November 2006

Photography20 Nov 2006 at 1:14 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I tought I had a couple of hours to spare but a planning misunderstanding had me pack my kit and take off in less than three minutes – and I managed not to forget a single thing ! I did not even know I was that well organized… But you will surely be disappointed to learn that there is no secret about it : I just happened to have everything sown about the livingroom, grabbed a large bag and I threw into it about anything in sight…

I then had to catch the metro and run across Paris carrying all that on my back… I’m glad I choose to rent the 300/2.8 + 1.4 TC instead of the 400/2.8 that would clearly have broken my spine.

Everything set for aperture priority at 2.8, 1600 or 3200 ISO, partial metering, AI Servo (or at least I thought so…) and my new darling : custom function 4-3 (AF and AE on the ‘*’ key, AE lock at half shutter press, shutter priority at full shutter press). Now let’s get those pictures !

The first impression is that the Canon EF 300/2.8 L is one hefty chunk of glass. I rented it this morning and barely had time to get to know it. Its handling is a new experience in every way. The whole assembly is a solid chunk of metal, rather more like a blunt as a medieval blunt weapon good for knocking out bovines than like the delicate optical machinery that it actually is. It certainly feels quite enduring but I don’t really want to find out how much considering the enormous deposit check I had to leave to its owner. Even the lens shade is really built for abuse – nothing like the flimsy plastic appendages for use with my f/2.8 L zooms.

In fact, compared to the EF 300/2.8 L anything I have handled before now feels flimsy. I thought that the 70-200/2.8 L was pretty nice but the 300/2.8 L is just from another world. I cannot comment about image quality because I had to use high ISO and the noise precludes any meaningful judgement. But the autofocus I can comment on : it is the fastest I have ever used. Even the 1.4x teleconverter does not slow it down noticeably !

This is also the first time I use a fixed focal lense. Fixed focal makes framing much harder but the AF speed and the aperture are worth it. But keeping track of the action at a focal length of 420 mm while framing correctly is a major challenge.

From the end lines, 420 mm is fine for action two thirds of the way. From the side lines maybe I should also have tried it with no teleconverter, especially as night fell the extra stop would have been very welcome.

Depth of field at 420/4 is very short – so short that it makes me painfully aware that focusing skills are not up to snuff. Setting the correct AF mode could have helped too

As usual the best frames are the ones that could have been… I sometimes managed to have the subject in the frame and sometimes I managed to have it in focus… But rarely both at the same time. When I succeeded it is most often because I have been able to anticipate the action. I pays hugely to understand the game your are shooting – and alas my understanding of football is still at its beginning. I am beginning to notice more details but the feints still get me : for example it is hard to anticipate when the player purposefully looks in one direction and then shoots in another completely unpredictable one…

Constantly changing light conditions during the game were a pain to adapt to. From direct sunlight and shadows in broad daylight to dusk to badly lit at night there was no way to just meter and forget. Checking the histogram from time to time was more important than ever. And don’t even mention color balance : I relied on the camera’s automation and I was way off 80% of the time. A gray card to use maybe four times during the game would certainly certainly be the cheapest and easiest way to improve the quality of my images – it is now on top of my shopping list. I also experienced a few errant exposures dues to incomplete flash recycling during bursts, but that is not yet worth getting a Canon CP-E3 for. Overall, exposure was not that bad compared to how bad my focusing and framing were.

The framing was pretty bad but I know that the only way I am going to improve it is to shoot more football and learn to anticipate better. Maybe I also need to accept that I am not going to nail every single possible shot and that I must concentrate on selected parts of the game. Better framing will also give better image quality in the end product : better framing means less cropping. Less cropping means more pixels to work with and also better results from Neatimage : my Neatimage profiles are designed for the camera’s nominal resolutions and give pretty mediocre results at lower resolutions.

Blurry images are also sometimes partly caused by camera shake, but since subject movement is at least as great as camera shake I do not think a tripod would be a good idea compared to the monopod I am using. But the video people are doing it so maybe I’ll give it a try. If I do that I’ll have to thing a suitable head for that purpose – for now I’m quite clueless about tripod heads. And if there is enough light a higher shutter speed makes that a moot point.

