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Photography and Picture of the day10 Oct 2006 at 23:26 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Direct sunlight creates unflattering hard shadows. Not having an assistant holding a reflector for me while I stroll along La Defense with the kids I had to improvise with the material at hand. Luckily, La Defense has a plentiful provision of variously reflective walls even larger than the largest reflector my non-existing assistant can handle.

So here is a picture of Calixthe dancing Coupé Décalé in the afternoon light. Barely a meter on our left was a large glass façade that provided the wonderful fill light on Calixthe’s face. That goes to show that even with no fancy hardware there are always plenty of opportunities for nice lighting that await the innovative souls.

Photography20 Aug 2006 at 23:01 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Football photography packing list and hardware setup” was the brief… Here is the debrief !

First, thanks to Julien for loaning his Canon Eos 350 XT and Vosonic X’S-Drive II Plus VP2160. The VP2160 was nice to have but I simply could not have obtained the same results with my Canon Eos 300D in place of the 350XT. As Giampi said in the understatement of the week : “The 300D is not a sports camera”… I would go even further to say it is near useless for that task.

The most important thing I discovered it that focusing is quite a challenge – anticipation helps greatly but it is not always possible. I have found that prefocusing on a higher contrast subject at the same distance helps, but again that is not always possible. Corner shots, free kicks and high arcing balls were golden opportunities for anticipating the trajectory and focusing on the receiving end players. I was able to do it better than I expected, but that is not saying much and it was even worse when merely reacting to the action. As expected, keeping the people on the ball in focus was horrendously hard and I have to work on that – a lot.

I was moderately content with the AF performance in good light of the Canon EF 70-200/2.8 L behind the Kenko Teleplus Pro 300 AF 2x teleconverter mounted on the borrowed Canon Eos 350XT. As the sun began to set AF got worse and out of focus images became even more frequent. I shot the whole set at ISO1600 with aperture priority at various settings trying to keep the speed around 1/1000-1/2000s while maximising depth of field. The Canon Speedlite 580EX with the Better Beamer FX-3 helped a little with the lighting but considering the distances the AF assist was of course ineffective. Someone even mentioned that the camera was slowed down by trying to find the AF assist pattern – I’m not sure about that but it may be worth checking.

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.

In order to preserve my self-esteem I shall now blame my hardware a bit : the Canon EF 70-200/2.8 L is quite slow with a teleconverter. But since it is not too expensive I’m going to stick to that solution… I wonder if the Canon 2x teleconverter is any faster than my Kenko.

Quite unexpectedly the 350XT lasted the whole game on a single battery with the batery indicator still showing full at the end – that was only about 700 frames but I would guesstimate that this is four times more efficient than the 300D with its more powerful battery. I’m impressed ! Less impressive is the use of different batteries for those two cameras. Lack of commonality is especially irritating considering that the Canon Eos 20D does use the same BP511A batteries as the 300D…

On the contrary, the 580EX seems to have exceeded the capacity of the four 2400mAh batteries : shooting every frame with flash was a pretty heavy workload… I’ll add a Canon CP-E3 to my letter to Santa Claus !

I was also surprised to never be hindered by filling the 350XT’s buffer. Maybe that is a hint that I am not shooting enough – perhaps as a result of my inability to keep interesting things in focus. I lost a few shots when shooting too conservatively – with many GB of storage at hand I had no reason to do that but bad habits die hard.

The 140-400mm focal length range provided by the doubled 70-200mm was a good range when shooting from the sidelines. The second body with the 24-70mm was not very useful – as expected a 70-200 would have been much more useful. A trans-standard zoom was nice to have for the team shots and for catching the penalty kicks from near the goal but the team shots could have been handled with a 70mm and the goal shots are traditionnaly a job for remotes. So two bodies with three lenses would be fine – let’s add a new 70-200mm on the Christmas shopping list. The Canon EF 70-200/4 L would be ideal for the second body, not least because it is not unreacheably expensive. The flash could easily provide the lighting difference between f/2.8 and f/4 – but then a second 580EX is probably useful because it adapts to the crop factor to reduce the wasted light.

