Colour calibrating your computer screen


I used to look through all my digital photos once a year and print the best ones, and put them in a photo album. I took the photos pretty much straight out of the camera without doing any post processing. I enjoyed the physical realisation of my pictures. It was a nice feeling, each photo was like a little diamond that triggered a memory. Going through them brought me back to the different events in my past year. For some reason I have not taken the time to do that since I moved abroad back in 2009. Recently I started thinking that it would be nice to print a few photos again, or maybe make a photo book.

I began shooting in RAW format about two years ago, which meant that I have the option to adjust white balance in post processing. If your monitor does not show the right colours, then the adjustment you do will also compensate for the hue of your monitor. You introduce errors to correct for your hardware errors, and when you print photos that have been adjusted on a monitor with incorrect colours they will look wrong. There are two ways to deal with this. One is to make a test print, and check that the photos look right. The other option is to make sure your monitor displays the colours correctly. I decided it was better to make sure the screen was correct, so I went online on Amazon and ordered a Spyder4 colour calibrator. They come in different versions, and after reading up a little I decided to go for the model which allows you to set the white colour temperature to “native”. Not sure it was really necessary, but I figured I spend enough time on this hobby to warrant making sure I have the right colours.

The following week the box from Amazon arrived, and I was a bit curious to see what the verdict for my display would be. I use a two year old Macbook Pro with a retina display, which at least to a first approximation looks pretty good. There is a bit of ghosting on the screen, but other than that I am happy with it. The resolution is just amazing. The instruction manual for the colour calibrator tells you to avoid direct light on the screen when you do the calibration, so I figured I’d put the computer in a room without any windows, close the door and turn off the lights. You probably guessed it, I did my calibration in the bathroom. You hang the colour calibrator on the screen and press go, then the process takes about five minutes. So while I was sitting there looking at the different colours flash on the screen I wondered what the outcome would be. I was slightly concerned that if the screen was way off on the colours then I might have to redo my editing before I could print photos. The last few years I have been very prolific and having to go back and redo the editing on all photos was not really an option. I was (almost) holding my breath staring at the colours being displayed on the screen and lighting up my bathroom walls, one after the other.

After five minutes the calibration was finished and the computer announces that it is now using the new colour profile. There was a toggle that allowed me to switch between my new shiny calibration settings and the old factory default. I press it and nothing happens, I press it again, no change. I click it a few more times, leaning in towards the monitor to study the example photos more closely. There was a slight hint of difference in the contrast, but it was barely noticeable. It was a bit of an anticlimax, on one hand I am happy that my old settings were that good, and that the monitor was correct, on the other hand I feel like I could have used my money better.


There is a manual option in OS X that you can use to calibrate your colours without having to buy any fancy hardware first. You go to “System Preferences”, chose “Displays” then click on the “Color” button then “Calibrate”. I decided to try it out, Apple gives you a series of five dialogue boxes where you are told to adjust the intensity of the apple logo until it matches the surrounding. The apple logo is a solid colour and the background is made out of alternating bright and dark lines, so you have to squint with your eyes and adjust the levers until they match. The left lever with the luminance is easy, the colour balance is a bit trickier. I compared the resulting settings and my manually tuned calibration was a bit darker than what the Spyder provided.

In science you won’t see many negative results being published, it is always the new shiny findings that make the big splashes, but negative findings are also important. Here in my little corner of the internet I can write a blog post about a negative result like this. In theory a colour calibrator can be godsent, correcting for unwanted hues, but in retrospect it was not really necessary for me since the factory calibration of my screen was already so good. However now I know it is correct, and I have the option to calibrate my future computers as well. I guess I bought myself a little peace of mind.

– Johannes

Update: My blog has moved to

Postdoc hike to Durdle Door


The Durdle Door. For most of my shots I was using the 50 mm lens, but here I switched to the 20 mm lens and went down low to get a more interesting angle. The photo was still not what I wanted, so in post processing I added a bit of radial blur to the image in a second layer. By using a layer mask I could hide the effect, making some parts of the image sharp.

This past weekend Jean-François organised an officially un-official postdoc hike to Durdle Door. We had originally planned on going in February, but had to postpone due to the big storm that hit the region that particular weekend. I might have been the only one that thought that it would have been a good idea to go anyway. In my mind the giant waves would make for some awesome photos. It was probably a good idea that more practical minds made the decision. Some of the remnants of the destruction was still evident now, with destroyed walking paths and pieces of rock that had been displaced. Due to the change in schedule some people that were originally planning on going were unable to make it. The people in our car had stuck together since the second postdoc hike. But people come and go in a place like Cambridge, and Harnik who was part of the original team had moved back to India. So the last few hikes the team had consisted of Miriam, Andy, Tüzer and myself. However, Miriam made sure that even if there were not always six cars going, our car would still be Team 6. This weekend Tüzer was away in Turkey, so Diana who was visiting our lab got to join the now infamous Team 6 car. Let’s just say we have a bit of a good spirited competition between the cars, especially with Martin, who this time named his car team Martin’s Angels.


At breakfast the sheep were being herded past the window. The boy in the foreground makes this picture come together.

Our car’s plan was to leave a bit early on Friday to avoid the traffic and to make a detour to some scenic places on the way, however our quick lunch turned into a three-course affair at Carluccio’s that lasted about two hours. What we didn’t realise (or perhaps Miriam, our driver did) was that this slight delay meant we would get stuck in the rush-hour traffic on our way out of London. In the end we had to skip our detour to Winchester and make straight for Lulworth Cove. We arrived at the hostel around eight, got the keys and headed to the pub for some well-deserved dinner.


