Friday, March 18, 2005

Casual Birding at Keystone

I took the ferry to Whidby island today and saw some firsts for me at the Keystone ferry terminal.

Leaving Port Townsend, a cute Pigeon Guillemot was feeding behind the ferry. I didn't have my binoculars with me, so could not clearly see birds on the crossing. I think I saw Murrelets and Cormorants though.

At Keystone, I was surprised to see two Great Blue Herons and an apparent nest on one of the buttresses the ferry docks against. Could they really be nesting there? I saw a pair again in the evening on one of the pilings, but don't know if it was the same pair. Lots of Cormorants were lined up near the small boat landing.

In the evening, while waiting for the ferry, I saw my first pair of Red-Breasted Mergansers feeding in the docking area. The other new bird for me was the Belted Kingfisher. They sure are noisy! By the road I saw a Red-Winged Blackbird, Song Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, and some others that were too quick for me to identify. A pair of Canada Geese fills out the list for today.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Raw Development Software

I have continued my testing of RawShooter Essential (RSE) and Raw Magick Lite (RML) and now have a better idea how to use these products. Interestingly, I use both of them, as well as Nikon Capture (NC).

After shooting, I move all of the images from the CompactFlash card to a directory for the day. I then use RSE to triage the images. I separate the images into four categories: those to develop further, duplicates and backups, poor images that may have some informational content, and outright trash. RSE has powerful tools to allow me to quickly assign images to a category, then move the different categories to different directories.

After this step, only category 1 images are left in my working directory. I could use RSE to "develop" the images into TIF files, but I don't like the way RSE develops Nikon D70 images. I find that the images are almost always too dark. RSE also sharpens the images more than I like. While I could adjust the default settings to mostly solve the sharpening problem, I don't think I can adjust for the darkness adequately.

Mostly I use NC to make the initial adjustments to the image--white balance, slight sharpening, curves, etc. I just save the changes back into the raw NEF file, as Paint Shop Pro 9 can read the NEF file directly. I really wish I had a second monitor for use with NC. It's user interface really cries for more screen space.

If the image has high dynamic range and the highlights are slightly blown, I use RML because it does a better job of highlight recovery than NC.

Following development, I use Paint Shop Pro 9 to read either the original NEF file (if I used NC) or the TIF file from RML and write a .PSPIMAGE file. (Actually, in the current version of RML, RML writes a PhotoShop PSD file. I then use IrfanView to convert the PSD file to a TIF file.)

Finally, I am ready to crop, rotate, or further adjust the image. Then it's on to making a gallery, printing, or preparing images for the web or email.

I am continuing to backfill posts and galleries from our trip to southern California and Arizona in January and February. The next gallery to be posted will be from the San Diego Zoo, probably followed by one from the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

Friday, March 11, 2005

New Software

This is quite a week for new raw image development software. Nikon released a new version of Nikon Capture (NC); Pixmantec released Raw Shooters Essential 1.1 (RSE) yesterday; and Raw Magick is expected to have an updated beta of Raw Magick Light (RML) in a few days.

Each product excels in its own way. None are the best at everything.

RSE excels at ease of use and provides a more complete workflow solution than the other products. It is the fastest of the three. However, it lacks some key features such as direct access to curves and image rotation. It does not recognize the camera settings as recorded in the Nikon raw NEF files.

RML probably has the ultimate in raw image developing, at the expense of being the slowest of the three tools. Fortunately, like RSE, a lot of the work can be relegated to a background process and not interfere too much with continued editing. I am able to recover more highlight detail with RML than with any other tool. I am hoping that the next beta will address various problems I have had. However, the workflow is not as well developed and the user interface is clumsy. RML recognizes camera settings.

NC is slow and a memory hog. The user interface is not that great and the dialog layout is the worst of the three. NC follows standard developing practices and is the weakest of the three in recovering lost highlights. NC saves changes in a non-destructive way in the original NEF file. Coupled with a plugin from Nikon's Picture Perfect, I am able to read the modified NEF files directly into Paint Shop Pro 9 and have all changes made by NC applied. With either RSE or RML, I have to save the image to another format such as TIF or PSD and then read that file into Paint Shop Pro 9, meaning there are more files for me to manage and store.

I've been using Nikon Capture to develop my raw images. I am experimenting with both RSE and RML, focusing first on RML. Now, if only the new beta were to be available soon!

Monday, March 07, 2005

Birding at Oak Bay and Kai Tai Lagoon

I went looking for water birds to photograph today at Oak Bay and Kai Tai lagoon. I saw about 200 Puget Sound Gulls at Oak Bay, 20 crows, 20 Buffleheads, 40 Northern Pintails, 6 American Wigeons, a pair of Hooded Mergansers and about 150 Brants. The Buffleheads were mostly on the bay rather than in the pond. The Brants were just south of the park boundary. A Bald Eagle went by overhead too.

At Kai Tai, I saw at least 20 Buffleheads, a half dozen Mallards, a pair of Gadwells, two American Coots, several American Wigeons, a Lesser Scaup, several gulls, and two female Ruddy Ducks. The Buffleheads were having a fine time displaying and courting their females.

This is my first attempt to include a photo album of the day's birding. I'm using JAlbum 5.2 with the BluPlusPlus skin. I've already seen several ways I'll have to change my workflow to improve the image quality. For the photoblog, I'm using Picasso to upload the image and create a blog entry with I'm still stumbling around a bit with all these new software components.

To get the photos ready to publish, I used RawShooter Essentials to select and develop the photos. I then used PaintShop Pro 9 to convert the .TIFF files to .PSPIMAGE files. I then went through all the files, cropping and tweaking them slightly, to create .JPG files. I then included the .JPG files in JAlbum and uploaded the album. Click here to see the photo album.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Where are the birds?

Despite keeping our feeders filled, we haven't seen many birds in our back yard since we got back from vacation. The Oregon Juncos are mostly gone. Spotted Towhees are here and we're beginning to see a few Golden Crowned Sparrows. White Crowned Sparrows seem scarce, as are House Finches too.

We do see Bald Eagles overhead frequently, but not roosting often on the snag in our neighbor's yard. The eagles seem to be quite territorial now. Is breeding season upon us?