More Aerial work (Grafton) - April 2008

Well after 2 weeks off turned into 7 weeks off a little too quickly we finally got back out on the road for more aerial work.  This time the target area is Grafton.  God damn there is some chilly arsed weather going about at the moment.  On the ground I’m mostly wearing a jacket but get up a hundred meters in that plane with the door off and the wind chill factor makes for some rather less than pleasant shooting conditions.  Still I only have a couple hrs work a day to do (max) so I can’t really complain too much.  We are staying in rather a nice hotel on the river at South Grafton and there is a big L-shaped balcony that overlooks both the sunrise and sunset.  Had a bit of an adventure when the door lock on our room broke and locked us in.  I had to climb out the window and scurry across the roof top to climb in another window in the common area and open our door with the key from the outside.  Anyways as I was on the roof a girl in another room must have glanced out and got an awful fright at seeing someone climb across the roof because I heard a loud scream followed by some curses I can’t repeat here *chuckles*

 Anyways we got our lock fixed now so it’s all good. Found this sign, which made me laugh:


Seems that if you want to get up to mischief now is the time to do it.

Next up are a couple aerial snaps, first one of a road winding through trees, second one of a house we came across on fire and third is just a general pretty shot of some sugar cane farms:




When I haven’t been up in the air, scurrying across rooftops or laughing at funny signs I’ve been taking some advantage of the river outside our doorstep to snap off a few sunset shots:





17th March 2007 Bart & Dee Photoshoot (part 1)

 Bit of a delayed posting this one but better late than never.  I’ve decided to start adding images and a bit of background info for model shoots to this blog, flesh it out a bit when I’m not travelling.

 First a word on the models, what a pair!  Bart has been at me for quite some time now (he says about 2 years and I’m not arguing with him) for us to do a shoot together and I’d previously had a very successful shoot with Dee & we were both keen to work together again.  So when the two decided to do a shoot together in Brisbane it worked out great for all of us. 

 Bart actually drove up from Armidale to fit in with the weekend I had off from Aerial shooting (which has since turned into 5 weeks off, but that’s another story) which was a mighty effort and about ties for the most effort a model has gone to to work with me for a tfp shoot!  The other contender would be Jacinta who flew up from Melbourne, sure she had further to go but a flight is a lot less pain than an all day drive.  Anyways, not only did Bart drive up from Armidale but he organised a collection of literally hundreds of inspiration shots.  To Dee I gave the task of hunting down a gym for the second half of the shoot which she completed successfully.  So all in all I had bugger all preparation (besides mental) to do for this shoot, the models did the lot!! Wish that happened more often I can tell you…

 On the day I think it’s safe to say that the three of us worked our asses off.  From waking at 2:00am to make it down to Byron for a sunrise we shot through to about 11am and then made our way leisurely back up to Brisbane, we ended up shooting at the gym until around 3am the next morning, so it was a 24+hr day.  Mighty effort!!

 These first shots are just from the beach section of the shoot, and just the handful I’ve managed to edit up so far, there are still many other winners in there.  I started off with a very simple lighting setup of only my metz 60 ct4 on a tripod, using manual exposure settings to get that nice dark background.  For those wanting a bit more info on this basically I put the flash in place, took a test shot with the models in their rough positions and then adjusted the aperture until I had the models exposed correctly, then adjusted shutter speed until I had the background exposed how I wanted it.  These shots took only a fairly small amount of post processing because the contrast ratio was already about what I wanted by being able to balance the flash with the ambient light.

However my Metz soon failed, as I was to work out when I got it home the plug on the sync cord had become faulty so my camera wasn’t able to relay the order to the camera to flash.  So we then had to settle for an even simpler lighting setup - that would be my old friend simple natural light.  We were lucky in that it was a very cloudy morning so for the most part we had a huge softbox in the sky to work with.  These shots typically took a little more post work as instead of flash I had to use photoshop techniques (mainly dodge & burn) to bring out what I wanted to be brought out.

