Newsletter of E.J. Peiker, Nature Photographer and www.EJPhoto.com
All contents ©2005 E.J. Peiker
(Vol 3 , Issue 3)
It is hard to believe that this is already the 11th quarterly Quack Newsletter. It has grown substantially in content and distribution volume over the three years that I have been doing this. Feedback has been positive and I strive to continue to bring you news and views from the world of digital nature photography. As always, the comments expressed are my opinions based on my experiences - other's experiences may differ. I have increased the size of Quack this quarter due to the large proliferation in broadband connections but will strive to keep the letter below 1MB. For those of you on modem connections, I apologize that this took a couple of minutes of download time. I am hoping that the content is worth the wait. As always, your feedback is highly appreciated and desired. After every issue I get email asking about the duck-head letter Q and where I got that from - I didn't get it from anywhere, I came up with the idea and created it myself. Enjoy reading and viewing the photographs in this issue - E.J.
Computing for the Digital Photographer - What's Next?
The second half of 2005 ushers in a new era of personal computing which will be a boon for digital photographers. Digital photographers and videographers have always been on the leading edge of computer horsepower requirements. In the past, microprocessor manufacturers like Intel and AMD have kept bringing us processors with higher and higher clock frequencies. This was made possible by shrinking features resulting in electrons having to travel shorter distances. In the last few yeas we have approached what is referred to as the power wall. As you make integrated circuits faster and faster, the power consumption of the device increases exponentially. Compound this with smaller feature sizes and you have a thermal nightmare - more power, running faster with the heat having to be dissipated from a smaller area. Given this dilemma, how do we keep improving the performance of huge and complex programs such as Photoshop Creative Suite?
Enter dual core processors! A dual core processor is essentially two full CPU's in a single microprocessor for true parallel computing. This allows the designer to actually reduce the clock speed from say 3.6GHz to 3GHz but since there are two of them, still get a huge increase in performance. The reduction from 3.6GHz to 3GHz allows you to have two CPU's and not draw any more power than the single 3.6GHz processor. Add hyperthreading to each processor core and you now have 4 execution paths in a single microprocessor. Applications like Photoshop are written to take advantage of these multiple execution paths. One of the slowest and most complex operations in Photoshop is application of a 16 bit Photo Blur filter. A dual core 3GHz system takes a full 40% less time to complete this task than a single 3.6GHz processor.
By 2006 dual core processors will be mainstream and we will reap the benefits. If you still need more power, wait a few more months for 64 bit dual core, dual processor and hyperthreaded workstations. This will give you 8 simultaneous execution paths with double the memory bandwidth resulting in incredible power and performance difficult to imagine today.
In the storage area, something of paramount importance for digital photographers, high speed stand alone RAID solutions are hitting the market. It is now possible to buy a 5 bay RAID enclosure with 5 400GB drives for a RAID 0 configuration of 2TB (Terabytes!), a fully mirrored RAID 1 configuration of 800GB with hot swap disk, and a RAID 5 configuration of 1.6TB with full data rebuild in the case of a drive failure.
On the monitor front, CRT's are just about dead. Most manufacturers no longer manufacture them. LCD's are taking over at a very rapid pace. In the past, LCD's did not quite provide the quality and flexibility of CRTs for digital photographers but this too is changing. The Sony 23" LCD monitor and Apple Cinema displays are almost as good as the very best CRTs and take up much less desk space, are wide screen and consume a fraction of the power.
Adobe Photoshop CS2 - First Impressions
This Spring Adobe released a new version of Photoshop called Photoshop CS2 (CS stands for Creative Suite). While not a revolutionary change to Photoshop CS, there are a number of new features that are beneficial to photographers. These changes include a completely re-tooled file browser called Picture Bridge, more filters in 16 bit/color mode, and a new 32 bit per color file format used to compress high dynamic range scenes into something renderable by output devices. In general, the PhotoShop code grew dramatically and there is a toll on performance. Virtually every operation is just a little bit slower.
The biggest change in CS2 is that the very clunky and poor performing file browser is gone. It has been replaced by a new, significantly less clunky browser called Picture Bridge. Performance is better with Picture Bridge and the way it displays thumbnails and images is much more customizable than in the past. The bridge does some interesting automatic exposure adjustments to your previews and every RAW file preview looks significantly overexposed and oversaturated in the default configuration; however, this can be mitigated (keep reading). When opening a RAW file an the new version of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), you can uncheck the automatic adjustments and then save that as new camera raw defaults. Now back in Picture Bridge, you can apply the camera RAW defaults to photos in the Bridge getting rid of the garish automatic adjustments. Note you have to do this for every RAW file type (TIF, CRW, CR2, NEF, etc) but once you have done that, these defaults stick for future use. RAW conversion is much improved with much more control. I recommend unchecking all automatic adjustments and checking the the Shadow and Highlight boxes to give you a real time clipping preview. The chromatic aberration adjustments in and vignetting adjustments in ACR are especially useful for EOS 1Ds and 1Ds Mark II users to correct for the flaws in lens design that these super high resolution cameras expose. I have found a vignetting adjustment of +20 on 1Ds files and +25 on 1Ds Mark II files to be adequate most of the time with wide angle lenses but this is somewhat dependent on the lens, aperture and focal length in use. For those that don't want to reconvert RAW files that were converted prior to the release of Photoshop CS2, the new Lens Correction Filter can also correct chromatic aberration and vignetting; plus, it can adjust perspective.