Yasmine had great hair, and I just thought it might be fun if she brushed it all forward and put a pair of sunglasses on. I then asked Martin to stand next to her, to counter balance all the hair in the photo. To further emphasise the difference between them I desaturated everything but the orange hair in post processing. I like the fact that you can see a hint of her mouth and nose under all the hair.

The Durdle Door is a big cliff formation that has been eroded so that there now is an archway standing out in the water. We got up fairly early, had a leisurely breakfast then headed out on the trail. The plan was to walk west, have lunch somewhere along the way, then double back and return in the evening. It was a beautiful walk along the coastline. Getting up early and walking in a new place makes time seem to stretch out, and it was still morning when we reached the Durdle Door. We took a break on the beach and Fjóla brought out a bottle of wine that she had bought en route and shared it.


Taking a break on the beach by the Durdle Door. Fjóla had brought some ginger wine that she shared with the group. This is actually a composite shot. I took two photos, in the first the people in the background looked better, and in the second Fjóla was better. So I manually aligned the two images and applied a layer mask. Here the only problem was the left arm which was overlapping with Yasmine which took a bit of work.

After this relaxing break the walk got a lot steeper, but the view was quite amazing from the peaks that we passed. After lunch the scenery started to change, and we got into a more forested area, passing what looked like an abandoned house with a pirate flag. The original plan was to return by the same route, but we decided to walk a bit further inland to walk on more even ground. This took us through sheep grazing territory. A couple of us started approaching the sheep to try and get a nice close-up photo, but the sheep being sheep were not as interested in the prospect of human interaction. The two closest sheep turned around and ran away, which caused a few other nearby sheep to start baah-ing and moving in the same direction as their peers. This effect cascaded and soon the countryside was filled with baah-ing sheep, with more and more of them coming up the hill and running past us.


I had a few versions of this view. I took a photo a bit further down without the people in it, but I feel like they add something to the photo by providing a foreground. The people on the beach provide a sense of the scale.


The hike was quite taxing, here we were taking a short break before continuing on to our lunch spot. I like how the resting Diana and Angela have their bodies pointing towards Caia who is ready to continue. I desaturated the image to make the viewer more aware of the structure of the grass. There is also a little bit of split toning.


All these photos of us resting is going to make it look like we were really lazy. We ended up walking around 20 km. Here Fjóla is brewing a cup of hot coffee, some people know how to travel in style.

Back in the hostel Fjóla took charge of the cooking, which she had prepared the day before. After a delicious meal we decided to play a game of Mafia. The people playing the game get assigned different roles. The goal of the game for the townspeople is to identify and kill the mafia, while the mafia is trying to kill off the majority of the townspeople before they are discovered. This was the first time I played it, and I drew one of the three paper slips with “Mafia” written on it. This meant I would have to maintain a good poker face, pretending to be just another townsperson. Andy and Miriam also got the Mafia card. We decided to kill Fjóla but our efforts were foiled by the doctor. The game entered the next phase and the first question asked was from Diana who had played the game before. She asked me if I was Mafia. I told her no, but I must have grinned like a fool, because I got voted out pretty much right away. The upside was that now I was free to keep my eyes open all the time, and could capture a few photos of the other people playing. The second and third game I got to be a townsperson, which was a lot more comfortable, but both times we got outsmarted by the Mafia.


Back at the hostel, playing a game of Mafia. Diana’s inquisition just eliminated me from the game. She looks pretty happy about it. Talk about Team 6 team spirit.

On Sunday we packed up our things and headed out with our cars to a second trekking location. Our initial plan had been to walk east, but that part of the coast was closed this weekend for a military exercise. As you can see from the photos this part of the coast was equally beautiful. On the way out we walked on the ridge, and then we returned along the beach. Some parts of the route were a bit tricky, and I went ahead to be able to capture the other people’s descent. The others were silhouetted against the sky, or backlit against the mountainside. After coming back to the village we had lunch out in the sun, and then some afternoon tea in a local tea house.


After taking a photo of Martin’s car crew, we of course needed to take a photo of the Team 6 car. Andy came up with the idea of sitting in the trunk, which of course was full of stuff. After a few minutes unloading all our baggage we climbed in. Not much to say about this shot other than that it would have been better if Andy and I had leaned forward. Now only Miriam and Diana had sun in their face, so I had to do a bit of brightening in Photoshop.


We were waiting for one of the other cars to arrive, in reality we were in the wrong place and they were waiting for us, but we did not know that. Anyway, I had a bit of time and decided to try a reflection shot and asked Yasmine to stand next to the window. To make it more interesting I then asked Martin to go back into the warm car and sit on the other side. In post processing I desaturated the left and right half of the image to better separate the faces.


Jean-François Mercure taking a photo of the beautiful landscape. Just a little bit of post processing here. Was getting lazy so I hit the auto-adjust button, and then lowered the exposure. Added an adjustment layer that had increased contrast and painted in a bit on JF and some parts of the mountains.


To get down to the beach we had to climb down a steep hill. I rushed down ahead to be able to photograph the others as they were coming down. I was lucky with the location of the sun as it provided quite interesting shadows. Here I have darkened the sky in post processing with a gradient. The contrast has also been boosted a bit. Again I chose black and white to emphasise the structure of the grass.


One last team photo before heading back! The sun was too bright to keep our eyes open without squinting.

So what new did I learn this time. I guess I am still struggling a bit with the 20 mm lens, need to remember to get closer and fill the frame. Photographing in manual mode is getting easier, and I am starting to become more comfortable with dialling in the settings. Hiking is a lot of fun, and the coast around the Durdle Door is very beautiful.

– Johannes

Update: My blog has moved to


Forced perspective

With a camera you can easily make a ten-minute walk last two hours. Those who have taken shortcuts with me and my camera before know that they have a tendency to become major detours. This time we were heading to a Lab dinner just walking through King’s College. With me were Diana who is visiting our group for two weeks, and Ellese who is doing her lab rotation with us. Stephen and Catherine were meeting us at the restaurant.

