Saturday, 29 August 2009

Dusty Postcards

BEFOREI just had to do a major sensor clean today and thought I would post some comments for those searching for information later.

Of course you don't HAVE to clean your sensor OR do it yourself. You can send it back to the manufacturer or drop it off to a repair shop. I did this when I bought my first D-SLR. I waited 2 months to get it back from Nikon and swore I would never do it again. Likewise, you can remove the "bad" spots from your pictures in post-processing using a clone tool, and I do this myself when I haven''t been able to clean in between shoot. Eventually you will have to clean your sensor.

Cleaning usually involves using a dry brush and a wet swab. How often you have to clean will depend upon the camera you have, how often you change lenses, and what environments you shoot in.

Disclaimer: I don't have great habits when it comes to keeping my sensor clean. I change lenses often and I often leave lenses off the body for a while. Sometimes I will remember to flip the body over so that the body opening is facing down in my bag and dust is less likely to get inside.

You will see sensor dust appear as black spots on your images. They are much more noticeable when you shoot at f22 than when you shoot at f2.8 (I won't bother to talk about the physics of why that is). You can check for dust by shooting a blank piece of white paper. Don't shoot in focus, as this will pick up any imperfections in the paper. So defocus, set your f-stop to 22 (or the highest value possible) and don't worry about shutter speed - all you are looking for is an out-of-focus white background to contrast the dust bunnies on your sensor.

You can usually see the dust form the display on your camera, but it is better to pull the image into your favourite piece of software and zoom in as you pan around the image.

Here is a shot from my cleaning session today:


Unfortunately, this is after several cleaning passes already and you can see there is still LOTS of dust on the sensor (black spots circled in yellow).

After a few more passes it cleaned up much better, although if you look close enough, you will still see some dust spots.


You will notice I didn't bother to properly adjust the colour balance. In fact, this is a mixed light shot (light from a window and a desk lamp) I'm not looking for a great shot here, just something to highlight the sensor dust.

Many cameras allow you to load a dust reference shot. When you do this, the camera's built in software will attempt to remove the dust spots itself. This can save you effort in post-processing, although I'm always reluctant to leave this sort of judgement based task to automated routines. If you want to try it, check your manual for instructions on how to do this.

Depending upon your habits, you may have to clean more often or less often. When I shot with a Nikon D70s (no built in sensor cleaner), I usually cleaned my sensor once a month with a dry brush and once every three months with a wet swab. Sometimes more often if I shot in a dirty environment like a sandy beach. Now that I am shooting with a Nikon D700 (built in sensor cleaner set to clean on start-up and shut-down), I clean less often. Now I usually clean it every 6 months with a dry brush and once a year with a wet swab.

After a lot of research, I settled on Visible Dust gear. In particular Arctic Butterfly for my dry brush and Vswabs for my wet swabs. The pages linked above have really useful videos that will show you how to use these products. Note: The wet swab is a USE ONCE deal. Do not try to use it a second time (i.e., no second pass.) Make one pass and toss. If you need a second pass, break out a second swab.

Again, how often you clean depends on your habits and where you shoot. I just came back from shooting in Antelope Canyon where I was under tight timelines and the environment was extremely dusty. This meant I was changing lenses often and was pretty careless about how long my camera body was open to the dust. I certainly paid a price for this. My sensor was so dirty that I made 3 passes of the dry brush and three passes with a wet swab. That's 6 cleaning attempts following only one shoot.


Friday, 28 August 2009

Postcards Post Hurricane Bill

Hurricane Bill AftermathWe had a hurricane blow through here last week end. Bill reached Category 4 status at one point, but dropped down to a Category 1 by the time he hit Nova Scotia. Fortunately the eye never made landfall, so the winds were only "tropical storm" strength. A short slide show is after the jump.

The sun was out very quickly as the eye passed, as there was no rain on the back side. While the eye didn't make land fall, it did pass nearby while the tides were high, so there was a good storm surge. The winds stayed high as well, which made for some great shots down near the Peggy's Cove Light.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.


Friday, 7 August 2009

Postcards from Dubai

Dubai_0045My usual business trip photographic victim, Angie, is on maternity leave, so on a recent trip to Dubai, had to make do with Ian. This is the lobby of Pacific Controls, our host for the trip. Their headquarters is a bespoke building that is the first Platinum Green building in the UAE, and only the 16th such building in the world. It’s hard to imagine how these glass walls can holdback the raw heat of the desert, but they did the trick.

That evening, we presented our product to some interested parties in nearby Abu Dhabi. Ian and I have our set-up down pat, so I had lots of time to take more shots. I imposed myself on the staff of Arasca, the company who organized the meeting. Both Pacific Controls and Arasca were consummate hosts, including patronizing my photography habit.


I was able to take advantage of a gap in my travel schedule to spend a day touring Dubai. My driver and guide was Talib Hussein. After 18 years with the Dubai police in the Traffic Patrol Section, he knows the city well. Talib Hussein thought that the man-made island(s) of Palm Jumeirah would be the best place to shoot a sunrise. We went to the edge of the top curl, looking back on Burj Al Arab, a 7-star hotel. The true size of this hotel cannot be appreciated in a photograph. I was about 3.5 km away when I took this shot before the sun came over the horizon. The "fog" is actually dust from a storm that blew in from the Iraqi desert.


When the sun finally appeared, the dust turned a nice golden hue. The hotel is truly massive and it dwarfs the Jumeirah Beach Hotel next to it.

Dubai Burj Al Arab (2)

After a few shots of the hotel, I made a couple of frames of Talib Hussein with the hotel as a backdrop.


After a quick breakfast with Ian, who opted to sleep instead of watch the sun come up, we headed down to “creek side”. The Creek is where Dubai was founded. We circled around for a quick visit to a couple of mosques.


Then it was on to see several of the markets, or “souks”. Small alleyways crammed with goods for sale seem to define markets the world over, and the Spice Souk, Gold Souk, and the Fish Market in Dubai are no exception. Many brands are present. Even Walt Disney does business in the Spice Souk.


The fish market was the busiest and nosiest market; all the fishmongers were shouting at both passers-by and at each other. One stopped me and asked for me to take his picture. That drew an immediate rebuttal from his neighbor, who insisted I also take his picture.

Dubai_0332 Dubai_0333

I had a tour of some of the older establishments, such as the Dubai Museum and the Old Souk, where we munched on some traditional Arab fare cooked by a woman in traditional garb.


With the setting sun came a tour of a couple of the famous Dubai malls, including the Dubai Mail where I snapped Burj Dubai. Modern Dubai looks nothing like old Dubai, and my original shot looked out of place with the other shots I took, so I processed this one to look like a worn, old-fashioned postcard. The original is at the bottom of this post for comparison.


This quick tour of the city lays good groundwork for me to do a more in-depth study at some point in the future. It would be nice to also spend more time in Abu Dhabi and compare the two cities.

Normally I embed a slide show of my Postcards, but Flickr is blocked in the UAE, so for my new friends there I have posted the rest of my shots below. For those with full access to Flickr, all of my photos there are geo-tagged, meaning you can see where the photos were taken. Click on a photo to go to Flickr. In the lower right hand side of the Flickr page, you can see the location of each shot, and click "map" to see a map: