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Jools Elliott

How level is your spirit level?

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Morning all

 

Yes, a strange subject but it's being asked because of a recent competition I entered.

 

At the end of last year I entered the International Garden Photographer of the Year competition. At first, i didn't think I had got anywhere but I received some feedback on my images.

 

Apparently, I was one of a rare minority of entrantes that had several images shortlisted. That was nice to hear. However, one of the comments was that they said a particular image wasn't quite level.

 

I always use a tripod; hotshoe spirit level plus the one embedded in the tripod. before I take any image I always make sure it's level. The image has no definable horizon, i.e. it's in the countryside and the foreground is made up of vineyards and the background has a treeline. 

 

The foreground wouldn't give any indication and the treeline is on a rolling hill which wouldn't give an indication either.

 

So how do I determine what they are looking at for future reference? How level is my level? It would be useful for my work going forward but it's bugging me in any case.

 

Oh, I do have the new version of Lightroom that apparently will level an image but experience has taught me that this isn't always perfect.

 

I did go back to them and asked how they determined it wasn't level but they haven't responded.

 

Any thoughts?

 

Thanks

 

Jools

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On my Canon 60d there is an electronic spirit level which appears on the screen when the info button is pressed several times. I tend to use this  as it seems more accurate than the physical kind built into the tripod. Normally though i don't refer to either and I rely on a visual check of the image on the LED screen or viewfinder. If I am unhappy with the finished result I rotate the image a little in post-processing (RAW, Lightroom) and also adjust vertical distortion if that is apparent.

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Thanks Joseph.

 

My 5D Mark II doesn't have the inbuilt spirit level. And as I said, there is no definable horizon in the image so I don't know where to begin with it.

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I once had a Pentax *ist D and I could do virtually everything, the horizon was out by 0.5° - and concluded that the sensor must have been fitted slightly crooked. 

 

Maybe they had a look at the tree trunks. It's difficult to judge without seeing the photo.

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Sometimes, just sometimes, I have had an image that I have had to make slightly unlevel to make it look truly level. Jools may just have come across a similar instance.

 

My experience has always been, trust my eye over any mechanical/digital information to the contrary.

 

dd

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Guest

Levels in tripods or hot shoes will never be that accurate, the small size of bubble and the small distance they are levelling plus user error (a tiny error in reading the bubble can make for a few degrees of inaccuracy).

 

I use a tripod head bubble but it's always corrected in post - for interiors the LR upright tool is very good (most of the time). Human eye ball in post is the best level....along with control+'

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Thanks Joseph.

 

My 5D Mark II doesn't have the inbuilt spirit level. And as I said, there is no definable horizon in the image so I don't know where to begin with it.

 

I understand your difficulty there and I find the same problem in dealing with rolling hillsides, especially when shooting video and panning. However, I tend to take more architectural shots than landscape or gardens, and I sometimes find that working with a known vertical object in the image (especially if it's near the centre of the image) is my best guide to getting the image to appear level. Even in places with no buildings, I imagine there are very few locations where there are no vertical objects or lines at all which will guide the orientation of the image.

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Silly questions but have you checked for lens distortion or for whether the print paper was straight?

 

In Lightroom the crop function gives you a grid which may help to assess whether the level is correct.

 

Of course it may just be an excuse of a reason given by an inept or biased judge.

 

 

dov

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Lens distortion was something I had considered but then if it's only adding a slight bend in the image that wouldn't put the horizon out.

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Are they perhaps looking at the verticals, assuming there are some reliable verticals?

 

Regards

Lionel

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The only vertical is about 500 metres or more away. It wouldn't give a decent reading.

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Certainly there is some variation in the accuracy of my tripod and head bubble levels.  My most accurate bubble level is an Xpan hotshot level which I bought for next to nothing on eBay.  Then there are the in-camera levels and the one inside my Panasonic GX1 seems to be more accurate than the one in my GH3.  Certainly I often feel a need to cross reference my levels!   In your case I can't really fathom what the issue might be - any chance of seeing the image?

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Perhaps the secret is to buy a proper level from a hardware store. There are small metal ones (around 4in/10cm long) with a proper phial; they would fit easily in a camera bag.

