Our SOPA/PIPA direct mail campaign

Posted By radiantp / January, 18, 2012 / 0 comments

If SOPA/PIPA passes, this might be our next promo postcard.


SOPA PIPA promo postcard

Our stance on SOPA and PIPA acts

Posted By radiantp / January, 18, 2012 / 0 comments

This is how our next mail campaign might look.

Professional photographers take copyrights and intellectual property very seriously.  Part of our job is policing the use of our images and whether those uses have been compensated or not.  If an images is stolen, we have the right to request the user to stop using it or invoice them for the infringement.  We’re very invested in our intellectual property rights and any legislation that can help protect those rights is usually met with open arms.

SOPA and PIPA are different.  Drafted to help curb media piracy, the acts would give large media companies the ability to request domain hosts to monitor and shut down offending sites that might be hosting any of their non-licennsed intellectual property content.  Despite the intentions of the lawmakers, these acts appear to be much too vague in their enforcement, and allow non-government entities the right to control how the internet is accessible to the public.

So despite our stance against piracy and non-licensed use of copyrighted material, the current versions of SOPA and PIPA are much to broad in their scope and powers.  We’ve emailed our Senator and representatives, and you should do the same, after doing your own research and coming to your own conclusions.  You can read more about the acts here.  You can find our how to contact your representatives by entering your zip code at WikiPedia’s site.

Testing for proper RAW exposure (Your camera is lying to you!)

Posted By radiantp / September, 14, 2011 / 3 comments

News flash: If you’re shooting RAW images on your DSLR and using either the on-screen preview image or camera histogram to judge your exposures, your camera is lying to you and giving you too much noise and an inferior image range.

Okay, maybe “news flash” is a bit alarmist, as this has been covered before, but we decided to run our own test on our Canon 5D MKII body to test it’s noise floor at all ISOs, then test the difference between the “proper” exposure and what exposure is needed to maximize the image data in RAW format at any given ISO.

Noise Test
For the noise test we simply put the lens cap on, set the camera to 1/250 @ f/8 and made one exposure per ISO from “Low” to “High”. This gave us 21 black-looking images.

The images were imported into Lightroom 3 with zereod out exposure, blacks, bright/contrast, noise reduction, tone curve, sharpness, etc. Then we modified the tone curve Dark setting to +100, and the Shadows setting to +100 to make the noise more visible.

Switching back and forth between Lightroom slides can make it hard to judge which exposure is noisier than another. It helps to look at the contact sheet here to see which images are darker than their neighbors.

ISO noise test for Canon 5D MKII

ISO noise test for Canon 5D MKII (click through twice to see larger version)

The darker images have less noise than lighter images. ISO 50 (Low) looks pretty good, and then the next best is ISO 160, which surprisingly looks better than both 100 and 125. Noise starts to climb again from 200 to 250, then drops at 320. Similar results from 400 to 500, then again a drop at 640. Same with 800 to 1000, then a drop at 1250. But after 1250 the noise looks pretty linear all the way up to the “High” setting. This shows that the camera sensor doesn’t have a totally linear noise gain as ISOs climb. Certain higher ISOs are better for shooting less noisy images.

The reason we’re testing this isn’t just to find the best ISOs to shoot at with the lowest noise. It’s going to be the foundation for testing our proper RAW exposure settings, which incidentally will reduce noise among other things. So why test at inherently noise ISOs when we can start off with our proven least noisy ISOs?

RAW Exposure Test
So here’s the deal: Your camera preview image and histogram represent an in-camera processed JPEG, not the actual data in the RAW file. We were always told not to base our exposures on the image since we couldn’t calibrate the screen, but now we know the histogram isn’t even accurate either. What’s a photog to do? Well…test!

