Tag Archives: composition

Shooting a veggie a day

So today was a practice day for me. I have been threatening for weeks and weeks to shoot some food and today was it. Or at least some of it. I used a 50 dollar battery operated LED video light, a mirror and a home made silk that uses Toughspun. I spent about ten dollars for the various veggies and fruits which is cheap for models. I used a c stand to hold my video light attached to my monopod stand which doubled as a boom. The mirror provided some light from the side and underneath the glass. My post processing was done in Lightroom using a preset that emulated Kodachrome 25 since I wanted that very contrasty punchy look. You can see from the set shot that I didnt do anything special other than clean off the end of the dining room table.

I used my D300 with two lenses. My first lens was a favorite of mine, the 17-55 F2.8 and the second was a Lensbaby composer at F4. My ISO was 400 and I shoot from 1/60 to /1/160. No flash was used, just the video light which I got from Amazon for something like 50 dollars plus 30 for a battery and charger.

When you are shooting something like this, it can be trickier than people at times as the still life does not move at all unless you move it. So you are always on the look out for reflections, lines, composition and so on. You need to worry about color and texture plus what props you are using. Lighting becomes critical for shadows and highlights.

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Always be looking for the shot

So I’ve been a bit delayed in writing my week’s blog entry due to going back to Connecticut for my oldest girl’s graduation. When we arrived there, I needed to rent a car and for 10 dollars more than a Chevy Malibu, I was able to get a very cool burnt orange Challenger. It was the ONLY one I saw the entire weekend of driving around and it gather looks and comments everywhere I went.

Along with the car, we needed a place to stay and I found a bed and breakfast that was a working farm (small) called “Butternut Farm“.  It was a very eccentric place to stay for a few days with good food, poor cellular coverage and virtual no lighting at night to see the sign or the building so I missed it a few times trying to find it at 9PM. It turns out that it’s really dark on country roads in Connecticut.

So what does a farm B&B and a orange Challenger have in common? Not too much till I came back to the farm one afternoon and saw a cool photo op by moving the car a few feet into the front of the barn and shooting with scene. I shot knowing full well I would need to photoshop the image since the light was not the best and rain had just started to mist down so everything was a dull blue tint. But I managed to rip off several images and by paying attention to details that I could control like the placement of the car, angle of the shot and waiting for the chickens, I got a good image to work with.

Here is the before and after shot.

2011 Challenger before and after with Lightroom 3

As you can see, I worried about my composition first, then I dealt with the lighting, color and so on.  Now that I have the shot, I loaded up photoshop CS5 and went to work using my Wacom and blend modes. The trick is to use a couple of layers to built up the color and detail of the car. You can see the original was a bit flat and the lower body panel was dark due to the overhead flat light. So I made a duplicate layer and used the multiply blend mode to darken up the very light highlights. I then applied a layer mask to hide it and re-applied it using a soft brush at 10% opacity to where I wanted to darken up things like the glass and top body highlights. I repeated the process again but used the screen mode to get a lightened version of the car. Again, I used my Wacom to apply a 10% layer to the lower body panels, the back and anywhere else that needed to be punched up a bit. Next was the application of an orange photography filter at 40%. Another layer mask let me paint out the orange on the blacks and wheels. The final touch was using Red Giant Light Factory to apply a “sun” to the tree line and tweak the final overall warmth of the image.

After all that which took about 30 minutes, I ended up with a pretty cool “product” shot of the classic Challenger in the farmyard. I did think about adding a flag but I thought would be too over the top of stereotypes.2011 Challenger in Butternut Bed and Breakfast Barnyard

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Winter Portraits

Ahh.. Winter.. brightly burning logs, toasted marsh mellows, hot coco and snow. Really bright snow in the daytime that completely confuses your automatic camera into thinking its about 2 to 3 stops too bright.  So many pictures taken in the winter by people end up looking like blown white outs and very dark stick people or serious racoon eyes from the nasty shadows under the eye sockets. Trying to shoot in the snow in unlike anything else other than maybe the Gobi dessert. It’s cold, batteries die an early death, your fingers freeze, it is incredibly bright and people dont want to sit still very long.

