The Cherry Blossom Comes and Goes for Another Year (Podcast 736)

The Cherry Blossom Comes and Goes for Another Year (Podcast 736)


Visit Library for MBP Pro eBooks

Spring is in the air here in Tokyo, and the Cherry Blossom has come early. Although at the time of writing it’s pretty much fallen from the trees, replaced by the green leaves that you’ll see in some of the shots that I’ll share today. As usual, I have been busy with one thing and another, but I didn’t want to let the blossom pass by completely without a single photo, and the relaxation of just being out with my camera is more necessary than ever, so on Saturday, I grabbed my gear and set out for a walk around my local area where there are a few rows of Sakura Trees that I was sure would provide at least a few opportunities.

I started with some wider shots of the tunnel formed by the blossom just after the nearest train station to our apartment, but as is often the case, I’m not really a fan of the wide shot. Tokyo is an urban jungle, and although makes for great street photography, I find it too busy and not really pretty enough for my tastes. For that reason, I tend to shoot very tightly cropped images of the blossom, as you’ll see, although I do have some shots that appear to be wider, but, in fact, are shot at 500mm on the long end of my RF 100-500mm lens.

I’ve selected ten images from my two-hour walk and will walk you through my thoughts as I shot each image. These aren’t really anything special, but in the spirit of sharing my life as a photographer and business owner, this is about my lot at the moment, and hopefully, you’ll be able to gain something from this.

The first thing that I look for as I try to decide what to shoot, is some flowers that can be isolated to a degree. The other thing that appeals to me is flowers that are mostly in the shade or being caught by the light shining through a gap, like these first few sprigs of flowers that were blooming in the base of one of the first branches from the main trunk of the tree.

Hazakura
Hazakura

As I said, the green leaves were already starting to mingle with the blossom, which is a sign that the blossom is coming to an end. The light was catching the leaves towards the top of the frame, increasing the contrast somewhat, but also adding a splash of slightly more vibrant color, which I don’t dislike. For me though, the main appeal of this shot is the blossom in the left foreground. I shot this with the Canon RF 50mm ƒ/1.2 lens with the aperture set to ƒ/2.2 so the depth of field is intentionally very shallow. I focussed on those foreground blossoms and let everything else gradually go out of focus.

When working with such shallow depth of field, I generally move my selected focus point so that I can place it over the main subject, rather than focussing with the center focus point then recomposing. The plane of focus moves slightly as you refocus, and can cause the main subject to slip out of the depth of field, so I try to avoid that. It’s also important to note that I was shooting handheld, so I also will be rocking slightly as I breathe, so moving the focus point also reduces the time between focusing and releasing the shutter, and that also helps me to avoid moving and again losing focus on the main subject.

This next image (below left) is a similar deal. I found a sprig of blossom shooting from the main trunk that was mostly in the shade. I went with a vertical orientation for this, mainly because horizontal would have allowed the edges of the trunk to come into frame, and I wanted to avoid that. Because I’d gone vertical though, I placed the blossom on the top third. I was physically looking up at the blossom, so this composition helps to give them some perceived height. This was shot at ƒ/2, so a slightly shallower depth of field, and again, I moved the focus point around so that I didn’t lose focus on the flowers. I’m actually generally trying to ensure that I get some of the stamen sharp, as I find that these details are the most important element to give the overall impression of the sharpness of the blossom.

There is a water duct that flows alongside the road where I was walking, and the cherry blossom trees have some branches that reach out over the water. There are some places where it was possible to isolate just one sprig of blossom with a relatively clear background, like this, but because the branches and twigs were much further away, I had to switch to my RF 100-500mm lens at this point and would continue to use it for the rest of the shots I’ll be sharing.

At 500mm with this lens, my widest possible aperture is ƒ/7.1, and that is what I shot this at. Because the longer focal length causes the depth of field to become shallower, I actually have a shallower depth of field for this shot at 500mm and an aperture of ƒ/7.1 focusing at around 1.6 meters or 5 feet than I did for the previous images, shot at 50mm with an aperture of f/2 at around 55 cm. This is why I really enjoy playing around with the 100-500mm as a close-up lens. It not only enables me to frame up things that are further away and sometimes not even physically approachable with a macro lens, and it still has wonderfully shallow depth of field.

Note too that to keep the eye in the frame for this shot, I applied a vignette to this image in Capture One Pro, and reduced the exposure of the vignette by around two stops. There was also some natural vignetting which helps to keep the look quite natural.

I walked back to the trees by the road and found probably one of my favorite clusters of blossom, that you can see in this image. I like the balance of these flowers, almost forming a starburst, or like an asteroid shower, all coming from a single point in the center of the flowers. They are also relatively clean, and don’t have a significantly large green leave in with them, so I like the relative minimalism of this shot.