After some post-processing the results are not as bad as I feared but correcting my erratic exposures and random focus did degrade the quality a bit. But the noise and softness before going through Neatimage were much harder on the eye…

All things considered this was a great learning experience and I look forward doing it again !


Photography16 Aug 2006 at 10:08 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I’m shooting football tonight for the first time. For the second time ever I’ll attend a football game and last time was thirteen years ago – that tells much about my expertise… I am lucky enough to attend Guinea vs. Cameroon thanks to an invitation from the Guinean national team. An international match – what an awesome way to introduce myself to football photography !

For such a great occasion my hardware setup reminds me of that Tank Girl quote… “Feeling a little inadequate ?”

My friends Guillaume and François being on vacation there was no way to take advantage of some of their stash of heavy gear. So all I could do to to scrounge up a semi-decent kit was to borrow a body from Julien. I also took his Vosonic X’S-Drive II Plus VP2160 portable hard disk to replace my Vosonic X’S-Drive VP2060 whose ergonomics I partly blame for a recent data loss. So here is my packing list :

On top of all that, some learning material digested beforehand can’t hurt… I found’s sport photography introduction to be a good starting point.

The problem with football is the fast action moving impredictably around the whole pitch. The most useful focal lengths are said to be 70-500 and short reaction times give no time for swapping lenses. So I intend to mount the 70-200 with the TC on the Eos 350XT on the monopod with the 550EX and the Better Beamer. The 24-70 will go on the Eos 300D with the 380EX. So the bad news is that I have a gaping hole in coverage between 70mm and 140mm. Another 70-200, even a f/4 would have been nice. Decent long glass in place of the converted 70-200/2.8 would had been even better but that is definitely not within my means so I should stop dreaming. But a replacement for the 300D shall surely be on my Christmas letter to Santa Claus so that I can at least stop borrowing bodies.

Too bad I only have one battery with the borrowed 350XT – I have four for my 300D so I’ll probably end up shooting part of the game swapping lenses on it… Which is exactly what I wanted to avoid. Why aren’t the two bodies using the same batteries ?

All in all I have the vital minimum but not much more. Compared to the pro shooters I expect to be on my left and right I’m feeling whoefully short on hardware… But let’s be a hero and prove that I can produce decent pictures with this ghetto rig !

Photography12 Jul 2006 at 12:41 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I have noticed that when using my 300D with my 580EX in high-speed sync mode I sometimes get a grossly over-exposed band on the left in portrait orientation or on the top in landscape orientation. Worn shutter, flash malfunction, body malfunction, communication error between flash and body, confusion between normal flash synchronization and high-speed flash synchronization, excessive shutter speed in normal flash sync ? I posted my problem on but the answers were inconclusive. I am left scratching my head about it and I can’t even find out how to reproduce the result reliably… For now my bets are on user error…

Here are a few frames featuring the overexposed band in case they remind someone of a known problem. One of the most likely root causes is the somewhat loose flash hostshoe.

Consumption and Photography04 Jul 2006 at 16:46 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Under the blazing sun during the start of the Le Mans 24 hours skating race I shot only two hundred frames before running my three freshly recharged batteries flat. I first thought that they were nearing the end of their useful lives, but during the night I managed to shoot four hundred frames on a single battery I just recharged. The intense heat from direct sunlight may have something to do with how fast power is depleted.

This comes as a surprise to me : I am used to rotating batteries in an inner pocket near my body to keep them warm in extreme cold weather but this is the first time I encounter performance degradation in extreme heat. And I have no idea how to attack this problem.

Robin Tichy mentions that “Li-ion batteries outperform their counterparts in high-temperature conditions ranging up to 40°–45°C. SLA and NiMH batteries do not perform well in higher-heat situations”. The BP511A batteries I use in my Canon Eos 300D use Li-ion – maybe I should consider myself lucky I did not use NiMH batteries

Photography24 Jun 2006 at 0:25 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Shooting people on a dance floor last week-end I faced the limits of my flash’s recycling speed. Bouncing against high ceilings with nearly no ambient light, even when shooting 1/60s f/2.8 at ISO 1600 the power of the Canon Speedlight 580EX was more than welcome. A couple of high-power discharges or even a single one were enough to keep the flash from firing for the next frame. As a result I produced many black frames.

