Screens and dirty windows in front of your camera lens

Sometimes the conditions for taking pictures are very marginal but the photo is a must. Such was the situation recently for me. We have not had any rain lately and even the deer that live around our neighborhood were getting desperate. It was after dinner when a doe wandered to the bowl of water I have sitting our for the chipmunks and small birds. It was unusual and I wanted a photo. The only view was from a window with a heavy screen. There was a good deal of light falling on the screen from a window behind me.


Here is the result. The exposure was 1/15 sec , f/5.6 at ISO 1600. Marginal at best. Note the histogram, nothing on the black end as the illuminated screen provided glare and nothing on the high end as it was dark and there was not enough light for a hand-held exposure. My lens was as open as it goes at the zoom setting I used.

Those little controls on the histogram are the salvation for shots like this. I moved the bottom one up to just were the histogram curve starts and the top one down enough to brighten up the photo. A little bit of added contrast and a small boost of  color saturation was all, I did not crop the photo.


DeerMuch more acceptable, don’t you think? As a record of the event it will serve just fine. I only managed a few exposures. Our guest only stayed for a long drink and then scampered back into the woods. Maybe I should have told you, this drinking bowl is in our front yard! You can see a little more of the lawn in the parting shot.

The moral of this story is this: Don’t let screens, veils, or dirty windows stop you. Even in impossible situations, take the photo. Then use a bit of processing magic to bring out the picture.



© 2011 Ludwig Keck

Keeping copies of original photos

Those of us who remember the days of film cameras still have those “negatives” in mind to keep and guards as the originals of our photos. Digital photography does away with that. Enhancing and manipulating of pictures is so easy even us senior adults can do it. That brings up that question “should I keep a copy of the image as it came from the camera?”

For most of us the answers is “Yes, at least for a while”. In our enthusiasm for bringing out the best in an image it is easy to go overboard and ruin it instead. That’s when it is necessary to step back to an earlier version, or maybe the original.

imageWindows Live Photo Gallery makes the going back easy. There is a control, “Revert to original”, that removes all edits and restores the photo to the starting condition. Live Photo Gallery doesn’t undo the edits, it keeps an original for us. When an edit is made it makes a copy of the original image and saves it in the “original photos folder”.

So, all’s well – end of story? Not quite.

imageBy default Live Photo Gallery keeps originals permanently. Photos take up a good deal of storage space. If you are an avid photographer, it wont be long and that “original photos folder” will be stuffed full and take up a lot of disk space. Indeed it is possible to run out of available storage space and bring your computer to its knees.

Live Photo Gallery can be set to discard the originals after a period of time. That is probably a good strategy. Keep the originals long enough to make sure that you are satisfied with any enhancements, then let them get discarded.

imageThe “Originals” tab in the “Options” dialog allows a number of settings from one day, to one year, or the default “never”, of when to move the originals to the recycle bin.

My own preference is to set this to “One week”. This gives me plenty of time to come back and to change my mind about the corrections I applied.

In case you are curious, the originals are stored in an out-of-the-way location inside your user folder. When you view the contents there by way of the “Go to original photos folder”, Windows demurely hides the actual location behind just an “Original images” label. See the illustration above. You can see the full location description by just clicking on the label in the address bar.

Some of us just shudder thinking that some time in the future we might want to redo the edits in a different way or with a more powerful editing application. What then? Being paranoid about the possible loss of my “precious” photos, I make a copy of the originals as they came from the camera and put them into a backup system. This is one of my routines before I even look at the photos. The important point here is that such archiving is done on separate media.

Should you keep copies of your originals permanently? You should at least give the question some careful thought.


Different Views

We all have our individual approach to taking pictures. Seeing another photographers work can be instructive as well as enjoyable. This note is an introduction to just such an opportunity.

The blog “Two Cameras – Two Views” shows side-by-side examples of different interpretations of the same subject.

For the story behind that blog, please see my post “Shared blogging with Live Writer” in “the other corner”.





© 2011 Ludwig Keck

Vertical Panoramas

No, that is not an oxymoron. In fact, vertical panoramas are quite common. Most of us think of panoramas as wide views of spectacular landscapes, but they can be wide, or high, or just large and detailed images. Vertical panoramas have the nice advantage of fitting well into web pages as you can see here.LJK_2619-30-Stitch - Copy (270x1000)

The panorama here is of a huge tulip poplar tree at McDaniel Farm Park in Duluth, Georgia, just starting to leaf out this spring. This image was composed of twelve individual photos.

So how does one make a vertical panorama?

The technique is the same as for a “normal”, horizontal, panorama. You start by taking overlapping pictures of the subject. I like to overlap quite generously so I don’t accidentally come up short. Here is one of the photos that make up this composite.


You can see the others by clicking on the photo (above), the link leads you to my Photosynth of the set.

To make a  composite set use Windows Live Photo Gallery. Select the image thumbnails you want to combine, click the Create tab then Panorama. The photos do not need to be in order, they do need to overlap. There is no need to tell Live Photo Gallery what kind of composite you want, it analyzes the images and combines them in the correct way. The panorama at the right was made that way and then cropped.

My favorite tool for complex composites is Microsoft Image Composite Editor. Click on the photo at right to see the uncropped output from “ICE” – also as a Photosynth.

I have already illustrated one way to show of a large composite with Photosynth. There is another way I like using of Giant Tulip Poplar Tree

The zoomit image is based on the WLPG panorama made as a full resolution JPG (100% quality setting). This made the image 48.4 MB – close to the SkyDrive upload limit of 50 MB. The image size is 4534 pixels wide by 11639 pixels high (this includes the black areas illustrating how the photos overlap).




Panoramas of things that are straight

Panoramas are popular for showing all that you can see around you. But what if you want to show something that is straight? Consider a street. You are standing on one side and want to show everything on the other side up and down the street. Your camera lens is likely not wide enough to take in everything from full left to full right. A set of photos can be stitched together into a panorama. Windows Live Photo Gallery has a Create > Panorama feature that works quite well. I like to use Microsoft Composite Editor because it offers more adjustment features and is very easy to use.

All it takes is a set of photos that show the scene step by step. The content of the photos has to overlap about a third to help the stitching program do its job. Here is a panorama of a street scene.


The left end of the photo shows the street looking down to the left, and the right edge looks to the right. The street looks like it bends. The individual pictures were taken from one position – that is the normal way to make panoramas.

Here, to explain what happens in more detail, is a set of photos showing a straight wall of Fort Pulaski.

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Six photos were taken from the same place. That’s what they look like. When you look to the left or the right the farther end of the wall looks smaller. That is normal, the way we see the world. Combining them into a panorama results in an image that has the same characteristics as the one of the street.

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It doesn’t look straight. Can something be done? Yes. Instead of taking the pictures from one position, I took a set from six different positions. Each photo looks directly at the wall. I moved from one end to the other. Carefully staying the same distance from the wall. Here is my set:

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Doing this is a bit tricky. Do not use a wide-angle lens setting. The best results are obtained when you are as far from the subject as possible. If you are very careful, and the subject is quite flat, the pictures can be stitched nicely. See, I didn’t use the street, I used a wall! I am never all that careful and my resulting panorama has some flaws, but it is not bad:

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Now it looks like the wall that it really is. This was done using Image Composite Editor with the StitchCamera motion control set to Planar Motion 3. The default setting is Rotating Motion – for the “normal” panoramas that are taken from one point.

If you have not already discovered the links, each of the panoramas above can be seen larger by clicking on the images. The tool for that is “” – and that is another story.