Why we need a macro photographer

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Daniel Beardsmore

28 Apr 2017, 01:19

I don't mind collecting switches — I'm at over 300 types now and counting.

However, I photograph very few of them, and I process and upload very few of the ones I do take. I'm now at over 4000 largely unsorted photos and far too many undocumented switches.

Now, I just got some MX Speed Silver switches in. The photo below is adequate within the scope of my work, but the angle isn't quite right compared to my previous MX photos (which is why I prefer to collect a whole series before taking the photos).

So I turned my camera back on, and set it up the same way as as always: super macro, EV compensation to minimum.
This sucks.jpg
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The inset photos are a variety of attempts to recreate the first photo, from any angle. That's both without my little lamp (just used to make autofocus work, but I had it turned off for the good photo) and with it on (facing both towards and away from the subject), using various angles and distances to the subject (all inset images are to the same scale) and with my ghetto reflector arranged in various ways.

This comes close to proving that my camera is not just sentient but capricious. I've known for a long time that the camera virtually randomises the settings, but this is the most extreme it's ever got. It's impossible to recreate the first photo and I have no idea why.

I desperately need someone to take the all switches and do a proper job with them — I don't mind collecting them so long as someone else shoots them. It takes enough time to get switches lined up nicely (that might take half an hour for one shot), balanced (I'll balance parts on-end or upside down to avoid unsightly props holding things up), without having the hassle of trying to gouge out some essence of value from piles of sub-mediocre photos.

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snuci
Vintage computer guy

28 Apr 2017, 01:46

Your white balance is way off and there's way too much light. I just edited the pic in the left side middle and simply lowered the light but the silver was still too washed out so that colour is lost in editing.
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ohaimark
Kingpin

28 Apr 2017, 01:51

XMIT might be able to help.

I'll also snap a couple of shots to see if I can achieve the quality you're looking for.

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snuci
Vintage computer guy

28 Apr 2017, 02:06

As an example of white balance (and auto ISO), it goes the other way too. If I don't have that on, my pictures come out too dark depending on available light. I never use a flash. In almost all pictures I post, I always have to adjust the brightness. Here's an extreme. Both side are the same picture. Left is as taken and the right is adjusted post production. With this pic, the right side is still a little too dark so I have to retake those pics.
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XMIT
[ XMIT ]

28 Apr 2017, 03:05

ohaimark wrote: XMIT might be able to help.

I'll also snap a couple of shots to see if I can achieve the quality you're looking for.
You rang?
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Kailh Click Bar Slider
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Sure, maybe send a couple of switches and I'll see what I can do. But for now here are a few of my macro photography tips:

Get a macro lens. Sure, seems obvious. 60mm for a crop sensor DSLR, 90mm for a full frame DSLR, at minimum.

Get a tripod or otherwise fixture the camera. It must not move! Use a remote shutter release (I have a little $5 infrared remote for my Nikon, my old phone had an IR blaster that worked just as well). Set the camera to mirror up mode, which means: one click of the remote raises the mirror, the second opens the shutter. Wait about 5 seconds between presses to let any vibrations in the camera and tripod settle.

Make sure the camera's sensor, and your lens, are *clean*. You'll be shooting at f/64 which is basically a pinhole. Even the tiniest fleck of dust will be in focus.

Set it to manual focus and lock focus at 1:1. Use live preview to get the focal plane halfway through the depth of the object. Ideally, use tethered shooting, or an HDMI monitor, to get a live preview.

Use uniform, non-directional, bright white light at 5000K. Set white balance using a white card.

To get the correct exposure, set ISO 100, f/64 (or as narrow as the lens will go), use spot metering, and select an exposure time that will give a correct exposure for an 18% gray card.

Place the subject on a flat white background. A couple of pieces of paper do nicely here.

Following these directions will get you professional quality results.

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ohaimark
Kingpin

28 Apr 2017, 03:36

It might be better to use a lens with a longer focal length for a higher DOF at small apertures.

Image

When you go to uber high f stops, you start to lose sharpness to diffraction.

Edit: I know the white balance is off. My boss likes a blue cast to the photos I take for GoMK.

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kuato

28 Apr 2017, 05:20

XMIT wrote:
ohaimark wrote: XMIT might be able to help.

I'll also snap a couple of shots to see if I can achieve the quality you're looking for.
You rang?
DSC_1222.jpg
Sure, maybe send a couple of switches and I'll see what I can do. But for now here are a few of my macro photography tips:

Get a macro lens. Sure, seems obvious. 60mm for a crop sensor DSLR, 90mm for a full frame DSLR, at minimum.

Get a tripod or otherwise fixture the camera. It must not move! Use a remote shutter release (I have a little $5 infrared remote for my Nikon, my old phone had an IR blaster that worked just as well). Set the camera to mirror up mode, which means: one click of the remote raises the mirror, the second opens the shutter. Wait about 5 seconds between presses to let any vibrations in the camera and tripod settle.

Make sure the camera's sensor, and your lens, are *clean*. You'll be shooting at f/64 which is basically a pinhole. Even the tiniest fleck of dust will be in focus.

Set it to manual focus and lock focus at 1:1. Use live preview to get the focal plane halfway through the depth of the object. Ideally, use tethered shooting, or an HDMI monitor, to get a live preview.

Use uniform, non-directional, bright white light at 5000K. Set white balance using a white card.

To get the correct exposure, set ISO 100, f/64 (or as narrow as the lens will go), use spot metering, and select an exposure time that will give a correct exposure for an 18% gray card.

Place the subject on a flat white background. A couple of pieces of paper do nicely here.

Following these directions will get you professional quality results.
All great tips!

Daniel, you're probably better off getting a cheap macro rig (APSC mirrorless and adapting a legacy manual macro lens) These switches are small, so you can set up a mini studio pretty much anywhere. Use daylight balanced light bulbs and a ColorChecker Passport (or similar cards) for color consistency. Expose for your highlights and you're set! Not that hard and worth learning if you want to document your collection

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Daniel Beardsmore

28 Apr 2017, 09:58

snuci wrote: Your white balance is way off and there's way too much light.
The amount of light is constant, year after year. The good photos and the bad photos here were taken minutes apart under identical settings and conditions, and the camera decided for no apparent reason to behave wholly differently. It relates to all the automated settings that I have no control over — largely black switches in the middle of a huge white background are likely so meaningless to the firmware that it can't correctly compute the settings. This results in imperceptible factors causing random variations in the algorithm that can drastically affect the outcome (there are days when I get exceptionally good results, too). Presented with a field of meaningful visual data (something like a PCB for example) the algorithm works well, but switches don't work.

You'd need a very small tripod for macro, since the camera is only a few inches away from the subject (and I don't have space for that anyway). A tripod standing on floor would just be an invitation to trip over it, especially when trying to find some spring that's pinged off — you've got to factor in another half hour to an hour looking for missing parts in disassembly shoots (that task requires a room with a light-coloured floor, no carpet, and entirely devoid of any object that anything can disappear into or behind — bear in mind that these parts can be as small as under 3 mm long).

I've left off doing the Datanetics switches for two reasons. DC-60 is a special reflect-the-flash-back-at-you design and I gave up with it. DC-50 is tall and has a white slider, creating two problems: the height goes outside the depth of field, and the exposed white slider disappears into the background and I can't remove it as it's too indistinct and too fuzzy. I've tried various grey card types and I never got good results. If the background is too dark, the details in the switch vanish as the background isn't reflecting enough light onto it.

Then you'd want to redo all the existing photos. Some were one-shot jobs. Damage to the switch during disassembly means that I can't recreate the photo sequence, and I don't have any spares. I'd have to look into buying replacements. Also, there are extensive disassembly sequences that all need recreating.

I don't especially want to take another photo ever again, but having the switches to hand means that I can take additional photos as and whenever, for example comparing Aristotle Yellow with real Cherry MX (those photos came out OK as it happens.)