So is it impossible to get good natural portraits in the snow? Not at all, it’s very possible so long as you follow some basic rules. You will almost certainly have to use a flash, you will almost certainly need to go manual to override the camera’s non-winterized brain and you need to be able to shoot fast before everyone including you freeze.

It’s does not need to be a fancy flash, the onboard popup flash can really work wonders by staying within it’s working range. You will need to overdrive it, I typically shoot at +1 to +2 stops over flash compensation. I keep the ISO between 200 and 500, I look for shade if possible and I do like to use the sun as a natural backlight. In the image below, I put Sara directly in line with the setting sun. This was while we were out just walking around the neighborhood in the late afternoon. I had my D300, a 17-55 F2.8 lens and that was it.

ISO 200, F3.5 and a shutter of 1/125 using the popup flash at +2. With the D300, the 45mm works out to be almost 70mm on a full frame sensor

Snow Princess

Snow Princess

To pull this off, you MUST know your equipment and how to set various settings. When your fingers are getting stiff and cold is not the time to fumble around for menus. I set up the shot first to get the background the way I wanted it and then added the flash. It took about 4-5 shots to dial it in completely the way I wanted it. As you can see, I put the sun behind her head so her face was in shadow but her hair was rimlit by the sun. The flash provided the fill light.

On the next shot, it was the same basic settings but I did not like the look of the colors against the white snow but it black and white, I think it works really well. Again, you need to pay attention to the posing as much as you do to the camera settings.

B/W Snow Princess

B/W Snow Princess

In this shot, there are some apparent tricks. One, the shadow gives away that Sara is backlit again, I do this so I can light the face and not get the blown highlights from the bright sun. The hair looks really nice when backlit and in this case, the snow blows out to almost white. I have just enough texture so you can tell she is on snow  but it does not distract. I’m shooting down at her so she can stretch the face and neck up a bit and get that nice curve. This stretch helps her look natural and relaxed. Her bent knee provides a good place for her to put the arm and gives some nice lines.

My final image was taken on the side of the road and in partial shade. I made a point of putting Sara’s face into the shade and letting the sun dapple the rest of her and the ground. The bright patches provide a nice visual interest and works with the fence in the background for some texture. In a perfect world, the bit of ground would be cloned out but I wanted to show portraits with minimal work. I had to start to scoop up some snow with her hands and then asked her to look up.  It is a very natural pose and works well. Again the pop up flash was used to fill the face with some light.

Sun and Snow

Sun and Snow

I hope you can see that you dont need alot of gear to shoot nice winter portraits with just a bit of thought and knowing your equipment. Many times, your current equipment is more capable than you think and the popup flash is  a perfect example of something that is very much maligned by the “pros” but used by those in the “know”.

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Where are all the pictures?

I read an interesting comment the other day that continues to dig at me a bit. Over on Flickr, a poster put up a complaint about how he could not shoot because of the weather. It had been pouring rain for several days and his excuse was the weather sucked so he could not shoot.

I countered that with a single image and pointed out that pictures are where you find them, not where you think they are. Here is the image. I used just the light from the window and LR3 was used for the post work.  This is a rainy day image that was not staged or planned, I saw her playing by the window, ran to my camera, ran back setting the camera settings as I went and managed to get about five frames.

Rainy Day Imp

Rainy Day Imp

I’ve shot all kinds of things when other say they cant shoot.  I’ve shot toys on my desk, pull cords on the window blinds and my coffee cup. There is no reason in the world that you can not shoot at any time of the day or night and at any place. The shot below of my window blinds was taken in the afternoon while testing my 70-200mm F2.8 VR lens.

Shade

Shade

I’ve used my pro cameras, my point and shoot, my phone and even my ancient film cameras. It’s all about shooting no matter what or where. Dont get locked into the idea that circumstances have to be perfect to shoot, many times my best work as been shoot on the fly or at the last second. I’ve gone out in the rain knowing full well it’s dismal conditions for shooting but I find a way.

Art is where you make it and sometimes it comes to you but sometimes you need to go to the mountain and find it. Art does not take breaks or vacations. Art is around you all the time if you just take the time and the trouble to see it. So the next time you have plans to go shoot and something interrupts them, take advantage of the interruption and see where it leads you. You very well might be very surprised and pleased at the outcome.