We ended up playing around a bit with forced perspective. Here is one of the photos, where Diana is sitting on the ground and Ellese is standing far away on the path. I wanted to have them both in focus at the same time. To get the maximal depth of field I put the aperture at f16, which is the highest f-number on my 50 mm lens. Highest f number means smallest aperture. One thing to keep in mind when you use small apertures is diffraction, Cambridge in Colour has a good text on that. According to their information I am approaching the point where diffraction starts to matter at f16 on a full frame camera like my Nikon D700. A sensor with a higher pixel density will hit this limit earlier, e.g. cropped sensors with high megapixels. If you want to see what the limit is for your camera, check out their diffraction calculator on the link above.

I focused somewhere in between Diana and Ellese, and then counted on the depth of field to include them both. Looking at the EXIF information my focusing point was somewhere at around 8 meters. One thing I could have done is set the camera to manual focus and then dial in the hyperfocal distance on the focusing ring, which at f16 for this lens is at 5.26 meters. That would give me the largest depth of field, from 2.63 meters to infinity. The value you get for the hyperfocal distance varies a bit depending on which depth of field calculator you use, since they have slightly different criteria for what is considered sharp. Part of the reason for writing this blog post is that next time I do a shot like this I can just go back here and check what the hyperfocal distance was for my 50 mm lens at f16 (note to future me, it is 5.26 meters).


We wanted to create a bit of interaction between Diana and Ellese, and we came up with the idea of having them shake hands. I also wanted them to look at each other. It took a bit of coordination to get them aligned properly. I wonder what the people passing by were thinking. “Diana, can you lower your right hand, no your other right. That’s good, stop, perfect!” Eventually we got something that looked pretty good. We had chosen the location on the path to make sure Ellese who was wearing a dark coat was silhouetted against the gravel. Looking at this picture again I probably should have raised my point of view slightly to avoid intersecting the wall.

The post processing was relatively quick compared to if we had done this as a composite image. I did not really need to do anything, but to increase the illusion of them being on the same plane I blurred a bit of the background around Ellese in photohop. You can do this in many ways, but here I used a new trick that Malin Lundgren showed me (blog link in Swedish). You create a duplicate layer (⌘J), then in the menu Filter->Other->High Pass (I use a radius of 10 pixels), invert the high pass image (⌘I), then set the blending mode to Overlay, add a layer mask to hide all, then paint in the regions you want blurry with a white brush. This gives you a nice blur, and good control over where you get it. This works because a high pass filter only retains the fine details in an image, when you then invert it and set the blending mode to overlay you basically subtract the fine details from the underlying image, which makes it blurry. The layer mask is needed to decide which parts of the image should be made blurry.

Back to the original topic. If you google forced perspective then you can see how people have used this illusion in various ways. The best shots usually try to have some kind of interaction between the people in the foreground and background. Apparent eye contact between your subjects is a very powerful to strengthen the illusion. We are going on a hike this weekend with the post doc society, so perhaps we will do a few more of these photos then. Try it out with your friends, it is good fun and gets everyone involved creatively!

– Johannes

Update: My blog has moved to

Tennis in the Rain


Last week I bought a rain sleeve for my camera on Amazon, so when I saw it was raining outside tonight I decided it was time to go out. Felt a bit funny, I figured most people were probably either home already, or trying to get away from the rain, and here I was getting ready to head out. I was contemplating bringing my tripod and flash also, but opted to go for just a basic 50 mm lens and nothing else, I even left my camera bag at home, which I pretty much never do. The camera fitted more than well in the rain sleeve. I did not bother reading the manual at the time, but later on I did and it said there was supposed to be a small hole that could be used for the eyepiece. It worked quite well just looking through the plastic into the viewfinder also, but I will see if I can find the hole next time. Anyway, by the time I was out the door the rain had stopped. Just my luck, this had happened once before when I was going out to photograph rain (but without the rain sleeve). My rationale for going out was that there must be some truth to the saying, the worse the weather the better the photos. Anyway, I was outside, so figured I might as well have a look around before going back home, rain or no rain.


There is a tennis club not far from where I live. I have walked past it many times, and I was approaching it on my way into town. No one was playing but I was drawn to the light like a fly. Turned out a few guys were preparing to play, so I asked if they would mind if I took a few photos for five minutes or so. Figured this was a good opportunity to practise a bit of sports photography. They didn’t mind, so I started shooting. It was dark outside, but the tennis court was flooded in light so I was able to get away with quite a short shutter time. I decided to go for about 1/320 second to freeze the action. Because of the distance being about 6-8 metres I could get away with a smaller aperture and still have some depth of field (see the depth of field calculator linked in my previous blog post). With f2.5 I would have about 2-4 metres of depth of field at this distance. I picked a higher ISO in the range of 800-1000. Once I nailed down the setting I was happy with, I forgot about it, and just occasionally checked the histogram again to make sure things were still fine. The light was pretty consistent on the field.


Given that I only had a 50 mm lens I felt I needed to get a bit closer to make the photos more interesting. If I had known that I would be shooting tennis I might have put on the 85 mm lens instead, but now I had to work with what I had. I started with some standard shots, just to get a feel for what it would look like, and to get my subjects accustomed to having me there. I was talking a bit with them while I was shooting and showing the odd photo from the back of the camera. Quite soon they were asking if I managed to get the shot when they did a nice serve or return. The rain started again and I took out my new rain sleeve and put it back on the camera. After a while the rain drops started to accumulate on my lens, which in my haste to get out I had not thought about. Luckily I had some paper tissues in my jacket, so after wiping my lens unsuccessfully on my shirt I remembered the tissues and managed to get the lens properly wiped. By this time my camera angles had become a bit more creative. I had figured out that a low angle gave the look and feel that I wanted for the game, so I was lying on the ground to get the composition right. Because of the floodlights the players were quite bright, but the background was almost pitch black. It made for quite dramatic shots. The floodlight also caught some of the raindrops in the air, which gave the scene some texture also. In retrospect I probably should have experimented with a longer shutter time also, to create some longer trails by the raindrops. Have to remember to try that the next time I take my camera out into the rain.


Trying out a bit of creative framing as the man was dashing to catch the return. The extreme angle makes him look a bit out of balance.


I was switching between blindly machine gunning a serve and shooting single frames trying to get a feel for when was the perfect moment. The balls were quite wet, so when they served you could see a small cloud of raindrops hanging in the air momentarily after the ball went out of the picture. In the end I preferred photos that had the ball in the picture, as they felt more complete. The five-minute photo session turned into about an hour. I was having too much fun, and forgot about time. Perhaps more embarrassingly I was also completely unaware of the scores. Just realised that I could not tell you which team won the match. Here I was watching the game through my viewfinder, or with the framing in mind, when the camera was not to my eye. For me the moment to moment movement mattered, but the overall scoring was unimportant to getting a good shot, so it seems my brain just did away with that information. It was a pretty friendly game and the gentlemen were not doing much of victory gestures, or perhaps they were too subtle for my non-English eyes to catch. After the game finished they asked if they could get a copy of the photos, so we exchanged emails. I went back home to do the post processing right away. It is a bit like Christmas looking through a fresh batch of photos, also I want to avoid building up a backlog. I did not do much touching up on these photos they were pretty good straight out of the camera. I mostly did curves adjustment, a bit of vignetting and the odd use of content aware fill to get rid of some distracting light in the background, and in one shot I removed an entire car.




The rain sleeve did a pretty good job at keeping the camera dry. It only cost £5 on amazon and the package included two of these.

So what is the lesson learned, I guess the big lesson is just don’t be afraid to go ask people if you can photograph. I was standing there looking at the tennis court, and took one or two steps towards the town before thinking what the hell. So I turned back and asked if I could join them. Most people are quite happy to let you photograph, in moderation… 😉

– Johannes

Update: My blog has moved to






Self portrait

This is an old image I did back in November 2013. I had seen a few other similar pictures, and wanted to do my own take on it. The lighting comes from a big French window to my side. I was using my 50 mm lens which goes all the way to f1.4, but shooting it wide open has the effect that only the eyes are in focus. By stopping down the lens a bit I can get more in focus. The depth of field can also be increased by moving the camera away from the subject. Here the aperture was f3.5 and the focusing distance was only 0.84 meter according to the EXIF information. Writing this I got curious, and had a look at an online depth of field calculator, and those settings give a depth of field of only about 5.5 centimeters! It worked well, but it might have been a good idea to stop it down a little bit more.

I turned on the camera’s delayed shooting function, and connected my remote trigger. That way I did not have to move from my position in order to trigger the shot. This was crucial since I wanted to take two photos, one with just my face, and the second with my hand covering the face. The idea was then to blend the two photos in photoshop using a carefully selected layer mask, so that it looked like one photo. The camera was fixed on a tripod, and I was sitting on the armrest of my sofa, but when I moved my hand in and out of the frame I slightly shifted my weight. In retrospect what I should have done was to use the layer alignment function to correct for that making sure that the two images of my head were aligned, but when I eventually thought of that I had spent way too much time already blending the two images in photoshop. So my eye under the hand is a little bit too far to the left. I was painting in the layer mask with a low flow rate on the brush to make it seamless. Having a tablet really helps here, because you have more control and you can change your pressure of the pen to adjust the flow rate.

I also desaturated the image but for the eyes which I kept blue to draw the attention to them. Originally they were even more blue, but I toned the saturation down to make it more subtle. Creating the layer mask for the eye itself was pretty straight forward, but getting the hair to look natural over the hand took a lot of work. I also increased the clarity on the image, and removed a part of the bookshelf in the background. I think that was pretty much it, I am quite happy with the result.

– Johannes

Update: My blog has moved to


Playing with my new toy


Eva was a natural in front of the camera. The ND filter allowed us to have a longer exposure, making the people around her blurry. We had little control over how people walked, so had to take a lot of photos to get interesting flow patterns. This photo is a combination of two, where I used a layer mask with a gradient to seamlessly blend the two photos. I also darkened the sky a little bit with a gradient filter in Photoshop.

This is my first blog post written some 12 kilometers up in the air. I’m on my way to Strasbourg for a few days. Unfortunately this medieval airline does not provide WI-FI onboard, so I’ll have to post the blog post after we land. Strasbourg might be the topic of a later blog post, this one will be about my new toy that I got yesterday, an ND filter.

At our first workshop JF’s slides had a photo that was shot in a crowd with something like 1/10 of a second shutter time. The main subject was standing still, while everyone else was moving and thus blurry. I thought that looked spectacular, and wanted to do something similar. I was meeting Eva Serrao in town, we had talked about a few photo ideas with composite shots the day before, so I had my tripod with me. It was a very sunny day in Cambridge and around 17 degrees. Normally I shoot at ISO 200 whenever possible, however my camera has a few other ISO settings below called LOW1, LOW2 and I think LOW3. I tried the most extreme, together with my smallest aperture, but I could not get the shutter time below 1/10 second. The weather was just too good.


Single exposure, thanks to a tripod and Eva’s ability to stand very-very still she was sharp, while the people passing by got blurry. I cropped the photo a bit to get rid of the vignetting and to move Eva to the left in the photo, giving it a natural flow towards her.

I sort of anticipated that the low ISO setting would not be enough, and had a backup plan. There is a camera store close to the market square which I had called earlier in the morning to check the prices on neutral density filters, ND filters for short. An ND filter reduces the amount of light that the camera sees. They come in a few different variations. You can either get a round screw-on filter which fits a specific size of lens, or you can get a square filter which needs a filter holder and a ring to attach to the lens of your choice. The former is a simpler and cheaper, but the latter offers more flexibility as you just need to buy a new ring to be able to use it on a lens of different size. I decided to go for the latter, and also bought two rings so I could use the filters for both my 50 mm and my 20 mm lens that I had with me. It ended up costing more than the £10 I had envisioned while browsing amazon online. I paid something like £90 for the kit but you can probably get it cheaper online. That included three ND filters that I could stack in front of the lens. They also sold polarising filters, and graduated filters, but I am saving that for another day. Using all my filters stacked in front of the camera, the smallest aperture and ISO 200, I could now shoot with a shutter of 1–3 seconds in bright daylight.


In this photo there was not very much going on around Eva, but I liked the pose so decided to experiment a little bit in Photoshop. By duplicating the layer, and then applying radial blur I got a nice effect. To bring back a bit of sharpness I added layer mask with a radial gradient centred on her face to mask out the top layer with the blur there.


We must have provided a bit of entertainment for the people passing by, some people stopped to take their own photos of us. Most of the photos I took this day were with the 20 mm lens, and one thing that I noted was that a bit of the filter holder ended up in the frame. In some photos I was able to remove it using content aware fill, in others like here I try to hide it by adding strong vignetting. This also helped to focus the attention on Eva, with her hands providing a frame within the frame.

The plan was simple, Eva would be standing still while people flowed around her. Unfortunately the British psyche seems to be one of politeness, and too many went the extra mile to stay out of our photos. So we would find a good crowd, set up the camera, but before we knew it there was this zone of emptiness around us. Normally that would be great, but this time we actually wanted people in the shot. So a few times we ended up having to ask people to come walking in front of the camera. People would look confused when I said “Please walk in-front of the camera.” “Sorry, did you ask us to go into the shot?” but most people were happy to oblige.


Richard one of the ceremonial ushers (there is probably a more appropriate name) was happy to join us for a photo. This is a single exposure. I like this picture, you have lots of lines leading in towards them. Perhaps I should have tilted down the camera a bit to get their entire shadow as well, but I was trying to get King’s in the frame also.


There was a graduation ceremony going on in the Senate house this Saturday, and large groups of students arrived from time to time, lining up in front of the white building and then disappearing inside never to be seen again. In a scene like this with lots of repetitions (all the students looked pretty much the same) you look for something that stands out, and we found our subject in the form of an ice-cream eating guy at the end of the line.

We got a few quite nice photos, but it is fun to evolve, so after having a bit of sushi we decided to try and take it to the next level. With a long exposure you expect a static subject, because movement gives blur. This is somewhat limiting in posing, so we came up with the idea of having Eva jump in one shot with a short exposure, and then overlay that on a longer exposure to get the walking people blurred. This meant having to take the filters on and off a few times, which was a bit of a hassle, but the result was well worth it. The first shot had a bit of a boring background, so not showing it here, but we took the next one in front of St John’s. While we were at it, we decided to put several Evas in the photo. The thing to remember when doing the short exposure photo which will be overlayed is to make sure there is a clean background, because otherwise there will be a lot of work to get it to look good.


This is a composite of four different images. I had moved the tripod slightly so needed to do a bit of adjustment to get the photos properly aligned. The auto-align layers function usually works fine, but for some reason it did a poor job with this image, so I did it manually. Most of the blending was done with layer masks and gradients, but I had to mask out the central Eva in order to get the blur from the passer-by to the left. If you look closely (click the image to enlarge) you can probably see the edge.


This red postbox was just too good not to include in the photo. Eva was really quick to climb up there.

This was a great day! If you have not tried ND filters before, consider adding it to your toolbox, it allows you to do quite interesting photos. If you think it is a bit expensive then have a look at the DIY instructions for using welding glass instead. Those add a bit of tint, but you can correct for that in Photoshop. I like how the blur  on everyone and everything that move adds atmosphere and brings the focus on the main subject that is standing still. Big thanks to Eva for joining me and coming up with lots creative ideas and poses! To be continued…

– Johannes

Update: My blog has moved to

Photo Booth at the Portuguese Carnival Party

Joana had brought a lot of props for the photo booth. One prop that I particularly liked was the white board, it didn’t get used much, but it had so much potential. For example the “free hugs” sign prompted a big cuddle party in front of the camera, with people coming running to join in.

Yesterday was the Cambridge Portuguese Society’s Carnival Party. Joana Flores had contacted me regarding running a photo booth together at the party. I’ve never done that before, but I have played a bit with studio lights, and it sounded like a fun idea. We started planning it, the ideas just kept coming, and I got more and more excited about it. There was so much potential! We borrowed the studio equipment from the Cambridge University Photo Society: flashes, flash stands, shoot-through umbrellas and remote triggers. Joana organised all the props, brought her computer and a photo printer so we could hang some of the photos up for display. All I needed to do was to show up with my camera, and make sure the batteries were charged for the flashes that I brought. The party started at seven but, in what I learned is typical Portuguese fashion, it did not start until later, which gave us time to do a few test shots of the early arrivals.

Joana Flores in front of the camera while we test our lighting setup. Very rarely do the photographers show up in a photo. So here is one! 🙂


Balloons!! Joana Guedes in bunny ears taking a short break from pumping balloons. What I really like about this photo is Joana’s pose showing off the balloons at her feet.


