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Why spend money on the good stuff?

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We all like to save money dont we? I mean, business is a bit slow with the economy and whatnot so everyone likes to save here or there. There are coupons, deals, specials, closeouts, eBay and Craigslist.  But one place where it’s foolish to try and save too much on are your critical pieces for your business. Take computers for example. I use Macs..  I have twelve of them of various types and ages. My main computer is a MacPro dual quad. This was a three thousand dollar computer new, I bought it used off Craigslist last year from someone who bought it as a “trophy” and now needed cash. I ended up getting a great deal on it too. Why did I spend about double of a home brew clone that could have been hacked to run OSX? Because I tried the clone and after dealing with not working pieces, no support except what I could dig up on Google and spending HOURS getting it finally work right just to have it die on an update, I decided enough was enough. I could not count on it when I needed to work the most. Saving one thousand dollars was costing me more in lost time, productivity and more. It was cheaper over the year to buy the real Mac used then it was to try and save more by a hack job.

I still have my Hackintosh.. actually, I have two of them. I have a Dell netbook and my first tower with a single Quad. As it turns out, the Hackintosh works great as a media center in my office. Or it did until the EFIx card that let it run OSX died. So I ended up wasting a day putting it back together another way that did not need the card. And it reminded me why over a year ago I stopped using the Hackintosh as my main computer.

Sometimes trying to save money will cost you a considerably amount in the future. This lesson is why I buy the best camera bodies I can buy, the best lenses and the best software even though it hurts to write those checks. I get support, I get efficiency and I get peace of mind.  There are some places you can cut a corner or two and get away with it but you need to always think ahead and ask yourself, “what if”. What if your deal dies in the middle of a work day? What if your deal cant be upgraded? What if your deal turns out to be a trojan horse that ends up letting bad things on your computer (think bit torrents and the like). As a hobbiest, one  can get away with alot more than as a business person. Because as a business, there is far too much at stake ranging from your client’s images to your profits.

There are places you can save ALOT with some careful shopping. Take lenses for example, there are many high lenses for sale on eBay that are what I call “trophy glass”. Someone bought them when they were flush with cash and now they need cash. I bought my 17-55mm F2.8 for less than half of what a new lens would cost and I sent it Nikon for refurbishment. Even then, I was at a bit over half price of a new boxed lens and I had a “new” used lens. My 70-200mm F2.8 was the same way but not quite as a good deal but better than buying new by four hundred or so. One D300 was a factory refurb and the other came used from B&H and had a 30 day promise of replacement if needed. Both were several hundred cheaper than a new boxed camera. That right there more than paid for the MacPro.

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Lights, Camera and Action!!

Back of a Blu-ray Disc. I took this.
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Oh yeah.. baby loves video :)  So I finally bite the bullet and bought ProShow Producer by Photodex. I used some images from the Westcott photoshoot at Photoshopworld as a test for a quick and dirty slide show. I tossed this together without reading ANY docs, just ran the wizard, clicked around a bite and off we go. In less than an hour I had pretty much made this show which included finding music on the internet.

Now I need to really dig into the software. It can do so much like layers and masking on the slides.  It’s a lot easier than Premier and I like the end results more than Animoto. A cool part is that it has a kick butt “create” menu panel. Anything you would like to export the show into is there. BlueRay, DVD, self contained EXE, Flash, Youtube, Facebook and more.  Way cool and one of the best export panels I’ve seen for video like this. Right now I have it running in Fusion on my MacPro in a Windows XP image and it works just fine. It would be nice to have an OSX version but this is very workable for now.

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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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Come Sail Away

One thing that a photographer needs to learn (truthfully, most people need this) is how to make lemonade from life’s lemons tossed your way. I had the absolute misfortune of being taken off my flight at Heathrow airport due to the ash cloud shutdown of Europe’s airspace on April 15, 2010. We were loaded and ready to go when we were told “everybody off”. I was one of the lucky ones, I was able chase down my luggage and clear customs with relative speed, only about three hours. Some other had not gotten their luggage in three days after the event.

