Monday, December 27, 2010

My EOS 7D settings

My main cameras today are the EOS 7D and 5DmkII, and on recent workshops several participants have been keen to see how I have them configured. The cameras have many great features, but to easily access the ones that suit me requires a few changes.

In this post I'll describe the settings I use on my EOS 7D, and I'll follow up with the 5DmkII details later. Rather than detailing every single setting in the camera, I'm going to just describe the things I've changed from the default. This is with firmware version 1.2.3.

In writing this post I first cleared all the Custom Functions, as well as invoking "Clear all camera settings". Then I went through the menus only setting those things I need.

First off, I set some controls via the buttons on the top of the camera. I usually shoot in either M or Av modes (which I only mention here because some of these controls are not available in the "Creative" modes).

AF: AI Servo. I rarely use any other mode, even for static subjects (I'll talk about this further below).

Drive: Continous. Even when I'm shooting single frames, I do this by not pressing the shutter for too long. If action happens and I want to shoot multiple frames, I like the flexibility of just holding the shutter down slightly longer. This does require a little bit of practice, and sometimes I switch between Continuous (5 fps) and Continuous High (8 fps).

ISO: I take it off Auto. On this camera I like to be in control of the ISO.

Next I go into the menus and start tweaking. Starting with the left-most (red) menu:

Quality: No JPEG, just RAW. I always shoot in RAW because of the higher quality and added processing controls available to me, and RAW+JPEG would just waste space with extra JPEG files. And reduce the continuous-shooting buffer from 13 to 8 frames.

Beep: I don't need the camera to beep and alert my subjects (be they human or animal) that they're being focussed on. The viewfinder provides feedback on the AF function anyway.

Release shutter without card: Off. Once you've accidentally shot a session without a card in the camera, you never want to do it again!

Flash Control: This menu provides control over the internal flash as well as an attached "EX II" flash.

I very rarely use the pop-up flash, so I set the "Wireless func." (see the diagram) so that the internal flash is only used to send commands to slave EX flashes without contributing to the illumination of the scene. When I have slave flashes set up I can then use either the EOS 5DmkII with ST-E2 or the EOS 7D to trigger them. I don't use this very often, but when I do it's good to have it already set.

Live View: I use this a lot when shooting landscapes on a tripod!

AF mode: Live mode enables contrast-detect AF, and lets me zoom in on an area and focus on that without being constrained by the nearest appropriate normal AF point.

Grid display: Grid 2. The extra lines on the screen can help with keeping shots "square"/level.

Highlight alert: Enable. This enables the "blinkies" to tell you which areas are overexposed. It's very useful in conjunction with the histogram.

AF point disp.: I alternate between having this enabled/disabled. It can be useful to review which AF point was used on a shot of a flying bird, but if I'm showing people pictures on the LCD, "What's that dot on my face?" is a common question...

Histogram: RGB. Once you're used to separate red/green/blue histograms you don't want to go back. For example it can save you from blowing out the detail in a red rose against a green bush.

Auto rotate: On+computer. That is, it records the rotation of each shot, but doesn't display it as rotated on the camera. If the camera displays the images as rotated, then when shooting in portrait mode it displays the image as a smaller rotated version: to review it you end up having to tilt your head over!

LCD brightness: manual. The light sensor for Auto is in a position where it will vary the brightness depending on where your thumb is on the camera, which I find distracting.

VF grid display: Turns on a grid in the optical viewfinder, which helps with keeping horizons straight.

Copyright information. I set some basic information here even though it's going to get overwritten when I import the images into Lightroom: it's a safety measure in case an image gets missed.

I set my name as the Owner, and the Copyright information gets set to "Copyright David Burren". Whenan image goes through Lightroom I'll set the email in the Creator Email field, and the Copyright field will become something like "© David Burren". But I can't do that in the camera: this longer string set in the camera is a just a fall-back.