The DJ for the evening demonstrating one of our prop-glasses. Here I asked him to scream, and stepped in close with the camera. I could have cropped it even tighter, but I wanted to keep the text on the t-shirt.

We had set up two flashes on stands, shooting through white umbrellas, one to either side. As a backdrop we had an old green wall with some imperfections and a small hole into the room behind. In retrospect maybe we should have moved the setup a bit to the left, because a few times when I stepped back to get a big group all in the frame, our little friend the hole appeared as well. This meant that I had to do a bit of photoshopping to get rid of it. Usually it was just a matter of using the lasso tool to mark the region and then apply content aware fill. Done! I ended up spending some time removing a few of the blemishes on the wall surface in different shoots, but I did surprisingly little photoshopping of people. Might have something to do with the sheer volume of photos. The final facebook album was just shy of 100 photos, out of a total of about 500. I did however put vingeting (darkening the edges) on almost all the photos in the album, it adds a bit of emphasis on the people.


Rodrigo Santos and Eva Serrao posing for the camera. Here I guess Rodrigo is fishing for “cats” in a sea of balloons. I did not pose them or anything. There were other crazy photos, but this one is just so wonderfully absurd. With either of these two in front of the lens you never know what will happen!


Joli Price and an unknown chef. Here like in most of the other photos I added vingeting to bring the focus on the subjects. I also had to add a gradient filter, to selectively increase the exposure of Joli’s pants as they were disappearing against the dark background.

We had a steady stream of people coming by our photo booth for the entire night. Some people need a little bit of encouragement to get going, but others were really creative, and some (my favourites) also a little bit crazy! The party was open to all nationalities, and many people had spent a lot of effort on their costumes. There were pirates, the minions from “Despicable Me”, steampunk, a cat, John Travolta, Uma Turman and the Joker, just to name a few.


The pirates arrive in character at the photo booth!


Betrayal! The unsuspecting captain becomes the ex-captain while the camera looks on.


Nicola Joan Yolanda Stead, Mayra Furlan Magaril, Inês Milagre and Joana Martins as the minions from “Despicable Me”. They went to considerable effort putting this together and it showed.

Annie Hox in her elaborate steampunk outift. This got us talking about organising a steampunk photo session for one of the post doc photo workshops.


Uma Thurman and John Travolta attended the Carnival. Here I went for a black and white look with added split tones to set the mood.

This is one of my favourite photos from the evening. Ana Rebocho, as the Joker, is not impressed by being decorated by Emine Yilmaz. If you click on this image, or the others, then you get to see the photos in bigger size.


Another prop we had was soap bubbles, here demonstrated by Ana Amaral and Maria Ana Peixe Dias. They always make for great photos. I like the spontaneous laughs in this photo and the soap bubble caught in the centre of the frame. One thing I learned was that it was quite tricky to see the soap bubbles in the viewfinder. So I ended up focusing, then trying to look up while holding the camera steady, to see when the bubbles were coming so that I could shoot at the right moment. Of course, what I could have done was just open my left eye (while still looking through the viewfinder with my right)… Why did I not think of that then?


Rodrigo was really milking this sign for all that it was worth.


To give the photo of the committee a bit more life I asked them to dance in front of the camera. You can’t really see everyone, but there is plenty for the eyes to look at in the photo and it was quite fun to shoot. Try and pay attention to how your eye moves around in the photo.

Around midnight the Portuguese people started gathering for “Comboio”, or the train, which is a long dance at the end of the party. I don’t normally dance, but that got me going. From what I have been told it is really high quality music that gets played at that point. Cheesy high quality music, ok more cheesy than quality. Good times!

Woke up very early this morning. I usually want to get the photos edited as soon as possible, while people still have the event fresh in their memories, and also to avoid a big backlog. It took me a bit over four hours to post process these. What did I learn from this photo shoot? Make sure the backdrop is clean, to avoid extra post processing. Here it was not so bad, but it could have been a bit less work. The borrowed flashes started becoming a bit temperamental after a while, not always firing. Sometimes the best expressions were in photos where only one of the flashes fired. It is possible to rescue the photos to a certain extent in photoshop by applying selective brightening of the image (see my previous post about post processing), but ideally that should not be necessary. We started out with both flashes set to the same power, but for some shots (in particular single person portraits) I chose to either move one of the flashes back, or decrease the power, to get more interesting light. This caused one side to be better lit, and the background slowly fade into shadow towards the other end. The best photos are the one that have a small story behind them.

A photo shoot like this is all about the people and having fun. The props Joana had brought helped give people a creative outlet. If you have a chance to do a photo booth at a party then give it a go, you will have a really fun evening!

– Johannes

Update: My blog has moved to

Postdoc Photography Workshop #2

Hej and welcome back! This past weekend we had the second post doc photography workshop. For the first workshop we were indoors at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences, this time we went outside to the Grantchester meadows. We asked people to bring a prop with them, and as a result we looked like an odd bunch, sporting wigs, toy guns, umbrellas and big hats.

After gathering at the Orchard we made our way to the meadows. The previous time we had started with an introductory presentation to seed some ideas and get people going. This time we were lucky that Maria came dressed up for a themed formal hall, and that she was willing to be our model. This provided a natural centre point for our informal demonstration. There also just so happened to be a canoe beached next to the river, so we took temporarily possession of it and had Maria do a Titanic. Before we knew it she had her very own DiCaprio wooing for her affection, which made for some funny shots. We asked people to experiment with both a big and small aperture to see the difference in depth of field and to observe how their background shifted from blurry to sharp. This of course also made it important to keep an eye on what was in the background, both to make sure that there were no branches pointing out behind the head, but also to start thinking about composition. Another thing we focused our attention on was how the light fell on Maria’s face, by turning her head a little bit to the side we could make sure the face was properly lit. The traditional Rembrandt light where one side is lit, and the other one has a small triangle of light under the eye, has become one of my new favourites.


