All posts by mrmarkspencer

About mrmarkspencer

A consulting EA for hire, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to best present information, so that the Business Leadership can make data-driven decisions.

An Hassidic Jewish Man in Montréal, PQ


Sorry crew – I am testing out a new tool…



Getting It Right – ND Filters

In yesterday’s post, I discussed my preference for honing my technical skills to Get It Right In Camera. While it’s true we are in the digital age of photography, and can “fix” most problems in post-processing, that is not true of film photography. For example, if we shoot in RAW format, the camera records every single detail from the sensor, allowing us to digitally manipulate everything from the exposure to correcting sharpness. 

Imagine you wanted to make a photograph of a waterfall on a bright sunny day. You’d want to properly expose the photograph. So you’d set your ISO tot he lowest setting (100) to eliminate noise, and you’d set your Aperture to say f8, and your shutter speed might be 1/125 of a second. Great ! A nice capture…

But say you wanted to make the photo so that the flowing water has that dreamy, foggy sort of look to it. Well, you’d want to slow down your shutter speed. Of course in order to do so, you’d need to adjust your ISO and Aperture to compensate. But wait ! This is your 35mm film camera – you can’t adjust your ISO, it’s fixed. That only leaves you with your Aperture to adjust. You don’t want to “stop down” the Aperture, as that will affect the depth of field, blurring more of the photograph. What to do, what to do ?

Enter the Neutral Density (ND) filter. Pictured above, attached to my Canon 7N, is a 3-stop ND filter. The purpose of an ND filter is to decrease the amount of light hitting the sensor without needing to change the Aperture. They are typically measured in “stops” of light. Every stop down represents a 50% decrease in size of the Aperture, so a 3-stop filter will take us from f8 to f64 without changing the depth of field ! This gives us the equivalent to changing the shutter speed from 1/125 seconds to 1/15 seconds – which is our goal !

In the left image, I used no filter. On the right we slowed down the shutter speed to allow in more light, and affixed the 3-stop filter. If you look very closely, the right photo has some blurring in the branches, where the left does not. Can you tell the difference in colours ? No ? That’s why it’s called a “neutral” density filter – it doesn’t change the colour in any way. Note that I applied zero post-processing effects to either of these photos, as I wanted to insure they were identical except for the filter & change in shutter speed.

Take a second scenario – imagine you’re making a landscape photo on a hillside on a bright sunny day. You’ve got the camera situated in some shady spot, and you’re overlooking some fields below, and the sun is high overhead. To create a pleasing composition, you’d want some of the shady branches in the foreground to frame the bright fields below you. But if you set the exposure for the sunny fields, the foreground is too dark. Oppositely, if you expose for the branches, the sunny fields are washed out by the bright sunshine. What to do, what to do ? 

On a digital camera you have a number of options. You could take multiple exposures, each exposed for the differently lit sections, and blend them together. This would increase the dynamic range of the photograph. Or you could apply a filter in Lightroom or Capture1 Pro that changes the exposure on just the over-exposed portion of the photo. On a film camera, we don’t have that luxury – we have to get it right in camera !

Enter the Graduated Neutral Density (GND) filter. It is almost identical to the ND filter, except that the filter isn’t evenly shaded. It has two areas – one half filters no light (0 stop change) while the other half filters the light (say 3-stops change). When exposing the film, simply pop the GND into its holder, expose for the shady foreground, and take the photo ! 

Getting It Right In Camera

“I’ll just fix it in post”

This is one of those phrases in photography that drives me nuts. Earlier today, I read an opinion article by a photographer who fully embraced everything that is bad about digital photography. He espoused the goodness of new photographers staying on Auto mode until they learned how to properly use Photoshop. He encouraged them to use the high-speed multi-exposure option to increase their odds of getting a good photo. He even encouraged newbies to only shoot in JPEG, so they could fit more photos on a memory card ! Sigh…

Personally, I prefer to try to get it right in camera. That means having a basic understanding of photographic techniques. Understanding how the Exposure Triangle works – you know: ISO vs Shutter Speed vs Aperture ? Now, let’s be fair. It depends what kind of photographer you aspire to be. I consider myself more of a Curator than a Creator. By that I mean that I want to capture and share what I saw, as it happened. Creators will make extensive use of digital manipulation techniques to create their art. I have a ton of respect for their creativity – but that’s not who _I_ want to be.

Generally, I shoot in Aperture Priority mode. If you picked up my camera, you’d see it is kept in A mode, ISO 400, Aperture of f8 and Shutter Speed around 250. This is a decent middle ground for my camera and lense combination. If I need to shoot something that is happening quickly, I can pretty much shoot once the lense cap is off ! Of course, there might be minor adjustments, especially if it’s dark. I don’t keep a flash permanently mounted in the hot-shoe after all…

Equally, the more I can get right in the camera, the less time I have to worry about messing around for hours in post-processing. I tend to keep my gear fairly light, opting to make extensive use of Lightroom Mobile on my iPad. Since I don’t have all the bells and whistles available to me, I’m somewhat forced to practice better shooting technique. 

Adventures in 35mm Film 

Well it seems my journey down the path of slowing down and experimenting with 35mm film photography’s hit a speed bump.

As you may have read in a previous post, I bought a Canon 7N 35mm SLR camera. My hope was to slow down & think more about composition and framing, as well as working harder at using my photography for story-telling. The camera body got great reviews in a recent “retro” review on a photography blog I like & respect – The Phoblographer by Chris Gampat.

So I bought some good black and white film – Ilford Delta 100 – and proceeded gently down the path of exposing to celluloid. I was assured that my local London Drugs would be able to process the film, and for an additional couple of bucks digitize the images onto a CD for me. As a matter of fact – they sold me the film at a pretty decent price !

Having been to Emerald Lake recently with Pat, and having had the perfect conditions and venue, I gleefully put the camera through its paces. I worked the shutter at different speeds, made sure the onboard light meter was working, and validated that the aperture was opening and closing per normal. I didn’t quite get all 36 exposures. A few days later, I had an opportunity to finish the roll as we drove out to Drumheller. 

Excitedly, I took the exposed roll of film in. London Drugs  accepted the roll, but told me they didn’t do the processing themselves, so I’d have to wait a few days. OK – not an unreasonable deal. So I wait. And wait. And wait. Finally, I went in today only to be told they don’t process “true” black and white film ! So I have waited a week to see my photos and still have an undeveloped roll in my pocket. They DID suggest a camera store in Inglewood, whose website states they do indeed process black and white film – but they are closed on Mondays. Sigh… 

I guess I’m going to have to wait another day to see if they can soup my film. At this rate, I’m considering buying the supplies & chemicals and simply doing it myself ! So accept my apologies – I guess we’re going to have to wait just a little bit longer to see how my foray into film is going. 

Seeing in Black and White

As you know, I’ve started to think experiment with film as a means of learning to hone my craft. I exposed a roll of 36 frames and have sent it yo the lab for processing. Now I wait …   … and it’s killing me !  I am fraught with anxious anticipation. Is the camera OK, or do I have blank celluloid ? Did the metering system work correctly ? … and on and on and on…

In the interim, I guess I need to train my eye to look for good B&W opportunities. Here are a couple of colour digital photos I made, and then converted to B&W in post…

This one worked well, as it had plenty of gradients, which show up nicely in a B&W photo. The following one has great contrast – more blacks and whites, with fiewer greys. 

All in all, I’m excited to be working with film. There’s more emphasis on getting ethereal exposure right in camera, as there is a lot less I can do n post ! Unless I start souring and printing my own photos…

The Big Cull

Like many amateur photographers, I started out using the basic software provided with either my laptop or my camera to edit & manage my photo library. I kept all my photos, arranged loosely by date. As my skills improved, I started down the path of post-processing – moving from capturing my photos as JPEGs to RAW format, so that I could tweak them in more advanced software.

At first, I used the simplistic Apple Photos application. It was “good enough”. But soon, as my passion really stated to ignite, I needed a better system. Being the Apple fanboy that I am, I imported all my photos into Aperture. It was a great way to learn about how better to catalogue my fast-growing photo collection. And it let me tweak my RAW photos, correcting the white-balance & such. And then Apple killed it…

I was quite upset when this happened. I had only just finished learning how to manage my library and defined a workflow to edit my images. I was angry that Apple had turned their back on MY creative community. I fought against it for a while, even sending emails to Tim Cook (no response, sadly) in a desperate bid to stay with Aperture. I fought the good fight, but ultimately lost.