So to sum up, here are the axis of improvement along which I am going to work :
– Focusing : exercise on anything that moves fast and impredictably… In that matters, kids playing are surprisingly comparable to football.
– Framing : shoot more football at the same level.
– Color balance : use a grey card.

I am not very happy with the end result of my work on that day, but to me it was an excellent learning experience : I am beginning to understand where I want to go and the path to get there…

Code and Photography19 Nov 2006 at 1:45 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I usually shoot a football game using two cameras. When I publish a gallery I want images from both cameras to appear as a single stream. Of course that is easily done by using a naming scheme that puts an alphanumerically sortable timestamp right after the event’s invariant name. But that only works if both cameras have been synchronized before the event starts… Of course I forgot to do it. No problem – Exiv2 comes to the rescue ! A simple ‘exiv2 ad -a 48:08:30 *’ saved my day (actually two days, eight minutes and thirty seconds)… Thank you Exiv2 !

Brain dump and Knowledge management and Photography18 Nov 2006 at 1:20 by Jean-Marc Liotier

After a football game three months ago I wrote womething about forgetting AI servo :

“I surely made the focusing on action even worse by shooting with AI focus instead of AI servo. I’m quite ashamed of that mistake. Maybe I forgot to set it up properly because I’m not used to do it on my 300D which does not offer that choice… As usual, discovering new hardware on the event is a truly bad idea… I guess that’ll serve me as a reminder to force AI servo next time and to get intimately familiar with new hardware before covering an event”.

Well… I just did that again : for the football game last wednesday I set both cameras on AI Focus. How daft is that ? I am furious at myself. The manual of every Eos body in the last 20 years has been clear that AI Servo is the proper autofocus mode for sports. What was I thinking ? I was even wondering why the autofocus was a bit slow to start tracking while I was believing that I had set it to AI Servo… I could probably have had three times more keepers ! At least I guess I won’t forget to set it to AI Servo next time…

I feel incredibly stupid. 10k Euros worth of hardware dangles from my neck and I can’t even set the AF mode properly. This morning I felt too ashamed to tell anybody. But keeping silent would have been a grave mistake : an important part of experience capitalization is that you should not be afraid of explaining the most horrendously stupid mistakes you made.

Many knowledge management projects are rather useless because their participants refuse to show how they failed. Everyone loves to tell a success story and let their ego bask in the praise lavished upon them. Too bad because the failures often contain more actionable information than the success stories. And since people want to avoid failure even more than they seek success, a failure story will anchor new knowledge even more efficiently than a success story.

For example, during the run up to D-Day, the entrance of a commando training camp in Britain was graced by mock graves with obituaries describing the fictional deaths of trainees. That was recognized as an efficient way to impact the trainees and get the important safety messages accross.

So you can really pay your peers a big favor by telling them your worst. As the demotivator poster says : “It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others”

Code and Photography17 Nov 2006 at 1:42 by Jean-Marc Liotier

IPTC is the industry standard for photographic metadata so that is what you should use. As usual, a little shell scripting makes life easier so let me introduce you to the comprehensive answer to all your EXIF and IPTC metadata manipulation needs : Exiv2. Using it I whipped up a trivial, quick and dirty way to tag a bunch of files with the generic IPTC metadata of your choice. Edit the script to your taste with your own data and you are set.

Yes it is most trivial, but it is news to me and it is all I need… So there – scratching your own itch and all that…

Last but not the least : be aware that Gimp will rudely overwrite IPTC metadata with no warning and no point. The developers are aware of that and fixes will be forthcoming in an undefined future release. So along your digital photography workflow make sure that you tag your batch of pictures downstream from editing them in Gimp

Code and Photography and Systems16 Nov 2006 at 0:42 by Jean-Marc Liotier is another trivial script I wrote that saves me much manipulation each time I come back to my workstation with removable media full of photos. It copies all images from a removable media to the directory of the day (created on the fly if not existing), autorotates them and sets the permissions right. It is what I use prior to putting the pictures in an appropriately named directory and running to name them according to my standard.

It does about the same thing as but it does not handles the mounting and unmounting because it assumes a removable medium that Ubuntu mounts automatically. As a bonus there is a very slight addition of polish. I should backport some of the polish to, but since I no longer use it and received no feedback about it my motivation is quite low.