Two days after Heathrow shutdown

Two days after Heathrow shutdown

3rd day of ALL FLIGHTS CANCELLED

3rd day of ALL FLIGHTS CANCELLED

I had booked my flight with a very good travel agent, Linda Christen since I was going overseas and past experience has taught me to avoid the self service sites like Orbitz and Travelocity like the plague. She was able to dig up a room at a local hotel when all hotels were saying “we are full”. It was not a cheap room but definitely cheaper than many around it and the neighborhood sucked being right at the airport. However, it was clean and beat having to go to London proper which was twenty miles or so away then having to either cab it or take the underground back each I needed to be at the airport. During the week it took me to get out of Heathrow, I had over nine flight cancellations in six days. I had to extend my room four times. And even when they opened the airport, my airline still cancelled flights and would not take new reservations due to the existing flights already being booked up weeks in a advance. Some airlines were and still are offering specials to booked passengers who are willing to cancel their flights to free up seats. So it was looking something the first week of May before I could really consider getting out.

First Flight from Heathrow in 5 days

First Flight from Heathrow in 5 days

This brings up something very important to anyone traveling not just photographers, make damn sure you have a good line of credit. I brought my ATM card which is how I normally pay for things but I also had brought my business AmericanEx card plus one MasterCharge with a fairly good limit and nothing on it. As it turns out, since I had the MC card AND I had called them ahead of time to let them know I was going to be in the UK, I had zero issues with using the card, even to charge the cruise to it. All sorts of people around me were struggling with cards maxed out or not being accepted because they were overseas and so on. The good thing is by putting the cruise on a single empty card, I know exactly what part of this debacle is the cruise and which part is the hotel. Since my flight was booked on AmEx card, I might get some of it back via the built in insurance policy but we shall see.

Since I had been in Oxford on a holiday to see my eldest daughter, I had not planned on being out of country more than 6 days. So by week two, laundry was becoming an issue. I had been able to take advantage of the dorm laundry when I was visting so I had a buffer of a few days of clean clothes. However, it also that meant that in a few days I was in the shower washing shirts and underwear while getting myself clean. Since I never knew when I could leave, I could not risk the paid laundry since it took two days. My hotel did not have any kind of gift shop, so I had to shop at other and nicer hotels to buy razors and other supplies. This was a one mile hike to get the closest one and I found a minimart at a carwash that had some soap and sold cheap boxed sandwiches to avoid the twenty pound lunch at the hotel.

In the end, a very crazy idea that I had on saturday night paid off. I had sent an email to my travel agent to see about booking passage on the Queen Mary 2 which I had read on the internet was leaving in a few days out of Southhampton. And yes, she thought I was nuts but she humored me and she put my name on the wait list of two hundred people. This was before the ongoing flight cancellations all week. I had done it as a “last resort” type of thing and when I got a call on Weds saying there was a cabin available, the waitlist had over 1,500 people. I had a flight for thursday but American Airlines would not confirm the flight would even take place. As it turns out, it did not take place. So for about 2/3s of the price of staying in a hotel for yet another week plus bad food, I was able to get a cabin on the biggest and the only true Ocean Liner left in the world.

My ride home - Queen Mary 2

My ride home - Queen Mary 2

Oh yes, I am terribly underdressed for this event. In fact, as I write this entry, everyone around me is getting ready for Captian’s Night which I have zero chance of attending as it’s tux only. I dont even have slacks much less a tux, I have good working jeans that travel well :) But the food at the buffet is very good and my jeans are perfectly acceptable there.

Queen Mary 2 Grand Staircase

Queen Mary 2 Grand Staircase

Now, what does all this have to do with photography? Plenty, the photographic opportunities aboard the QM2 are amazing. I have seven days to shoot, shoot and shoot some more. There so much art and architecture on the ship to shoot that it’s a perfect place to practice and refine your craft without the pressure of time.

Queen Mary 2 Sunset on the first night

Queen Mary 2 Sunset on the first night

The QM2 has wireless in most cabins and in most public places. If you buy a block of eight hours, you will pay about thirty five cents a minute for internet. Not cheap but it’s enough to get email and upload small sized images to sites like Flickr or a blog. A side benifit of the wireless is that while the Queen has cell coverage, I can use Skype to call home. Why use Skype and not my cell? because even with international roaming, the voice charges are 1.40 USD per MINUTE and the data rates are 11.00 USD per megabyte. By contrast, I paid 167.00 USD for 8 hours of internet time which works out to be .35 cents per minute. Skype is free plus the .35 cents per minute so this is a no brainer.

This leads to yet another piece of advice for really anyone nowadays traveling. Bring a laptop or even a netbook that is fully loaded with the various applications like Skype, FTP, a couple of different browsers and emergency software like file recovery and/or flash card recovery software. In my own case, I had just gotten a new 13 inch Macbook Pro but I not had a chance to load all my favorite items on it and I decided pretty much at the last minute to take old reliable which is a 15 inch Macbook Pro from three years ago. A very good choice on my part since I have all my normal software loaded so I can edit and adjust images, post to my blog, phone home and more.

So with the travel tips finished, lets move on to shooting pictures on a cruise ship. On the ship, one problem is that they use a type of florescent light that is very yellow in color and will wreak havoc on your white balance. The best thing is to shoot RAW and correct in post. Lighting inside tends to be dim so ISO 800 is more the rule to get a decent shutter speed while shooting at F2.8 to F4.

The lens of choice so far after three days of shooting is my 11-24mm F4. So much of the ship is expansive and you really need the wide angle to bring it all in. I had my 17-55 F2.8 but so far I have not had a need for it. Another excellent item to have is a really good point and shoot. I brought my new G11 with me as a test and it has been getting quite the unintended workout in the past three weeks. The camera is perfect for most shooting on the ship but it has a very hard time with bright and dark in the same image. When the lights blow out, they blow big and fringe badly. So in some cases, I have taken my D300 and gone back to locations to get nicer shots that I had shot first with my G11.

Queen Mary 2 Quiet Time

Queen Mary 2 Quiet Time

The color issues can be adjusted in post so long as you are shooting RAW. With JPEGs, it will almost impossible to correct well. What is interesting is that while I see it as a pale yellow, the camera sees it as a vivid yellow, very intense. This ship also has halegon spots all over and when the two lights mix, it’s very tough to get a good white balance. I brought a set of gels with me so I will probably break out the SB800 and my gels to see if I can gel the lights. For that matter, I might just tape the gel to my G11 for a fast test. I brought a small roll of gaffers tape, dont you travel with some wrapped around a sharpy? You should!

Something else to consider when on the road, I have bought what I called “Extended Manuals” from Amazon via their Kindle service. I then use the iPhone version of the Kindle software to have these manuals for the D300 and G11 at the ready for reference. This is very important for times like now when I’m toting a new camera along for the first time.

Another invaluable accessory that I bought recently was the Luma camera strap. I also bought an extra lanyard for it. So I have one camera strap for two cameras. And when I have to clear security like getting on to the Queen Mary for example, it’s a simple matter of unclipping the lanyard and then reclipping it when I’m done. No more trying to lift a strap over my head, hat, jacket etc. To be honest while the Luma is awesome for the G11, I prefer my Rapid Strap for the D300, even more so with a long lens on it. The lanyard will twist and let the bounce around quite a bit on my hip whereas the BlackRapid strap tends to hold the camera against my hip and in the same position all the time.

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Image Recovery or how to restart your heart

Card Error! – Two words that strike terror in the heart of a digital shooter. In the old days, it was opening the camera after supposedly rewinding the film and see film still there. But now days with the blessing of technology, we get a bit spoiled in thinking that since the widget is “digital”, it should be perfect every time. But it’s not perfect every time, sometimes the card has issues, the camera has issues or the person running it all has issues and the pictures are not readily accessible.

Unlike in the old days of film, I’ve only had ONE digital card (SD card) go bad enough to where I could not get the images off the card, even with the help of a specialized forensics lab trying also. I have had several times where I had to use special software to recover images and for the most part, the software works pretty well.

The recovery of images is not any different than recovery of files from a hard disk since the flash card appears to be a hard disk to the camera and computer. They are typically formatted in FAT32 though the older cameras use FAT16 and trying to mix n’match between these two formats leads to problems. FAT32 has been around a long time and is pretty reliable overall. The reliability is enhanced for our needs here by most camera manufacturers taking a short cut when we say “Format” the card by just erasing the root directory and not the entire card. So when you accidentally format a card with images, it’s a small matter for the software to go and scan each block of data looking for specific signatures that indicate JPEG files, RAW files, TIFFs and so on. You wont get the original name back, but you will get the image back. That is how it works in the simplest form.

Corrupted Image

Corrupted Image

This image was corrupted by using www.recyclism.com

What happens if the image is corrupted? Where a bit or two or three is not what it should be and now the image looks like it has grey blocks or streaks through it, or weird color bands through the image? or the image is unreadable for Lightroom, Photomechanic or your editor of choice? It becomes alot tougher to recovery anything usable. Alot depends on how you saved the images when you shot them. For example, for those of us that shoot RAW, there is a JPEG that is created and kept in the RAW file unbeknownst to many photographers. When I had a card go bad on me and corrupt 90% of the images on that card, I had shot RAW and so I used a tool called “File Juicer” for OSX to recover that JPEG out of the corrupted RAW file. It was not perfect but it was enough to let me recover about 95% of the shoot. I do not know of a similar tool for those on Windows. With FileJuicer, you just drop the RAW file onto the application and let it go. Like magic you will have some folders with the extracted text and JPEG. Here are some screen shots of File Juicer in action on a NEF (Nikon RAW) file.

File Juicer

File Juicer Application

file juicer results

File Juicer Results

juicer file list

Juicer File List from RAW file

It does not get much easier than this to recover a JPEG from a RAW file, even a corrupted one. There are numerous recovery applications for getting images off a formatted or dying flash card. My personal favorite is Sandisk’s own application called “Rescue Pro”. It has worked for me many times where others have not faired as well. You can find out more about it here. I got my copy with the purchase of some flash cards a while back.

sandisk

Sandisk File Recovery Utility

None of these tools will help you if you have overwritten the files by new files and you do not have any back up. All you can hope for is that you can recover some files from space not written to by the new files.

I will say this, flash cards are alot tougher than people give them credit for being. I personally have run two of them through a wash cycle (dont ask) and they were fine afterwards. I still use them in fact but not for paid shoots :) I just read a piece about a couple’s point and shoot getting dredged up from the ocean bottom by a fisherman and he was able to read the card, post the recovered images and reunite the couple with their up to then, lost images. Imagine, months in saltwater and still readable.. amazing but I hope not to have to test this one myself. There are some basic rules to avoid having to test any of this advice due to user error.

The best rule to remember is ALWAYS format the card in the camera it will be used in. Do not trust anything else’s formating tools or the factory formating.

The second best rule is to NEVER delete images from the camera, just keep shooting and delete them in your image workflow software.

A third guideline is to buy the fastest card your camera needs. Not that YOU need but the one that the camera can really use. Using a slow card in a fast writing camera is asking for trouble. Even more so when writing large files like RAW files. JPEGs are about 1/3 the size of a RAW or even smaller so there is more forgiveness there in writing to a slow card.

A trick if you are recovering a damaged card and you use a Mac. Make a image file from the card very first thing. This will let you work from a bit for bit copy of the data instead of a slowly failing card. You can use OSX’s disk utility tool to make this image file. File Juicer has this built into the tool as a menu option, yet another reason to buy File Juicer.

iPhone Camera, toy or real?

One of my biggest complaints against the iPhone is the dinky fixed focus camera that Jobs had put onboard. With most other phones, five megapixals is pretty much the current standard but Apple for unknown reasons, went with a 2 megapixal camera and not even a high quality one at that.

Of course, this just adds to the challenge of taking a quality picture with it and in truth, once you work out a few things like how to trigger the shutter without moving the phone, it can take a decent enough picture. My old Nikon 950 was only 2 megapixels but it had really nice glass and not a chip of plastic as a lens.

Software can go a long ways to improving a picture and the iPhone is not any different. You can get a free version of Photoshop on the iPhone and it really can work wonders on these pictures. I have an unretouched image of my Thinktank International V2 bag sitting at Sacramento Airport and then one after I did some enhancements in the iPhone Photoshop app. It made a very noticeable difference.

