Video Image Display for a Photo Show

In May 2020 I have a solo street photography show and I will have over twenty prints in the exhibit. A friend made the recommendation to supplement the print exhibit using digital images. At first I balked since the idea of a monitor or projector connected to a computer or laptop in the gallery seemed cumbersome. Since it was an idea that had merit, my mind churned on it in the background until I came up with a solution that I plan to use.

My solution combines a 23″ monitor on an easel with a Raspberry Pi microcontroller to run a video. The monitor size is important since people will be viewing the images at close range. I think that 23″ is nearly the maximum size for that reason. Mounting the monitor on an artist easel makes it feel less like an electronic gimmick and more like art.

As with many projects of this type, following the steps below may not work for you for some reason. I did some hacking and debug to get it to work and you may find it necessary to do so as well. My objective is to describe the steps that I took and to provide a starting point. For help in getting through problems should you decide to try my approach, I refer you to the many Raspberry Pi resources on the Internet.

For the remainder of this discussion you will need to be reasonably well-versed in the use and configuration of computers. The steps discussed assume that you have a recent model Raspberry Pi. I am using a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ that I have in a plastic case as well as Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. After following the steps below, the keyboard and mouse will not be necessary when the setup is in the gallery because powering up the Pi and the monitor will start the video at boot. The discussion also assumes that you can navigate the Pi Raspbian Graphical User Interface and the nano editor.

For help getting the Raspberry Pi to display a video I turned to Adafruit and their video looper project. I followed the steps exactly and was able to run a trial video on the first try. Some changes must be made to adapt the video looper to begin playing at boot. To automatically begin play at boot, the video must be copied to a directory on the flash boot drive and the video_looper.ini file must be edited.

To copy the video I used the Raspbian GUI file manager to copy from a thumb drive to the /home/pi/video folder. Plug the thumb drive into the Pi and open the GUI file manager. Navigate to the /media/pi folder to find the thumb drive. If you attempt to copy to the video folder you may get a “permission denied” message or something like that. To get permission, go to the file manager Tools menu and select “Run a Command in Current Folder”. In the command window, enter “gksudo pcmanfm” followed by the “Enter” key. This will open a new window where you will have the necessary permissions. In the new window you will be able to drag and drop the video file from the thumb drive to the video folder.

The next thing to do is edit the video_looper.ini file. The best way to do that is to enter  sudo nano /boot/video_looper.ini in the command line window. The command opens the configuration file in the nano editor. Find the lines with the file_reader option. Change file_reader = usb_drive to a comment line by adding “#” to the beginning of the line. Delete the “#” from the file_reader = directory line. This sets the video looper to play the video from the /video directory instead of the thumb drive.

The remainder of the setup is mechanical and depends somewhat on personal preferences. I plan to hide the Raspberry Pi and the monitor power brick behind a placard hanging at the bottom of the monitor. The idea is to keep all of the electronics invisible except for the monitor itself. The power cords will be strapped to an easel leg and led down to a power strip on the floor.

The other bit of mechanics is developing the video itself. I use Photoshop CC to develop the main title, image titles, and the credits frames and I use Cyberlink PowerDirector to do the editing and rendering of the video. The image frames are exported from Lightroom Classic CC and imported in to PowerDirector. My video is a kind of slide show where each image title and image get about fifteen seconds of viewing time. I have ten images and the total length of the video is two minutes and forty five seconds, including a title at the beginning and a credit frame at the end. Each image title is numbered “N of 10” so that visitors know what to expect in terms of video duration. My recommendation is to keep the video short to hold the attention of the gallery visitors through the entire video.

This is something new for a gallery photography show and it will be exciting to see what kind of reception it gets from critics and gallery visitors. This approach is a method to get gallery visitors engaged in a different and unexpected way. At this point in time gallery exhibitions need all of the help they can get.

New England Model Engineering Society Show

Working Model V8

On 15 February I spent the afternoon at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation attending the New England Model Engineering Society show. It was their 24th annual show with about fifty exhibitors. The show was an opportunity for exhibitors to display and discuss their work. I captured the images using a Nikon D750 with a Nikkor 24-120mm kit lens in natural light.

These model engineers derive a lot of satisfaction and learn engineering principles from their work. Miniature engines dominated to show, although there were other interesting devices, including several toys, model aircraft, and a fascinating working model of a canal. Construction of any of these requires study and patience as well as an intuitive understanding of engineering.

The engines are especially demanding because their construction requires metal machining equipment that can be expensive and consume a lot of space in a home. Many of these hobbyists have a drill press, engine lathe, and milling machine. Sometimes these tools are supplemented by 3D printers and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines. Many of the engines are built from kits that are rough castings rather than completed parts. They must all be machined and made to fit precisely.

One of my first stops at the show was a V8 engine that weighed probably ten to fifteen pounds. The hobbyist is an optometrist by profession. I always inquired about the profession or trade of the hobbyist and I was surprised by the answers. Of the three that I interviewed, none was a machinist by trade.

Working Model V8
Working Model V8

The V8 is a beautiful thing and is a miniature cross between a Cadillac and a Ford flathead V8. Of course, I didn’t know that by looking at it. The hobbyist explained to me that Cadillac had the exhaust manifold on the top of the engine block and Ford had them on the side. He started the engine and it roared as you would expect a V8 to roar. It was a miniature roar, but still had the distinctive sound of a V8.

The next engine was a model hit and miss gasoline engine. It is called “hit and miss” because the speed is governed by a valve in the piston head. When the valve is closed the spark plug fires and ignites the fuel or “hits”, propelling the piston. When the valve is open, the fuel mixture cannot compress and does not ignite or “misses”, slowing the engine since the piston is not being propelled. Instead, drag slows it down.

Hit and Miss Engine
Hit and Miss Engine

The hit and miss engine was built by a retired architect. He gave ample credit to PM Research, the company that supplies the castings. In this case, the hobbyist also deserves credit for a masterful job at machining, finishing, and assembly. The kit is still available from PM Research for $550.

My final interview was with a retired draftsman who also had a version of a hit or miss engine. He had taken his engine to many shows and complained that it was balky. When I arrived he was working to get the engine re-started. This man also had a beautiful steam engine that he had restored. He said that his wife purchased it at a garage sale for $50 and that many of the parts did not fit correctly. His wife must know him very since she knew he would love to work on this engine and get it to work.

Hit and Miss Engine
Hit and Miss Engine

Just before I left the exhibit, there was a drawing for a model airplane. The man who won received the airplane and an explanation of its construction and operation. It is a beautiful piece of work constructed with colored tissue paper stretched over a balsa wood structure. There was another man behind us who was demonstrating how this was done. He was gluing balsa struts together to make the wing and the sides of the fuselage, pinning them to a paper pattern to align the parts. What I really like the most about this image is that the builder’s rugby shirt matches the colors of his airplane.

Winner of the Airplane Drawing
Winner of the Airplane Drawing

I hope that all of the hobbyists felt appreciated. As a photographer, I know that all of the hard work is especially pleasing when someone else admires your work. There was a lot of fine work to be appreciated at this show.

My D750 Shutter Broke

At the outset I can tell you that this experience could have ended badly. Instead I was impressed with Nikon service. That needs to be said since I was set up for a bad experience by some old Internet posts concerning Nikon D750 shutter failures..

The problem began while we were on vacation when we visited both Salt Lake City and Yellowstone National Park in August 2019. For trips such as this I carry my Nikon D750 with a Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 kit lens. The combination is great for street photos as well as vacation photos where I sometimes like to shoot interiors with high ISO.

At some point the camera began displaying ERR on the LED when turned on. The message went away with the first press of the shutter. Later, that symptom was combined with another, an occasional black bar across the top of the  image frame. The occasional black bar became a regular black bar across all frames. Finally, the message ERR was displayed and the camera would no longer operate.

There is a history of this failure early in the life of the D750 product. The D750 was released in September 2014. I purchased mine in April 2016. There was plenty of discussion about this on the Internet at the time. There was a recall and Nikon issued the second technical service advisory concerning the problem on 12 July 2017. I did not know about the service advisories.

I logged into the Nikon repair site and received an initial repair estimate of $282.95. I was disappointed that the camera was broken because I like it a lot and because I have several lenses for it that I also like. I rationalized that the cost was worth it. There was the risk that I was not going to be happy with the repair.