I was mostly using recent 2400 mAH NiMH batteries which lasted reasonably long and were not the cause of this issue. The problem certainly lied in the recycle speed of the flash itself. Indeed Jamison Boyer had exactly the same experience just a week before me.

The solution is an external power pack feeding the flash’s high voltage input. This means either a Quantum Turbo or a Canon CP-E3. The Quantum Turbo is said to fully recycle a 580EX in less than 1.5 seconds whereas the CP-E3 does it in less than two seconds. But the CP-E3 weights 0.42 kg including batteries whereas the Quantum Turbo weights 1.1 kg. And considering the lower price of the Quantum Turbo the opinions tend to favor the compromise embodied by the CP-E3.

In his good introduction about high voltage batteries in general and Quantum hardware in particular, the heavily equipped Ralph Paonessa mentions the Quantum Turbo Compact that is in the same bulk and weight class as the CP-E3. But the Quantum Turbo Compact costs three times as much as the CP-E3 so there is no contest.

Some folks at Sportsshooter also mention the Lumedyne Tinycycler but it does not seem very common.

For the time being I don’t have the luxury of an external high voltage power pack. As Lord Rutherford once declared : “gentlemen, we have no money, therefore we must think”. My workaround is to shoot with both eyes open. In addition to improving situational awareness it allows to keep the outside eye on the flash readyness light and only shoot when it is lit up. Not quite as comfortable as an endless fast supply of power but that will have to do for now…

Photography and Picture of the day23 Jun 2006 at 0:40 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Capturing emotions photographically is not something I only achieve very randomly. But that day I was lucky enough to be at the right time, at the right place with working equipment and a steady hand.

Photography22 Jun 2006 at 0:05 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I have fallen in love with high dynamic range photography.

In his introduction to “Merge to HDR in Photoshop CS2Michael Reichmann does a great job of explaining dynamic range limitations in photography and the ways to overcome them. Photomatix provides a nice little FAQ about HDR imaging as well as a few dynamic range increase examples.

For Linux users, PFScalibration provides an implementation of a method for the recovery of high dynamic range images from a set of low dynamic range exposures such as the JPEG files produced by the generally available digital cameras.

For those who prefer a graphical user interface it is also possible to create HDR images from bracketed exposures using Cinepaint with Hartmut Sbosny’s “Bracket to HDR” Cinepaint plugin. Its output is an HDR image that like with PFScalibration can be saved in the OpenEXR HDR image format developed by Industrial Light & Magic.

With Cinepaint as well as with PFScalibration the resulting HDR image must then be tone mapped to normal dynamic range so that an image in a format such as JPEG can be produced. Tone mapping is the job of PFStmo, a package that contains the implementation of state of the art tone mapping operators.

Nicholas (alias Sunyata on Flickr) has been one of the very first Linux users to try his hand at HDR photography with Cinepaint and PFStmo and publish the results. Here are a few of his most beautiful latest results:

Stunning isn’t it ? These images show how HDR imaging liberates from the exposure constraints of traditional photography. PFScalibration and PFStmo are part of PFStools, a set of command line and graphical programs for reading, writing, manipulating and viewing high-dynamic range images. PFStools is the part of the excellent works of the Max-Planck-Institut Informatik. It is licensed under the GPL.