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kuato

28 Apr 2017, 14:25

Cameras are dumb... even the best ones will try to turn everything to sludge in auto mode. It can be very frustrating. Having a camera that allows you to shoot RAW (doesn't have to be expensive), in manual mode makes a world of difference. You can push/pull your white and color balance after the fact. Also, a longer macro lens will allow you to shoot further from your subject. Another thing to consider is diffusing your lighting. You can use white fabric, paper or thin piece of foam over your light source to soften it and reduce the shine. (even paper towels will work)

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XMIT
[ XMIT ]

28 Apr 2017, 15:00

Daniel what model camera do you have?

Rimrul

28 Apr 2017, 16:50

kuato wrote: Cameras are dumb... even the best ones will try to turn everything to sludge in auto mode. It can be very frustrating. Having a camera that allows you to shoot RAW (doesn't have to be expensive), in manual mode makes a world of difference. You can push/pull your white and color balance after the fact.
See, auto mode is for people like me. As long as the lighting is not to bad I usually manage to photograph something that's at least slightly recognisable in the sludge. What I can produce with manual or raw modes is usually way worse. A low end phone camera on auto beats a high end DSLR on manual for me.

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kuato

28 Apr 2017, 17:20

Rimrul wrote: See, auto mode is for people like me. As long as the lighting is not to bad I usually manage to photograph something that's at least slightly recognisable in the sludge. What I can produce with manual or raw modes is usually way worse. A low end phone camera on auto beats a high end DSLR on manual for me.
When you fist try shooting manual you will fail repeatedly, but I guarantee you can learn this in an afternoon. No doubt you can get decent results on auto, but cataloguing 100's of switches is a ton of work. You will want to keep as much of your shooting setup consistent.

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XMIT
[ XMIT ]

28 Apr 2017, 21:54

ohaimark wrote: It might be better to use a lens with a longer focal length for a higher DOF at small apertures.

When you go to uber high f stops, you start to lose sharpness to diffraction.
Yes. Some researching around tells me that on my 24MP full frame sensor I become diffraction limited somewhere between f/22 and f/32. f/64 is likely overkill. But, as always, let the final images be the determiner of quality.

I found that at f/64 the depth of field was plenty for a Cherry MX key switch, about 15mm on my 90mm lens, at 1:1.
XMIT wrote: Daniel what model camera do you have?
From EXIF data for wiki/File:Cherry_MX_Black.jpg it looks like he's got a PENTAX Optio S5z. Looking at the manual it provides manual focus, manual white balance, and manual sensitivity (ISO), and spot metering, but NOT direct manual shutter speed. You could set this indirectly by doing something like:

- selecting spot metering;
- selecting Program mode;
- using a gray card to determine what the correct shutter speed would be (since aperture hopefully stays fixed);
- setting up your subject and increasing or decreasing EV to get the desired shutter speed.

Since it only offers +-2 EV adjustment you might have to "trick" the camera by selecting a different metering mode (center weighted instead of spot) to get a different range of options.

If you had a Canon point and shoot I could point you at the excellent CHDK which permits full manual control: http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK.

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Daniel Beardsmore

28 Apr 2017, 22:37

I'm a little surprised that you found an image with EXIF data in, as that gets lost from my workflow — I save intermediate files in BMP format, primarily because Photoshop 7 can't disable JPEG chroma subsampling (JPEG recreation is done in IrfanView), but it's also useful when I go back around and correct the colour balance several more times. There's no manual colour balance: it's merely a suggestion that the camera considers briefly and then rejects. With the flash enabled in super macro mode, exposure time is locked at 1/60 s, which is far too long for the shortest focal length. EV compensation has a drastic effect normally, but in super macro mode it's largely ignored (in normal macro mode it works fine, but that's not enough for switches). I don't recall that the ISO setting does anything either.

In technology years it's almost fossilised — I bought it in October 2015 or thereabouts. It's still the best human/machine interface of any camera I've seen, but the sensor is terrible and the programming is very weak in places, including all the settings that don't work or only work randomly.

With the flash, a switch is generally allowed to fill the centre 1/9th, or 0.56 MP (11% of the frame). When you factor in the Bayer filter, that's very little. I've realised that curve editing lets you rebalance the dynamic range, which is good for white sliders that get too washed out.

For throwaway photos it's not too bad, but when you consider the hours it takes to produce a full disassembly sequence, going to all that trouble for a bunch of tiny, fuzzy photos with horrible dynamic range is pointless.

The actual process involves some brief level correction, then Select → Color Range to select the grey background, followed by engaging Quick Mask. From there, anything bright that's got mistakenly included gets painted out, followed by painstakingly painting all the shadows with a soft brush (the background is unmasked, the subject is masked, and the shadows are soft masked to control the way they get adjusted — takes ages with springs), and repeated cycles of toggling Quick Mask off, adjusting the levels and seeing how many shadows get broken or end up looking fake, and going back and rethinking the Quick Mask. Sometimes the light levels are so bad that the shadows look horribly fake after I've brightened the background, as their contrast is now too deep. Then I've got to fix the colour balance separately for shadows, midtones and highlights, by estimating where it's all gone wrong — often there are so many different levels of imbalance that I can't correct them all. Also the levels will be completely hosed and I've never been able to get the levels back in order — all my photos have this weird haze where I can't restore the dynamic range. Since the flash is off to one side, I also may add one or two level adjustment layers with gradients to compensate for one side of the image being too bright and the other, too dark.

A handful of photos may take several days just to adjust in Photoshop and for the most part, combined with whole sequences of images that are all inadequate, I just abandon them all.

No-one else is taking photos that are anything like what I'm aiming for, nor is anyone else making any attempt to document switches on the wiki, so I can't repeat anyone else's process nor send anyone switches. In many cases, they'd have to have my one and only switch of that type (especially anything I got from STRONIC as those are €10 each!)

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XMIT
[ XMIT ]

28 Apr 2017, 22:44

I'd love to help more but I've already taken on too many projects. Though, one of these days, I'll get some good photos of a common switch that replicate your visual style so at least we can put together a "Switch Photography HOWTO" for interested parties. Sound fair?

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Madhias
BS TORPE

28 Apr 2017, 22:56

Phew, your workflow sounds complicated (maybe just because of auto camera mode) - but looking at the Wiki there is really a consistency there, not bad at all. What might be helpful is to use glass instead of a white paper or background to avid shadows, there are some guides out there.

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Daniel Beardsmore

28 Apr 2017, 23:16

This is the third attempt at the switch, original and adjusted:
IMGP5335 copy.jpg
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The colour balance is still weird but I can't fathom what's wrong with it. The background has to be replaced with white as it's never evenly lit, and I've converted it to white without damaging the shadows. Compare this though to a Cherry RGB switch:

Image


It's not something you can "HOWTO" though. For example, various people here have these nice wood floors and houses that are evenly lit from all angles — I don't know what their architecture is, but I have nowhere I can go that's lit that way. I just get direct glaring sunlight. There are a lot of factors.

There was a photography thread here a while back, and it was clear that everyone would rather live solely off their own faeces for a year than admit a single good thing about a rival camera brand. The lack of objectivity from anyone means that I wasn't able to believe or trust a word anyone said.


I'd like to go back to just researching stuff, but I've mostly consumed all my avenues now. I've reached the end on that one.

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XMIT
[ XMIT ]

28 Apr 2017, 23:28

Much of what I know is from photographing keyboards, and a three hour class offered by a professional photographer at the local hacker space.

One of the lessons learned is that product photography - which is what we're doing here - is all about control. For lighting, this means starting from a completely dark room, and adding lights that support the story you're trying to tell. The product photography setup at the hacker space is a curved (no corners) translucent (soft light) matte (no reflections) backlit surface with a few light boxes (soft light) spaced so as to cancel shadows.

As a really poor example, this is a photo I took with my phone, with the first subject I could find, to show a friend what you can get with almost no customization of the setup.
IMG_20170329_123126.jpg
Coffee cup product photography.
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So, my idea of a HOWTO would be creating and building a pretty cheap, easy to replicate, product photography station, for anyone who wants to get photos of switches or key caps, or other small objects.

As for camera brands: they're all pretty good at this point IMO. I use Nikon because the first DSLR I owned was a Nikon and I have a personal preference for their controls. I also have a Fuji X70 which has a very different control philosophy that I love because it's a great pocket camera. I don't much like the feel and handling of Sony mirrorless cameras but those are what I would recommend to most folks.

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Madhias
BS TORPE

28 Apr 2017, 23:31

Daniel Beardsmore wrote: It's not something you can "HOWTO" though.
I have to negate. Studio photography is probably one of the photography disciplines which can be 'howto'ed. There are so many books and guides, and you just need some equipment, without it, it will always be hard. Light is more or less the easy part, two strobes, two cheap studio lights or lights from the tools shop. A macro lens, as the others wrote minimum 60 mm when using 35 mm, but better around 100 mm. A camera with manual mode - use ISO 100, aperture as needed, and shutter speed fitting to your light condition - and this setup will always be the same. It can be super cheap everything.

Regarding the wooden floors - those pictures are mostly shot with a flash on a DSLR pointing to the ceiling. My setup is like ISO 100, flash to auto mode, aperture as needed, and shutter speed with my 100 mm lens to 1/250 sec.

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XMIT
[ XMIT ]

28 Apr 2017, 23:33

Heh, I think our responses crossed.

I prefer a tripod and long exposures to strobes because that way I can preview exactly what shadows will be in my final exposure. I agree on all the other points.

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Madhias
BS TORPE

28 Apr 2017, 23:46

Yes, when I clicked on 'Submit' your post was also there :) I also use a tripod, and rarely use a studio like setup. It is a little bit boring, and I only have some light and equipment at work.
Daniel Beardsmore wrote: I'd like to go back to just researching stuff, but I've mostly consumed all my avenues now. I've reached the end on that one.
There are many things you can improve, but I think you have to change your workflow somehow - if you want to make your life easier. You won't get it better that way I would say. For example you can't handle white balance easily without using raw images. Like you described it is absolutely normal, that everything moves in strange directions or is weird. Also you really should use a macro lens, it would be much much easier.

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Daniel Beardsmore

29 Apr 2017, 01:18

Many years ago, I discovered that paper isn't white to a scanner. White doesn't exist to begin with, and a scanner's idea of "white" is something much brighter than "white" paper. I always wanted a scanner that would just make paper appear white — trying to remove paper texture from a scan was more trouble than it was worth.

All I want is to just point a camera at something and have a photo come out that looks correct — that works for outdoors (most if not all the photos I posted in the politics thread were exactly as they came off the camera), but for what I'm expecting, I assume that most that can be humanly achieved is to get the background consistently illuminated (grey, of course). It's enough trouble arranging the photos and losing tiny parts.

I'm unlikely to go into details with anyone here, certainly not publicly. Right now, there's no solution to this mess. I thought I'd be pushed past my breaking point if I came back to the forum, but instead it's robbed me of most of my will — waiting around on other people for weeks on end does that. Exiled from the community I was spared most of that headache.

Engicoder

29 Apr 2017, 01:51

Has anyone played with HDR for macro shots. By HDR, I mean taking several shots at varying exposure and then combining them using "HDR software". I know some cameras can do this automatically or at least automate tacking several images at different exposures.

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Daniel Beardsmore

29 Apr 2017, 02:25

I don't think there's any need for that, not if your setup is any good. The real issue is depth of field. That's much more frustrating by far than exposure, and far harder to judge on the camera display without carefully inspecting each image.

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ohaimark
Kingpin

29 Apr 2017, 04:39

Daniel Beardsmore wrote: Many years ago, I discovered that paper isn't white to a scanner . . . All I want is to just point a camera at something and have a photo come out that looks correct . . . It's enough trouble arranging the photos and losing tiny parts.
You can only get "point and shoot" grade macro photos with a proper workflow and proper equipment. It will ultimately result in less time investment and hassle, too. Anything else is a hack, essentially.

Hacks take additional time and energy.

The easiest and cheapest way to go about it would be getting a low-end modern mirrorless interchangeable lens camera with a vintage manual focus macro lens. Good macro bellows are expensive and often over-magnify the subject.

@Engicoder

It's called focus stacking. Useful for stationary subjects so long as your lens is distortion free and doesn't change focal distance when focusing. Most often used in product photography.

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Madhias
BS TORPE

29 Apr 2017, 08:13

I think Daniel is pretty resistant to accept any hints here from us :)

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Daniel Beardsmore

29 Apr 2017, 14:04

Don't forget that it's not just a case of snapping the odd switch, not even just snapping 10–20 switches all from exactly the same angle as each other, but I'm actually conducting full disassembly down to the very last part and taking a photo of each step, attempting as best I can to show where and how the parts fit together. Using a small, lightweight camera I can just set it down out of the way for each step while I remove and rearrange the parts — sometimes I may need to pick up and put down the camera repeatedly as I reshuffle all the parts to come out best. I don't want a tripod-mounted camera getting in the way of that.

Nobody else ever attempts to do what I'm doing — alps.tw did switch disassembly, but his photos are composites that are often very confusing and repeat parts to the point that you can't figure out what's actually in the switch and where any of it went. My photos show every part exactly once and to the same scale, collectively repeated to show one alternative angle each. HaaTa's disassembly is usually complete, but the photos are often so dark I can't see what I'm looking at and the process is chaotic and confused. I also bear in mind that I need to tightly frame and crop for optimal thumbnails; unlike my own website, MediaWiki doesn't permit custom thumbnail cropping and has no fancy gallery slideshow viewer, so I have to group and frame each shot to ensure that a thumbnail image is as clear as possible.

I can't simply ship off all my switches to someone who's actually good at this, because nobody has even attempted it, let alone demonstrated a proven track record of it, which I would expect to include decent close-ups of individual sliders, springs and other tiny parts, which are on the edge of what's even possible with my setup.

These switches are often very hard to come by, and I would have to sacrifice a lot of my collection to get decent photos via someone else. For example, I have just one each of NOS Marquardt Series 6184 momentary and yellow LED, and I fear that these may get permanently scuffed trying to get them apart: they may be good for one disassembly sequence only. I can't send them to anyone who isn't guaranteed to come through with the goods, otherwise I've wasted the only chance we'll ever get. Some switches already are damaged and I'd have to buy replacements for a second attempt; this isn't always possible, such as those two 6184 switches that were all Marquardt had left and we won't get any more.

Instead of my lame attempts inspiring someone with the relevant skills and knowledge to prove that they can do better, several years on, my lame photos are still largely all we have. I'm surprised that with all the apparent photography knowledge here, nobody's actually making use of it to take switch photos.

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Madhias
BS TORPE

29 Apr 2017, 17:37

I can imagine that taking a switch apart, not loosing anything, remember correctly how to assemble it again, name all parts, is really much work.

Also making a photo session for some object takes time, on an average it is maybe 1h to 4h - depending on the subject, how the final result regarding lightning should be. It can be faster when a setup is ready to use.

But then again I don't really understand where this is going here now. You are basically telling us we are lazy, and not interested in switch photography (that is for me like that - but who knows, maybe in 2 months or 2 years it is different), and you rant about how hard it is to drive with a sports car off-road. Noone can help you when you only want to use a point and shoot camera, and are totally uninterested in basic photography knowledge.

So is it now about photography or getting our asses up? I would say the latter :) But how without having the switches? So it is a one way road, and about photography.

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Daniel Beardsmore

29 Apr 2017, 19:37

Generally you figure that you'd learn from the master, but if nobody is the master of it, then what?

I wasn't looking to try to become a good photographer. We've already established that MediaWiki is too hard for anyone to comprehend (or so people always protest), but while plenty of people demonstrate verbally their photography knowledge, it seems that we can't even arrange a split where someone just takes the photos. I don't know why — if nobody else is prepared to do it, what are you not telling me? It can't be as straightforward as you suggest otherwise someone would have already have themselves a wingnut for their efforts. How would you write a HOWTO process for something that nobody's even attempting to do? (And for a completely unknown environment — without making any assumptions on budget, space, anything.)

Of course I realise that you need correct tools and a good setup. What part of me listing the failings of my camera suggested that I believe that there's a way to get good macro photos out of it? There may be, but there's no point trying as the resolution is too low and the optics are inadequate. There is actually a foreign object trapped inside (though I've not seen it on recent photos) but I'd do more damage than good trying to get it out, and there's a permanent smear that shows up on some photos that I could never clean off.

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