Custom Functions:

C.Fn I: Exposure

C.Fn I-2: ISO speed setting increments: 1 (1-stop). On this camera the "in-between" ISO values seem to be achieved by taking the photo at a higher ISO and then digitally darkening the image (e.g. ISO 500 and 640 images are each created internally from ISO 800 captures). This reduces the dynamic range slightly and increases the noise slightly. The effect is very slight but I have noticed it, and I don't mind working with whole-stop ISO levels.

C.Fn I-5: Bracketing sequence: 1 (-, 0, +). I find this makes reviewing and processing the bracketed shots much simpler, as each triplet is easily identified visually. With the default (0, -, +) I found I was often making the mistake of assuming that the bright image was part of the next bracket!

C.Fn II: Image
C.Fn II-1 Long exposure noise reduction: 1 (Auto).

C.Fn III: Autofocus/Drive
C.Fn III-3 AI Servo AF tracking method: 1 (Continuous AF track priority). To keep my subject in focus I'm happy for the system to move away from the selected AF point.

C.Fn III-6 Select AF area selec. mode: see the picture to the right.

C.Fn III-9 Display all AF points: 1 (Enable). I like to see what points are available to me!

C.Fn III-11 AF-assist beam firing: 3 (IR beam only). I usually find bright AF functions (especially the strobing of the 7D's flash) very annoying.

C.Fn IV: Operation/Others
C.Fn IV-1: Custom Controls

I set the shutter to NOT start AF, just metering. When I need AF I press the AF-ON button with my thumb. This also means that if I want AI Servo to stop tracking a static subject, I just lift my thumb.

M.Fn: This is the tiny button just to the left of the shutter button. I don't use FEL much, so instead set this to invoke the virtual horizon tool.

Joystick ("multi-controller"): I set this to select AF points. If I want the centre AF point I press the joystick in the middle, otherwise I use it to move the active AF point.

And there you have it. The viewfinder shows me all the available AF points as small squares, and by selecting different points I can decide which it's going to lock on with. When I'm holding the AF-ON button down the AF points that are actually being used are highlighted with larger squares, and as they track a moving subject around the frame I can see which are being used.

All alone in the ice (A2_052751)
EOS 7D, 70-200mm/4 IS @ 70mm, ISO 200
I have a few functions set up on the green My Menu screen (including AEB, Format, and Mirror Lockup) and have the menu on my 5DmkII set up the same. More on the 5DmkII configuration in a later post.
In the meantime, hopefully another EOS 7D user will find this breakdown useful in configuring their camera to suit their own shooting style!
Continue reading "My EOS 7D settings"...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Stanley (capital of the Falklands) panorama

I wrote yesterday about shooting panorama sequences, and earlier showed a panorama from Stromness in South Georgia. Here I'd like to share with you the largest panorama I made on this trip, a 533-megapixel monster.

Stanley, Falkland Islands (A2_055680)
This is the single-row panorama taken to an extreme. Rather than creating an image with a traditional aspect ratio, the 46 frames from an EOS 5DmkII (using the EF 70-200mm/4 L IS lens) have been merged to create an almost-15:1 aspect ratio "strip" (88971 pixels wide). This isn't something that's easily printed, and in fact finding uses for an image like this could be a challenge, but a phrase that was heard a few times on the voyage was "Because we can".

When presented with a stunning vista of mountains it's easy to fall into the trap of capturing a thin strip that's not inspiring as an overall composition, nor interesting in its detail. Case in point:

near Finnsnes, Norway (A2_031234)
But at least in the Stanley image there's lots of detail to pore through when you look closely. Here's a 100% crop to give you an idea:

The image was made while standing on the deck of our ship (at anchor). The final row of images wasn't perfectly level, so to avoid having to crop the image down to an even-thinner strip Photoshop CS5's Content-aware Fill was used to clean up some of the water and sky areas.

For those of you who have Flash-enabled browsers, here's a Zoomify interface which will allow you to explore the image in detail. Can you count the number of Land Rovers visible? There are even some in the countryside on the far right of the image!

