Saturday, August 30, 2008

Avocets, Herons, Curlews, and a Pheasant

I got up early this morning and drove up to the Palo Alto Baylands to photograph some birds. The lighting was unfortunately not great, it was pretty cloudy almost the entire time. I spent a lot of time shooting the American Avocets which is why there are so many Avocets in this collection. I also saw a Ring-necked Pheasant for the first time. I only managed to get a couple of decent shots before the Pheasant ran off. You can see all the images here:

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Beautiful Alaska

This weekend, I finally managed to finish processing all the images I took on my trip to Alaska a couple of months ago. While going through the images, I was once again remind of the beauty and majesty of Alaska. It is still one of the few places I've visited where I don't think words or pictures can truly do it justice. This is a place I definitely want to visit and this time I want to stay longer. I want to visit the Kenai fjords as well as go photographing the brown bears in Katmai. You can view the entire image set here:

Friday, August 22, 2008

1Ds Mark III vs D3 at High ISO

Yes this picture sucks. Unfortunately I couldn't find a suitable test target to photograph in the short time that I had access to a Canon 1Ds3 and a Nikon D3.

There has been a debate on some online forums as to whether a camera with a much higher pixel density can produce a decent high ISO image as one with a lower pixel density (assuming the sensor size is the same). In particular people were wondering if the Canon 1Ds3 can produce usable images at high ISO compared to the Nikon D3 (one of the features is the ability to shoot at ISO 25600, albeit rather noisily). I happened to be able to get access to both of these bodies with similar lenses, so I compared the two. My review can be found on my site:

1Ds3 vs. D3 High ISO

So what's the conclusion? You'll have to read the review to find out :)

Technical Specs: Canon 1Ds3, 70-200 f/2.8 @ 70mm, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 3200 (digitally pushed 3 stops).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Pelicans, Godwits, Willets, Plovers & more

Yesterday morning I went down to the Palo Alto Baylands to photograph some birds with a friend I'd met on the photography forum We later also went over to Shoreline Park to photograph American White Pelicans.

One of the things I wanted to see is if I could use a Rebel XSi to get more reach with the telephoto lenses, so I spent the first 1/2 hour shooting with the XSi. Unfortunately, the XSi has two big pitfalls for wildlife photography:
  1. Confidence in AF. I just wasn't confident that the AF was locking onto the part of the bird I wanted.
  2. Tiny buffer. The Rebel XSi's small buffer definitely was starting to become a limitation, even for just photographing shore birds.
I quickly abandoned the idea and used the 1D3 the rest of the time. When I got home and downloaded the images, my AF confidence worries were justified. A greater proportion of the XSi images were out of focus compared to the 1D3. Also it seems that the Rebel XSi greatly out resolves the Canon 600 with a 1.4x teleconverter so the added 'reach' of a 12mp 1.6x crop sensor really gets lost. I think the new Canon 800 f/5.6 will definitely be able to handle the resolution of the XSi sensor, but the tiny buffer is a deal breaker.

I managed to get several images from yesterday that I am happy with. Starting at the top we have: American White Pelican, a sparrow, Semipalmated Plover, Black-necked Stilt, Plover again, Marbled Godwit, Plover again, American White Pelicans, Long-billed Curlew, a baby Hare, American Avocet, and finally a Curlew again.

You can see the full set of images from yesterday here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mustard Seeds

Mustard seeds were what I photographed two days ago. The photograph above is of a pile of mustard seeds taken with a macro lens at 1:1 magnification. The photograph from the previous day was taken with a macro lens at 5:1 magnification. Just for fun, I wanted to see if I could take an image with even great magnification by putting 72mm of extension tubes on the MP-E 65mm lens. Below is the result.

With the Canon MP-E 65mm lens, at 5x magnification, the working distance between the front element and the subject is less than an inch. At that distance, the lens and camera body also block so much light that the subject becomes unlit. This means that a flash like the MT-24EX or the MT-14 ring lite are essential. Here is an image I took at approximately 3x magnification:

Apart from the lighting, the other big challenge in extreme macro photography is focus. Focus is tricky because of two reasons:
  1. The relatively low light because the camera body and lens blocks so much of it
  2. The extremely thin depth of field at these magnifications means that even a slight focus error can ruin an image
You can see in the image above that even at f/13 the depth of field isn't large enough to allow all the seeds to be in perfect focus. The (~6-7x) magnification image (2nd down from top) was taken at f/16 and even there the bottoms of the seeds are out of focus, though the tops of the seeds are all in focus.

