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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Brief survey of focus stacking technique and software

I made a presentation at the Hasselblad User Group meeting in Singapore recently. The seminar was attended by about 100 photographers, and I am pleased that there is so much interest in macro watch photography.

Denis of Shriro, the agents for Hasselblad and Profoto asked me to share with those not present the photographs. And touch a bit on the technique

Many of you present also wanted to know the equipment used:

Hasselblad H3D-39 with HC 4/120 Macro with or without one or both H28 and H52 extension tubes. With both tubes, at maximum magnification (min distance) I can get approx 1.93X magnification.

I also use the Manfrotto 454 Macro Focussing Rail, as the technique I use is to put the lens in min distance for max magnification, and stack the images by moving the camera by turning the micrometer screw on the rail. This results in about 8 to 12 photographs, each with a slightly different plane of focus, though overlapping approximately 20% from frame to frame. As most of you would know depth of field even at f/11 or f/16 is very small at these focussing distances, so having 8-12 photographs, each with a slightly different focus plane will help greatly.

I shoot mainly at f/11 or f/16, near the optimum apertures for the lens. For lighting, I use one or two ProFoto Compact 600 strobes.

I show an example here, using the De Bethune DB28. A stack of 9 images are used. These are Quick Previews from Hasselblad's Phocus software. Shown below are frames 1, 5, you get the picture of what is required.

These frames are then combined digitally by software. I have looked as some software that do this job, and below is a short survey of those I have tried.

CombineZF is a free software. But I find slow. But it is free.

Here is the result from CombineZF. Quick Align, Do Weighted Average stack.

Note artifacts around the crown, and case. Note the double reflected image on the sides of the case. These can be touched up and cleaned either in CombineZF or Photoshop.

Photoshop CS4 and CS5 also have a facility to do this stacking. Load all the files as layers. Then a two step process...Align, and then Stack.

I don't have CS5, but on CS4, I find the resultant stacked photograph to be ok for web, but for print, too many artifacts remain. PS creates a mask for each layer, and does not do a good job with the masks, resulting in the said artifacts. You can clean up by touching up the masks, but this is tedious, and difficult.

I did produce and sold several A0 prints done this way. Tedious and slow, but possible. Even for the 39MP Hasselblad files, an A0 image is still a 4X linear magnification of the original file. And you have to work carefully. The resultant print image can be about 30X to 100X the original size, so everything is magnified.

But the superior method to stack is via a software known as Helicon Focus. The software is not free...but license is a very reasonable fee. See this link for licensing. The software is excellent. On my laptop (Dell Studio XPS15, i5, 4GB, 1GB dedicated video), it is lightning quick on medium jpegs. Quite fast on full sized jpegs (The H3D produces files 7212x5412), and reasonable for full sized tiffs.

But the results are superb. The result shown above is without any touchup. And what little touchups, are done quite easily with the touchup tools available within Helicon. Much easier than painting white and black masks on CS4. I highly recommend Helicon Focus for those who are serious about focus stacking.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Update on the Pour le Merite book: Peek at the pages

The blueprints, as discussed in the last post, is a test print to show the pages in running order, in the binding signature as specified. In the past, these were done with film and normally printed monochrome - either blue (hence blueprints) or brown.

But these days of CTP (Computer to Plate), we package the files to the printers as pdf files. These files are full resolution pdf. The entire book goes nicely into one DVD...but just barely.

Here is a peek at some of the pages...The inside title page:

The contents page in English.

And a look at some pages...full sized A2 full bleed photographs:

And a page showing collectors and their Pour le Merite watches. In this case, a TOURBILLON Pour le Merite in a stainless steel case..

Yes, no typo...Stainless Steel case. For the inside story, you'd have to wait for the book.

And Chapter IV, which is the first time, a TOURBILLON Pour le Merite is being disassembled and documented by my photographs:

Its getting exciting! I will also document the printing and binding as it happens. Watch this blog for the information!

If you would like your own copy of the book, please click here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Making a book: Blueprints, proofs and dummies

An update on my book.

After more than a year's hard work, we are nearly at production stage. I finished the final edits over the week, and packaged the entire contents to the printers. The layout work is done with Adobe InDesign, and the files outputed as high resolution pdf.

