How Joe does it

The “Joe” in question is of course Joe McNally of National Geographic fame and the author of The Moment It Clicks and The Hot-Shoe Diaries. Here’s a link to Joe’s website where he talks about his digital workflow system. This is way beyond what you need in your amateur-based digital darkroom but note that much of what Joe uses is exactly what is available to you and I. I especially like the fact that Joe uses Capture NX2 which is my favourite photo editor for Nikon NEF (RAW) files. Haven’t tried Photo Mechanic yet for downloading images.

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Online Photo Info

PhotographyBBMagazine out of Vancouver, B.C. is very good example of how to learn more about photography online. Celebrating its 20th issue the magazine has been a great source of simpleissue20_covertechnical information about how to get better images. Now I haven’t agreed universally with everything their writers have said but when it comes of how to get better images, I can fully recommend the magazine.

The link supplied above will allow you to download a PDF version of the magazine. Here’s a link to the main site. Put this in your bookmarks and check it regularly.

BTW Dave Seeram, the guy behind PhotographyBB sells some really inexpensive “actions” that plug into Photoshop. For example, the one of the young woman shows his Portrait Magic Pro Action Pack for Photoshop CS2, CS3 and CS4. The plugin allows for a one click solution to creating smooth skin while retaining natural skin texture. The software is also supposed to sharpen portraits “to perfection.” It works on both MAC and PC platforms and costs…wait for it…$28.

There are a host of other plugins on the site so wander over and see what all the fuss is about. Dave has a much larger image of the model on site that really shows off his portrait software. On this site, just click on the image of the model and it will bring up a full-size version that really shows off the effectiveness of the product.

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PictoColor Corporation still doesn’t get it

You all know by now that I’ve changed my photo editing computer system from a PC to a MacBook Pro. This required a lot of transferring licenses of expensive software and I’m pleased to say that 99 per cent of the companies I contacted (including Adobe since I own Lightroom 2, Photoshop Elements (two versions) and Photoshop CS4) all cooperated (Occasionally after some prompting but that’s okay. All’s well that ends well.) Adobe even apologized for some delays in responding to my request for license transfers. Most appreciated.

The only hold out has been PictoColor Corporation.iCorrectPortraitbox_100

Now PictoColor Corporation are the guys that David Ziser recommends so highly during his Digital Wake-Up Tour which I attended earlier this year in Buffalo and highly recommend. If David comes back to Buffalo in 2010 go see him whether or not you shoot weddings. You’ll learn tons about photography. I liked what David had to say about one of PictoColor’s products: ICorrect Portrait. Now I don’t do a lot of portrait shooting right now but I liked the idea that this Photoshop plugin would color correct for skin tones with just one click. It’s nothing you can’t do in Photoshop on your own but the plugin makes the job faster and more consistent. I tried it on a couple of images and it worked as advertised.  Like I said I don’t shoot portraits all the time so after awhile I stopped using the software all the time.

The original cost of ICorrect Portrait was $99 which isn’t cheap for a plugin but it worked as advertised and I was satisfied with it. Would I buy it again today? Probably not as I do most of commercial work in Lightroom 2 which has an excellent white balance mechanism that seems to get the skin tones just right. My partner Michael Willems can make his Canon portraits just sing in LR2. Nevertheless I owned a legitimate copy and since I was switching everything over to the MAC I contacted PictoColor to transfer my license.

Normally what happens is the manufacturer sends you a password that allows you to download a copy of their software for your new platform. The download doesn’t cost them anything. After all it’s just a simple download and you’ve already paid for the product. So guess what happened when I contacted Pictocolor? I got an email from them saying “their policy” was to add a $49 (US) charge to complete the transfer.

Oh isn’t that nice! The customer pays out another $50 after spending $100. Boy if all businesses worked this way there’d be no recession. Just keep putting your hands into your customer’s wallets. This “policy” is so customer unfriendly that I can’t recommend any of PictoColor’s products until they change this unfriendly way of doing business. It’s a real shame and I wonder if David Ziser who is among the really good guys out there will keep recommending a company that has such a customer-hostile policy.

Time will tell. In the meantime there are other Photoshop plugins out there that I would look it before going with Pictocolor.

The right bag

I sat in on one of Michael Willems excellent workshops where he made the comment that most professional photographers have five or six camera bags. I was sitting in the back of the room saying to myself that’s “crazy talk” Michael only to go home to find I owned six! Now I own a dozen and the closet in the second bedroom is getting filled up.