Because of its modular architecture owning to use of UNIX pipes, the PFStools package is quite flexible. A typical workflow would look like the following :

# Calibrate the system - this should only be done once for each camera
# Generate a listing of the calibration source files and their characteristics
jpeg2hdrgen img*.jpg > example.hdrgen
# Create the camera response curve
pfsinhdrgen example.hdrgen | pfshdrcalibrate -v -s camera.response
# Perform the actual process of converting bracketed JPEGs
# to a tone mapped HDR image
# Generate a listing of the source files and their characteristics
jpeg2hdrgen img*.jpg > example.hdrgen
# Create the HDR image in the OpenEXR format
pfsinhdrgen example.hdrgen | pfshdrcalibrate -v -f camera.response
| pfsoutexr example.exr
# Render a tone mapped image using the tone mapping operator of
# your choice (drago03 in this example).
pfsin example.exr | pfstmo_drago03 | pfsgamma 2.2 | pfsout example.jpeg

As you can see the process is quite simple. But you definitely need to read the PFScalibration documentation. Wolfsauge also paraphrased the PFScalibration documentation and sprinkled a few examples on top of it – you might want to read his article about producing HDR images to see the problem in another light.

Now let’s fetch a sturdy tripod, go out and make HDR images !

Photography and Picture of the day21 Jun 2006 at 0:10 by Jean-Marc Liotier

My keepers ratio for dance floor scenes is horrendously low, mostly because I can’t figure out how to focus on the right point with next to no ambient light apart from the occasional flickering red spotlight. Maybe I should try pre-focusing using the distance scale on my lens. For now my results are as much planning as generous gigage compensating for the dismal probabilities.

Talking about ambient light on the dance floor, you probably won’t see it because my Canon Speedlight 580EX also known as the portable sun almost drowns out everything else. Only when opening as much as made possible by my hardware and the moving nature of the subject (1/60s f/2.8 at ISO 1600) does a hint of ambient light register as you can see on the above picture. But I guess I’ll have to live with that : if I can’t get enough sharp shots with the flash, I would probably get none at all without it.

Photography20 Jun 2006 at 0:54 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I attended the wedding of my friends Marie-Caroline and Franklin this week-end and took the opportunity to exercise my somewhat rough wedding photography skills. Some more debriefing shall follow shortly and the finished product should be ready by the end of the week.

Much gigage was produced (a bit under 3000 frames) and a slight lossage experienced so today I’ll begin with a little story about storage…

I use a Vosonic X’S-Drive VP2060. It is quite old now but still works perfectly fine despite travelling quite a bit in my bag. Six months ago I wrote about the main risk inherent to my storage procedure :

“It is very unnerving to have no way to control wether or not copy from CF to hard disk was performed successfuly. I have not had a failed copy ever but the nagging risk remains in the back of my mind. That is why a review screen is no luxury and it is the primary reason why one of these day I will upgrade to something with a review screen”.

That was excellent foresight : this week-end I lost the entire content of 1 GB Compact Flash card full of reception candids because I failed to transfer it to my portable hard disk. The Vosonic X’S-Drive VP2060 gives no way to confirm wether or not a picture has been copied on the disk so I expected that the occurence of such loss was only a matter of time. The direct cause is of course user error, but the lacking ergonomics of the Vosonic are a large factor contributing toward it.

I now understand I should heed to the advice of other photographers on ditch the hard drive when operating under time pressure and instead bring as much CF storage as necessary. Chris Newkumet puts it best :

“I hope you’re not intending to download cards during a wedding and then format and reuse those cards at that same event. For one thing, there’s rarely time to do that given how quickly things move in a typical wedding schedule. And I’d never trust an assistant to do that, either. As Bas said, with the going rate for CF cards, there’s no good reason to do it. My advice–buy 7-8 gigs of CF capacity, fill each card, tuck them away safely and then take your time when you get back home or to the studio downloading the images. I shoot 1,500–2,000 images during a typical 10-hour wedding date, and I can tell you I need to sit down later and make sure I’ve accounted for all of them before I can rest easy. As for the portable storage devices themselves, the only one I have any experience with is the Epson and I can tell you it’s pretty slow. I think these gadgets are fine for traveling and what not when you have time at the end of each day to download cards”.

Experiencing a loss definitely got the lesson nailed in pretty well. And considering it was only a loss of about 350-400 frames (maybe 50 keepers at my going rate) it was a rather cheap lesson.

