An Increasing List

I don’t know if it’s some kind of medical condition, perhaps a harbinger of oncoming senility, but I’m developing an increasing list.

Not an ever longer chronicle of those who, come the revolution will be lined up against the wall though my weekend stroll though the deepest home counties might well have prompted that.  Nor even a more and more lopsided walk due to the weight of my camera bag on my left shoulder – always my left shoulder as I collapse in pain after a just a few minutes with it on my right. It’s perhaps strange that with the coming of digital its weight has grown considerably from the more carefree past of film, when the heaviest item in the bag was a bottle of water or in winter a flask of coffee. Who would have thought all those electrons could be so heavy?

Somehow in the old days I seldom needed a flash unit or all those large spare batteries and (though I don’t often carry it) a notebook computer. Spare batteries back then were a couple about the size of a 20p piece that I changed every year on my birthday whether they needed it or no.

No, my problem is that none of my pictures are upright any more. Verticals ain’t vertical and rivers and oceans pour out from right or left frame. While a ‘dynamic composition’ may often be appropriate (as we very clearly learnt from Garry Winogrand) for demonstrations and street photography , it doesn’t always look too fine in landscapes and architecture.

One of the few possibly useful features found in the Nikon D3 lacked by the D300 is an ‘virtual horizon‘ or camera level that can be displayed at the right edge of the image in the viewfinder. Possibly it might solve my problem, but only at the expense of the camera’s weight crippling me over a long day’s work.  Of course the recently announced and lighter D700 has it too…

Incidentally, for a rather different set of pictures taken with the D700, take a look at Jim Reed’s gallery – Nikon lent him a pre-production camera early in April and he used it for a hundred days of chasing storms – there is rather scary image of him running towards a tornado holding it on the page where he writes about the camera giving it an excellent rating for durability and weather-resistance. Storm-chasing isn’t an area of photography I’ve ever felt drawn to, but I did find some impressive examples as well as a wealth of excellent advice on both techniques – such as how to photograph lightning – and also some very important safety information when I wrote a feature a few years ago.

What the D300 does have is the ability  (Custom setting d2) to project a rectangular grid on the viewfinder display. This is something I’ve avoided using, finding it too obtrusive as it flashes up in bright red when you autofocus. But now I’ve turned it on – and added it to ‘My Menu‘ so I can quickly turn it off when it gets really up my nose. It really is useful to be able to list just those things you want to access while shooting on that My Menu page so that they are there at the press of the menu button.

For years I walked around with a shift lens on the camera, getting things straight and even largely managing to avoid convergence when I wanted or needed to tilt the camera, though it’s main purpose was to allow me to stand in the right place and get the perspective I wanted. I don’t have one for the digital body, and my work has changed so I seldom miss it. With this lens, my favourite viewfinder screen in all my Olympus bodies (two OM4, OM2 and OM1) was a ruled one, finer and with a better thought-out layout than the Nikon version.  It also worked so well with other lenses that I very seldom bothered to change it. Funnily enough the Olympus one didn’t flash red and you could focus manually and precisely on the screen. Sometimes progress seems to go backwards.

Of course it’s easy enough to correct a list. In the darkroom we came to do it almost without thinking when needed, rotating the easel slightly to make the print straight. For digital it’s just as quick in Lightroom, pressing R to change to the crop/rotate screen, dragging the image as required, then D (or R) to return to develop mode.

If you use Photoshop (at least in version 7) it is a little slower still, but perhaps easier to get absolutely right. Change to the measure tool (it’s an alternative to the eye-dropper) and click to mark two ends of a line that should be either horizontal or vertical; then go to the image menu, choose Rotate Canvas, Arbitrary…, and click on OK. Then crop away all the extra background colour the rotate has added. You can just drag a marquee over the area you want to retain using the crop tool and double click, but I usually prefer to drag guides from the rulers (Ctrl R if they aren’t visible) to mark the 4 edges, then, when I’m happy these are in the correct place, use either the crop tool or the rectangular marquee (with ‘Snap to Guides‘ set in the View menu), finally using View, Clear guides. It is a bit fussier, but that way you know exactly what you are doing, and I find it  is rather easy not to get it quite right with the crop tool.

All this – even in Lightroom – does slow things down, and if like me you usually crop tightly in the viewfinder, presents a problem as the rotation results in a need for further cropping of the image.  So it’s better to get the tilt exactly how you want it in camera. Better still if you don’t need a gadget like the virtual horizon to do so.

3 Responses to “An Increasing List”

  1. RogerGW says:

    > If you use Photoshop (at least in version 7) it is a little slower still, but perhaps easier to get [levelling] absolutely right.

    Hello Peter,

    Never having been willing to spend the time and money on full Photoshop, I use Photoshop Elements instead. Version 6 of this (and possibly earlier versions) has a handy levelling tool included. Press “p”, draw a line between two supposedly horizontal points and the picture swivels to match.

    You can also do this using a pair of points that should be aligned vertically, turning the picture through a right-angle afterwards.



  2. RogerGW says:

    Further to that, I’ve just started getting to grips with Capture NX. That has a similar tool, I see, just as easy to use.


  3. Hi Roger, thanks for the info.

    Apologies for the slow response by me – I’ve been on holiday away from it all.


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