The top most image was also taken at f/16, however the seeds were piled in a slightly pyramidal fashion so there were many seeds out of focus. That image is a composite of three images that were taken at three different focal depths and then put together in Photoshop.

Though I took the image from 2 days ago with the 1D3 and used Live View (which really helps getting critical focus), this time I decided to use the 5D with the Ee-S focus screen. I actually didn't have that difficult of a time getting things in focus for the 1x and 3x images. This was mainly due to the fact that I could use the modeling lamps on the MT-24ex to light up the subject perfectly. However the image at 5x with extension tubes posed a real challenge since the modeling lamps couldn't be oriented properly, so I had to 'pulse' the flash several times to get things in focus along with taking a few test shots along the way. Overall I'd say LiveView isn't essential for super macro photography but it does help, especially in knowing when all the vibrations have been suppressed so that you can release the shutter.

So what the rig to do all this look like?

My office is still 'under construction' as is about 1/3 of the rest of the house so I had to use the dining table. The tripod is a Gitzo G2257 (has now been replaced by the GT2530) carbon fiber tripod. It has a unique feature which you can see which makes it very useful for macro, garden, insect and flower photography; its center column can be rotated to be perpendicular to the base of the tripod and the legs can be locked independently and at any position. All my macro photographs from the last 4 months have been taken with these legs and I've found it very useful and easy to use.

The ballhead is a Markins M10L with a Really Right Stuff B2LR II base. Though the entire kit only weighs a few pounds, I've found it to be incredibly sturdy and wouldn't hesitate to put my 300 f/2.8 with a 1-series body on these legs and ballhead (though I probably wouldn't tilt the center column too much with that much weight).

Attached to the ballhead is the RRS B150-B macro focusing rail. Since the MP-E has a collar and foot, the RRS LMT is needed to mount the set up in the correct direction. The Really Right Stuff gear is horribly expensive but its extremely well built and there really is nothing better out there.

Finally, attached to the 5D, is a set of Kenko Extension Tubes (36, 24, & 12mm) which in turn is attached to the Canon MP-E 65mm lens. And then we have the light source, the MT-24ex whose flash heads attach to the front of the lens.

Also note the seeds on the plate and how small they are in comparison to the images of them above. When I took the first picture of the seeds I was amazed by the amount of detail on the surface of the seeds. I've always thought of mustard seeds as being round and completely smooth and it was neat to see the variations in shape and to see that the surface texture wasn't smooth.

These seeds were kind enough to sit still for me, but I think I may have a bigger challenge when I try to get out and photograph living creatures. Still it should be fun!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Clouds over Moon

There were a few clouds in the sky this evening as the sun set, which tends to be somewhat rare here in th summer. The moon will also be full on Saturday but its still pretty big right now.

Technical Specs: Canon 1D3, 500 f/4 IS, f/4, 1/500s, ISO 800.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Velvet Tuberose

No, not the Bath & Body Works fragrance (which incidentally is what seems to come up first if you search for this flower on Google) but a pretty flower. Kim got this as a gift from a friend at work some time ago and it finally flowered. It has a very nice scent which I suppose is why Bath & Body Works has a scent with its name.

Technical Specs: Canon 5D, 90 TS-E, f/5.6, ISO 400.

Can You Identify These?

Here's your chance to prove your coolness to the thousands of people that read this blog each day. Ok, fine so its more like 3 but at least I'll think you're cool :) To help you out I'll give you a couple of clues:
  1. This was photographed using a prime (look at the EXIF and you should be able to figure out what lens in a jiffy)
  2. It has a wikipedia entry with a somewhat similar image

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Interactive Raytracing

I wrote my first ray tracer about 9 years ago. In the 7 years that followed, I spent many evenings and weekends writing a couple more ray tracers. They all had one thing in common, they were slow, very slow. Fortunately, ray tracing is an embarrassingly parallel algorithm so we got around its speed problems by distributing the rendering over clusters of machines.