The process next is for the printers to produce 3 documents for checking:

1. The Dummy. Which is a blank book, made to the exact specifications, using the specified papers. This dummy will give the publisher (that's me), the author (me too), the editor (Timmy Tan) and the designer (Livi) a feel of how the final book will look and feel like. The dummy will show the bulk, paper type and binding style. The dummy's spine can also be measured to provide the designer the spine width to allow for the jacket.

The dummy is a whopping 2.6kg! And this is the regular edition. We estimate the Deluxe version will tip the scales at 3.5kg.

Measuring 1.2 inches thick (approximately 3cm). The final count is 240 pages.

We estimate the Deluxe version will be about 1.8 inches thick.

Here is Timmy, with the book. I think its just the right size, albeit heavy.

The dummy comprises of all the pages, bound in the manner specified, using the speific paper ordered, but all blanks. No printing.

2. The Blueprints, also known as ozalids. These days, its not a print from the film so technically not an ozalid or blueprint, but old habits die hard, and most printers still use the same name. With CTP (Computer to Print) technology used in modern presses, the ozalid is printed with a plotter. These are called blueprints because the method of producing this economic proof is prepared by contacting film in a vacuum frame with a specially coated paper developed in an ammonia vapour The result may be blue, black, red, or brown. But today's CPT style blueprints are in full colour.

The blueprints are smaller than the specified size, in the case of my book, they are A4 sized. But will give us an idea of how the pages will bind. In this book, the signature is 8 pages...meaning each set of 8 pages are stitched together to form a booklet which is then bound together to form the book.

This is how they look like. In the next post, I will show some peeks of the contents.

3. The Proofs. These are full sized colour proofs, made with an inkjet printer. In the case of my printer who is ISO certified, they maintain a colour standard, and are obligated to measure with a density meter the ink being laid down on the proof paper. This ensures the colour consistency made by the inkjet (Epson 4880 printer) for the proofs are the same as that made by their offset printer which will be used for final print run.

The proofs are actually printed on paper that is larger than the final size. It includes a part which will be cut off, and so marked...called the bleed. Note the colour bar at the side of the page. This gives the printer information about colour, trapping, slurring, accuracy and dot gain. They can be read with a densitometer to check that the colours being printed by the offset press later are the same density as indicated by the colour bar of this proof.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Special Report: Lange Zeitwerk for Auction to benifit a children charity

Today's feature is the special watch produced by Lange for the Kidz Horizon auction scheduled for 27 August 2011 in Singapore.

Please go here to read the Lange press release, and about Duncan Wang and Kidz Horizon.

I photographed the press release photographs, and here I release a few more photographs from the same session.

First the front photograph, licensed by Lange on a Royalty Free basis with third party rights.

This is a special licensing arrangement because Lange is using the photographs in their press kits, and would need permission to third parties - the press, webmasters, etc, to use the photographs freely. Normally this type of work would have been contracted as a "Works for Hire", in which case Lange would be the owner of the copyright. But we agreed that this would be a special license, based on the Getty model for Royalty Free, but for me, as copyright owner to grant third party rights as well. I think this arrangement works, albeit a bit unusual.

Note that due to this arrangement, you may use the Lange licensed photographs without further permission in any situation. But for the out-take photographs, I maintain my full rights, and you will violate copyright if you reuse them. Please contact me if you would like to use those photographs.

Another Lange Press Photograph:

The beautiful L043.1 is shown off in the photograph above. Note the magnificent finish, typical of Lange.

Note also that typical with high end clients like Lange, who have a corporate colour signature to their photographs, the ones licensed to them have this distinct signature. While the out-takes do not carry this colour signature, as they are untouched from camera with the exception of resizing, and a little levels touchup. Here is an out-take.

This view shows the special engraving: "1/1" and "SGP 2011". This makes this watch unusual because it is very rare for Lange to imprint on the watch a "piece unique" designation, where they have done here. Even more rare, to engrave the rear bezel with the city and this case "SGP2011".

A lifestyle photograph, showing the watch to good effect, part of the press package:

The main differences between this special piece unique Zeitwerk from the regular white gold Zeitwerk is as follows:

- The Piece Unique has a grey dial as opposed to the black dial fitted for the White Gold case.
- The "Made in Germany" mark on the grey dial is imprinted as part of the ring of the subsidiary seconds hands. In the regular Zeitwerk, it is engraved on the bottom, curved part of the Time Bridge.
- The special engraving on the case back.
- The regular white gold case has digital sub-dials in black arabic numerals on white background. The special watch has white arabic numerals on grey background.