Without any further ado let me introduce the models:

Bart -

Dee -

And on to the photos:








Managing noise for microstock



 Quick links to microstock agencies:



Shutterstock            Stock Xpert           Bigstock

Dreamstime              123 RF                  Fotolia



How to kill noise without a ninja

Ok so I get occasional emails from other microstock shooters (or those looking to get into it) frustrated about the whole ‘noise’ thing.  So I figured I’d put together a bit of a piece on how I personally go about combating it.  This piece wont focus on any of the third party plugins, like noise ninja or neat image as I don’t personally use them.  All tools here can be found straight in photoshop.

 Before we enter photoshop though noise managing starts with the capture.  Always shoot on the lowest ISO you can, 99% of the time this should be 100 or 200, note that it’s not worth doing the extended range thing my canon 5D (and probably other cameras) as that isn’t using the sensor at it’s optimal setting and only results in more noise than 100 ( I believe it even says this in the Canon manual).  If shooting in low light is going to be at all a possibility then a tripod should be carried and used rather than bumping the iso up.  Exposure should be to the right side of the histogram, if you’re not quite sure what this means then look up your camera manual for information on using the histogram.  Basically what you are looking for is the brightest exposure you can get without blowing the highlights in any area that you would normally want detail in.  By that I mean that if you have the sun in frame, or are shooting an object on a white background, or have other light sources (eg street lights etc) in frame then you will always blow the highlights there, where you don’t want to be blowing highlights is in skin tones of people or any object in frame that is part of the composition (unless you have very good reason to do so and are doing it deliberately).  You can tell blown highlights on the LCD review screen by the blinking areas.  Now your image might look a little bright and washed out at this stage in capture, so long as the detail in the highlights is there that is ok, you will bring that down in post.

 It’s always better to try to darken images in post than lighten them.  Lightening a dark area in post will always result in a massive noise increase, where as darkening an area will not.  You can darken the whole image by using the curves function of photoshop or parts of it by using the burn tool.

 Now lets assume that you have an image that has more or less the contrast & brightness settings that you want, even if you used iso100 and a good exposure you will still have noise in it.  It is most identifiable in large, mid to darker areas of minimal detail, the most common area being skies.  Here is where I am going to use the reduce noise filter in photoshop.  Now before we use this filter we should make sure that all other post work has already been done.  Contrast enhancements, colour shifts, dodging and burning, all these processes introduce noise into the photo, so do everything else first.

 First step is to flatten the image if you have used multiple layers, if you wish to retain the layers for possible future editing later on then you can always duplicate all the current layers, reorder them and then merge the duplicate set of layers.  

So now you have one layer that is your finished photo (but too noisy!) we aren’t going to run the filter straight on it though as when you use the reduce noise filter it also reduces detail and we don’t want that!  So what we do is duplicate the layer and run reduce noise (filers-noise-reduce noise) on the top layer, you should run it at the highest possible setting, that would be strength-10, conserve details-0, sharpen details-0, the colour noise is slightly dependant on the image but I normally have that cranked up to full also.  Now we are going to use a layer mask to undo the noise filtration in the areas we want.  Simply click the little mask button down at the bottom of the layer palette and you’ll have a layer mask over the top (filtered) image.  This is currently all white, which means the entire top layer is what we are seeing.  All you do now is paint on that mask with a black brush in the areas that you want that top layer to be invisible and the unfiltered “detail” layer underneath to show through.  Right now we are quite literally painting back in the detail.  For this areas like eyes, lips, hair, clothing, objects in focus should all be painted back in.  Anything that is in focus and has any sort of detail or texture that needs to be seen.  You don’t have to worry so much about noise in areas of detail as even though it is technically there it is exceptionally hard to pick up - unless it is a VERY VERY noisy picture, in which case the round steel filing cabinet is probably the best place for it.  Skin is a hard one, sometimes you want the smoothing effect that the reduce noise filter applies but often it ends up looking unnatural.  Often I will paint back in the skin with a 50% opacity brush (or adjust the opacity to suit) this means that half the top layer will show through stuck over the detail layer underneath, this often gives a slight smoothing effect to the skin without loosing too much detail, you can still see pores and it still looks like skin.

 Remember to play with brush sizes, opacity & flow (and know the difference between these two), even use the fade tool (edit-fade brush stroke) when a paint stroke lets back in just a little too much detail.