Of course, the Mac-daddy in the space is Adobe’s solutions – Lightroom and Photoshop. There are literally thousands of YouTube how-to videos to ease my transition. There was, however, no tool to manage the transition. I exported some 16,000 images from Aperture, only to import them again in Lightroom. Faced with the decision to either export JPEGs of edited photos, or the original RAW photos, I was heartbroken to see all my edits lost. Hours of editing and learning as I went, down the tubes.

Don’t get me wrong, Adobe has done some very seductive things – releasing Lightroom Mobile for iOS was incentive enough to upgrade my iPad to a 128GB with Retina display, so that I could truly have a very mobile-capable workflow. That it auto-magically synced my photos back to my Lightroom desktop catalogue is a huge advantage ! And bundling both Lightroom and Photoshop into a single monthly subscription is pretty darn valuable, IMHO.

Fast forward a couple of years. I stumble across a review of the MacPhun Luminar software, probably on PetPixel where Sharky James hosts an awesome weekly podcast (shameless plug !). So I figured it was time to look around the photo-editing landscape. Chris Gampat, editor of The Phoblographer, also raved over CaptureOne by Phase1. The more I dove into the subject, the more I came to realize that many professional photographers eschewed Lightroom and Photoshop ! How could this be ? 

I downloaded a free 30 day trial and was impressed by the difference. Starting with importing the RAW photos, which seemed to be much more brilliant than the same photos in Lightroom. While the interface is a little daunting, I dove right in & worked through about two dozen images. I like it an awful lot ! But now I have the hard decision – do I completely give up my mobile workflow in Lightroom (I really don’t use Photoshop very much, as I am still learning it) ? Can I justify abandoning Lightroom and Photoshop altogether ? Some photographers continue to use Lightroom for its cataloging capabilities, while importing & editing the RAW photos in CaptureOne. But then I’d be paying for two subscriptions, more than doubling my cost !

Sounds like I’m waffling all over the place, doesn’t it ? I think I’m at a “coming of age” moment in my journey as a photographer. Before I make any such decision, I need to start an undertaking I’ve been avoiding for a few months now. I need to cull my library ! As I said in the beginning, I’ve kept every photo, good, bad or horrific ! Most are unrated, with no keywords for searching. Frankly I have a quarter-terabyte mess to clean up. Whether I stay with Lightroom or migrate to CaptureOne, I need to do this. Wish me luck !

Slowing Down …

As you might recall, I bought a little Canon Canonet QL-19 rangefinder (pictured on the left) as an inexpensive attempt to start working with film. I know, I know – the whole world has gone digital. What the heck could I possibly be thinking ? Let me try to explain…

The truth of the matter is that modern cameras are built to help new photographers with “auto everything”, whether it’s shutter speed, aperture or ISO. Straight out of the box, they take darn decent photographs without any knowledge or forethought from the person behind the lense. Where is the creativity in that ? I first got into photography because it stoked the geek side of my brain – learning about new techniques – while engaging the less-developed creative side of my brain. 

Modern cameras, be they DSLR or Mirrorless varieties are able to shoot multiple frames per second, and many amateur photography blogs suggest new photographers set their cameras to do so, hoping to get that one “good” shot. I tried this method early on and my “success” rate was dismal. There had to be a better way. And there is – slowing down.

By slowing down, elements like composition, framing and story-telling emerge. Good advice includes “What story am I trying to tell ?”, and “What emotion will this photo evoke ?”. By forcing myself to manually meter the light, and spending more than a few minutes looking for the right angle, and even waiting for the right light, I hope to nurture the more creative side of my craft.