I boxed the camera body and sent it to the Nikon repair facility. I received a timely notification from Nikon that it had received the camera. The notification directed me to their web site to approve the repair.

When I got to the site and logged in with my repair number, I received a nice surprise.  There was to be no charge for the repair. The exact scope of the repair was not noted.

Ten days after sending the camera to Nikon I received the repaired camera. The scope of the repair was detailed on the packing slip and it was significant. The shutter was replaced, the camera was re-calibrated, and it was cleaned. I tested it with a few quick shots and think that it operates as it did when it was new.

Time is needed to determine the quality and the longevity of the repair. I would be happy to get another three years of operation from the camera. The D750 remains an important camera for me when I need high performance and I am very happy that Nikon still honors their commitment to fix this problem.

ALL Out of the Ordinary Exhibition

Twenty six artists have at least one work in the Arts League of Lowell (ALL) Out of the Ordinary exhibition. The gallery is an awesome place to show and view works of art. It has great lighting and layout. The themes for recent exhibitions have been challenging and fun for artists working in several media.

My entry is entitled “The Chase”, although the title is new. In the exhibition i went with “(Untitled)”. I captured this image in the Hamptons on Long Island during a bicycle ride to Montauk Light. As I was riding down Old Montauk Road I passed this man and I was fascinated by his superb coordination. I rode ahead and positioned myself for the shot. There would be only one opportunity to capture the shot as he ran by.. After quickly checking my camera settings, I aimed and pushed the shutter release when he was directly in front of me.. Other than some minor motion blur, I am happy with the result.

The Chase

iPhone 10s still Doesn’t Match a Real Camera

First of all, I do love my iPhone 10s for many reasons, This is not a review of the phone, but a review of it’s usefulness as a camera. For most amateurs and for professional images in a pinch, it works very well. However, I had higher expectations.

On a recent tour in Costa Rica, I shot both with the iPhone app and with ProCam 6. The iPhone app uses the new HEIC compression. In my opinion, HEIC still suffers from JPEG-like artifacts. I see halos around dark objects on light backgrounds. It also seems to create smear distortions in low light.

I purchased ProCam 6 because of its capability to shoot raw images. ProCam 6 has fewer issues with halos, but there is significant noise in the DNG (RAW) images. This impacts the overall sharpness of the image. This is an unexpected result for a raw image.

The bottom line is that the iPhone 10s is fine for my street photo Instagram posts, but the images are not good enough for print or digital competition. I would not show them in a gallery either because the artifacts will be evident in high quality prints. I am happy that I lugged my Nikon D750 along on the Costa Rica tour.

My PSA Bronze Portfolio – The Not So Good

If you have not read my previous post, “My PSA Portfolio – The Good”, you should go back and read it since the background for the Photographic Society of America portfolio program is detailed. That post discusses the three images that were good enough to qualify for the portfolio honors. Below are the seven of ten images that did not qualify and, therefore, disqualified my portfolio from the Bronze distinction. As I indicated before, that stings, but I have learned from the experience and from the assessors’ comments. I will show their comments in italic.

The first is “Park Ranger”. Too tightly cropped. It actually was not cropped: I was very close to the subjects. Nevertheless, it would have been a better image if it had shown the rider of the horse rather than chopping the top of his torso and head off. That is distracting.

Lacks sharpness on the main subject. My rationalization was that the horse was the subject and it is in sharp focus. I was shooting with an Olympus Pen-F and 25mm f/1.2 lens wide open. That was not a good choice for the subject. I need to be more conscious of my aperture and ISO settings. Maybe I should stick with my Nikon D750 at f/16 and ISO 3200. Just joking.

Loses detail in highlights or shadows. Very true, almost to the point of abstracting the background. Some areas almost seem blown out.

Park Ranger

The second, “Banned in China”, is the image of a Falun Gong who regularly meditates on the Boston Common. Weak relative to statement of intent. It was a bad choice of subject on my part because there is not strong connection between this image and Boston unless you were aware of the Falun Gong activities locally.