Before iPhone Photoshop

Here is the retouched image

After iPhone Photoshop

I did all this just sitting in my chair with my iPhone and my finger. No special hardware, software or anything else. I just snapped it then loaded the mobile version and touched it up. Now I just need to find a noise reduction app for the iPhone. I dont know about anybody else’s iPhone, but mine makes very noisy pictures unless it is a brightly lit picture. This is one of the weaknesses of the iPhone camera, it’s junk in low light. No other way to put it but simply, it’s simply junk in low light. I have been able get a few nice shots at night or in a dark room but it’s more luck than anything else.

On the other hand, I have been surprised at times with what I can get with the iPhone. This image was taken out of the plane’s window while buzzing along at speed and in the low light of twilight.
Flying over Oregon

This is a pretty usable image all things considered. And given that it was taken with a phone and not a “real” camera, all the better. But that last comment is a bit unfair I guess. I have taken very nice images with the iPhone, remembering it’s limitations and working around them. This next image was taken in the dim light of the waiting area for Captain Eo at Disneyland. I did some touch up in iPhoto to color balance it and raise the saturation a bit, nothing more than I do for most of my images nowadays.
Captain Eo Redux

I think it is perfectly acceptable to send around to friends and family as a decent snapshot. And I had the added luxury of not lugging my DSLR around for the day :) So once you work out the constraints of the iPhone, it is a very usable tool. Not perfect and Apple could have certainly done better, much better without too much effort on their part but I get the feeling that Jobs is not a big fan of cameras in phones and so it was added very grudgingly. Thats a shame.. because a “Apple Quality” camera would have just about made the phone perfect.

What is very cool about the iPhone camera is the ability to shoot and send it right away via email or SMS. There have been times where I found something for sale, shot it, sent it with a question and gotten a response back in time to grab a deal. You can shoot barcodes and get the lowest price in the area for the widget, talk about leveling the playing field. I have used it to shoot impromptu location scouting trips where I see a place that I like and I rip off several images to keep on the phone. Some complain about the lack of a flash but then I have not really seen the need or even one that really works well so I dont worry about it too much. In the picture below, you can see how I’m documenting a photo shoot with my iPhone in part because I had a 70-200 F2.8 slung around my neck and I wanted a close but wide shot. This is what I call a “personal reference” shot, normally seen only by myself to provide some visual details on something. But here I’m sharing it and I’m sure you can see the value in using the iPhone for something like this. And it’s a pretty good image given how bright the backlighting was.

Flashing Fundy

So in one way, I happily bash the camera and Apple but then I use it in some key ways that I could not easily do with my Razor or Treo in spite of them both having cameras. The iPhone integration just makes something just so much easier than anyone else. I just wish it was better.. but then I always think that about most of my toys :)

Painting or how to soften your portraits

I’ve always been fascinated with graphics tablets. I had one of the early ones called a “Kola Pad” for my C-64 even though I never had a real use for it. It was fun to doodle around with. I also goofed with a lightpen that let me draw on the CRT directly. It never worked as well as it should even though I spent a hundred 1983 dollars on it.

Now days I have a nice Wacom Intuos 3 tablet and I also picked up a copy of PainterX from Corel. The end game to all of this is to “paint” portraits and other pictures. I’ve seen enough “paintings” done to know if done well, they sell well. So I’m trying to get my skill set up to speed on using the tablet and software. Many people I know swear by the tablets and I have to admit in just goofing around, it is certainly easier than my mouse.

So to the end of figuring out how to make this work and how to paint with PainterX, I found a very cool book by Karen Sperling who knows much about PainterX since she has written many of the manuals for it. She has a new book out called “Painting for Photographers” and it’s very good. You can buy it in paper or as an EBook or both in a combo deal. I personally went for the combo because there are times I just want to hold the book and not worry about kill my screen’s batteries.