Our set up isn’t super scientific, but it was more important for consistency between shots than anything else. So we set up one Alien Bees B800 strobe over an Xrite ColorChecker Color Rendition Chart, a blank piece of white paper and a cup that was lined with black felt to provide a solid shadow on the felt background. The felt background gave us a texture to judge our final shadow detail range and noise levels off of, particularly in the shadow of the cup. The camera set up consists of a Canon 5D MKII, with no noise reduction settings, and a 70-200L IS lens. Exposures were determined with a Sekonic L-508 light meter. Bracket exposures were adjusted by varying the flash output, not the lens aperture, which would have introduced sharpness and contrast variations.

As an example for ISO 640, the camera and light meter were both set to ISO 640. The light meter determined our normal exposure to be f/16. After setting the camera to f/16, where it will stay for the duration of the test, we adjusted the strobe to underexpose the first shot by one stop, so we monkeyed with the strobe setting until our light meter gave us a reading of f/11. Then we made our first exposure with the camera. We followed the same strobe adjustment method from -1 stop to +2 stops in 1/3 stop increments, since our camera ISO, shutter speeds and apertures follow a 1/3 stop interval. If your camera does ½ or whole stops only, those would be your intervals to test at.

RAW Exposure Test Setup

RAW Exposure Test Setup (looks like our cell camera could use some noise reduction!)

After capturing our range of ISOs and under/overexposures for each, we imported everything into Lightroom 3. Our first step was to sync our color balance across all images, and we also tagged each ISO’s “normal” exposure with a single star so we could more easily reference them later. We also zereod out the exposure, fill, blacks, tone curve, sharpening and noise reduction settings across all images.

Then we focused on one ISO series of shots, starting with the +2 exposure. Our goal is to use the Exposure slider to bring the image back down to where the brightest whites are just below their clipping level. You can see them clipping by either clicking the upper right arrow in the LR histogram box, or by holding your Alt button down as you adjust the slider. In our case the +2 was too overexposed to retain any detail, even with the slider at -4. The camera sensor is effectively saturated with photons and can’t record any highlight info to the RAW file. So we try the same method on the +1.6 exposure for that ISO. For our ISO 160, +1.6 was still clipping, but for ISO 640, this +1.6 exposure was perfect. Just shows you that things aren’t linear and that you should test for all possibilities.

For ISO 640, our highlight clipping disappeared at -1.15. This is the amount of exposure correction needed then for ISO 640 images captured at +1.6 exposure. Knowing this combination we can now make a Lightroom preset to normalize our “overexposed” shots upon import, for any ISO you test!

We haven’t tested all ISOs, but here are our settings from what we’ve tested as of this writing:
ISO L (50): +.3 exposure, -.75 LR exposure slider
ISO 160: +1.3 exposure, -1.15 LR exposure slider
ISO 640: +1.6 exposure, -1.15 LR exposure slider

The “Low” ISO didn’t deviate too much from the factory setting, but the higher ISOs definitely benefit from some overexposure during capture. These overexposed shots looked clipped on the camera screen/histogram during capture, but retained plenty of highlight info in the RAW version. So there is definitely a disconnect between the in-camera processed JPEG preview and the actual RAW file info.

The magic of all this lies in comparing the new normalized image to the old normal exposure. Find your tagged one-star normal image and compare it with the new normalized image in side-by-side mode in the library module. What we see is a significant amount of noise reduction and more shadow detail, particularly at the higher ISOs. In this screenshot of the ISO 640 side-by-side we can see that the normalized image on the right has better shadow texture, better shadow transition gradation on the cup, and less noise. In the ISO 160 side-by-side, you can even see the cup separation from the felt background in the dark shadow area in the normalize image on the right.

ISO 640 Shadow Noise Comparison

ISO 640 Shadow Noise Comparison (click through twice for larger version)

ISO 160 Shadow Noise Comparison

ISO 160 Shadow Noise Comparison (click through twice for larger version)

ISO 640 Color Noise Comparison

ISO 640 Color Noise Comparison (click through twice for larger version). The colors are shifted a tad, but the noise we're concerned about is noticeably less in the normalize version on the right.

Because we’ve overexposed during capture, commonly called Expose To The Right (ETTR), we effectively shifted our data up toward the upper areas of the tonal range, where sensors record more information. As a result we don’t have a true black on our normalized histogram, so we can fiddle with the black setting or tone curve to bring some black tones back in. How much really depends on how high or low key your subject matter is, and you’ll probably have to do adjust this on a case by case basis.