Lacks sharpness on the main subject. The image was overly cropped to eliminate some of the other distractions that were going on in the frame. However, even the un-cropped image lacks sharpness, probably due to a poor focus point. The shutter speed was 1/2000 s.

Loses detail in highlights or shadows. This was also shot using the Pen-F 25 mm at f/1.2, causing too much abstraction in the background, especially with the poor lighting. Using an exposure compensation may have given me more detail and the option to brighten the foreground. More importantly, this was not a good situation to use such extreme bokeh.

Banned in China

The third image is called “Athletic Pants” and was shot at the annual Head of the Charles rowing event in Boston. Too tightly cropped. Having the boat cut off at both ends probably annoyed the assessors. This was as shot, without any cropping. I had the option to zoom out since I was using my D750 and 24-120 mm lens at 105 mm. The lesson here is to take many shots at different focal lengths.

Consider a different viewpoint. The idea here is that a frontal view would have captured the full length of the boat and the athlete’s face. In many cases, my access to the athletes was restricted so that my view point was limited. That is not an excuse, just a factor in street photography.

Lacks sharpness on the main subject. In the case of this image, I think the sharpness is a fine point. I could argue that the subject is sharp, but the viewpoint detracts somewhat from that perception.

Athletic Pants

“The Wild One”, shot in the Boston North End, is a reference to the 1953 Marlon Brando movie and is the fourth image. I still love this image and I might be tempted to use it again for something.Crop to improve composition. This comment puzzles me a bit, because I can’t see a meaningful crop. I wouldn’t want to lose the motorcycles in the background or any of the motor scooter that the subject mounts. I suppose I could change the aspect ratio from 3:2 to 4:3 to crop the right side.

Loses detail in the highlights or shadows. This is definitely an exposure compensation issue. There are blown out areas in the background. What I saw was a background that was not critical to the message and what the assessors saw was a distraction.

Over-exposed partial. There are some portions of the images that can be adjusted to give more detail in the dark areas.

The Wild One

“Melons in the Sun” is the fifth image, shot at Boston Market. Consider a different viewpoint. I agree that a shot at about 90 degrees from where I was standing would have shown the customer. That would have added more interest to the image.

Lacks sharpness on the main subject. The shutter speed was maybe not quite fast enough at 1/100 s and f/14. I also ripped off several shots and may have been in motion. There is some softness in the features of the subject.

Loses detail in the highlights or shadows. Some of the melons, in particular, are missing some detail. A little exposure compensation would have mitigated this.

Over-exposed partial. Some of the dark areas could have been adjusted.

Melons in the Sun

The sixth image, titled “Check!”, was a scene in Mary Soo Hoo Park in Chinatown. Consider a different viewpoint. Granted, a view that included more of the game board would have been better. However, I think the next comment is the most disqualifying.

Lacks sharpness on main subject. Yes. Although I am devoted to this image, it did not use the best camera settings. I was not paying attention to the conditions at the time. It was shot at 1/25 s and f/4. There was too much motion going on for that to work.

Check!

The seventh and final image, “i m skating – lol”, is at Frog Pond. While I like the humor of the shot, it falls short technically. Crop to improve composition. The aspect ratio can be changed and the frame reduced on the right to eliminate some of the expanse of ice.

Lacks sharpness on main subject. Since this was shot at 1/4000 s and f/1.4, it is likely that my focus point was off. At f/1.4 it wouldn’t take much.

Contrast too high. I am guilty of cranking the contrast in an effort to try to make the subject pop out of the frame. It was an inadequate method to compensate for other shortcomings of the image.

i m ice skating – lol

So, what have I learned? Since I shoot aperture priority on the street, I need to pay attention to aperture. It seems that I generally shoot too wide open. In difficult lighting situations, I need to use exposure compensation to get detail in the highlights, adjusting the exposure of the subject in post. Shutter priority may be a better choice for many street situations to get control of subject sharpness. I also want to experiment with higher ISO, although I have been reluctant to do that with my Pen-F since the focal plane is not as forgiving at high ISO as my D750.

Since I do a lot of street photography, I find it difficult to balance all of the things needed to create a truly great image. I know that it is not impossible because photojournalists do it successfully all the time. I can’t wait for Spring so that I can go out and try some more.

My PSA Bronze Portfolio – The Good

Late last year I submitted ten images to be assessed by five Photographic Society of America assessors. The PSA portfolio program provides an opportunity for those of use without a long history of photographic achievement to get recognition for our work. Unlike many competitions, the images that do not make the grade receive critiques. Professional photographers receive regular and significant signs of approval from clients and successful competitions. People like me who have aspirations to be good photographers do not have such great sources of reinforcement in practice. The PSA portfolio program helps to at least partially resolve the difficulty.

There are three levels of portfolio distinctions: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. The Bronze level requires ten images, Silver fifteen, and Gold requires twenty. A photographer can skip levels and go directly to Gold, but that would be foolhardy in my opinion. My quest began with Bronze.

The theme is important since each image must tell the story stated by the theme. My theme was “Boston, You’re My Home”. All of the images are street photos rendered in black and white.

The comments that I received sting a bit. The assessors comments are only provided for the images that did not do well. Of the five assessors, at least four must approve each image to qualify the portfolio for honors. Three out of ten of my images qualified. Let’s look at the ones that qualified.

The first one, “Pride”, was taken at a gay pride event in Boston. The placement of the subjects is great, if I must say so myself. The tones are balanced and the focus is sharp. The sign of Faneuil Hall in the background echos the theme.

Pride

The second image, “Reportage”, was taken at an evening protest near Boston Common. The New England Cable News reporter is in the moment and her placement in the frame is good. I also like that she is facing toward the right. I think that viewers like that since we read from right to left. The right to left movement also takes us to the camera operator. His stance says something about the height of the reporter. The focus on the subject and the camera operator is sharp.

Reportage

Finally, the third image, “Touristic Lecture”, is a common sight in downtown Boston. The actor in period dress is explaining the history of the city. In this case, the subject is detached from the lecture while the actor is in motion and trying his best to make his point. The focus on the subject is sharp and helps to draw attention to her.

Touristic Lecture

I agree that those were the best of the ten. If you have any comments, please feel free to weigh in. I would be interested in knowing your thoughts on these. My subsequent posts will present the not so good.

Lightroom 2018 and the Cloud

I like being able to access files across multiple platforms. The suite of Lightroom CC Classic,Lightroom CC, and Lightroom Mobile provides that for me with my image files.Because of complaints posted online, I waited for some time before upgrading. The new versions caused some confusion because of the names of the applications. The old Lightroom CC became Lightroom CC Classic and in my opinion it remains a strong desktop tool. The new Lightroom CC is cloud-based and it compliments Lightroom CC Classic on the desktop as well as other handheld platforms. Lightroom CC provides the platform independence that I like. If you subscribe to Lightroom CC, you can access your images on handhelds using Lightroom Mobile. More about that in a moment.

People blanch at the cost of the Creative Cloud software since it is now sold as a monthly or annual subscription rather than as a license that you purchase once. As an amateur photographer, I have justified paying for the subscription since my software will never be out of date and I will not need to go through the upgrade machinations every so often. Software is constantly being upgraded to accommodate new hardware, to fix bugs, and to add new features. I want those things and would rather not be bothered with the timing and cost of license upgrades.

Once past the sticker shock, the new Lightroom suite has great potential. Lightroom CC Classic works pretty much like the old Lightroom CC. It has some updated editing features and presets that I like. When installed, it converts your catalog and moves it to a new directory to complete the installation.

Lightroom CC is a different story. It is cloud-based. It has a more streamlined appearance than Classic and less functionality. Lightroom CC allows you to share your images seamlessly among all of your devices from desktop to handheld to smart phone. You have access to your presets and to most editing features across all of the platforms. Many professionals are concerned that the cloud storage is too costly given the sizes of their libraries. I agree, but my approach is to manage the amount of cloud storage that I use.

Between Lightroom CC Classic and Lightroom CC, I use a different workflow. Classic is work station based, which is fine, especially when you are dealing with large libraries. My flow goes from memory card to Windows folder on a scratch drive for sorting and selection. Selected images go into another folder on a drive that is backed up and that folder gets imported into Lightroom CC Classic for processing. From there I do a final screening before digital or print.

Personally, Lightroom CC is not as suitable for that type of flow unless you want to commit to using the Adobe cloud. For me it is more suitable for another type of flow. Since it syncs with iOS Lightroom Mobile, many options are available for mobile photographers. Images can be synchronized among iPhone, iPad, and desktop computer and with Lightroom CC Classic. Images can be edited and shared with fewer steps.

As a street photographer, Lightroom Mobile is a motivation for shooting more using the phone. In a pinch, I like having that option, but I still prefer my cameras and lenses. In my trial run, I took some images at the local Independence Day parade using my iPhone. I did my initial image review on the iPhone and deleted my rejects. The second pass was cropping and edits that I would usually do on my desktop. In some cases, I use presets and my personal presets are available on my handheld devices as well as the desktop. I was happy with the results.

Once edited, Lightroom Mobile provided many options for sharing the images. Images can be shared with popular apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Images can be copied to cloud services such as Google Docs. Images can be printed on compatible WiFi printers.

One downside is that when I take pictures using my iPhone, they are automatically imported into Lightroom Mobile. That’s not helpful when I’m at the hardware store taking photos of flooring. I haven’t found a method for selectively importing. So, I delete the flooring photos from Lightroom.

On my desktop, most of my editing and library management is done using Lightroom CC Classic. If I want to share specific images, I set up collections that automatically syncs with Lightroom CC. Lightroom CC syncs with Lightroom CC Classic, so anything that I captured and edited using the mobile apps is not lost or relegated strictly to the cloud.

I manage my cloud storage because I do not want to commit to storing everything on the Creative Cloud. I love being able to sync and edit anywhere, but I still rely heavily on Lightroom CC Classic to manage my entire catalog. To accomplish this and avoid making a mess of my catalog, I use Lightroom CC to screen and delete unwanted images before I sync with Lightroom CC Classic. I have Lightroom CC Classic sync turned off until I’m ready to commit. If you enable sync all of the time you will get images that you do not necessarily want to keep.

I delete images from Lightroom CC and from the cloud on a regular basis to control the amount of cloud storage that I use. Those extra steps are the price to pay for mobility. Lightroom CC and Lightroom Mobile are probably not for everybody, although understanding the capabilities gives you options that can be useful.

Arts League of Lowell 100 and Below Show

Shears and Lemons

Sole Survivor

I have four digital inkjet prints in the Arts League of Lowell 100 and Below show that will run from 16 November through 6 January 2019. The show features 2D and 3D works by various artists that will sell for $100 or less. This is my fourth consecutive show at ALL to date and it has been fun to see how other artists have responded to the themes for each. For this one I was fortunate to have some appropriate images and frames in my inventory. They are not representative of my usual street photography, but are some fun shots that I have done in the past.

I’m Bucky

Russell’s Lobster Shack

Pen F Button Function Assignment for Street

During a recent street shoot I didn’t realize that the exposure  compensation dial on my Olympus Pen F had been at a setting that was not optimal. Most of the shots were underexposed. Since I usually convert my raw images to black and white, the harm was small for this particular outing. The contrast and tone were not the way I like them, but the images were still useful for posting on the Internet. They would not be very good for prints, but none of the images from that shoot had either composition or subject that were good enough to print.

This wasn’t the first time that the compensation dial was inadvertently turned to something other than zero. I usually sling the camera over my shoulder and to my back, especially when I’m riding my bicycle. In that position, the dial sometimes gets turned. When I need to grab an opportunistic shot, I don’t have time to check the dial.

For me the solution was to change the button assignment. I reassigned the exposure compensation to flash compensation  Still, I wanted to have an easy way to compensate exposure so that I can have strong back lighting dominate the image. My street lens for the Pen F is the Olympus 25 mm f/1.2 Pro and it has an L-Fn button. One of the assignment options for this button is exposure compensation.

The L-Fn button on this lens is conveniently placed. Pushing once allows the compensation to be adjusted using the rear dial. Pushing it a second time turns the function off. When “on”, the exposure compensation is displayed on the back screen.

I’m happy with all of the other default button assignments. On my most recent  street shoot, there were no problems with dials or button for once. This is one less thing to remember and I continue to be happy with the Pen F as a street camera.