Karen has an entire line of stuff thats worth looking at if you are at all interested in using PainterX in making very cool portraits. Tutorials, video clips, webinars and so on. The one that I suspect most people should watch is the beginner’s tutorial to get used to using PainterX and the whole of idea of “painting” with a digital graphics tablet and software.

I’m also working my way through Jeremy Sutton’s DVD on using PainterX called “Learning Corel PainterX”. Not the best presentation in my opinion. He’s stiff on the screen and his voice tends a bit to drone which wants to put me to sleep. It’s not that the information is bad, it is really not, it just the presentation. One of the more useful tidbits aside from how to program the tablet to do useful things, was to learn that there different nibs for my Wacom pen. A princely sum of 25 bucks gets me some new nibs and cushions for my fingers. I had no idea this was available or even other “pens” were available.

I was able to get a nice Wacom preference pane dated 2009 from the Wacom site at no charge. Here is a screen shot of the interface along with the buttons programs to how Jeremy likes to use them. His button layout does make sense when you think about it.

wacom programable buttons

wacom programable buttons

Right now I’m using the tablet instead of my mouse for even the normal window open/close and so on just to get some time in on using it. The first thing I noticed is that my back is happier leaning back and having the tablet in my lap instead of one hand resting on the table top with the mouse. I may have to find the wacom mouse that came with the tablet.

I should have book and some videos in my hands in a day or so and one of them is to paint using Photoshop. It will be interesting to see if PainterX is really worth the money to paint with or can Photoshop easily do it also. I know it CAN do it, the question in my mind is Photoshop the RIGHT tool to paint with. I dont mind using more than one tool, I tend to collect tools but using just one and upgrading just one and so is appealing.

Using PainterX is very exciting since I have several images that I think will make very nice paintings once I learn how. I also feel that it will be a nice “up sell” for weddings and portraits. I knew a photographer in Chicago that offered this service and did quite well as an outsourced vendor for some of the major photographers in the area. In some ways, I think that would be a cool thing to back fill some of my hours when I’m not shooting.

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Life is not just still life

I dug this out of the archives from a couple of years ago. I had an idea for doing a series of podcasts on travel photography and used Disneyland as my first podcast. I really hate the “kodak” shot which tend to be very boring images. So I took several of my favorite shots from the park, added video and a voiceover to give an idea of what can be done with very little effort on the photographers part and without annoying the rest of the family with the “wait here for a minute”. I never pursued the podcast any further but one of these days I might goof around some more with it. Video was alot more work than I thought it would be and between gigs, kids and life, I just dont have alot of time to good with it.

I used iMovie on my Mac to make this flicks and kept things simple. I used two different video cameras, a Sony Hi8 and a Sony MiniDV. Neither are state of the art even then but they were useable and still are but look pretty low quality compared to the new HD rigs.

So here is my first attempt at making a video podcast. I had alot of fun making it and learned alot in the process. There is some good information on shooting pictures at Disneyland so I hope you find something useful in also.

Its interesting to watch these now with the current technology like the RED being used to shoot a “video” of a wedding and then printing stills from the video because the quality is so high. Of course, the camera and support equipment will set you back 20 thousand dollars or more but in the near future, I think at least the high end weddings will be shot on video and then the stills will be taken from the video stream instead of having both a videographer and a still photographer present. I see the high end wedding being shot with two video cameras to get the angles and pull everything else from that. Might be sooner than I think with the newest DLSRs shooting HD video now abet in a primitive form.

Here is a second podcast I did on some basic photography equipment for the new shooter. Again, this is about 2 years old since it’s referencing my old Nikon D80. But the ideas are still valid and very useful for the new shooter. If you know much at all about photography and shooting with digital, you probably already know most of what I talk about. Enjoy!

Lightscribe and DVDs

One of the expectations when one shoots a wedding or any other event is that your product will look “professional”. What I mean is that you really can not hand out a DVD of a 3,500 dollar wedding with the title scrawled on it in sharpie ink. Well, you could  but I doubt you would get much word of mouth referrals.  We photographers are always are looking for a way to be professional in our presentation, or we should be as it is a simple thing that can really separate you from the rest.