Sadly, the little Canonet suffered the same fate of most of its brethren – sticky shutter. I blew threw an entire roll of 24 exposures before I finally diagnosed the problem. I might tear it down – there’s plenty of instruction videos on YouTube, but in the long run it may not be worth the effort. Even if I do get the shutter working properly, I still can’t purchase batteries for the on-board light-meter. Containing mercury, that size & style of battery has long been discontinued. Pity, really…

But I’m a died-in-the-wool Canon fanboy. I have bought a number of Canon bodies, including the T3i, 60D, and my mirrorless M5. I carefully selected these bodies to grow with my skills. I got good advice about investing in glass rather than the latest & greatest bodies (still haven’t seen a need to go full frame yet !), so any body has to work with my Canon L-Series lenses. I worried that this would be a problem in returning to film. 

Then I read a review on The Phoblographer, written by Chris Gampat about the Canon EOS Élan 7N. It was one of the last semi-pro (or pro-sumer) film cameras before Canon switched to digital. A quick search on and lo & behold a student at ACAD had one for sale in good shape ! It’s the one pictured on the right in the above photo.

I’m going to start by shooting Black & White, hoping to learn more about contrast & texture. I’ll get the local London Drugs to develop them for me, and ask for digital copies. So if you see B&W photos on my Instagram feed, you’ll know what they were shot with. Wish me luck !

Illuminasia 2016

The folks at the Calgary Zoo are committed to enriching the cultural lives of its citizens. Whether it’s celebrating the Holiday Season with Zoo Lights, or bringing back a crowd favourite, the Zoo has something special for everyone ! Building upon the success of last year’s Illuminasia event, its back – bigger and better !
Without further ado, take a peak at a few of the photos I captured of the event:

motion and light

The exhibits were marvellous ! The optimal time to see them, is just as the sun is setting. We were fortunate enough to experience the full beauty of the Golden Hour, as it cast beautiful shadows across the Zoo. Then, as the sun set further, the exhibit glowed. 

maple leaf motif

There were vendors selling food & hot chocolate, as well as a cultural dance exhibit.

fanciful forest creatures

Time-Lapse Video & Deflicker

Last night, while the rest of Canada watched the live feed from the Tragically Hip’s farewell concert, I perched myself atop Nose Hill Park to work on a Time-Lapse video project I’ve been planning.

Shoot-PlanAs you can see, I wanted to capture the sunset, including approximately 7 seconds prior to sunset, then the entire Golden Hour, plus a little extra. As you can see, I had worked out needing 720 captures, at 7 second intervals to make a 30 second video. I also worked out that I would need roughly 14Gb on my camera’s memory card in order to hold all of those RAW photos.


SetupHere, we see the setup of my main shooting rig. The “Beast” (as I refer to my Canon 60D) is set up on the tripod with its legs splayed wide for stability. I run Magic Lantern, which gives me the software capabilities not found on Canon bodies of this vintage. Finally, I have my Canon 17-40mm f4L lens mounted, with the (almost useless) hood on it.

I set up a little early, as I wanted time to wander around the site & try to find a good viewing angle. I knew that as the evening wore on, my shutter speed would drop dramatically, giving me longer & longer exposures.

While the Beast was capturing frames for the video, I took some other pictures on my Canon M3 to pass the time.

I ran into some technical difficulties, as I hadn’t considered the fact that the intervalometer restarts once the shutter opens. As the exposures get longer, there isn’t enough time for the processor to “write” the file. As the evening wore on, I had to keep resetting the intervalometer. Note to self: when the time taken to capture the photo is equal to the time between captures, the buffer fills & the camera simply stops ! Hence, I only captured 527 of my planned 720 frames.

first_cut-thumbnailThe first cut of the video used a straightforward process. I imported to Lightroom, edited the first frame & applied those changes to all the remaining frames. Then import it into Photoshop to render the time-lapse video. Frankly, I was underwhelmed ! The first thing I realized was that locking the ISO in at 160 was a bad (very bad) idea ! As the evening grew on, the shutter needed to be open SOOOO much longer to capture the scene. I have since started exploring “ISO Ramping”; more on that in another post. The video is flickery and the light just seems to drop.

final_cut_thumbnailThe second and final cut of the video followed a completely different workflow. In researching how to “deflicker” a video, I stumbled across a tool called LRTimelapse. It is a tool that is designed to work out the differences between the images – say when the ISO or aperture changes, and smooth those effects over. As you can see, the differences are night & day !

Note: I don’t know why I can’t create links to the videos on the thumbnails. Please click the links to the right. Thanks ! 😄