Monday, 27 February 2017

Dealing with very poor lighting (and very high ISO)

Singapore zoo runs nightly shows that are mainly a bit of marketing for the zoo and the environment - but you get to see a serval, a blond raccoon, some impressive birds of prey, snakes, a very smart otter and a hyena.
This shot was relatively easy to get as the man was standing under a spotlight (so much for not blinding the nocturnal animals).
Canon full frame EOS5D MkIII, 300mm focal length lens, f4 @ 1/125s,  ISO6400 (This pic by Natalie Hitchens.
All other images by Robin Nichols)
One of the (many) attractions in Singapore is to visit the night zoo. As the name suggests, you go there after dark which enables you to see a range of shy, nocturnal and semi-nocturnal critters that you'd never see in regular zoo times. If you are hoping to photograph some of the more interesting inhabitants you have to resort to using both a long telephoto lens and a very high ISO setting. These two factors present two very tricky problems for any photographer. To get an acceptable framing of, say a hyena, across the small paddock, you need a 200mm lens at least. On a regular APS-C sensor camera (i.e. most DSLRs) this means you might need a shutter speed of 1/200s, or higher, to avoid camera shake, tricky when the entire forest floor seems only to be illuminated by one or two high up (and weak) floodlights.

The beautiful Serval made an appearance in the spotlight but as you can see on the left, it was sort of daylight-balanced in the foreground but red in the background (the people who design these shows never consider photographers!).
Plus it appeared behind a fence.
I retouched the wire out using the Healing Brush in Photoshop CC, then corrected the White Balance with the Colour Balance feature, reduced the colour noise by 50% and added about 25% sharpening to get the cleaner looking result on the RHS.
Canon EOS 5D MkIII, 300mm 1/60s @ f4, ISO 6400
Hyenas look weird in good light so imagine how creepy this was under weak floodlights. Because I was using a 1.4 Extender I was losing one f-stop of light to get the extra magnification. To get more light, I increased the ISO to the maximum on my Canon (ISO25,600), shot at 3f2.8 with a shutter speed of 1/25s and manual focus - and amazingly go this sharp result.
Post production involved NO sharpening (as this only makes the noise worse) but adding:
maximum Luminance noise removal
max Detail, max Contrast, 50% Colour Noise removal plus max Detail and max Softness using Lightroom's Detail panel (noise reduction) sliders.
I also retouched the wires out and added a strong colour correction using the Colour Balance feature.
(Note the saliva drool).
In fact, in most of the exhibits the light levels are so low that you have to stand for a few minutes before you can see anything, let alone the animal in the enclosure. Obviously flash is not allowed because you are likely to blind the animal, and get barred by the zoo so you have to hoist the ISO to compensate. From ISO 6400 to begin with, up to 25,000 in some places because the light is so low. Shooting at these massive settings brings a new set of problems: digital noise. I use Canon which seem to have the worst colour noise characteristics of any camera so, in post, it is necessary to crank up both the Luminance and the Colour Noise removal sliders. Here's what I came up with - not the best set of animal shots but considering the lack of light, something at least...


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Greater mouse deer relaxing in leaf litter.
A mouse deer is neither mouse, nor deer. They are, in general almost impossible to see on account of their nocturnal habits, tiny size and ability to blend into the forest floor almost perfectly.
This female is about the size of a large domestic cat
Canon EOS 5D MkIII, 200mm lens, 1/25s @ f2.8, 10,000 ISO + noise reduction

Indian Barking Deer
This guy was altogether better illuminated allowing me to bring the ISO back down to 6400 and still capture a steady shot in the gloomy forest floor.
Top: Probably the hardest to shoot was this serval. Its enclosure was almost totally dark to my eyes so I had to shoot wide open at f2.8 with a slow shutter speed of 1/13s at ISO 25,600 and hope for the best with manual focussing.
Bottom: The result was gloomy and very noisy so it required a lot of work just to get it looking half decent.
Adjusted the brightness + noise reduction.
As with the other night photos I didn't bother adding any sharpening because this really accentuates the already poor noise characteristics.
This is what Lightroom's Detail pane looks like when I correct the noise in a very high ISO (6400++) image.
No sharpening will help produce less noise - and a cleaner looking final result.
This owl was shot using manual focus (because I could hardly see the owl, let alone if it was in focus).
1/25s @ f2.8,, through glass, at ISO 20,000 - the resulting image is quite soft but still acceptable considering the extreme shooting conditions...

Getting the panda treatment

I had to laugh - this is an advert I saw yesterday for an exclusive skin treatment.
I have no idea why it appears like this in the publicity photo but I could not help noticing that it was remarkably similar in appearance to JiaJia, the female panda at the Singapore zoo.
Only a lot more expensive...

Sunday, 26 February 2017

A Day at Singapore Zoo

Singapore zoo has two white tigers in its collection. They are magnificent.
All but the last three photos in this post were taken and post-processed by Natalie Hitchens
African Warthog
Wild dog in motion
BabirusaA type of pig found only in Sulawesi.
The top two incisors actually grow through the top of the pig's snout
Keeper hand-feeding a red panda

The Zoo's new River Safari exhibit is very impressive
Malaysian Tapir
Red panda
Jia Jia, a female Panda, enjoying a bamboo stalk snack
Pink flamingo
Scarlet Ibis
Emperor Tamarin
Baby spider monkey
White-faced Saki
Look at me
A back-flipping Manatee
Small-clawed otter
Pink flamingo

Victoria crowned pigeon
Young proboscis monkey
Bornean Orang Utan
Sumatran orang utan
Sumatran orang utan
Sumatran orang utan
Banded water monitor
Lesser mouse deer(it's neither a mouse nor a deer - and it's the size of a cat!)
Fruit bat
Here's a magnificent male mandrill(Pic by Robin Nichols)
And here's a shot of the back end of the same mandrill displaying some truly surreal colouration
(Pic by Robin Nichols)
A pair of red lories(Pic by Robin Nichols)

Friday, 24 February 2017

In SIngapore: Nasi Padang Breakfast

When in Singapore you really have to try all the different options for eating. 
The first question most Singaporeans will ask you is; 'have you eaten yet?' which indicates how important food is in this tiny equatorial country.
This is an Indonesian Padang breakfast. All pre-cooked. You choose how many inclusions you want to pay for.
From top left: fried fish, fried egg, deep fried tempe, potato cake and fried tofu with veggies and chilli.
With sayur goreng (fried veggies in coconut milk) in the middle. Yum! $4.50


Thursday, 23 February 2017

Shopping in Singapore: A Medication for Every Eventuality

This curious muscle oil caught my eye while I was shopping in a Chinese Emporium near People's Park (shopping centre) in Singapore this morning.
I was intrigued by a product that claimed to be able to "Conquer all demons..."
Amazingly the brand is called Chop Blackie Embrocation, which in many Western cultures would be found to be highly offensive.
According to the packing the recipe has been handed down from "an Indian herbalist from Calcutta" and, according to the splendid paper certificate this came with, "...has proved to be popular in numerous Oriental households and among seamen..." (?) reducing irritation from everything from sciatica to cuts and bruises...

I think this company likes to ride on the success of the famous Haw Par brothers (who invented Tiger Balm).
Tiger Oil (which actually contains no tiger parts at all) claims to fix "rheumatism, insect bites, cuts, wounds and 'bees stings'...."

Shopping at 36,000 feet

Although I never buy anything from the in-flight duty-free shop, I usually find the catalogs for the products a reasonable way to kill 10 minutes while the aircraft is waiting to take off.
Tuesday's flight to Singapore was no different except for the fact that this brochure seemed to outdo itself with a range of products with near-criminal claims to stop the aging process.

From anti-wrinkle products, to eye rejuvenation devices, energy sticks, and even a product that employs something called tillandsia usneodes (Spanish Moss) to add a natural 'moisturising factor' (i.e. 'add water to'...).


You could also order a 3.8kg Le Creuset pan for $400 (presumably not held onboard because of the extreme weight), a very desirable 'extreme passport holder...' as endorsed by Hugh Jackman (Yup, it's a wallet) from Mont Blanc, a travelling display case for your auto winding wristwatch collection, prams, $1,200 suitcases, scan-proof wallets, card safes, a $5,310 rooster statue, and a Hello Kitty doll for $35.

My personal favourite was the rejuvenating socks at $45 a pair which produce "healthier looking skin and nails in just 4 weeks. A great travelling companion too!"   I can't wait...