The new High Dynamic Range (HDR) function is a great concept. Basically what the tool does is combine several identical images taken at different exposures into a single image. In a high contrast situation, we are often challenged with the exposure range recording capability of our system. A scene with snow on the mountain tops and shadows or dark objects in the foreground usually forces the photographer to either overexpose the white detail thereby losing all texture in the snow but retaining detail in the dark areas or to underexpose the scene retaining the white detail but losing the dark detail. Traditionally, landscape photographers have tried to deal with this using graduated neutral density filters but this is less than optimal because it forces you to pick a line where the graduation occurs. Unfortunately most color and light transitions in nature are not linear. With the dawn of digital technology we have started to take two or three exposures - one for the highlights, one for the mid tones and one for the dark areas and then combined them into a single image in a long and tedious workflow that could take upwards of an hour to process on the computer for a single image. With HDR, you can simply take 5 to 7 shots all spaced about 1 exposure stop apart and have HDR do the image combination for you. Note that the resultant image will be a very low contrast 32 bit image that needs some level and curves work but the process is reduced from one that is measure in hours to one that is measured in minutes. One word of caution, HDR requires computing horsepower. For decent performance, you will need at least a 3GHz hyper threaded machine with 2GB of RAM.
Other minor additions of note for photographers includes a few new photo filters, an exposure adjustment tool and filters that have been upgraded to 16 bit/color filters. Despite the name Photoshop, which is arguably the most complex commercial software application available, it has been maligned for not really catering to photographers and really going after the commercial art/advertising market. Adobe has clearly made it a priority in the last few versions to correct that perception by continually adding to and improving the tools that photographers need.
As stated above, Adobe Camera RAW and Picture Bridge have largely solved the problems of the past and I have converted to an all Adobe workflow. I have outlined the basic workflow on EJPhoto.com. Here is a direct link to my current RAW workflow: BRIDGE/ACR/PHOTOSHOP WORKFLOW
Photo Activity Review
Another winter and spring has passed us by. This is traditionally the busiest season for nature photographers (or at last for this nature photographer). After concluding this year's DuckShop series, it was time to get back to some photography for my files. I started off with a trip to photograph the incursion of Great Gray Owls in northern Minnesota. What amazing creatures! It was cold, it was snowy, it was great! Many thanks to friends Karen Schindeldecker and Dennis Olivero for being great hosts and taking the time to show me the owls. The biggest shock of the weekend was all of the locals that drove worse in snow than this Arizona boy did as many vehicles were in ditches and turned over along I-35. Great Gray Owl Gallery
In March I flew to Chicago in hopes of finding the much sought after Baikal Teal. A native of Siberia and East Asia, the Baikal Teal is one of the more ornate species. A Past DuckShop participant, Penney Goodwin, had sent me a photo over a year ago of a Baikal Teal taken in Lincoln Park so I took a chance over a year later and was very pleased to find two male and one female of the species. Photographic conditions were difficult at best but I got my Duck! Baikal Teal Gallery
I participated in a Utah Triple D Wildlife ranch shoot with friend and Master Photographer Charles Glatzer in April. Again, the weather was sub-par but we got some great shots of various species of mammals and had a great time in general. I almost got quilled in the face by porcupine photographing the shot above with a wide angle lens! On the drive back home I stopped in at the Marble Canyon visitor center in northern Arizona for a quick break. There is a footbridge that crosses the Colorado River and I noticed someone with an aerial antenna. Around here that means the possibility of California Condors - one of the rarest birds in North America. There are only 150 of these birds in the wild and 52 of them reside in Arizona. In the next hour I got to witness and photograph 18 California Condors and their 9 foot wing-spans soaring the Canyon walls. This represents fully 1/3 of the Arizona population and 12% of the worlds population - what a thrill. I will never curse my bladder again! Note that all California Condors have wing tags, if you see photos without, them, they have been manipulated. California Condor Gallery
Over Memorial Day weekend, I went to far northern Minnesota with Karen and Dennis to photograph the Black Bears in Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary. The Bears were abundant and there were several new species of birds for me too. We photographed newborn babies, yearlings, adults and in all different behaviors including mating, eating, playing, climbing trees, etc. The experience of being in close proximity of wild Black Bears is something difficult to describe. Again a great time was had by all and another big thanks to Karen and Dennis. Black Bear Gallery
Waterfowl Species Essay Series
As noted in the last issue, I have started publishing Waterfowl Species Essays on www.NatureScapes.net. Each essay is several paragraphs long and is a written piece about a specific species. Information about the species includes its characteristic markings (male and female), range, diet, population, mating habits, and much more. At the end of each essay is a section on photographic tips for both male and female birds to help bird and waterfowl photographers get a start on achieving professional results. These tips come directly from my experience in taking over 100,000 waterfowl photographs of 150 species of quackers and honkers in the last 6 years. Accompanying each essay is a collection 6 photographs of the species being covered in the essay. Over the coming months and years, I hope to write about and provide education on the majority of the world's waterfowl species through this and other sources. Look for lots of information on our common friends we see in our local ponds throughout the world and some of the more exotic species that may be difficult to find. So far I have covered Ring-necked Duck, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Mandarin Duck, Wood Duck, Green-winged Teal, Falcated Duck, Hooded Merganser, Snow Goose, and Trumpeter Swan and. To access them, go to NatureScapes and select the Photo Essay forum. I plan to add 2 to 3 species per month.
© 2005 - E.J. Peiker, Nature Photographer.
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