Incidentally, another workshop participant who was standing next to me and shooting with a Phase One P40+ camera produced a very similar (and not quite as thin a "strip") image.
Continue reading "Stanley (capital of the Falklands) panorama"...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Shooting panoramas from a moving ship

On our recent Antarctica workshop we ended up making many panoramic images based on turning our cameras to vertical orientation and shooting a single row of overlapping images. These ranged from simple 3-frame sequences in search of higher resolution, to gigapixel monstrosities taken with medium-format cameras. Usually photographers were mainly looking for a wider view.
When on land we had the flexibility to set up tripods and experiment with multi-row panoramas, but many more single-row panos were made, especially when working hand-held from the moving ship.

I do most of my own stitching work using Photoshop CS5 (usually via Lightroom's Merge to Panorama feature). I do sometimes use other programs such as PtGui, and some of the workshop participants were using this and other software during the expedition. But in general I've found that the stitching in CS5 (and CS4 also) is just so convenient and hassle-free that it's my first choice.

Salomon Glacier, South Georgia (A2_055680)

I have 3 guidelines I use when taking panorama sequences. You may think you've heard them before, but bear with me and read them all:

Modern stitching software is remarkably good at blending the component frames together, but I've found that by continuing to use these rules it's easier to achieve better quality (and with less work):
  1. Shoot in Manual. Each frame should have the same exposure: the same ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.
    Each should also have the same white balance, which leads on to:

  2. Shoot in RAW. This allows you to apply the appropriate DNG profile and/or white balance values to all photos in the sequence after the fact.

    Those are fairly well-known guidelines for shooting panoramas, but there's one basic one which many people seem to not know:

  3. When shooting from a moving ship, start at the stern and progress the sequence towards the bow. Don't simply always work left-to-right: sometimes right-to-left is much better.

The background to this guideline is based on two reasons. Firstly, most of these panoramas will have very little important foreground detail other than water and waves. But features such as small icebergs, birds or kayakers floating on the water, or just wave-tops all fill in important details, and the image is going to look strange if the same kayaker appears multiple times. By moving with the motion of the ship this is much less likely.

But even when repeated details are as innocuous as wave crests, there's another important reason to avoid having them appear in multiple frames: it can seriously confuse panorama stitching software.
One of the convenient features of Photoshop CS4/CS5's auto-align function is that you don't have to tell it where each frame sits in the sequence. You can feed it a mass of frames and it will assemble the panorama by itself. You'd much prefer it simply lines up the mountains in your sequence without deciding that the frames need to be distorted to make the waves line up also!

Danco Coast, Antarctic Peninsula
EOS 7D, ISO 400, 70-200mm/4 L IS (A2_055681)

Of course the same guidelines will apply if shooting a panorama from land but that includes moving elements such as a river: shoot the sequence against the flow.

Processing workflow

When shooting a pano I use the above guidelines, and end up with a sequence of frames. Some people prefix the sequence with something like a shot of their hand to act as a reminder, although I generally don't do this. Once I have the images loaded up in Lightroom my general workflow is:

Identify the sequence. I have two labels (colours) I use for this: "Start of composite" (green) and "Member of composite" (yellow). During my initial editing passes through the photos I simply tag the images, and in a later phase I can pick them out, using Library filters and/or a Smart Collection (I have a "Composites" Smart Collection for this).
Sometimes when shooting a sequence I have to restart the sequence (e.g. due to having to change the focal length). So I sometimes end up identifying new "Start of composite" images within the sequence. But in the end I have multiple series of obvious sequences.

Once I've identified and selected all the images within a sequence, I hop over to Lightroom's Develop module. With Autosync turned on (by flipping the switch next to the "Sync" button at the bottom of the right Develop panel) then whenever I make a change to an image, the same change is applied to all the other selected images. I make all the adjustments required, starting with the white balance, Exposure, Blacks, and Brightness. Often that's about it, as I have tuned the defaults for my cameras (including having Lens Profiles selected which automatically remove distortions, chromatic aberration, and vignetting).