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Controlling your light

They say that shooing portraits in broad daylight such as high noon is nuts, that it cant be done and that anyone with sense will avoid it like the plague. Most times these experts are correct but one of the things that a professional photographer has to learn is to adapt and make things work out the way they need to. So with that in mind, let me tell you about my weekend of shooting Santa Claus.

I got an email from a acquaintance asking if I would possibly be able to shoot a session involving Santa Claus, families and a public park with four days notice. I had to juggle things but I replied yes, for a small fee and the list of names of the families with their email addresses. Now shooting this event was going to be a royal b**ch since it was going to be a  public park and starting at 11AM then running till 1PM. No tent, no cover of any kind. The last four years showed snapshots taken with on camera flash blasting the families to overpower the sun. Last years was pretty underexposed since it had been a grey day and the camera didnt get the settings right.

I decided to raise the bar and execute this event better than anyone there had seen before. I have a very cool Christmas themed muslin backdrop that is pretty decent quality and I have several 20lb sand bags. I also have reflectors but no portable strobes yet. I was bummed but I could not find a battery pack to run my Photogenics or get a small generator on such short notice. So I ended up using my SB800s instead.

I put up the backdrop, doubled it over to keep light from leaking through the back and had the back facing the sun directly to get the most shade I could. I put 25lbs of sand on each leg (ended up with 50lbs before the shoot was over) plus two 10 lb bags clipped to the bottom of the shortened backdrop to keep it from flapping around. I did not care about lighting it separately as there was so much ambient light, I didnt need to. On the SB800, I used a 1/2 cut CTO gell to squash the bluewhite “daylight” look of the flash. I prepped two more flashes with batteries ready to go. I had a spare body prepped and ready to go.

I put Santa in his chair and metered him using my older but reliable Minolta meter, the camera meter gets very confused with this type of shooting so I dont trust the brains of the camera. I then put everything on manual, dialed it in and shot off several images with my 17-55mmF2.8. I ended up going with my 1.4 50mm at F10 and ISO 200. The shadow was just long enough to keep me in shade without too much flare in the lens. The images did need their black points pushed way up as they were flat. I knew that from the first few pictures. I used a gold reflector to throw a dash of golden light on Santa Claus and the clients. The SB800 was dialed down -1/2 exposure compensation to avoid blowing out skin tones knowing that by shooting raw, I can easily dial it in.

You can see here the extreme differences between the sun and shade of the backdrop. I took this with my iPhone to avoid screwing with my numbering sequence on my shooting body.

Park shooting set up

Park shooting set up

So I ended up shooting about 40 families over three hours. Everyone had a lot of fun and everyone was blown away by the backdrop. But when I showed off the images, jaw dropped. The images really looked good and nobody believed that they were shot at noon and in a park. The grass was not a problem because 99% of the shots were “head shots” style.

Santa Claus with vintage treatment

Santa Claus with vintage treatment

Final Santa Claus image in park

Final Santa Claus image in park

Now that we had the shots, I used BayPhoto’s ROES software to make up the Christmas cards. My client was giving away a free Christmas card and we settled on the 4×8 photo card. I used Bay’s templates and treatments to make a simple card with a place for my friend to sign his name.

Christmas Card from Belmont shoot

Christmas Card from Belmont shoot

So in the end, with about 400 dollars in studio stuff that I already had from past shoots and 30 minutes of set up time, I was able to produce killer event shots of Santa Claus in a public park at high noon. I did this by using quality parts, by knowing how my equipment works and most importantly, how to work around problems on the fly. Were the images perfect out of the camera? No, they were not. They were flat and washed out even though they were correctly exposed based on the histogram. Thats partial due to the 50mm lens I shot with it. Partial from having to be very careful shooting into the light even though I had shade, there was still some spillover from the top of the background. But with shooting RAW, a few simple adjustments applied to each image and they all snapped into place.

So dont take the common wisdom as gospel like “you cannot shoot portraits at noon” or you can not use onboard flash effectively and so on. When you know your equipment and you know how light works, you can do amazing things when others say you can’t.  I have a happy client and 50 new possible clients who saw me shoot under difficult circumstances and still nail the shots.