We found this abandoned canoe on the side of the river, and temporarily borrowed it for our photo shoot. Maria was asked to do a Titanic pose in the front. This random guy must have realised we needed two people to make it complete, for he came running and started making some great poses, before equally suddenly disappearing again.


Behind the scenes at the photo workshop, everyone wanted in on the action. It is easy to get carried away, but I also tried to walk around looking at other people’s photos as they were shooting, giving small suggestions on what to try. After this we split into several smaller groups photographing different things.


This dog came walking by with his owners, so I asked if it was okay for us to take a few photos and they were more than happy. I gave them my email so they could get in touch if they wanted the pictures later. By getting close to the ground we get the world as the dog sees it. It is an easy trick, but very powerful.


Sometimes it is fun to step back and take behind the scenes shots. Meryem took a really nice photo with J-F’s and Sophie’s reflections.

After getting the right light in the model’s face we also encouraged people to keep an eye on the subject’s eyes. If they are looking too far to either side a lot of white shows up in their eyes. Ideally you want a bit of white to either side of the pupil to make it defined. Sometimes you want them to look straight into the camera, to get that connection with the viewer. There is a technique that some of the old painters used, which was to place one eye dead centre in the painting. That can give the illusion that the eye is following you, regardless of where you stand in the room.


Meryem Ralser climbing on a fence. Here we were trying to get both the light, eyes and facial expression all at once. People came up with some really creative ways of using this fence. Sanne was standing on her head, and at one point hanging head down from the fence. If you want to see that, check out the facebook page (linked below).

At one point during the evening it was my turn to pose. When you stand in front of the camera you realise the importance of the photographer being on his or her toes, ready to capture the right moment when it happens. The fleeting smile, a glance or some gesture. I quickly became very self conscious, and with little feedback I had to ransack my brain for what to do. I decided I wanted to illustrate the contrapposto pose. I had first read about it on the Canon of Design blog (NSFW) where he talked about it in quite some depth. The idea is to have the weight on one foot, and this will cause the hips to angle one way, and the shoulders another way. The pose is quite common if you look at Greek statues of both the male and female form. It also appears again and again in old paintings. According to the other blog it is supposed to add movement and elegance to the model. Well, I was anything but elegant in my attempts to replicate it. We will try it later again, hopefully with better luck.

Another thing we did was to experiment with backlit models. Having the sun in the picture, and still getting a reasonably good exposure of the subject’s face was quite tricky. Somehow we transitioned into taking jumping shots, and then, on the suggestion of Clara, we started combining the two ideas. This was when the shot really started to come together. To be able to capture the models against the sky I needed to be on the ground with my camera, the closer I got the higher their jump would look. Luckily I had brought my 20 mm lens along, which allowed me a very wide angle of view. There is a funny behind-the-scenes photo where a group of us are lying on the ground in the down slope, all trying to capture the right moment. Many many jumps later, we finally had a great shot. The next hurdle appeared when I got home, and had to figure out how to post process all the backlit photos. That will have to be the topic of another blog post.

Since we had an umbrella with us we just had to do a Mary Poppins inspired photo. Lying on the ground with a 20 mm lens it was possible to get all of them in the view while at the same time separating them from the ground. Clara suggested we incorporate the sun in the photo, so we changed the setup and several jumps later we finally got this shot.

Jean-François Mercure and his medium format camera.

After finishing shooting we walked off to the Green Man, a pub not too far away, for dinner. It was a great opportunity to get to know each other a bit better. We also talked about future workshops. One thing that came up was that it would be fun to try and have a more planned shoot, to see if we could first come up with a vision, and then make it come to life in front of our cameras, possibly with a bit of photoshop help. One of the ideas that was floated was to combine smoke pellets with fancy dresses. To me that, together with some good lighting conditions, sounds like a recipe for success. Then to give it more impact we might need some story which the photo will centre around, perhaps we could recreate an old fairy tale.

The workshop does not really end when we go home, it continues on the facebook photo club page afterwards where everyone uploads their photos and we have the opportunity to critique each other’s work. By giving feedback and receiving feedback we can help each other improve. Sometimes there are easy fixes such as just lowering the exposure a little in post-processing, other times it is white balance that is a bit off. When you become aware of these things they are easy to spot and fix. At one point during the photo shoot Aysel was acting the model and posing with an umbrella. Clara had asked her to turn so that her face would be side lit and the shadow cast on the umbrella would show her profile. That was a brilliant idea. There was however one small thing we probably could have done to make the photo even better. There was a big crescent of shadow in the umbrella, if Aysel had tilted it we could have avoided that shadow which would have made her shadow profile stand out even more. It is not easy to think of everything at the time of shooting, so it is valuable to look at photos afterwards and think about how to improve them. The next time we do a similar shot we can draw on what we have learned before.

– Johannes

Update: My blog has moved to

Foundation Concert: Verdi Requiem

The Cambridge University Orchestra was rehearsing in the King’s College Chapel. A perfect location for a photo shoot. For this shot I used my 20 mm lens to fit the entire orchestra, and to show the beautiful place where they were playing.

On Friday afternoon I got a message from Gabrielle Teychenne asking if I wanted to come along to photograph their rehearsal in King’s College Chapel. They had an evening session planned the same day, and then another session starting the day after at 10 o’clock. I double checked BBC’s weather page to confirm that by seven in the evening the sun would have set, so suggested I’d come along for the morning session. The reason was that I wanted the light to come through the stained glass windows of King’s, providing a beautiful backdrop to the concert photos.