So with this in mind, I picked up a Lightscribe DVD burner to play with some. For those that do not know what Lightscribe is, pay attention, it is a pretty cool idea. You take a DVD and make it burnable on both sides. But the label side is set to  be a high contrast burn so you can burn an image and text into the label side and  have it viewable. Cool idea huh?  Yeah, I thought so too. It’s still a cool idea but not nearly as much as so as in the beginning.

I got my drive from OWC, a Superwrite Master DVD external burner. It arrived and was unpacked and plugged into the Macbook Pro ASAP. Hey!! not so fast cowboy!!! I could not see the drive with the Lightscribe labeling software. Ahh, so says the instructions, NO FIREWIRE. You can only burn Lightscribe using USB. Ugh.. So unplug it and replug it with USB. Now I take my special Lightscribe DVD (oh yes, special media if you want the label) and stick it in the drive. Turns out the software is just a driver and the label software is something I already bought that supports the Lightscribe driver/disk. Here is another dirty secret, Lightscribe only supplies a driver to the OEMs so the OEM has to come up with the software. In the case of Lacie, it’s ALL special which means you can only get support from Lacie which Lightscribe admits to on their site.

So I get the DiskCover software set up and make a new label. I insert my DVD and tell it to burn the Lightscribe label. And I wait.. and wait and wait some more. It takes 20 minutes to burn a single disk’s label. Not exactly what I wanted for my work flow for anything more than a single off disk. Damn.. It makes a very cool label but god, it takes FOREVER to burn it. When you can burn the disk in 5 to 10 minutes and it takes 20 just for the label, making a coaster by mistake really hurts the time line.

I still use it but only for special cases. And I’m still shopping around for a place that can print decent silk screened DVDs without breaking the bank in very small runs. I’ve tried inkjet DVDs and while they work, I am hoping for something a bit more professional  than the inkjet. Still, it’s faster than Lightscribe and its in color. I just give them a quick coat of photo sealer to keep the ink from running and call it a day.

Illuminate Me

One of the software packages I use to make albums is called LumaPix and it is very, very easy to use. The big problem with it is that I have run that dreaded operating system call “Windows” to use it. It’s a problem because I live in the light, I run several Macs around here and after switching a few years back from Windows, I’ve never looked back. So my savior in this trial is a software application called “VMware Fusion” which allows me to run Windows within a Window on my OSX Mac. I get the best of both worlds in a sense. I can boot Windows when I absolutely have to for something like this album software and I can still use OSX at the same time. I can easily share files from the same hard drive between both Windows and OSX and I can even VPN into a remote site from Windows while I do my normal business on OSX. Pretty cool all the way around. Thats not counting the fact that my recovery from Windows dying an untimely death from worms, viruses or the BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) is measured in minutes since I have a copy of the image that Windows runs from. Actually, I have three copies since one is dedicated to Lumapix, one is dedicated to another specialized app and one is just a generic backup. Windows does run better when you do not have alot of “stuff” installed on it.

I dont understand the PC and Mac wars, I do understand the humor of Apple in their ads. I have to be on both sides of the fence more often than not. I have been a network engineer for over 20 years and and have worked with all kinds of operating systems, some still in use and some have been “retired”. My two favorites before OSX was OS2 Warp and Netware 3.x. Both would run forever with just a bare amount of care and feeding. OSX reminds alot of OS2 Warp which is one reason I really like it. And being based on BSD does not hurt either. 

In my mind operating systems are like any other tool. You use the one that is best for the job at hand or you can afford. The camera does not really care what the brand sticker says on it, they all take pictures and most will take a damn fine picture running in the “P for Professional” mode. Linux, OSX and Windows all work in the end and it really comes down to what you want it to do, how well you want it do it and expense. It’s the person running the keyboard that can really make or break the OS just like it’s the photographer who can make or break the picture no matter what camera is used. 

I like my Mac and I love Fusion but neither is perfect and I’ll never say that they are. But they meet my requirements perfectly so they are the best fit in my workflow and how I do business. And thats really the bottom line to any person looking to make a choice. How well does this tool fit in my world and will it do the job as good as I need it to do it. If you spend all your time fighting with the tool, then you might want to look at a different tool and save yourself some pain and suffering.