An out-take I particularly liked, showing a side view of the movement...

I think the above will make a nice print, A2 or A1 sized. I will make them available in a special edition of 8 signed, and numbered prints in archival ink and paper. Please contact me if you are interested.

And a final out-take photograph, a wrist shot. Thanks to my friend Larry Wee for being the hand model:

Interested parties to bid for this piece should contact Kidz Horizon, a local Lange representative, or email me.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

MB&F HM4 Flying Panda for Only Watch 2011

Max Bussser is an unusual talent in watchmaking. Not a watchmaker by trade, but makes watches for a living...His imagination is wonderful...almost child like, but always totally rooted in true business sense, however fantastical the idea.

In support of Only Watch 2011, he came up with the idea of typifying a child's imagination to escape in the dream of flying...and the teddy bear symbolising childhood. But as his partner for this project is Huang Hangkang...a remarkable Chinese artist, the teddy bear is replaced with a flying panda. interesting. And very cool.

The panda is made by casting 18k white gold in a "lost wax" method. The cast panda is then worked by hand to create the details. Parts are then varnished, and the panda electro plated to produce the black accent marks.

Detail of the Panda, shown above. Cute isn't he? I am tempted to give him a name for the flying panda - Po (as in Kung Fu Panda)

And the watch, shown in almost all directions...this watch is fascinating to photograph, because it is not tye typically a flat disk...but totally a 3D sculpture. So cool, I cannot even begin to describe it. As usual, photograph is not photoshopped except for some levels adjustment and resizing. I did even not attempt to balance to colour.

My favourite...I can see the pic below...photoshop out the strap, add some fire from the "crowns" at the tips of the "rockets". Santa on his high tech sleigh

p.s. some of these images may be reminiscent of the press photographs distributed by Max...but Max himself can testify...I met up with him this afternoon, we had a chat. I did my shoot. And then I saw the photographs in the press kit.

And a few photographs of Panda Master Max:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Faces at dinner: The Hour Glass and De Bethune dinner

Around the dinner table one evening...dinner with De Bethune...

Alessandro Zaneta, Sales Director De Bethune:

Michael Tay, chief supremo at The Hour Glass:

Wong Mei Ling, CEO of The Hour Glass Singapore:

My good friend Dr. Mycroft Khoo...

Editor of The Business of Time, Chuang Peck Meng, Business Times

Editor of my book, Timmy Tan, Timewerke

Moderator at Horomundi, Zach Toh

All photographed with Panasonic Lumix GH-2 with 14-140 lens at ISO12800. Intentionally blended in Photoshop for the grainy, grizzly an attempt to capture the mood of the evening.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

De Bethune: DB28, not just a pretty face.

The De Bethune DB28...amazingly beautiful watch.

The design is quite unique...the case is in the design language established by De Bethune. The watch shown is rose gold. The lugs, which are mobile and able to pivot to follow the shape of the wrists and its movements is a contrasting hue of flame treated blued titanium. The watch is also available with a titanium base, which is less visually arresting.

The finish is very good, the polished surfaces are magnificently done, both on the case and on the highly polished titanium dial. The watch glistens in the light, beckoning. The DB28 also features a 3 dimensional moon phase indication by means of a sphere made of platinum and blued steel.

Detail of the balance staff and silicon/platinum balance is built akin to a traditional tourbillon balance bridge, showcasing the triple parachute system.

More De Bethune watches to come. Including the DB25 Perpetual Calendar, the DB28T, and the Tourbillon Regulator.

Photonote: above photos is a stacked focus image made from 10 separate photographs, each with a tiny depth of field. The stacking is done beautifully by Helicon Focus.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Patek Philippe 5960

Property of a good friend...

The Patek Philippe Annual Calendar Chronograph. Inhouse chronograph after years of using Lemania, PP decided on their own.

I quite like the grey dial and platinum case. But remain ambivalent on the red markers on the dial. The case is quite beautiful.

Activating of the chrono seems a bit on the hard stiff...this is not the light touch start/stop/reset of the Patek chronos of old...not like the 3970 which uses the Lemania ebauche which epitomises the smooth, light activation of the chronograph. The Lange Datograph chronograph activation feel is much more akin to the vintage way lighter, and smoother.

Only managed to grab 2 shots of this watch. We were at my studio to shoot another watch, and I used my friend's 5960P as the standin for lighting.