Photography15 Nov 2006 at 10:37 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I have another lucky opportunity to shoot an international soccer game from the sidelines on invitation by the Guinean national team. Last time’s soccer photography packing list was about a true ghetto rig. This time I managed to gather quite enough decent hardware :

That is definitely serious hardware. I guess that any excuses about a poor rig won’t be taken seriously this time… Building on my previous soccer photography experience, here is what I intend to do :

  • The 300/2.8 with the 1.4x Extender will go on the 30D perched on top of the monopod assembly.
  • The 70-200/2.8 L will go on the 400D with the BG-E3. The 580EX will join them as soon as speed at f/2.8 and ISO 1600 falls to 1/125s.
  • I’ll keep the 24-70/2.8 at hand just in case there is really close action. Last time, except for the penalty shoots and a few lucky close encounters, the 24-70 on the second body was way too short. I felt that the 70-200 would be much more useful. I’ll test that hypothesis today.

We’ll soon see what I can do with all that…

Consumption and Photography14 Nov 2006 at 22:31 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Today I got a Canon Eos 400D in the mail. I could not resist playing with it this morning before heading for the office. The very first impression comes from the better quality of the finish, a mode selector that does not slip under sweaty fingers and instant power-on. The feeling that comes right next is how tiny the grip is – with the 24-70/2.8L it feels downright ridiculous. But the improvements soon let me forgive that : bigger buffer, AF mode control, second curtain flash (CF 9-1), custom function 4-3 (AF and AE on the ‘*’ key, AE lock at half shutter press, shutter priority at full shutter press), flash exposure compensation on the body and an autofocus that I don’t feel like swearing at constantly… All of the major annoyances of the 300D are gone – life is good !

In order to have some decent hardware to cover tomorrow’s soccer game, I borrowed a Canon Eos 30D from my friend Guillaume. I played a bit with it and was immediately in awe of the superior ergonomics. Bigger viewfinder, bigger grip and quick control dial make the 400D feel like a toy in comparison. Even the Canon BG-E3 I bought along with the 400D does not really bridge the gap. Apart from that both cameras actually perform similarly. The feeling of quality and the manipulation speed are significant advantages – the question is open whether you should spend the difference to get them. But the reasons why I borrowed this body are the five frames per second compared with the 400D’s three and the ISO 3200 maximum sensitivity compared with the 400D’s 1600. Five frames per second at ISO 3200… That is fast enough to catch that perfect action frame I’m after ! I don’t need that sort of speed often, but for soccer it is really necessary unless you want lots of blurry frames with no ball in them…

Brain dump and Systems and Writing05 Nov 2006 at 17:19 by Jean-Marc Liotier

In the faint hope that I would pickup some unknown productivity tip I found myself reading “Writing documents with Writer” by Marco Marongiu. Marco did a good job of producing a basic tutorial, but the way he introduced the use of styles made me want to rant about an old pet peeve of mine…

Writing content first and then styling is missing half the point of the styles. The styles not only facilitate formatting : they also give the document a hierarchical outline. Writing using a text processing tool that support an outline mode make me much more productive as I can use the word processor not only as a writing tool but as a tool that supports my thinking. Microsoft Word has it but Openoffice Writer does not. Contrary to what the Openoffice FAQ claims, the Navigator does not provide even a fraction of the functionality of MS Word’s outline mode.

A year ago, Jim Sabatke said about OO Writer : “For example, it can’t collapse multiple sections at a time so you can view/edit several other sections. For some reason, open source word processor teams are resisting this functionality that is an important “thinking” and “organizing” feature that many have come to depend on in almost every MS Windows Word processor”. Make sure you take a look at : wou will understand where the many people like me come from ! As Robert P. J Day said about the outline mode : “MS Word is *exactly* what you want to emulate here. There is no need to do things “differently” or “better” from Word WRT outlining – they got it right”. I wholeheartedly agree and I am very surprised to see that in the Openoffice issue tracker outline mode is a low priority issue that has been open since 2002 – that is more than four years !

Considering how important it is to many people I know (who are quite representative of the technical writing community) and how much it has been discussed for years all over the Net I really don’t understand why outline mode has not been given more attention within the Openoffice project. If I was in a bad mood I would say that this project has a bad case of NIH… But I am not the sort of person who would carry libelous rumors such as this one…