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It’s all about the eyes

Eyes, the windows to the soul, dark pools to lose one’s self, the one thing that can seriously make or break your portraits. Radstone Creative Workshops is working with RedGum studios in Anaheim to bring good training at a very cheap price in a world class studio. This saturday, November 13, 2010, we had a four hour session that was all about the eyes and how to really shoot a portrait to show off the eyes. We also got BBQ burgers and ice cream out of the deal so for 20 bucks, it was a killer deal. If you want in, drop a line to either RedGum Studios by way of Darin at redgumstudios dot com or Richard Radstone

Richard makes good use of continuous lighting because the emotion that the eyes convey can be fleeting and even unexpected. So waiting or a strobe to recharge could break the shoot but with hot lights, Kinoflows or other continuous lights, you can have a good chance at catching that small tilt of the head and the flicker of the eyes that makes it a killer shot.

And as the noted shot below shows, you dont need alot of expensive equipment to get the shot. In this shot, the model was still getting make up on and sitting in the make up chair with a hot light lighting her. Not a “studio” hot light but a beat up what looked to be a beauty dish with a hot light instead of a strobe. That was it. Nothing more.

The rest of the images were taken over the course of four hours and more show what the workshop is about. Most of the lighting was a single main light, either a hot light or Kinoflow.  Nothing very fancy just light, some diffuser material, C47s (C47 Media Attachment Clip or clothespin ) and a assortment of gaffer tape 🙂 Really goes to show that you dont need a whole light money in hardware to light someone well. I will say that there was a small fortune in grip equipment holding up the few lights, flags and scrims.

The shoot also shows that having a makeup artist on hand or a couple of them can really amp up the shoot. You can change the “look” with a few clothing changes and some really good makeup. We had six different looks in four hours and it was amazing to watch. It was also important to learn that some makeup does not work well at all with HDLSR video due to how the light reflects and the same applies to this type of shooting that relies heavily on specular skin highlights. The wrong kind of makeup will go “waxy” or “muddy” in the images so a good make up artist is worth her or his weight in gold on the set.

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Final Westcott Competition Entries

Some of you know that the photographic lighting supplier, Westcott,  did a pretty crazy cool thing at Photoshop World this year in Vegas. They set up four shooting sets and had live models, lights, props and watchers on hand and then let the public go nuts shooting the models. The payoff if that IF you enter their contest and IF you win, your image will be the Westcott catalog and you get some lighting equipment. And let me tell you that after shooting with their spiderlights, I’m lusting after a set of those lights! Cool, nicely balanced and bright, they are easier than strobes when shooting something like this where a subtle change in position or expression can have a profound impact in the image. Since the lights are continuous, you can shoot as fast as you can click the shutter without worry of the strobe not keeping up. In my studio here in Orange, this type of shooting works really well. I shoot strobes alot but after working with “hot lights” twice now, I really can see the value of them, especially the new cool “hot” lights.

Here are my entries for the contest. I’m also including a few shots of the sets so you can see the environment we had to work in. I used several different techniques with my entries. I worked only with the props and set given, I replaced the background in one, I flipped one to a “painting” using CS5’s new bristle brushes and I worked the tones. In all case though, the overriding concerns were sharpness, content, composition and overall impact of the image. I feel that without a sharp image and good solid composition, all the post work in the world will not push a bad image up the ladder.

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Westcott Model Shoot

The vendor, Westcott, sell various lighting and light modifiers to photographers and studios. They are a constant vendor at Photoshopworld and other Photography related shows. One of the most popular features of their booth has been the model shoot where a rep will demo product using a live model and then allow photographers to try their hand at a fast shoot using the same setup and equipment.

I think they just raised the bar in a big way by having four “sets” set up where they had live models and at times a still life available to shoot using the Westcott equipment. There were simple rules, you could not touch the model or the lights but you could direct the model on how you think a pose might work. This time you can submit your final images to be a possible catalog cover.

Popular? You bet!!!  They had photographers coming out of the woodwork with everything from the high end Canon/Nikons to the cell phone with any number of camera in between. it was amazing to shoot and even more so just to watch. It was pretty clever in a way since you can only really make the photograph yours by model position and post work. Since the lights were fixed, you had to move the model to change the mood and you had to use some solid techniques in post to “fix” things like lights being in the image, fashion model fixing, getting rid of backdrop seams and so on.