Sakura Starburst
Sakura Starburst

I positioned the blossom on the left side of the frame as there were more flowers that seemed to be “looking” to the right, so I wanted to give their gaze more space. The focal length was 451mm, and that being slightly closer allowed me to open up the aperture slightly to ƒ/6.3.

As I walked along further, there was another bridge over the water duct, so I stepped out onto that and shot this next image. This was towards the late afternoon sun which was out of frame to the left of the camera. It’s a busy shot, but again, at 500mm the aperture of ƒ/7.1 enabled me to isolate some of the blossom with the focus plane.

Sakurascape
Sakurascape

You might also notice that there are multiple lines formed by the out-of-focus twigs and branches, which is caused by the aperture of the RF 100-500mm lens. It’s not the best bokeh I’ve seen in a long lens, but with this kind of subject, I still find it relatively pleasing.

Sticking with the Japanese photography terminology, in addition to the word “bokeh” which we’re all used to using, there is a compound word called “maebokeh” which means foreground bokeh. This is the technique of placing subjects in the foreground, between or as in this next image, around the main subject. This technique can be very appealing, and indeed, this is another favorite shot from my walk.

Foreground Bokeh Sakura
Foreground Bokeh Sakura

It was tricky, timing-wise because the breeze was moving the foreground blossom around continuously, so I had to shoot around thirty frames to get one that I liked. Ironically, this was one of the first of the batch, but the experimentation was necessary to give myself some options and something to compare the images against. This was still at 500mm with an aperture of ƒ/7.1 and I find the foreground bokeh in this shot to be much more pleasing than the previous shot.

The next image (below left) is similar to an earlier image, but I wanted to include this as well, for a few reasons. Firstly, despite the majority of this image being beautiful, clean blossom, there is a patch of decay starting to form on the bottom-left flower. This is, to me, somewhat in line with the Japanese concept of “Wabisabi” or beauty in imperfection.

I’ve seen some cups made by Japanese potters that have bugs painted on the inside. This was originally done to hide imperfections in the vessel but became a way of intentionally adding an imperfection in the spirit of wabi-sabi. I also own a number of cups that I’ve bought with my wife over the years that are made from clay that uses a high level of soil, so they are very earthy and rough. They are some of my favorite cups to drink sake from. I should put a few hours aside to photograph them and share them with you as well, as they are quite beautiful in their own right.

Here is another vertical orientation image (above right), though this time it was purely for aesthetic reasons. The blossom and accompanying buds and leaves were slightly taller than they were wide and just felt that portrait orientation would suit that more. Plus, from a stock photography perspective, it’s always nice to have some vertical options as well. One of these portrait aspect images will probably find itself on the cover of the eBook that I’ll put together for MBP Pro Members as soon as I’ve released this post.

This next image is somewhat different to the rest of the closeup shots, simply because there is more detail in the bark, and a wider area of blossom, buds, and leaves included. This is actually a little too busy for my liking, as I really prefer a minimalist look. Come to think of it, I actually used a Luma Tone Curve and darkened the bark down very slightly in most of the other images, just to make the blossom more prominent and reduce the competition for the viewer’s attention.

Sakura Community
Sakura Community

We’ll finish this relatively short episode with one last image, which I shot from the side, so that the bark of the tree overlaps with the right edge of the blossom, to kind of give it a peekaboo feel, as though the blossom is looking around the side of a building. Again, shallow depth of field with the 100-500mm lens at 300mm and an aperture of ƒ/5.6, and once again, I was careful to get the stamen sharp, as it feels like a mistake to me when I see the stamen out of focus in shots like this. I think those little orange balls of detail help to anchor the image visually in the midst of the rest of the blurriness.

Peekaboo Sakura
Peekaboo Sakura

Like I said, nothing really special, but I like to keep you updated with my antics, and as I mentioned recently, these short shoots of things that I enjoy photographing are keeping me sane as I work on other tasks that are not always as enjoyable as being out with the camera. If you still have some blossom in full bloom near you at the moment, I hope this might give you some ideas on how you might compose something perhaps a little more minimalistic than the wider shots that can sometimes feel more natural to shoot. And, of course, if you have any shots of your local blossom to share, feel free to drop a link into the comments below.


Show Notes

You can buy the Canon EOS R5 used for these shots here: https://mbp.ac/EOSR5

And here’s a link to the 100-500mm lens: https://mbp.ac/100-500

And finally, the 50mm ƒ/1.2 lens: https://mbp.ac/RF50mm

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes to get Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

Visit this page for help on how to view the images in MP3 files.