Portable (CF reader + hard disks) combos are still nice when working at a relaxed pace. The debate still rages about wether they should be used to free up CF space or only as a backup, or wether burning CDs is a a better option, but for me the choice is now clear : a portable storage device for travelling and a stack of CF cards for event photography.

Photography19 Jun 2006 at 0:22 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Scans from my Nikon LS-30 are quite noisy. Vuescan features “grain reduction” but I have found that for using Neatimage instead provides better results. I have had satisfying results with the Nikon Coolscan V profiles by Tom Lane using Neatimage‘s “remove more chrominance noise” preset.

At the moment there are no other Nikon slide scanner profiles. Since Neatimage profiles depend on the film and on the exposure, I guess I will have to produce a better matching profile myself.

Consumption and Photography18 Jun 2006 at 0:49 by Jean-Marc Liotier

After using Vuescan everyone realizes that scanner manufacturers should really be ashamed of what they ship with their hardware. Ed Hamrick single handedly produced the only program that really gets the best out of almost every scanners. Without him my precious Nikon LS-30 would just be about useless to me : since 1999 only Vuescan provides useable infrared scratch removal on Linux. Efforts by the SANE project to provide infrared dust removal have not gone beyond the proof of concept stage, so seven years later Vuescan is still the only one to save my negative scanning days. On top of that, support by Ed Hamrick is nothing short of exceptional – he is a highly responsive developper with great passion in his work. Add a perpetual license at a very low price and you probably understand that I’m in love with this product.

Photography07 Jun 2006 at 18:49 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Eos flash photography is a complex if not downright confusing art which makes Eos flash exposure errors a recurrent discussion topic. Lack of information from Canon would leave users in the dark if there was not’s definitive reference for Eos flash photography. On the path to flash enlightement the photographer will often come back to it to refresh his knowledge at the source.

My most grievous Eos flash photography sin is the use of the “focus – recompose – shoot” drill with flash :

“The fact that the camera biases flash exposure to the nearest focus point [..] is important to keep in mind. If you’re in the habit of using the old “focus, lock AE and recompose image” technique, be sure not do this when taking flash photos.

Flash metering occurs after ambient light metering, so in this case you’re locking AE but not flash metering, and therefore recomposing messes up your flash metering. Instead, select the focus point that’s closest to your subject in order to bias flash exposure to that area”.

Flash exposure lock also provides a way to focus-recompose while metering flash on the right target, but the awkward ergonomics make it unusable in practice for photojournalist style photography.

ETTL-II introduced several improvements, but I had missed the most important from my point of view : a new evaluative metering algorithm. The rumor claims that ETTL-II ignores the AF point bias. puts it much more mildly, but it looks like something that could potentially make the focus-recompose drill viable with flash.

The only drawback is that ETTL-II bodies are only ETTL-II. Only the 1D MkII has a custom function to switch between focus-point biased metering and evaluative metering.

Photography and Picture of the day07 Jun 2006 at 2:17 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Camera laid on a bench for five seconds at f/11, barely cropped and passed through Neatimage. I like how the orange office lighting contrasts with the bright green. Made with Canon Eos 300D with EF 24-70/2.8 L.

Lawn and lighted office in the evening

Photography and Systems07 Jun 2006 at 1:14 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Neatimage 5.4 Pro installs and runs fine with Wine 0.9.9-0ubuntu2 found in the Dapper Drake release of the Ubuntu distribution. Neatimage working with Wine was mentioned in Wine’s application database, but I was not successful with Ubuntu‘s Hoary Hedgehog. The upgrade to Dapper solved some of the problems but others probably remain because Neatimage crashes somewhere at the beginning of a filtration job. I’ll keep working on it…

Meta and Photography and Travels02 Jun 2006 at 18:17 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Since you asked… Yes I am the author of the ostrich picture featured on this page’s header. I shot it at Cape Point, South Africa in 2004. The whole picture of the two ostriches strolling on the beach is available here along with many others.

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