  One really good one is Tim Jacksons D70 Focus Chart located here. He has a very thorough detailed explanation and logic on how and why this approach is a good one.  Basically you print out a graduated or rulered chart and then set up your camera at a 45 degree angle and the shoot and adjust. 

There is a similar method shown on Jeffery Friedl’s Page shown here.

These methods come close to what I was looking for in lens adjustment.  It will give you that nice quantified correlation between autofocus microadjustment and DOF.    I happily used this method for several months.  It did a decent job of lens calibration.  But…..  I was always a little concerned with the 45 degree angle.  Was I getting exactly 45 degrees.  Is the relationship between the the MA adjustments really going to be linear with this  set-up.

Professional Lens Focus Equipment – I think because I am an engineer and because focus  is so important, especially in microstock,  I decided to take the plunge and I bought the LensAlign Lite.

Lensalign Lite

I will not go into a lot of detail about this because this product has been discontinued.  Its too bad because it was their really affordable model and  it did a good, although, not great job.   The new feature offered over the previous techniques was the ability to do a basic alignment of the the focus target and the cameras sensor plane.   The way this worked is both the lensalign target and the camera are on two separate tripods or stands.  The target was also set up to sit on a table.  Next you put a magnetically attached mirror on the target and while using liveview you move the camera around until you see the center of your lens in the center of the mirror reflection.  The camera sensor plane is now roughly parallel to the target.  Remove the mirror and use your camera AF on the parallel target.  Take an image.  Zoom in on the ruler to the right of  target.  This rule has its zero axis at the plane of the target.  Look at the ruler to see where you DOF is.  If you like it…you are done.  If not.  Adjust it.   Do another AF, review,  and so on.    What I would do is take 5 images with the autofocus microadjustment (on the canon MA scale) at +10, +5, 0, -5, -10.   Its fun because you can see the DOF very clearly moving up and down the ruler.  Note that I have an easier way to do this now.

Lensalign Pro

This is the current system that I have.  And I like it.    This system can be purchased here. I noticed that they just released a new model, the LensAnlign MkII, with a new sighting system.   But I think I will stay with the Pro for a while.  Its the same sort of system as the light but its MUCH easier to align.  I use two tripods,  one for the camera and one for the target.  This system is a little sturdier and heavier than the lite.   You start by looking through the back of the target through some small holes and you align it to point in the center of your camera lens.    Next you go to your camera.  I put the center focus point on the center of the target.    I then go to live view and magnify.    You can then finish the alignment by lining up the red dots in the red holes. With that aligned I am pretty confident that your sensor IS aligned with the target.  And now you are ready to calibrate.  And here is what I do…. and it goes pretty fast.

1.  I cable the camera to my laptop and use Canon’s EOS utility to bring up the liveview on my laptop.  I actually do this during the alignment step.

2.  After it is aligned,  I go to an appropriate magnifcation level.  I move the liveview to the ruler  (the focus spot will stay on the target.

3.  Using the laptop EOS utility controls I move the lens focus to infinity.  Then, again, using the laptop, I do an AF. and I check my live view.  It should look something like this.

Actually my view has a little more to it than this and I can use smaller lettering or numbers on the ruler.   I then can decide if I like the DOF or not.  If not, I use the EOS utility to move the focus either in or out one click at at time.   It turns out that each push of the focus button moves it the equivalent of one autofocus microadjustment adjustment.

4.  Remember the number of movements you made.  Close out of the EOS utility so you have control over the camera again.  Go to the camera special functions and adjust the camera by that amount.

5.  Open the Utility again, zoom to infinity,  Try AF again.  You should be right where you want.  If not do it again but it will probably be a very small change to your first adjustment.

That’s it.

Note that I have also seen this product by Spyder.

It looks similar to the Lensalign system, But it looks like it relies on being level.  Then I suppose you camera must be level as well, and the same height  and ……. it sounds to me like there are too many details to this where the camera and target may not be aligned…..but I have not used it so take those comments for what they are….conjecture.