I'll switch between Survey (N) and Develop (D) modes, selecting the brightest image to tune Exposure, the darkest to tune Blacks, etc. If I find dust spots that need removing I'll turn Autosync off and on as required to fix them in all images yet avoid duplicating rocks.

Having developed the images, I invoke Edit In > Merge to Panorama. After selecting Cylindrical mode, I leave Photoshop to grind through the images and do its job.

Once it's finished and I'm happy with the result, I'll flatten/merge all the layers together, straighten then crop the final result and save it back to a TIFF file for Lightroom to process. Of course, for those images with more than 65,000 px on a side (unusual for me at the moment) I need to save them to PSB (Photoshop's Large Document Format) and save a smaller version as a TIFF for "normal" software to handle. Incidentally, the TIFF file automatically inherits the metadata of the last image in the sequence, so by default it will be included in the Lightroom filters for composites.

near Cape Saunders, South Georgia (A2_055679)

Those 9 EOS 5DmkII images (each 5616 x 3744 pixels: 21 Mp) were quickly merged into this 12938 x 5581 (72 megapixel) image without any distortion hassles.

If you haven't tried shooting multi-frame panoramas yet, don't be afraid to give it a try. And if you're on a moving ship, just remember: shoot in the direction of your travel.
Continue reading "Shooting panoramas from a moving ship"...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Stromness (South Georgia), 15th November 2010

On our recent Antarctic photo expedition we spent over 4 days visiting sites along the east coast of South Georgia. It's a magical place, with wild landscapes, amazing wildlie and plenty of history to boot.

The old whaling station at Stromness [wikipedia] is one example. Unfortunately due to its state of disrepair and hazards such as flying debri (in high wind) and asbestos it's fenced off, and we can't explore it in detail. Here's a photograph I made of it from the fence last month:

In that version you can't see much detail: the seals sleeping amongst the wreckage, etc. But it's actually a 125 Mp panorama (made with an EOS 7D and EF 70-200mm/4 L IS lens). If your web browser supports Flash, here's an interactive zoomable version (an HTML5 version for iPhone/iPad users may come later). In the top left of the zoomed version there's a navigator to help you keep track of where in the image you are.

At this distance the heat-haze does rob the image of some detail, but it's surprising how much detail is still there. Here's a 100% crop from the left side of the image (showing the white building at the end that was built on the site of the earlier building that Shackleton staggered into in 1916).

Explore the zoomable version of the image and try to count the fur seals and elephant seals calmly living amid the asbestos...
Continue reading "Stromness (South Georgia), 15th November 2010"...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Daily photos: November 22-28, 2010

And another week of daily photos!

November 22, 2010 - Cuverville Island, Errera Channel, Antarctica

Our landing at Cuverville Island today involved a climb up through steep snowbanks at the shore. I noticed this tiny crevice in the snow off to one side.

November 23, 2010 - Almirante Brown station, Paradise Bay, Antarctica

This Gentoo Penguin desperately needed a bath. At least he was heading in the right direction: down the highway to the water.

November 24, 2010 - Drake Passage

Sunset looking out over one of the Polar Pioneer's liferafts.
While I still needed to brace myself against the rolling motion of the ship to take this photo, this was a surprisingly uneventful crossing of the Drake Passage, which is renowned for being one of the roughest sea crossings on the globe.

November 25, 2010 - Drake Passage

This was a white morph Southern Giant-Petrel which followed our ship for quite some time.

November 26, 2010 - Buenos Aires airport

Standing around waiting to collect our luggage after our afternoon flight from Ushuaia, we photographers couldn't resist taking photos despite the "no camera" signs. This image was taken with my iPhone.

November 27, 2010 - Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

The plaques on the mausoleums can look quite strange from the side...
I'm not normally one for hanging around cemeteries, but in the subtle early morning light of an overcast day this location is a photographer's paradise.

November 28, 2010 - La Boca, Buenos Aires

Just a man in a doorway on a quiet street, despite just being a painting...

This post is part of my 365 project. See the introduction for details.
Continue reading "Daily photos: November 22-28, 2010"...