For those of you who shoot primarily for highlight details and don’t give two flips about shadow detail or overall range, these tests may not matter much. Since the camera is inherently underexposing a bit, you’re in no danger of clipping your highlight detail. But for people who want to exploit their sensor’s maximum dynamic range, have less noise, smoother shadow gradients and more shadow detail, knowing your camera’s true RAW capture exposures will help.

What are you thoughts on this? Can you think of other tests we should run or ways these results could be useful?

Terrific short film about finding your artistic voice.

Posted By radiantp / August, 1, 2011 / 0 comments

Photographer Zack Arias’ “Transform” is a short film offering a touching and insightful look at the process a photographer (or any artist) goes through during a creative slump. It poses serious questions about why we choose a career in art, how seriously we should take ourselves, and the recognition that you never stop growing as an artist and professional. Artists and non-artists alike will glean something from this terrific film. Kudos to Zack for hanging his ego and doubts out there for the benefit of the rest of us. See his work and wonderful blog at: www.zarias.com

What is your experience with overcoming creative slumps or realizing your true purpose of your art?

New Radiant website!

Posted By radiantp / July, 12, 2011 / 0 comments

We’re performing a much needed overhaul on our site. It will be easier to navigate, offer better quality slideshows with embedded videos, enable easier contact and offer other features.

Please check back around 8/1/11 for our new site.

In the meantime, you can view our off-site portfolios at:
ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) – Click here for portfolio
APA (American Photographic Artists) – Click here for portfolio

Never question my eyeballs! (How to test your color vision acuity online.)

Posted By radiantp / April, 22, 2011 / 0 comments

What has two thumbs, drinks Dr. Pepper, and has perfect color vision? THIS GUY! Read on to learn how to test your color vision accuracy.

One out of 12 men and one out of 255 women have some form of color vision deficiency. Because of this, it’s not uncommon to see more female digital techs in the publishing and retouching industries. Statistically, they have more accurate color vision.

So a few days ago, when a fellow photog posted a link to X-Rite’s online color hue vision test, I had to give it whirl to see how my manly eyeballs stacked up. This test is an online version of the Farnsworth Munsell 100 Hue test which has been used by the government for decades to test color vision aptitude.

In the online quiz, you’re challenged with organizing four different color chip swatches by hue. You attempt order the fine hue gradients correctly, between the two fixed hue chips on each end of the swatch. It takes about five minutes, but it’s fun, and informative. A score of zero is good news in this case, meaning you have perfect color vision.

Ryan's perfect color test results!

So I spent a few minutes, second guessed a couple swatch choices, reordered some color chips and submitted my results. Nice…a zero score! (see screenshot posted with article, for you doubters). So my valued clients, we may be working off different monitors and have different opinions of what Ferrari red should look like on your product photo. However, my calibrated graphics monitor and my newly proven eyeballs should carry some weight in the decision now. :)
(And for those wondering, Ferrari red has an RGB value of 211/34/50 and an approximate HEX #D32232.)

Leave a comment on your test experience! Post up those scores!

Van Heffner portrait at Aria Hotel

Posted By radiantp / March, 31, 2011 / 0 comments

We recently completely an awesomely fast and diverse location portraiture shoot of Las Vegas big wig Van Heffner for Nevada Meetings + Events Magazine. (Digital version here, see page 48).

Mr. Heffner is President and CEO of the Nevada Hotel & Lodging Association, and one of the nicest men we’ve ever had the pleasure to photograph. We led Mr. Heffner around the Aria Hotel property for about an hour and a half, lighting and shooting in six different portrait environments. It was quite a feat, and he was relaxed throughout the whole process. Big thanks go to Aria’s Barbara Maisano and Shannon McCallum for making things happen at Aria for this shoot to be a success.