Flower-Powered Therapeutic Photography (Podcast 733)

Flower-Powered Therapeutic Photography (Podcast 733)


Visit Library for MBP Pro eBooks

Still going stir-crazy here in Tokyo as the government swings between trying to keep the economy alive and trying to keep the population alive, I am watching the winter flush down the toilet, and having spent 20 hours straight on Monday trying to fix a broken website, I needed some therapeutic relief, and it needed to involve my camera and something pretty. My car battery has shuffled off its mortal coil too with me not driving it enough, so I took my trusty jump starter battery down to our car park, lifted the hood and started the car, then drove to my local garden center.

Somewhat disappointed that they only had a few bunches of flowers left, I reminded myself that it was already after 3 pm and bought two bunches then jumped back into my car before the brief charge the battery had received from the 10-minute drive was depleted, and drove back home to my studio. My Profoto strobe was already set up in a softbox, so I drew down my dark cloth background, placed the flowers on the table, and grabbed my macro lenses. I selected a Jazz album from trumpet player Ibrahim Mallouf to keep me company as I set about the task of driving myself sane with my camera and the newly acquired flowers.

I had two goals, which I’ll talk about in detail as we work through this today. The first was to shoot some soothing bokeh-filled abstract images which generally require a relatively shallow depth of field, and that isn’t difficult to achieve with macro photography, although the balance can be a bit tricky. The second goal was to finally figure out how to shoot another flower reflected in a water droplet. I’d tried this a number of times in the past but the technique had somehow escaped me until now, so I was determined to get this new arrow into my quiver. My plan was to spend the rest of my Thursday afternoon shooting and then create a Podcast about the experience on Friday. By the end of Thursday, I had my dreamy bokeh shots, but the droplet reflection required more time, so I picked up the process on Friday morning. I had a lot of fun and figured it all out, but as I sat down to prepare for this post it was already after 4 pm on Friday, so I had to finish and release this over the weekend.

We’ll start actually with this shot of my setup, as it’s important to understand how I got the look that I did in these images. As you know, I’ve switched to the Canon Mirrorless system and now using the EOS R5 as my main camera. I’ve replaced most of my EF lenses with RF lenses, but the Canon RF 85mm macro lens is not going to be a part of that. I don’t need a macro lens that can not shoot 1:1 or life-size images, and the 85mm only goes to 0.5 magnification, not 1:1, so it doesn’t really interest me.

Lifesize means that at the closest focus distance of the Macro lens, the subject on the sensor will be exactly the same size as it is in real life. So, for example, if I was to photograph a coin that measures say 20mm across, it will measure 20 mm on the sensor. A full-frame 35mm sensor is 24mm x 36mm, so that would leave 8mm on either side of the subject. I am still using my EF 100mm ƒ/2.8 Macro L lens, which takes me to life-size, or 1:1 magnification, and what’s even more fun, is that I still have my MP-E65mm ƒ/2.8 1-5X Macro lens, which is what you can see in this photo attached to my Canon EOS R5 via the EF to RF Control Ring Mount Adapter. I enjoy not having to use the adapter for my RF lenses, but for this work, I am happy to have the option to continue to use my old lenses.

The MP-E65mm ƒ/2.8 1-5X Macro lens with Canon EOS R5
The MP-E65mm ƒ/2.8 1-5X Macro lens with Canon EOS R5

The 1-5X designation in the lens name actually indicates that this lens enables me to photograph subjects up to 5X life-size, and as you’ll see, that enables some pretty close macro work, almost in the microscopic range. In this photo, I have extended the lens to 5X magnification. You can see the five yellow markers on the top of the lens barrel, and note how the front of the lens protrudes out almost as far as the length of the main lens barrel. The other thing to note about this lens is that there is no focus mechanism as such. You move the lens back and forth until the subject is in focus, and you can actually use the magnification zoom to focus as well, but that, of course, also changes the magnification, so if you don’t want that to happen, you move the lens.

That’s where the Macro Rail that you see the lens mounted on also comes in useful. With that, you can fine-tune the distance of the lens from the subject with the screws at the front and back of the Macro Rail. I used this setup for most of the images that we’ll look at from the first day of shooting, but for the droplet shots that we’ll also look at, I was mostly hand-holding the lens. That is possible because I was using a studio flash in a softbox, as opposed to natural light, which would have required me to continue to use the tripod and Macro Rail.

This first flower photo was shot with the lens set to 1X so this is exactly life-size, as in the flower is recorded on my sensor at exactly the same size that it is in real life. This shot is really to show you some detail before we dive into higher magnification. I left the aperture at ƒ/4, as I wanted to start to introduce some soft bokeh, but at this magnification, we still see a fair amount of detail. I enjoy how the tips of the petals are gradually reaching out of the bokeh though, and the top right and bottom center are starting to get a little bit dreamy too.

1:1 Lifesize
1:1 Lifesize

I’m not aware of any way to find out what magnification I was shooting at just from looking at the EXIF data in Capture One Pro. I’m using RawDigger to dive in find that information from deeper in the EXIF data than most image editing software will allow me to see. If I’m not mistaken, it was my friend Don Komarechka that originally put me on to RawDigger for this very reason.

This next image is actually closer to what I wanted to achieve with my dreamy bokeh shots. This was at 2X magnification, and as you can see, just doubling the magnification makes a huge difference as you dive into the double life-size macro realm. Note that I have increased the Clarity a little and added a subtle Luma Tonecurve to these shots in Capture One Pro, just to increase the tonality a little. As dreamy as I want these to be, I feel they need a little bit of help to enable us to appreciate the detail.

Dreamy Petals
Dreamy Petals

This next image was slightly more magnified at 2.4X life-size, and I have left my aperture at ƒ/4 to really start to emphasize the dreamy feel of the bokeh, achieving my goals still. I didn’t want too much detail in these images.

2.4X Magnification - Dreamier Still
2.4X Magnification – Dreamier Still

This next image was at 3X life-size now, still at ƒ/4 so the depth of field is now Razer-thin. I can learn from my Photographer’s Friend app that at 26 cm, which is the distance of the flower from the sensor, at 65mm with an aperture of ƒ/4 I had a depth of field of just 1mm. This look isn’t for everyone, I’m sure, but I really like this level of dreamy bokeh. I find this aesthetic really pleasing, and needless to say, I was having a lot of fun, chuckling to myself as I peered through the viewfinder and adjusted the Macro Rail and watched different parts of this flower come into, and go out, of focus.

3X Magnification - 1mm Depth of Field
3X Magnification – 1mm Depth of Field

For my next trick, we jump straight to 5X magnification, and I stopped down my aperture another stop to ƒ/5.6, which at the slightly longer distance of 30 cm gives me a depth of field of 2 mm.

5X Magnification - 2mm Depth of Field
5X Magnification – 2mm Depth of Field

OK, so I realize that I’m probably boring at least some of you now with these images being so similar, so let’s move on. I’d achieved my first goal of getting some dreamy bokeh shots. I continued on Thursday to try and get some flower reflected in water droplet shots, but the results weren’t great, and I was determined to figure this out for myself, rather than just going online and reading a tutorial, so I switched off my Profoto strobe and went downstairs for dinner.

Chrysanthemum Japonense

I started again on Friday morning with my EF 100mm f/2.8 L macro lens, as I wanted just a straight shot of one of the flowers, and you can see in this first photo from the morning. I like black and white flower shots as well as color, and I originally converted this first shot to black and white, but I wasn’t too happy about losing the yellow center. In the black and white shot, I’d used a tone curve on the entire image to increase contrast and used a Radial Mask to darken the tips of the petals a little to keep the eye in the middle of the image, so I decided to leave those in place and just go back to color, leaving me with the enhanced tones in the petals which I quite like. I stopped down to ƒ/10 for this shot to get a bit more depth of field, as I wanted more detail for this image.

Chrysanthemum Japonense
Chrysanthemum Japonense

If you are wondering how I get that black background in these images, I use a black cloth background that I have permanently set in my background pulley system along with a white background, but I also use a piece of black velvet with a slit cut into it, which I drape around the base the base of the flower, so that it’s completely encompassed by the black velvet. In fact, we’ll jump ahead and show you an iPhone photo that I was going to show you later, as this includes the background so that you can see what I’m talking about.

Placing a Droplet
Placing a Droplet

As you can see, the black cloth actually looks like a mid-grey in this shot, and the velvet appears much darker. When the bright light of the strobe in the soft-box hits the white of the flower, the contrast becomes so great that even the folds in the velvet pretty much disappear, leaving me with a clean black background. See here too that I used a syringe to place a droplet on the tip of a petal on the foreground flower and this is the actual positioning that I used for the following shot, in which you can see the results of my experimentation.

The syringe isn’t sharp. It has a dull needle, bought from the film development section of my local camera store. Its main purpose is measuring out small amounts of development chemicals, but I found it to be really good for placing a large droplet of water onto the petals of a flower for these droplet reflection shots. We’ll step back a few hours though, as I want to share one of the first images that I shot as I started to understand the technique. I shot this with my 100mm Macro lens and the aperture set to ƒ/14 for deeper depth of field. This is close to life-size magnification.

Flower in Droplet #1
Flower in Droplet #1

As you can see, the position of the two flowers is similar to the iPhone shot, and I was basically using the droplet like a little lens, through which the flower in the background was being focussed. I initially had the background flower much further away, and tried all sorts of positions, but this was the first time that I got a nicely shaped flower in the droplet, although I was also getting a reflection of parts of the nearby petals etc. and I really wanted to get a cleaner shot of the droplet with less distracting elements.

I found that I could move the background subject flower out of the frame if necessary, and still get a reflection, as you can see in this shot, but the reflected flower is facing downwards at a more acute angle, and I didn’t find that as pleasing to look at. I do like the overall composition though, with the out-of-focus petals on the foreground flower positioned nicely in the frame.

Flower in Droplet #2
Flower in Droplet #2

You might notice that I numbered my selects, and we’ll actually skip number three to save time, and that takes us to number four, which is the image that I shot shortly before getting my wife to photograph me putting the droplet on the flower which was the iPhone shot that I shared earlier. This was probably the first shot that I was really starting to feel happy with. The reflected flower was nice and clean, although I did have to clone out the reflection of my softbox, which crept into some of the droplets.

Flower in Droplet #4 (2.4X)
Flower in Droplet #4 (2.4X)

I continued to shoot and got a few more images that I like enough to add to my final selection. We’ll skip number five and take a look here at number six, in which I placed a huge droplet and learned that larger droplets tend to disfigure the reflected subject a little bit more as you place the subject away from the center of the droplet. This was shot at life-size, 1:1 magnification.

Flower in Droplet #6
Flower in Droplet #6

It’s fun to use the big droplets though, so I continued with this next shot, using a pink flower instead of white. I like the contrast in the colors in this shot, so although the reflected flower is cut off, I quite like the image overall. It was shot at 2X life-size with the 65mm macro lens.

Flower in Droplet #7
Flower in Droplet #7 (2X)

Finally, I reached for one of the yellow flowers that I had and created a huge droplet on the tip of a petal to create this last image that I wanted to share. As you can also see, I had moved the flower that I was reflecting in the droplet completely out of the frame, so I was pleased that I was able to under the positioning enough to do this. You can actually see the reflected flower with the naked eye as you line these shots up, so once I’d figured out the optimal distance to place the flowers apart, the rest was really just a case of experimenting and shooting, and repeating the process.

Flower in Droplet #8 (2.4X)
Flower in Droplet #8 (2.4X)

This was shot at 2.4X life-size with the 65mm lens again, and the aperture set to ƒ/11, for a deepish depth of field, but still plenty of dreamy bokeh, so this kind of wrapped up my day and a half of shooting with an image that realized both of my goals.

Of course, the bigger goal for the almost day and a half of shooting that I did, as I eluded to in the title of this post, was the therapeutic benefits of just having a camera in my hand. It’s been tough to watch the winter go by not being able to go out on tour with my guests that had booked on this year’s tours. I keep dreaming of being in the field with them, but things go wrong, and we can’t take photos, or can’t get to our destination etc. Almost every night my dreams remind me of where I’d rather be right now, and watching the Japanese government make one bad decision after another isn’t helping. There is a new minister in charge of getting the vaccinations done who I trust will do a better job, but with the government now prematurely lifting our state of emergency, I fear that things are going to get worse again before they get better.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to get some cherry blossom photos in our local park as we are allowed out again, and I’m pretty sure that next year’s winter tours will be fine, but it’s going to be a while before things are back to normal, and I really needed to just relax and enjoy some photography, so that was what I did, and I felt much better for it. If you are stuck indoors too, I hope that this might help to give you some ideas on how to relax with your camera. I’m a big believer in shooting what we love, and although flowers are low-hanging fruit, I generally enjoy photographing them, so all is good right now.


Show Notes

Get the MP-E65mm Macro Lens on B&H here: https://mbp.ac/mpe65mm

Here too is the 100mm Macro lens that I also used: https://mbp.ac/100mmMacro

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes to get Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

Visit this page for help on how to view the images in MP3 files.


Don Komarechka Macro Magician Extraordinaire (Podcast 664)

Don Komarechka Macro Magician Extraordinaire (Podcast 664)

Don Komarechka
Don Komarechka

This week I share a chat with my friend Don Komarechka about his awesome macro work and his upcoming crowd-funded book. Don is an incredibly talented photographer, and probably the only photographer I know that is geekier than I am when it comes to diving into the details.

There’s no shortage of geekiness in our chat either, and although I won’t transcribe the conversation for the blog, I have posted some of Don’s beautiful macro photographs below that we talk about in our conversation, along with a wealth of macro photography and mad scientist-style conversation with one of my favorite guests.

The episode that Don mentions during our conversation was Self Publishing Sky Crystal in Episode 406.

Macro Photography: The Universe at our Feet

When we recorded our chat in the middle of May, Don was still working on getting his Kickstarter project launched, but luckily, the day before I left for Namibia, as I worked on this post, Don sent me a link and some beautiful shots of his new book, Macro Photography: The Universe at Our Feet.

I’ll create a gallery of photos of the book below, but for now, I’d like to also quickly mention that Don runs a great Podcast Photo Geek Weekly that you might also want to check out, and to see his workshops and connect check out Don’s main website at www.donkom.ca.

Anyway, here are the photographs that we discuss in our chat. Please listen with the audio player above. and I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Don Komarechka’s Macro Work

Don’s New Book


Show Notes

Back Don’s Kickstarter and get a copy of his new book here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/donkom/macro-photography

Check out Don’s Website here: www.donkom.ca

And also don’t forget to check out Don’s weekly photography Podcast: http://photogeekweekly.com/

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes to get Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

Visit this page for help on how to view the images in MP3 files.


Prevent Printer Head Cleaning with Automation (Podcast 448)

Prevent Printer Head Cleaning with Automation (Podcast 448)

Today we’re going to take a look at how to create a fully automated scheduled printer workout to prevent printer head cleaning, after periods when the printer was not used, to avoid having the printer throw away large amounts of ink.

When I first bought my Canon imagePROGRAF iPF6350 24″ wide large format printer, I was really impressed with how seldom it had to clean its print heads. At least until Canon did some maintenance on the printer, and changed the main board, essentially upgrading it to a newer version. Since then, whenever I print after not printing for more than 7 days, my printer insists on running at least one, but often more than one print head cleaning jobs, throwing ink away, which can be an expensive deal.

Printer Head Cleaning Message

Printer Head Cleaning Message

To stop it from doing this, I created an image that when printed gives the print heads a workout, and I found that if I printed that file at least once a week, before the 7 day count was up, the printer would not clean its heads anywhere near as often. The problem remained though, that if I was away on a tour, or simply so busy that I forgot to print the workout image, I would still be faced with the head cleans.

So, I set about the task of automating the process. I have an iMac in my studio that is always on, so I initially tried to use the built in Automator application in the Mac OS, but it was really difficult to create something that would work without issues, and I was never able to figure out how to make the job run automatically at scheduled times.

Eventually, I bought Keyboard Maestro, and in less than an hour was able to figure out how to schedule my print job to run at 8:30am every Tuesday and Friday morning, and it’s been running flawlessly, so I’m going to share what I did with you today, in the hope that it will help if you need to do something similar.

Unfortunately, Keyboard Maestro is only available for the Mac, so if you are a Windows user, please just use this information to help build something similar, but I don’t have any recommendations on tools etc. Similar, if you don’t use Lightroom, this might not be as useful, but hopefully provide you with ideas.

The Printer Workout Image

First, let’s take a look at how I built my printer workout image, and my thinking behind it. In Photoshop, I created a file that is almost 24″ wide, so that it fills the width of my roll paper. I added both a Gamut Chart and a Granger Chart, and also flipped both charts in a second copy.

My thinking behind this is that I wanted to force every nozzle on the two print heads in my printer to actually spit out some ink. This is why I tried to use every colour, and created an image slightly larger than the height of my print heads. I don’t know exactly how this works in the printer, so I might be missing something, but it’s working for me so far.

MBP Daily Print - Workout Image

MBP Daily Print – Workout Image (Click to download Photoshop PSD (27 MB)

You can download my printer workout image file by clicking on the image (above) and I left each element on their own layer, so you can use this to move them around or create a smaller version for A4 or Letter page size for example. The charts themselves can be easily generated in Photoshop. For information on how to create a Gamut chart and a Granger chart, see this excellent tutorial over on the Luminous Landscape web site.

Create a New Lightroom Catalog

Once you have your printer workout image, you’ll want to create a new Lightroom Catalog that contains only this image. I’ll also share my Keyboard Maestro macro in this post too (below) so if you use the same naming conventions that I state here, it might just work for you straight out of the box.

Go to the Lightroom File menu, and select New Catalog… To make my backups easier, I actually created my catalog inside my Lightroom catalog folder, in a subfolder called “Daily Print”. The Lightroom catalog is usually in your Pictures folder on your Mac. The path would be something like “/Users/YOUR NAME/Pictures/Lightroom/Daily Print”. Call your new Catalog “Daily Print”.

You can see that I started this project thinking that I’d run the print every day, but I later found that this isn’t necessary, and left my file names as they were, so bear with me on this. Once you have your new catalog created, import the Daily Print.psd file or your file if you created your own. You want this catalog to only contain this one file. This is important, because we need to ensure that this image is selected when we use this catalog for the automation.

Set Up Your Print

To make the automation process easier, we’re going to ensure that all of the parameters necessary to print our workout image are set and saved as a print job. Your workout image should be selected in your Daily Print catalog, so go to the Print Module, and set up your paper size. This will vary depending on the size of paper you’ll print to, and the settings will also vary from printer to printer, so you’ll have to figure out a lot of this part on your own.

For example, under Page Setup in the Print Module, I created a custom page size of 8 x 24 inches. I actually don’t need this to be eight inches high, but that’s the smallest page size I can specify, but we’ll work around this later by telling the printer not to print the white space.

8 x 20 inch Custom Paper Size

8 x 20 inch Custom Paper Size

Next, under the Print Settings… I set the paper. In my case, I use very thin Canon Semi-Gloss Photo Paper HG170. I use this very thin media because it has to stay in the printer all the time. If you use thicker media, leaving it in the printer causes it to bend to the shape that it’s fed through the printer at, and then when you start printing, you can get a head strike on the edge of the paper, which can seriously damage your printer. I know this, because it’s happened to me, and I had to have both print heads replaced.

Printer Dialog - Main

Printer Dialog – Main

Note from this dialog (above) that I print at highest print quality, because I always do, and because I want to give the printer a good workout. I also usually turn on Print Preview in this dialog, so that I can check the print before it goes to the printer, but this will be printing while we aren’t even around, so it just makes the automation more difficult, and so I just turn it off.

In the Page Setup dialog, I selected my 24 inch roll paper, and turned on the “No Spaces at Top or Bottom” option. This way, only the areas of the page that have anything to print will actually print. The result is that my printer only uses 2 inches of paper to print this out. This is how we work around the minimum 8 inch page height that we looked at earlier.

Printer Page Setup Dialog

Printer Page Setup Dialog

Back in Lightroom, you’ll need to set your margins and other layout settings, and if you will be printing with an ICC profile, ensure that this is selected, and any other print settings, to match your media etc. and then hit the + button at the top of the Collections panel in the left sidebar of the Lightroom Print Module, and save a Print called “Daily Print”. Don’t put it in a collection or anything.

I actually save a preset with all of these settings in my printer driver, as you can see it’s called “SGP HG170 No Space or Preview”. I don’t think this is necessary, and the name doesn’t matter here. The important thing is that the Print we just saved in Lightroom contains all of this information, including page size and print settings, so whenever we open your Daily Print catalog and go to the print module, then send the shortcut for the print job to actually print the image, it will just work.

Finally, ensure that your print job is selected under the Collections menu, and close Lightroom. If you are going to create your Keyboard Maestro macro from scratch, I recommend that you switch back to your main Lightroom catalog before closing Lightroom, because that’s how you’ll usually be using Lightroom, and we need to cater for that in our macro.

The Keyboard Maestro Macro

I tried a few options to automate this process, but by far the most stable and easy to use is Keyboard Maestro. This is a paid product, current retailing for $36, but in my opinion it’s worth every penny. Not only for this purpose, but you can automate so much else with Keyboard Maestro too. Note that there is currently an issue if you are using Mac OS X Yosemite, and you’ll need to do a bit of a workaround to add Accessibility control to Keyboard Maestro, but easy to follow instructions are available in their forum, and this will hopefully be solved soon anyway, so this may not affect you.

Note too that as far as I can see, the trial version of Keyboard Maestro that you can download is pretty much fully functional. I created my macro entirely using an unlicensed version, and then bought a license once I was sure I could make this work.

Once you have Keyboard Maestro installed, I recommend that you watch the short tutorial to get an idea of how to build a simple macro, but then let’s take a look at how to build our Daily Print macro. I created a Group called MBP Macros to put this in, and then hit the + button at the bottom of the Macros sidebar as we see here (below).

Give your new Macro a name, and hit the + button at the bottom of the right pane, and you’ll basically go through and add each Action from the various groups of Actions on the left. I’ve created this simple breakdown of what I added. I’ll quick run through this (in the audio) but it will be easier to follow these instructions with the below screenshot and instructions.

Keyboard Maestro Screenshot

Keyboard Maestro Screenshot

The only thing that caught me out as I got used to using Keyboard Maestro was selecting the days on which I wanted to macro to run. I tried setting a time a few minutes into the future and what I thought was selecting the day, but the macro wasn’t running. I started looking through the documentation and couldn’t find anything, and then I realised that every day is selected by default. When you click a day you are actually deselecting it. This makes the day paler than the selected days, so you can see that I have set this macro up to run at 8:30am on Tuesdays and Fridays.

I’m running it twice a week, because once a week is right on the limit of 7 days which forces my printer to run the head cleaning process. I have this run before I’m generally in my studio, so that I’m unlikely to be actually using Lightroom when it runs, and because we set our catalog back to our main catalog after printing our workout image, it doesn’t require any action when we start to work on the computer again later in the day.

A few other things to note are that I left “with” pulldown when I open the Lightroom catalogs as “Default Application” because Lightroom catalogs will usually be automatically set to open in Lightroom, so this will help to reduce the amount of tweaking that our macro will need whenever a new version of Lightroom is released.

Rename Your Main Lightroom Catalog

Similarly, it’s a good idea to name your main Lightroom catalog something more generic too. Usually Lightroom creates a catalog with the version number included, like “Lightroom 5 Catalog”, but you can name this anything you want, even an existing catalog.

Just go to the folder where your Lightroom catalog is saved, and rename the “Lightroom 5 Catalog.lrcat” file (or whatever version we’re at when you read this) and also ensure that you rename your “Lightroom Catalog Previews.lrdata” file to the same filename, but with “Previews” on the end. I have my catalog just named “Lightroom Catalog.lrcat” and my previews file is called “Lightroom Catalog Previews.lrdata”.

Because we don’t actually call Lightroom 5 by name, unless the functionality changes greatly in a future version, we should have a relatively future proofed macro here as well.

My Macro

If you would like to just download my Macro and give that a try, click here, and let me know how it goes. I will not be supporting this as such, but if my macro helps you to get started with this, that’s great. The only thing that you will definitely have to change is the path to your Lightroom catalogs. Other than this, it might just work, and I’d be grateful if you’d let me know how you get on in the comments below this post.

If you do have any questions, enter then as comments too, but again, I am not committing to provide any support for my macro or Keyboard Maestro. I’ll help if I can, as time allows, and for general Keyboard Maestro help, you’ll need to visit their web site.

Leaving Your Printer Turned On

Before we finish I should also say that this is possible because I leave my printer turned all the time. In fact, with many large format printers, you are supposed to leave them turned on, and they go into standby mode after a predetermined time. You leave them on, because they wake themselves up periodically to agitate the inks, to stop them from clogging. Because of this, when my macro sends the print job to the printer, it automatically wakes up, then an hour after it’s workout, goes back to sleep again until I use it, or until the next workout job is sent.

And it hopefully goes without saying, but unless you are having problems with your printer cleaning its heads too often, you probably don’t need to do this, and if your printer doesn’t have the ability to be left in standby mode etc. then you may not be able to use this method anyway. Please check all of these things out before spending too much time, or any money, trying to make this work.

In Closing

OK, so there you have it. I was very impressed with Keyboard Maestro, and the ease of use. If this helps you out, that’s great. If you are on Windows or don’t use Lightroom, then I hope this has at least given you some ideas if you need to do something similar. Good luck!

Namibia 2015 Date Change

Before we close, I’d also like to let you know that my Namibia Full Circle Tour next year with Jeremy Woodhouse has had a slight date change, but is going ahead, from August 10 to 26, and there are now only a few places left. If you’d like to join Jeremy and I in that magical corner of Africa, visit https://mbp.ac/namibia2015 for details, and if you book your spot, please let Jeremy know that you heard about the tour from me. Or drop me a line if you have any questions or concerns.

Namibia Full Circle Tour Aug 10-26 2015


Show Notes

Click here to download my Printer Workout Image

Download my Keyboard Maestro Macro:
https://martinbaileyphotography.com/files/MBP_Printer_Workout_Macro.zip

Keyboard Maestro: http://www.keyboardmaestro.com/

Gamut and Granger Chart Tutorial on Luminous Landscape: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/test-charts.shtml

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.


Focus Stacking Tutorial Video (Podcast 439)

Focus Stacking Tutorial Video (Podcast 439)

This week I share a video tutorial showing how to shoot for and create a focus stacked image in Photoshop using a focusing rail. Focus stacking can be a lot of fun, and is often the only way to get everything in focus in macro photography due to the extremely shallow depth-of-field at when focusing at such close distances.

Note that there is currently a bug in Photoshop 15.1 (CC 2014.1) that prevents this feature from working properly. If you want to give this a try, you might have to downgrade Photoshop (with great difficulty) or wait for Photoshop 15.2 (CC 2014.2) which will hopefully fix the issue.

The focussing rail I use in this video is the Really Right Stuff Macro Focusing Rail B150B-LMT-Pkg: For collared macro lenses

Here’s the video in Full HD, so go full screen to view.

Here is the resulting photograph. Note a great shot, but you can see how the entire flower head is now in crisp focus because we merged all of the sharp areas from each image in Photoshop.

Sunflower Focus Stack

Sunflower Focus Stack


Show Notes

Really Right Stuff Macro Focusing Rail B150B-LMT-Pkg: For collared macro lenses


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in small iPhone video format. Note that you can download the full sized video from Vimeo.