Here are some of my shots along with a description of what I had to do in post to get to the finished or close to the finished image. Most of what I did to these images is not much different than what I do in my wedding shoots or portrait sessions here in my studio in Orange. When I shoot, many times I know when I take the shot, that I will need to do something in post like removing something or enhancing the bride and so on. Sometimes I make a mental note that a certain picture will need something specific because I know it’s a cool shot but needs editing to make it cool.

Here is my Catwoman shot in the raw. No retouching, no post of any kind except to convert it from camera RAW to JPEG to post here on my blog.

Catwoman in Gotham City RAW

Catwoman in Gotham City RAW

You can see from the above shot that there is quite a bit of work needed in post to make a usable image. There is a light in the upper left, the bike is on carpet, the background is too short and does not touch the carpet just to name a few things. Here is the final version or very close to my final version of Catwoman

Catwoman in Gotham Final

Catwoman in Gotham Final

I edited out all the extra stuff like the lights and reflector panel. I used content aware fill and free transform to stretch and edit the background. I used the Lightroom Graduated Filter with a blue tint to darken and add mood to the background. I added a concrete texture to the carpet to make it look more like asphalt. I did a fair amount of selective burning in like the front rim of the bike which was too bright. I tweaked the intensity to get the deep reds and dark blacks. I added a dark vignette around the image to help blend in the transition between backdrop and carpet. I think it turned out pretty well 🙂

In the next shot, we have a retro looking “Pin Up Queen” but we need some work here too. There is a red fabric that is competing for attention, we have tattoos on the model and we have some unsightly bulges on the bustline and arm.

Pin Up Queen RAW

Pin Up Queen RAW

And here is my final image after using several tools and some hand work.

Pin Up Queen Final

Pin Up Queen Final

I used liquidify to smooth out the bustline and arm. I used Portraiture to smoothout the skin and give a glamor look to the over all image. I removed the red sash hanging down in the background and I removed the tats showing on each arm.

Here are some of the rest of my shots from the Westcott model shoot. Westcott even had a couple of still lifes for those who do not like shooting people. As you can see, many times you need good post processing to really bring out the best of a picture whether it be a still life, a fashion shoot or even a wedding. I’ve seen good images with bad post processing and they just do not work well. I’ve seen marginal images but with excellent post processing and they work pretty well.  Taking the shot is just one step to having a killer image as the final result. Ansel Adams was a master of this and understood clearly that the raw image was only the first step to showing the world your vision.

Thank to Westcott for putting all of this together and letting the photographers have alot of fun over the past three days shooting gorgeous models on fun sets.

Queen of Hearts RAW

Queen of Hearts RAW

Queen of Hearts FINAL

Queen of Hearts FINAL

Steam Punk RAW

Steam Punk RAW

Steam Punk FINAL

Steam Punk FINAL

Natural Pair RAW

Natural Pair RAW

Natural Pair FINAL

Natural Pair FINAL

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Photoshop World 2010 Las Vegas Dispatch Weds

So here at Photoshopworld at the vendor Expo, Westcott did something very cool. They brought in four models (five counting the still life) and had them rotating between live demos to posing sets. Anyone with a camera could walk up and shoot the set/model from any angle you could get to. You could not change the lighting but you could have the model pose differently for you.

Here is the RAW shot from one of the posing stations. Straight from my D300 and zero adjustments.

Catwoman in Gotham City RAW

Catwoman in Gotham City RAW

Here is the same shot after my quick and dirty postprocessing. I will write up a complete “how to” post on how I got to the final product in a few days.

Catwoman in Gotham FINAL

Catwoman in Gotham FINAL

Why did Westcott do this? because they are having a contest going on that if your shot is picked from the Flickr feed, your shot will grace the 2011 Westcott catalog cover. Pretty cool idea and I saw quite a few taking advantage of the arrangement.

This is a short entry since I’m still in Las Vegas for the show and I’m trying to get this done before breakfast and another busy day.

Just a few words from the past few days.  The show is excellent as always but I think that the crowds are definitely smaller than what I remember a few years back. But everyone is very enthusiastic about the training, the show, Photopshop and everything that goes with it.