This has been changing the last few years. With a combination of clever data structures, SIMD parallelism and multi-core processors, ray tracing is now possible on a consumer desktop computer at interactive (> 6 frames/sec) rates. In fact researchers at Intel have demonstrated a ray tracer running at 60 frames/sec on an 8-core machine. Now I won't get into the rasterization vs. ray tracing debate, I'll just say that both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. However ray tracing allows the simulation of all kinds of interesting light effects in a simple way so this new found speed is pretty exciting.

Last year when I moved to a research group at Adobe, I was given the opportunity to work on an interactive ray tracer. Needless to say, it didn't take much convincing me for me to jump into the project; after all I was going to get paid to do something I'd spent years of free time doing for fun.

This weekend was the 3rd annual IEEE Symposium on Interactive Ray Tracing, a two day conference dedicated to help researchers share algorithms to make ray tracing fast. This was my first time attending this conference and I really enjoyed it. The interactive ray tracing community is fairly small (about 150 people were at the conference) but its growing rapidly. The papers were all of decent quality and many had ideas and algorithms with immediate applicability. I really enjoyed the conference and am looking forward to it next year.

IRT 2008 was held in Los Angeles the weekend before SIGGRAPH. Its been many years since I attended SIGGRAPH (2003 was the last time) and have mostly been attending smaller, more academically focused conferences. Walking around the empty LA convention center and watching the crews set up the massive rooms reminded me of just how huge the SIGGRAPH audience is. The picture above is a panorama of the registration hall for SIGGRAPH; some people have already arrived and have started registering. I'm sure the place will become a zoo starting tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


Last week, Adobe announced the availability of Lightroom 2.0 and ACR (Adobe Camera RAW) 4.5. Lightroom 2.0 has several new features which makes it easier to stay in Lightroom instead of going to Photoshop. Here are the features I've found most useful so far:
  • Virtual graduated filter (not only for ND but also do other RAW adjustments)
  • Post crop vignette (so useful when you want to vignette for artistic purposes)
  • Export RAW files to
  • Output sharpening (one of the biggest reasons I keep going into PS)
In addition to these features I also really like the new (beta) color profiles as well as the profile creator (freely available Adobe Labs). I've spoken to many people who have been unhappy with the colors produced by Camera Raw (and Lightroom) from Canon cameras, particularly the reds. The most common complaint is that skin tones have too much yellow in them. One thing that has worked before is to use the ACR Calibrator script to generate hue and saturation calibration values for your camera. However running the script takes a long time and resultant values don't always produce good results (especially as the light source changes).

Well those days are over with the new profiles and the DNG profile creator. With the beta profiles you can now get profiles so that your RAW files can have similar colors to what they would with Canon Picture Styles. Personally I've found the Adobe Standard beta profile to work quite well though sometimes Faithful works better. Skin tone rendering is quite improved requiring less fiddling around to get the right color (even on the 5D).

Technical Specs: Canon 1D3, 500 f/4 IS, f/4, 1/160s, ISO 400.

P.S. I have nothing interesting to say about the apple, just went out to the backyard last night for a quick snap. I do think it turned out quite well considering it was shot handheld.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Water, Parks, Tall Buildings, Construction, Active People

These all words I would use to describe Bellevue. This weekend I drove a UHaul truck filled with furniture up to the Seattle area for my sister's new place. Yesterday after unloading the truck I had the chance to wander around downtown Bellevue for a few hours. I liked what I saw. I'm definitely not a big city person, I don't like the dirt, and especially don't like the crowds. Bellevue was neither dirty nor crowded but if happen to live close to the downtown there's a lot of places to eat hang out within walking distance (a characteristic that big cities have that I like).

The people I saw seemed fairly active, especially in downtown park (which also has a free wi-fi hotspot). I was also surprised by the amount of construction going on. I counted at least 5 new buildings going up.

Technical Specs: Canon 5D, 24-105 @ 50mm, f/8, 1/200s, ISO 100.