Van Heffner at Aria Hotel

Van Heffner at Aria Hotel

Van Heffner at Aria

Van Heffner at Aria

Behind the scenes vid of Radiant Photography luxury product shoot

Posted By radiantp / March, 24, 2011 / 1 comments

We recently had the pleasure of shooting four groupings of luxury products for a six page spread in Desert Companion Magazine, for their advertising client GGP.  It was an awesome gig with great stylists and art direction.  GGP, which runs three Las Vegas luxury retail venues including Fashion Show Mall and the Shoppes at Palazzo, filmed a behind the scenes video of the shoot.  It includes the luxury products, the photography equipment and some interviews with key players in the shoot, including Radiant Photography owner Ryan Weber.

“Creepy” software shows others when & where you took your photos.

Posted By radiantp / March, 3, 2011 / 0 comments

A new program called creepy might convince you to stop geotagging your photos.

Type in a username from Flickr or Twitter and it will map out when and where all the user’s photos were taken.

It also works with the following photo hosting sites by pulling EXIF data:

  • flickr – information retrieved from API
  • twitpic.com – information retrieved from API and photo exif tags
  • yfrog.com – information retrieved from photo exif tags
  • img.ly – information retrieved from photo exif tags
  • plixi.com – information retrieved from photo exif tags
  • twitrpix.com – information retrieved from photo exif tags
  • foleext.com – information retrieved from photo exif tags
  • shozu.com – information retrieved from photo exif tags
  • pickhur.com – information retrieved from photo exif tags
  • moby.to – information retrieved from API and photo exif tags
  • twitsnaps.com – information retrieved from photo exif tags
  • twitgoo.com – information retrieved from photo exif tags

Even more creepy is that you can export all the data to .csv format and save it….like a stalker…or a good marketer scouring info on a client’s lifestyle habits, I guess.

Some people like geotagging, and we use it in conjunction with Google Maps to digitally “scout” locations before we travel there.  But we’re not too fond of making it easier for you to come kill us or wreck our photo shoot  minutes after we post a behind the scenes shot on Twitter.

You can avoid geotagging altogether by turning it off in your apps and mobile devices, or by using a scrubbing software like Geotag Security.

iPad 2 features for the photographer

Posted By radiantp / March, 2, 2011 / 0 comments

The iPad 2 has been announced today, and while we’re not there to play with an actual unit, we’ve culled the interwebs compiling what new version features will be useful for photographers.

While we can’t find specific specs on the cameras, the iPad 2 comes with front and rear cameras.  The rear camera will shoot 720 HD, and the front will shoot VGA resolution, so we’re confident the camera sensors will be great.  This will allow for video chatting with the pre-installed “Facetime” app.  More importantly to us is the ability to capture locations while scouting and then edit them on the spot.  Now instead of sketching out a location lighting idea with a client on paper, we can work at the site with “Photo Booth” or some other other app to sketch in lighting locations, models, etc on a real image.

The new version uses the new 1GHz A5 chip with dual-core processors.  The CPU performance will be twice as fast as the iPad 1 and up to nine times faster graphics processing.  This will be useful for photogs during editing and slide show presentations.

Storage and output:
Sadly the iPad 2 didn’t get the removable SD card photographers were craving, but there is a camera expansion pack and loads of on-board memory.   The iPad 2 also outputs at full 1080p with and HDMI output, so you can plug your iPad into your client’s flat-screen and really wow them with your portfolio slide show.  (The HDMI output requires a $39 adapter, and since the iPad 2 captures at 720p, I’m guessing it’s just up-scaled to 1080p)

The iPad 2 will be available in many flavors and the 16GB WiFi version starts at $499.  You can opt for white or black cases.  It’s also available in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB variations, all with WiFi and some with 3G connectivity through ATT or Verizon (you have to choose just one).  None of the units will act as a wifi hotspot like the iPhone 4.

By far we’re most excited about the processing speed, the additional camera with high res video, and the HDMI output.  We see an improved work flow and more impressive client experience for photographers upgrading to the iPad 2.

What are your thoughts?  Notice any benefits or negative aspects we missed from a photographer’s view?