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Certainly there is some variation in the accuracy of my tripod and head bubble levels.  My most accurate bubble level is an Xpan hotshot level which I bought for next to nothing on eBay.  Then there are the in-camera levels and the one inside my Panasonic GX1 seems to be more accurate than the one in my GH3.  Certainly I often feel a need to cross reference my levels!   In your case I can't really fathom what the issue might be - any chance of seeing the image?

 

Absolutely! You'll see the treeline at the top of the image but that is no indication of the horizon. Having spent a lot of time in the area the trees are not on ground that is flat. The area is on the edge of the Morvan national park in France.

 

*Edit. I just tried the level option in Lightroom to see what it did. It has indeed moved. Does it make it truly level? Nope, as it's looked at the treeline and used that. I can see this from the gridlines that appear if I hover over one of the manual controls in the Lens Correction panel.

 

14045064427_87c53d3dab_b.jpg

Edited by Jools Elliott

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Nothing there that I can see that looks wrong from the point of view of level and given that you also did check all your levels before taking the image and you know the landscape too…..well I can't see what there is to argue against.   :unsure:

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dov makabaw

"Of course it may just be an excuse of a reason given by an inept or biased judge." 

 

Yep, absolutely right. I use levels all the time when I am using my 8" x 10". Sometimes on the tripod and sometimes just on the camera. For some of my work, which are triptychs, I need to use both - level the tripod first and then the camera - and they work fine. I use a plain groundglass with no gridlines and don't have any levelling problems. Maybe the judge had astigmatism, or like me, severe keratoconus which causes distortion. I'm due for a cornea transplant soon. Hence my use of a level! 

 

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 I'm due for a cornea transplant soon. 

 

 

 

Hope it goes well.

 

Allan

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Thanks Allan. I have had three operations on my right eye so far so I am used to it now! Sort of! Lie on your back wide awake while they poke it with sharp implements! Luckily I'm not sqeamish! 

 

Humbling though, getting someone else's cornea. Not as dramatic a transplant as a major organ maybe but gratitude for donors and families of course.  

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I can see that superficially a judge may be thrown first by the skyline and then by the posts ssupporting the vine wires. Unfortunately straighten one  and the other goes out further!

 

Looking at the bases of the clouds (the only other reference) it looks level to me. As you say you checked levels anyway and from your knowledge the terrain is right. Just a picky judge trying to find an excuse.

Edited by Martin P Wilson

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I can see that superficially a judge may be thrown first by the skyline and then by the posts ssupporting the vine wires. Unfortunately straighten one  and the other goes out further!

 

Looking at the bases of the clouds (the only other reference) it looks level to me. As you say you checked levels anyway and from your knowledge the terrain is right. Just a picky judge trying to find an excuse.

 

That's my view too. It's a bit of an optical illusion I think.

 

The line of the hills at the back is almost straight like the horizon but the amounts of sky at the left and right make it look a bit squint. Then the plants at the front sloping to the right add to the effect.

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Thanks all!

 

I did, eventually, get a response but it wasn't helpful in the least. One of the comments was "we can't comment on your equipment" which in effect they have as they are saying it's not level.

 

In any case, I'll be entering again this year as I have more faith in this competition than the Landscape Photographer of the Year one. Got a very nice photo up in Scotland last week that I think is a blinder :D A local gave me some advice on a gold mine of a river :)

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Got a very nice photo up in Scotland last week that I think is a blinder :D A local gave me some advice on a gold mine of a river :)

 

Were you up in Kildonan?

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 A local gave me some advice on a gold mine of a river :)

 

If photography is not doing it for you (anybody) go prospecting for gold. ;)

 

Jools would not give away a location as good as that, everybody would be heading there to pan for gold.

 

Allan

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I'll narrow it down...The Highlands ;)

 

The river was great as it had many waterfalls and rapids. The local said you could easily spend a day there and he wasn't wrong!

 

It's strange you mention giving away locations. It came up in conversation last week and I said to the guy I was with that there are some instances where I would prefer not to say where or how a shot came about. For example, I am getting some very unique photos of Paris lately but that has come about through hard work; dedication; tramping the streets and meet/ greet. One of the last ones is impossible for others in any case due to the location of the shot.

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 A local gave me some advice on a gold mine of a river :)

 

If photography is not doing it for you (anybody) go prospecting for gold. ;)

 

Jools would not give away a location as good as that, everybody would be heading there to pan for gold.

 

Allan

 

 

That's why I asked as they still pan for gold up there. There are a few other locations too but that was the one with the most gold found IIRC.

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