Most times I only bring one or two lenses along, but here I decided to bring all of them. The 50 mm lens is always on my camera by default. The 20 mm lens would allow me to get more of King’s College Chapel, but past experience has taught me that I have to be careful with putting people towards the edges. That lens has some serious reality-distortion issues. Lastly I packed my 85 mm portrait lens, since Gabrielle and I had talked about doing some kind of musician portrait shoot earlier, but we didn’t get around to do it then.

When I started photographing as a teenager I had started with auto-focus because I found that it was tricky to get the manual focus exactly where I wanted it. I was doing the press-down-halfway-and-recompose, that allowed me to focus on the subject, then lock the focus so I could compose the photo the way I wanted. For every photo you take you have to redo the process which means you might miss something that happens suddenly. A month ago or so I saw a video about the benefits of decoupling shutter release and autofocus. This means one additional button press to take the photo, but it allows you more control of the process. For example, I can make sure my subject is in focus by hitting the AF-ON, then compose the photo. After that I can take as many shots as I want without having to refocus. Another benefit is that if you do the manual override on the focus which some lenses allow for, then that new setting stays until you press the AF-ON button again.

On the back of my D700 there is an AF-ON button. In the menu I set a1 AF-C priority selection and a2 AF-S priority selection to Release, normally the camera will wait until it locks focus before it takes the photo, this change instead makes it take the photo right away. Then I set a5 AF activation to AF-ON only, otherwise pressing the shutter would cause the lens to refocus. Lastly the recommendation is to change your camera from single shot focusing to continuous focusing. The benefit of having it set to continuous focusing is that if you have a moving target then you can just hold down AF-ON and it will track it. This would be handy for things like running people, something I was not really expecting during the concert practice. Some cameras do not have a dedicated AF-ON button, but they usually come with one button which you can program yourself. It might require a bit of menu searching, but give it a try, it might change the way you handle your camera.


Grace Catherine Greiner, the photo was taken just before the rehearsal when I was still able to freely walk among the orchestra.

I arrived about 15 minutes early, and used the time to walk around among the early arrivers in the orchestra to get to know some of them, and also to have a chance at some closeups. Here I find that it really helps to show the musicians the photos I have taken pretty quickly. When they see some of the results they are much more eager to participate, also the people around hear their response, so things just go a lot more smoothly. Of course there are one or two people who don’t want their picture taken, and that is fine. A few others are just a bit camera shy or self-conscious but given a little bit of time they tend to warm up.

The Chapel was still open during the practice session, and as the morning progressed, more and more onlookers gathered. Given that it was open, they had to make sure that people could still get to the back-half of the Chapel. This allowed me some extra freedom in my choice of viewpoints. I could shoot from the side, and even move around behind the orchestra by taking the long route through the passage on the north side of the building. Switching to the 20 mm lens while standing behind the orchestra gave me a great view of  the chapel, emphasising the beautiful location they were playing in. I also moved around a bit in front of the orchestra with my 85 mm lens, trying to get some close-ups, capturing some of the reactions and emotions. I ended up with a lot of photos of very concentrated musicians.

The organ in King’s College Chapel. The foreground was dark and the windows in the background very bright, so I underexposed the shot and then pushed the shadows. On the wall just behind me was the chorus prayer (see below).

I like to see new places so I asked one of the King’s people if it was possible to get to a higher vantage point. She went away for a bit but told me she would be back. After about ten minutes she came back with an old little key and showed me the hidden passage up to the organ in the middle section. This felt like a secret hideaway where only a few selected organists ever ventured. There were some other hidden treasures to photograph up there. Someone had written a poem and stuck the paper up on the side of the wall.

A Chorister’s Confession

Almighty and most merciful Conductor
We have erred and stayed from the beat like lost sheep,
We have folioed too much the intonations and tempi of our own hearts,
We have offended against thy dynamic markings,
We have left unsung those notes which we ought to have sung,
And we have sung those notes we ought not to have sung,
And there is no support in us.
But though, O Conductor, have mercy upon us miserable singers,
Succour thou the chorally challenged,
Restore thou them that need extra note bashing,
Spare thou them that are without a pencil,
Pardon our mistakes and have faith that hereafter we will follow thou direction and
sing together in perfect harmony.

It provided a nice view of the altar, but unfortunately the wall facing the orchestra was too high. So I had to heave myself up and sit on a dusty ledge to get a good shot. Looking at the photos after I probably should have tried the 85 mm from up there also, but it was a bit dusty and I did not want to risk getting  dirt on my sensor, there is already a distracting smudge which you can see when photographing a clear blue sky. Anyway,  getting a bit sidetracked talking about my sensor’s dust level.


During the first break I got a chance to try out a few portrait photos with Gabrielle. I tried all my lenses, but must admit that my favourite one to use on this occasion was the 20 mm wide angle lens. Stepping in really closely I managed to get both Gabrielle without too much distortion, and the chapel around her in the background. It really gave a sense of being there. The 50 mm and 85 mm photos turned out ok also, but they were lacking some of the presence.

Gabrielle Teychenne playing the violin during the first break. Against most conventions I went for the wide angle here, which I think turned out alright. I asked her to look up at the chapel ceiling, to make her part of the surroundings.

You can see the King’s College Chapel’s altar at the far end, this place is huge. It took about 100 years to construct. Standing there while the orchestra was rehearsing on the other side of the divider just gave it a magical feeling.

The rehearsal session would keep on going for several hours more, but I had to head home to have lunch and get ready for the post doc photography workshop that we were hosting in the afternoon. Using the AF-ON button felt a bit strange in the beginning, but it did help. I felt like by not having to recompose all the time and think about refocusing I instead could spend more time looking around the viewfinder and improve my composition. Now I just got to remember to press it the next time I photograph or there might be a lot of blurry shots…

– Johannes

Update: My blog has moved to