25 Apr 2013

Project D800E - seamlessly restore the custom settings

Nikon D800 and D800E gives the user possibility to define up to 4 different setting sets (4 for shooting menu, and 4 for  custom settings menu) containing different settings according to the preferences of the user.
Those sets are called Shooting Menu Banks and Custom Settings Banks in the Nikon manual.
This feature is a nice thing, allowing to group the options that are convenient in particular shooting situation and quickly switch between them. For instance I have two separate settings sets: one for landscape photography and one for street photography.
What is not so nice is the fact that in case of D800 there is no way to 'lock' the sets. Once a shooting menu bank or custom settings bank is selected, all the settings in the selected bank can be freely modified. So if one doesn't pay attention he/she can ruin carefully prepared settings just by changing many parameters and not restoring them back to the values set originally for this bank.

There are basically two solutions to deal with it that I come up with:

  1. Reserve one bank for the testing purposes and play freely with this bank, leaving 3 others as 'fixed' i.e. intact after settings them up.
  2. Prepare the settings, store them on the memory card, backup on your computer and retrieve when needed.
The drawback of the 1st option is that one needs to remember to switch to the 'Test' banks during experiments. And after some time the settings of the Test bank can become quite messed up making it unusable.

The 2nd option is actually the solution to the problem. 
To store the settings:
  1. Insert a memory card in the camera. 
  2. Go to the setup menu (the wrench icon), go to the option Save/load settings, enter the option's menu.
  3. Select the option Save settings, press Ok
The camera will create a file NCSETUP8.BIN in the root folder of the memory card. Now you can backup those settings somewhere on your laptop or just store the memory card for later.

To restore the settings, perform the opposite:
  1. Copy the file NCSETUP8.BIN from your backup location to the root folder of the memory card.
  2. Insert a memory card in the camera. 
  3. Go to the setup menu (the wrench icon), go to the option Save/load settings, enter the option's menu.
  4. Select the option Load settings, press Ok
Note that with this mechanism in place and a proper backup you can create multiple sets of settings and apply them according to your needs. Of course some administration of the NCSETUP8.BIN files would be required in this case, but it can be relatively easily achieved by using some naming conventions on the backup location.
Another option would be to collect some old memory cards which are not usable any more because of limited capacity, store the settings there and label them properly.

20 Apr 2013

My humble attempt to product photography

Last couple of weeks I was not very busy with photography. Instead I was doing some renovation works in my house. But at the end I thought it would be fun to take a good shot of the result of my activities. My 'product' are the stairs in my living room.
First of all one can ask: are stairs a good item for product photography excercise? Believe me, after couple of weekends spent on sanding, milling, painting, drilling, all done with your own hands - you want to show off! So for me it is a fantastic item. Here one of the final shots:

To get there I applied the process described later in this post.

Setting up the scene

First I wanted to choose 2-3 compositions to work with and to enhance these scenes during the session. In my opinion a good product shot should reveal all most important features of the product, showing the material it is made from, its shape, texture, etc. On the other hand it should attract viewer's attention and make the product appear attractively. After playing around with my camera I finally chosen three compositions to work further with:
Scene 1
Scene 2 
Scene 3
 The three pictures show different aspects of the 'product'. The first shows a generic form and a little bit of positioning of the stairs. Second shows the slope as seen from top. Third is a view showing some details of the construction.
All three pictures were takes as the 'pre visualisation' of the actual shots. The composition of all of them needs to be refined.
Second important aspect is the light to be used.


The light used for pre visualisation photos was just ambient light, in the middle of the day. Nothing spectacular, causing the images (especially the first one) looking flat. I wanted to create the situation where the light source would cast the harsh shadows on the wall behind the stairs, making the first image looking less flat and making the background more interesting.
To achieve that I have put a SB-900 strobe on the stand, left to the picture and increase the zoom to focus the light a bit. It would give me enough harshness of the cast shadows.
Another aspect was the colour of the main light.
From the beginning I wanted to emphasize the fact that new staircases are made out of wood. One of the most forthcoming associations with wood is warmth: wood is perceived warm when making physical contact with it, it is used to produce warmth, its colours are also warm. To strenghten this association I decided to use warm light for all the shots. I have put a CTO gel on the strobes I have used. 
So the first picture was enhanced by using the light left to the camera from the SB-900 strobe, positioned on the light stand. The strobe was about the 2m height from the ground, pointing the stairs. Zoom of the flash was set to 70mm, Light intensity in manual mode to 1/4th of maximum power:

Comparing to the initial picture I took it with slightly lower angle of view, mainly to show some more floor on the foreground. 

Moving on

Next shots show the different aspects of the stairs. First the shot from top, showing the slope of the stairs:

Comparing to the first version I have used slightly different angle of view, letting the stairs be positioned diagonally on the frame. I simply liked this composition more than the initial version.
Scene number 3:

This one deviates most from the initial concept. First of all it shows the whole construction instead of the only part of it. Again, I included some part of the floor on the foreground. In this case to create leading lines and emphasize the perspective.
This picture required also a special treatment with respect to lighting. To ensure that the top part of the stairs is properly exposed, I put 2nd strobe (SB-900) on top of the stairs and difussed the light by a white shoot-through umbrella. Of course, the 2nd strobe was equipped with the CTO gel as well.

The human aspect

I do believe that adding people to the scene can make the picture much more interesting. For this assigment I have also tried to do this trick, showing the main puprose of the stairs:

To remember in the future:

  1. Work with few scenes keeping in mind how to emphasize product's feature in the best way
  2. Ensure that the product is absolutely clean. I was not paying much attention to this and in case of the 2nd photo (stairs seen from the top) I had to do quite some spot removal in Photoshop