The above is the standard way I use to defeat noise in about 80% of the shots I edit.  Every now and then I can’t be bothered with all this and will just play around with the settings in the reduce noise filter, usually the “conserve detail” slider.  But in most shots this gives a less than perfect result, there always seems to be bits of noise that it lets through as it thinks it is detail and bits of detail that it eradicates because it thinks it is noise.  But by all means do play with these sliders and learn what they do.  Sometimes the perfect result comes a little easier by combining the layer technique with some slight tweaking of the “conserve detail” & “remove colour noise” sliders.

 Also every now and then you’ll find that the image is so noisy (especially after some heavy post processing) that the reduce noise filter isn’t enough, even on max settings.  This normally means you’ve passed the point of no return and need to either ditch the shot or re-edit with less wacky PS work.  But you can save the occasional image by just blasting it twice with the reduce noise filter (obviously in conjunction with the layer technique).  Other useful tools for ridding yourself of noise in specific areas are the blur & smudge tools, smudge being a much stronger effect than blur.  Just be careful with the smudge tool in that if you do a large area with a large brush size you could be waiting a long time for the computer to process what you just did.  My normal technique with the smudge tool is to choose a strength of around perhaps 20-40% and go over the offending area in a wiggly crosshatch fashion.  If you go back and forth only one way and you’ll end up with nasty streaks.

Every now and then if I have a large area of sky I might even select it (with lasso, magic wand etc) give the selection a  generous feather (select-modify-feather), copy and paste it to a new layer over the top of the old one (ctrl-C then ctrl-V), lock the transparency (there’s a little icon on the top of the layers palette that does this, just mouse over the icons and they’ll tell you which one it is) and then run a beefy Gaussian blur on it.

In short there are many ways to combat noise in photoshop but I’ve only gone over the latter ones briefly as to be honest I don’t use them very much at all.  In most cases the reduce noise filter on full is more then enough to get rid of any noise you have, and masking back in the areas of detail gives you the best of both worlds, noiseless patches of sky & uniform colour along with sharp detail in the areas that need it.


Road trippin' across Australia Feb-Mar '08

Yeah ok, I’m a slack bastard.  I promised an update weeks ago and I haven’t given it.  Well I’ve been…lazy.

Ok, got back from Asia a week or so into Jan with the idea of chillin’ for a couple months and then heading back over to the land of plenty.  Was here a couple weeks when my old aerial photography client rang me up and said he had some work for me.  I initially knocked him back as I’d had enough living out of a suitcase just recently and just wanted to watch the cricket.  But then the bastard rang back with an offer to pay me almost 2.5 times my previous salary.

 Well I’m not much of a material kinda guy but this meant I’d be getting paid 4X my normal stock income for the period of work with them so I caved.  A couple days later I found myself speeding the client’s ford Falcon down from Brisbane to Melbourne for some work in Ballarat.  First a word on the car…did the clowns at Ford actually DRIVE the thing when they released that car?  The Ford Falcon is supposed to be an Australia icon but as the guy who used to work on the suspension in my rx7 said “this thing was all over the road like dogshit!”.  I used to be an idiot hoon, I’m now a…swift driver.  But I’d be dammed if I’d take that thing any faster than about 130 - it just didn’t feel safe.

 Sorry you true blue types but I’m going to stick to my Japanese cars who’s manufactures actually know what HANDLING is.

Anyways as Ali G would say “I digest”.  Got SFA personal shots from the air as I’m that knackered from shooting boring farms for the client that I just can’t be assed shooting my own work @ 500ft but I did get a couple shots of the dam above the place I was staying for a couple weeks (Healsville), a few other random aerial snaps, and then a few shots I managed to snag on the way too and from Melb.  Enjoy:













Lonely Planet cover!

I’ll get into what I’ve been up to lately in a subsequent post but right now I’m just going to share the news that I’ve been contacted by Lonely Planet to be told they want to use one of my shots from last year’s Thailand trip on the cover of an upcomming guidebook!!

 I’ll add that LP had already purchased the license for the image on one of my stock sites, this would have allowed them to quite legally use it in the manner in which they wished to but they chose to contact me and offer me a further generous payment as they felt the stock payment was too low.  Makes me feel guilty now that I bought that locally ‘produced’ (photocopied) Lonely Planet Cambodia guide book!

 So lookout for the 2009 Blue list which will have the following image on it’s cover: