Old 02-21-2008, 12:18 AM   #1
mikekmac
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Default It ain't easy being green...

...green, as in inexperienced, rookie, wet behind the ears, newbie--

I spent my first few months here lurking--I didn't try to submit photos, I didn't post to the forums. I just stood in the back of the room and listened. I looked at what got in, what didn't, and what the veterans thought about the ones that didn't. I tried to glean everything I could from the experiences of others, so as not to have to make all the possible mistakes myself. I took a hard look at the 5000 or so photos I've taken since last July, and saw that even among my favorites, 90% were non-starters as far as RP is concerned. (The two biggest issues are Michigan's weather and the fact that I've had a 'birder's' mentality, taking photos of locomotives and rolling stock rather than of trains).

But, of course, eventually I got to the point where I thought I had -enough- of it figured out to try a few submissions. (Some of you are laughing now. That's okay.)

My first submission--a nice sharp shot made under some of the best light I've caught--was rejected for Bad Angle. Okay, that's not something you change in the darkroom--can't turn a roster shot into a train shot (couldn't have done it at the scene, either, actually, but that's a separate issue). Put it aside.

My second submission is in limbo with an as-yet-unexplained filename error. Won't worry about that.

It's the third one that's providing all the fun.

First submission:

http://www.railpictures.net/viewreje...&key=876574376

Reason(s) for Rejection:
- Horizon Unlevel: Try leveling the image in your photo editing software.
- Undersharpened (Soft):
- Underexposed

Okay, sez I, two of those are matters of taste, but I can work with that! Brought up the grid, found about 0.3 degrees of CCW rotation that tweaked the face of the lead without making the freight cars look like they were leaning. Played with the curves a bit. Added just a touch of sharpening. Ended up with this:

http://www.railpictures.net/viewreje...&key=365885985

On my monitor (which is NOT calibrated), that seemed a little hot, but frankly, a lot of RP photos strike me that way. This time the screener said:

Reason(s) for Rejection:
- Undersharpened (Soft):

So, back to the Unsharp mask (a tool one can fiddle with for an hour without even trying hard). After a lot of A/B comparisons in ACDSee, I settled on this:

http://www.railpictures.net/viewreje...&key=850538877

The verdict?

Reason(s) for Rejection:
- Too Much Noise/Grain: Noise is the digital equivalent of grain.
- Overexposed

I actually don't disagree; I liked the second one better. The Unsharp mask is something I ordinarily use very sparingly--most of the time I don't like the effect. I'm just not sure if I backstep and try again or chalk it up to a learning experience. The problem I see is that the focal point, the lead engine, is also the darkest part of the image--intrinsically so. It had plenty of light on it; that livery just soaks it up. I couldn't find a curves setting that would bring the CSX engine up without making the sky and snow brighter than I want.

Any thoughts? Run, pass, or punt?

-Mike
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Old 02-21-2008, 12:34 AM   #2
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looks like you tried to fix the same photo over and over again, which crapped the quality.

I think that shot is fixable, and if you're willing to email me the original, I think I can drum up something pleasing.

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Old 02-21-2008, 12:36 AM   #3
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If the original looks a lot better, start from the beginning or email it to Lloyd, and it could be fine. If not, get a new camera!
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Old 02-21-2008, 12:38 AM   #4
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Last one looks terribly overprocessed, I agree. The sharpening effect was applied too liberally too.
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Old 02-21-2008, 12:38 AM   #5
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It's hard to fix poor photo quality, which is what appears you have. It's either a poor image or way over processed, either way the end result is bad.
If you're going to try to get 3/4 wedge shots in the database, they have to be perfect.
IMO, the shot is too closely cropped, especially above the train.
What camera are you using?
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Old 02-21-2008, 12:38 AM   #6
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But, of course, eventually I got to the point where I thought I had -enough- of it figured out to try a few submissions. (Some of you are laughing now. That's okay.)
Not me. I'm glad you took the time to research and be patient. This shot, while having flaws, is a good first step to RP (it's composed well, the lighting is good, etc.). However, it's not the right dimensions for one...it needs to be more in line with 1024 x 683 pixels at the least.

Also, I rotated the first rejection CCW 1.3 degrees.

In addition, looking at the histogram, it was on the dark side. I went to the Levels finction and moved the white slider to the left to brighten the image. It made the white snow white(r).

I resized so it would fit here and applied a USM of 40/0.4/0. However, for a regular image, I'd apply 100/0.5/0 to the full size image, resize to 1024 pixels, and one more round of USM 50/0.4/0. Don't be afraid of USM!

Also, whenever re-working an image, try to not to work on the JPG copy you've been working on. I'd suggest starting over from the original.
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Old 02-21-2008, 01:44 AM   #7
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Do what you did for the second one, crop a bit off the left side, not as much as Ween proposes in my view, apply noise reduction, sharpen. It looks close. Oh, one more thing, your 0.3 rotation is not enough. Zoom in and get the side edge of the door in the nose of the lead unit perfectly vertical. (And then say you did so in your comments to the screener.)

I don't think the dark color on the nose is an issue - remember the screeners are well familiar with CSX in snow! Keep in mind that RP likes the shots to be sharp! so if you want to upload to RP, you will have to set your mind to a different standard with respect to unsharp mask than what you have chosen for yourself.

Good luck, welcome, look forward to more.

J
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Old 02-21-2008, 02:34 AM   #8
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Quote:
crop a bit off the left side, not as much as Ween proposes in my view, apply noise reduction, sharpen.
I'm not proposing my version was a good crop...after rotating the image 1.3 CCW, that's all I was left with to get the product I attached since the vertical was subsequently squished down. My attachment was to show 'level' and how to brighten the image more to RP standards...
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Old 02-21-2008, 02:40 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by trainboysd40
If the original looks a lot better, start from the beginning or email it to Lloyd, and it could be fine. If not, get a new camera!
Spoken like a man with a real job!

Getting a new camera is not an option. Heck, I can't even afford to use the 35mm SLRs I already own. (Hint: Michigan economy, General Motors, disability) Getting the most out of the digital cameras I have is the only option.

Obviously I think the fundamentals of the original are sound, or I wouldn't have started this journey. Believe me, if I'd set out to try to win a Silk Purse Award from the True Wizards of Photoshop, I have an array of -much- worse sow's ears I could have chosen.

-Mike
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Old 02-21-2008, 02:41 AM   #10
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I'm glad you took it slow and easy. Some people rush into submitting and get disappointed very quickly. You were smart to wait a while and poke around to see what the screeners like here. The only thing I will say about the photos is that the image quality seems a little poor. The second and third shots look like the snow is very bright, seems to be overexposed. Very grainy on the side of the engines. It would be nice to know what kind of camera you are using. Don't worry, if you keep learning, you can only get better. Your first shot is pretty good, you should have seen my first!

P.S.-Ween did a pretty good job with your shot, I would suggest his version.
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Old 02-21-2008, 02:47 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Wisnieski
It would be nice to know what kind of camera you are using.
One can often find the camera used in the EXIF info. It is an Olympus C740UZ, a 3.2mp digicam. Or at least that is what the EXIF thinks the camera was!
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Old 02-21-2008, 02:56 AM   #12
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Wait, where do you find EXIF data on rejects? I thought there was no link... please inform me.
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Old 02-21-2008, 03:19 AM   #13
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Okay, the lunar eclipse is over, now back to the important stuff.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ween
Not me. I'm glad you took the time to research and be patient. This shot, while having flaws, is a good first step to RP (it's composed well, the lighting is good, etc.). However, it's not the right dimensions for one...it needs to be more in line with 1024 x 683 pixels at the least.

Also, I rotated the first rejection CCW 1.3 degrees.

In addition, looking at the histogram, it was on the dark side. I went to the Levels finction and moved the white slider to the left to brighten the image. It made the white snow white(r).

I resized so it would fit here and applied a USM of 40/0.4/0. However, for a regular image, I'd apply 100/0.5/0 to the full size image, resize to 1024 pixels, and one more round of USM 50/0.4/0. Don't be afraid of USM!
Thanks -- specifics like this are very helpful. Looking at your suggested numbers for the USM, I can see that I really hammered the third image with it.

I'm not afraid of the USM, really, It's more a matter of unfamiliarity--not the process, but the mentality. I guess I have some residual habits of mind from the photography I've done in the past--mostly newspaper work and photo-illustrated freelance features. That was always about trying to capture the moment, about making the camera a witness. Document the scene. Find the best angle. Use the available light (flash changes people's behavior). Compose in camera. Get good coverage (when in doubt, take more photos--film is cheap, and the moment is fleeting). There was neither the time (nor, really, the technology) to try to enhance reality afterward. Most of my published photos were untouched except for cropping.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ween
Also, whenever re-working an image, try to not to work on the JPG copy you've been working on. I'd suggest starting over from the original.
Yeah, I'm aware of the consequences of compound lossy compression. I try to resist the temptation to do intermediate saves with JPGs. I probably do forget myself occasionally, though, as I'm also doing a lot of scanning of 35mm slides and negatives (meaning my originals are more forgiving PSDs and TIFFs, not JPGs).

-Mike
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Old 02-21-2008, 03:24 AM   #14
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Mike, the edited photo, along with step by step on how I edited, is heading back your way in the reply to your email.

here's the before and after for the forum. They have been saved with a big cut to quality to reduce filesize.

Loyd L.
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Old 02-21-2008, 03:49 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JRMDC
One can often find the camera used in the EXIF info. It is an Olympus C740UZ, a 3.2mp digicam. Or at least that is what the EXIF thinks the camera was!
Correct. I acquired it to use when 'birding (air shows, airports). The 10X optical zoom gives me very satisfactory full-frame shots on flybys--I had given up on aerials with my Canon glass and SLRs. Same story with the Radio Shack Pro-95 scanner I now use to track down trains--bought after I discovered the joys of listening to the cockpit-tower exchanges at Oshkosh.

But I and my technology have now been co-opted by things that go whoooo in the night.

I wish I had started sooner. I'm not entirely sure why I didn't. My history is littered with missed opportunities to railfan-the most painful to contemplate being the ten years I spent living just a few blocks from the NS (formerly NYC) mainline in Goshen, Indiana. But until six months ago, I'd never taken a photograph of a train except in zoos and museums.

-Mike
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Old 02-21-2008, 04:21 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bigbassloyd
Mike, the edited photo, along with step by step on how I edited, is heading back your way in the reply to your email.

Loyd L.
Loyd, I am much impressed. Some of the tools you used are not in my toolkit, but I nevertheless take this as an object lesson on attainable goals and a challenge to learn how to get from here to there with the tools I do own (principally Photoshop 6.0 and JASC Paintshop Pro 6.0). You're very kind to take the time.

-Mike
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Old 02-21-2008, 10:07 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Jon Wisnieski
Wait, where do you find EXIF data on rejects? I thought there was no link... please inform me.
Install an EXIF viewer on your computer and you can see the available EXIF info for any image anywhere. Well, any jpg. Sorry, don't recall where I got it; it was from a tip here so search the forums for "EXIF viewer."
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Old 02-21-2008, 12:23 PM   #18
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Hey Mike, it's good to a see a shot from a location I'm so familiar with. I'll be there tomorrow afternoon, but I doubt I'll catch CSX power on the CN line.
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Old 02-21-2008, 06:44 PM   #19
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My thanks to everyone who offered advice and encouragement. You're good eggs.

-Mike
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Old 02-21-2008, 06:51 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by trainboysd40
If the original looks a lot better, start from the beginning or email it to Lloyd, and it could be fine. If not, get a new camera!
Im sure if he could afford he would
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Old 02-21-2008, 06:57 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mikekmac
I wish I had started sooner. I'm not entirely sure why I didn't. My history is littered with missed opportunities to railfan-the most painful to contemplate being the ten years I spent living just a few blocks from the NS (formerly NYC) mainline in Goshen, Indiana. But until six months ago, I'd never taken a photograph of a train except in zoos and museums.

-Mike
Hey Mike - I think we all have that feeling (and my first shot was in 1970). But I went a decade and a half taking almost no pics, including times that I lived trackside along three different lines that have compeltely changed since. Nothing to be done about it.
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Old 02-21-2008, 08:08 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NSFan14
Im sure if he could afford he would
Besides, this is my new camera! I've had it less than a year.

(You guys who're buying your second or third digital, those 7MP compacts and 10MP SLRs, are putting a lot of perfectly good 3/4/5MP cameras out on the secondary market for those of us guys who were still carrying a bag of 35mm gear five years ago.)

http://www.steves-digicams.com/2003_reviews/c740uz.html

My backup camera when I'm out by the tracks is a Canon A70. It's another 3.2MP, same vintage--both models debuted in 2003. That makes them 20 years newer than the Canon SLR that's been my workhorse!

-Mike
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Old 02-21-2008, 08:19 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JRMDC
Install an EXIF viewer on your computer and you can see the available EXIF info for any image anywhere. Well, any jpg. Sorry, don't recall where I got it; it was from a tip here so search the forums for "EXIF viewer."
If you use the FireFox browser, you can get a EXIF browser add-in here:

https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/3905
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Old 02-21-2008, 08:59 PM   #24
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Hi Mike,

I'm a new guy here too and can sympathize with your situation. I'm pretty critical of everything I do , but even I had to recalibrate on the issue of what constitutes a good photograph. I thought I was doing pretty well until I looked at some of the stuff here....yikes!

While skill and experience are clearly a big part of it, don't underestimate what an equipment upgrade will do for you. Expense is a huge roadblock, but upgrading the hardware as well as the skills should be on the want-to-do list.

I've been shooting digital since 2004 with a Nikon Coolpix 5700...basically, a 5MP sort-of-high-end P&S. While the thing is capable of taking some beautiful pictures, it also has some severe limitations in terms of autofocus response and accuracy, shooting speed, power-up time etc. I can't tell you how many decent picture opportunities I've blown because of the limitations of that camera. And, much of what I do have from the 5700 might be fine for my personal enjoyment, but it doesn't have a prayer of getting in here because its too "soft".

A couple of months back, I bought a Nikon D40x....low-end DSLR. It set me back a bundle with a couple lenses. Let me tell ya..... WHAT A DIFFERENCE!! Now, I'm looking at the real target....not some video image. Now, I can shoot 3 fps and never lose sight of the target. The focus is nearly always tack sharp....and I get instant results on large LCD. So far, I've submitted 8 pictures to RP...and all got in on the first go. No post-processing other than a crop. Two of mine are in the top 15 most popular over the last 48 hrs. The only thing I'm crying about now is that most steam railroads don't start running 'til May (my "focus" is on steam).

Look around the discount houses for some deals....or look used. There are some decent deals out there on older tech DSLRs....but they would probably make a heck of a difference for you too.

Good Luck!!

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Old 02-22-2008, 02:14 AM   #25
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http://www.railpictures.net/viewreje...key=1236354353

Oh, well.

I don't appreciate the help any less for the disappointment.

There is a trying-to-hit-a-moving-target quality to this process, though, that I don't quite know how to deal with.

-Mike
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