Scott Kelby and company did a righteous cover of the band KISS and a glam rock show complete with 9″ heels and pyrotechnics/steam/radio station sponsor and EVERYTHING was built on Photoshop/Adobe riffs.

Scott Kelby as KISS at PSW 2010 Vegas

Scott Kelby as KISS at PSW 2010 Vegas

JohnnyL from Adobe did a magic show and showed the crowd the magic of CS5. There was a poke in the eye at Apple for Flash and apps being rejected by the App store but accepted by Android. The irony there was ALL the computers used in the show were Apples as the iPad for the ePub demo.

Zack Arias did an awesome class on “Thing you need to know” as a photographer getting ready to make the switch from part time to full time.

I’ll write more in depth in the coming days along with more pictures of course. Back to the salt mines 🙂

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Repurposing Your Software Tools

Photoshop or your editor of choice actions can  help you cut time corners to make a better end product like blog entries. Say what?  Oh yes, you can adapt tools normally used for a task  like making albums into a killer tool for making story boards for blogs or displays or whatever else comes to mind. I just used my favorite album software from Fundy to make a batch of story boards for my blog here. Yes I could buy actions to do this but I wanted to see if I could do something close on my own with Photoshop.

I already have a couple of flavors of album making software, LumaPix, You Select It (YSI) and FundySOS Album builder. Since I’m on a Mac, I prefer to use Fundy Album builder. While LumaPix would do a really nice job, it’s Windows only and I need to start up XP just to make these. It’s more work then I want right now. Fundy means I never leave my workflow.  This is not intended to be a review of Fundy’s software but suffice to say it’s pretty powerful and is adaptable to virtually anything that requires arranging images, not just wedding albums.

Here is a sample of a three by three story board of a shoot in Colorado that I shot last year.  I tossed together in Fundy Album builder in a few minutes. Not only can I make the grid but I can save it as a design then load it back up and automatically fill the grids or fill them by hand. It can takes less than 5 minutes to make the entire grid and fill it this way. And I just have to insert ONE picture into the blog instead of a dozen or more.

3x3 Wedding Story Board

3x3 Wedding Story Board

And it does not have to be squares, it can be any shape I want, singles, squares, grids, puzzles and more. Also,  this is not just for blogs, this technique of story boarding or building paneled images  can be sold to a client or used in an album or picture book. So the time invested in making the templates can be time well spent. And yes, I had to buy the software but I had bought it  to make my wedding albums so now I’m using the same software for two or three other uses without having to buy anything else. That is money saved and in your pocket.

Here is a type of grid that is called a “puzzle” with several images from a local coffee house in the city of Orange  called Chapman Coffee. My business, Michael Sweeney Photography, had some art hung on the walls  there for a while and I had taken pictures for their website. Now I’m using them to illustrate a second type of collage that you can put into your blog by using album building software. I started with a blank canvas set to 1024 pixels square and used Fundy’s Album Builder Ninja layout and CS4 to make the puzzle. You can of course, make the squares manually using just Photoshop.

Chapman Coffee House Puzzle

Chapman Coffee House Puzzle

And you can take a single picture and use the panels as a design element. Use a strong picture and add a bit of space between the sections and you get a very cool effect. In this case, I made a quad panel and used a picture of a 1957 Chevy Bel Air automobile that I shot at the “Cars and Coffee” car show in Irvine, California. This image of the car works well spread across  the four panels with a visual break between each panel and gives an idea for a wall hanging upsell to the client.

1957 Chevy Quad Panel

1957 Chevy Quad Panel

If all this is cool but you either dont have existing tools like FundySOS  or you just dont want spend the time to mess around with Photoshop, then you can buy actions from a variety of places such as MCP who has the “Blog It Boards” among others. The actions give you a very fast way to get started on this type of presentation of your images.  You can find some free ones at coffeephotography.blogspot.com but keep in mind that free is good, sometimes paying for something is better.

So the take away is that for your blog, instead of fighting with posting a dozen images which can also be swiped, make a storyboard of them and post that. Everyone gets to see the pictures, admire your artistic skills in layout and you can shave time off the editing of your post.  You can also incorporate your album software or actions into your workflow as design elements.

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