So what bags do I use? Well it depends. On the photo trip to Algonquin Park last month I took just two bags and both from the same manufacturer: Think Tank Photo.Shape-Shifter-4

My main bag was the very interesting Shape Shifter. This is one specialized camera bag. First it won’t hold every camera and lens that you own (this is a good thing). It will hold up to a 17″ laptop and it took my 15″ MacBook Pro with room to spare. The inside of this bag is very different from regular top-loading bags or ordinary backpacks. It has neoprene pockets that allow you to carry two camera bodies (in my case a D-300 with battery grip on and my wife’s D-90) with lenses detached plus three lenses (I packed an 18-200; a 12-24; and the 105mm Nikon macro. Then I found some space for my 50mm f/1.8 in a soft bag and my 35mm f/1.8. Okay so this is a nice number of bodies and lenses to use in the field for at least a week or so.

The big deal with the Shape Shifter is it has an expandable zipper section that allows you to pack a lot of gear on your back (it is approved for carry-on when you fly) and then once you’ve got your cameras out with lenses attached the bag shrinks down to being a manageable narrow backpack and not a big bag that gets into the way. The zipper actually compresses the overall depth of the bag a full three inches. This is so cool.

Now that you’ve got your cameras and lenses safely stored away it’s time to pack your cleaning equipment, filters, light meters, flash(s), computer (in a separately zippered pocket), memory cards (which are held in a especially designed portable carrying case), plus all the other stuff we “think” we need in the field. In fact, if there’s a complaint I have about the bag is it has too many pockets. I’m kidding here but not by much. There are so many zippered internal pockets that it’s tough to remember where you put each item that you packed. A process would be helpful here. In other words, put your stuff in the same place each time you use the bag. For example I packed all my chargers in the bag as well as a GPS unit and several other odds and ends in the big pockets. My filters and cleaning stuff went into an interior pocket and I had still had tons of room left over.

Okay now you’ve got all your stuff into the Shape Shifter, here comes the best part: The bag fits really well on your back. This is one (if not the best) of the best fitting bags I’ve ever carried. It distributes the weight of your equipment over your shoulders really, really well. And even though this is a soft bag it feels like a …what…oh yeah…a tank 🙂 I mean it. This is one sturdy bag. Nothing shifts and nothing bangs around inside as you carry it. It exudes confidence. I loved using this bag and I can give it my highest recommendation. It’s not an inexpensive bag but you get what you pay for. If you can find one at Henry’s Cameras take your equipment with you and try it out. I’m sure you’ll be walking out with this bag if you need to carry your equipment in the field or want to have a secure and comfortable way to carry your equipment on aircraft.

So that’s the Shape Shifter but I also took a second bag with me (and I’m glad I did). I got my hands on a Speed Demon bag. Speed-Demon-6Now I’ve wanted to check this bag out ever since I saw it on one of the photographers for our local newspaper. The bag is designed to be carried around your hips with the bag facing forward where you can quickly get to your lenses or flash. You can also carry it like a fanny pac which isn’t such a bad idea if you’re humping your equipment over trails and big broken rocks along an Algonquin river and finally it comes with an over-the-shoulder strap. Because the bag is shaped to fit against your body, the shoulder strap works because the bag hugs to your side as you carry it. This is very clever design which I haven’t seen done well be anybody else. Most bags are like beer coolers that you carry over one shoulder. This is very uncomfortable and exhausting. Not so with the Speed Demon.

The bag can handle one camera with a medium-size lens straight down and maybe  a second lens separated and protected by a velcro divider. The front-zippered pockets can handle your memory cards and other small items. I used the bag to carry three lenses while Marion and I walked with our cameras with lenses attached around our necks. Next time, I’d limit my lenses to one on the camera and one in the bag with enough room left to put the camera away. This is so I can hitch the bag securely to me as I scramble over the landscape getting into position to shoot. Remember I’m also carrying a tripod (Manfrotto 055XPRO3 with a Manfrotto ballhead) so I don’t want equipment swinging around my neck as I move. It would be too easy to smash a camera against a rock as I was climbing.

If you can’t tell, I loved this bag. In fact, I used it a couple of weeks later when I shot a special event for the Stephen Lewis Foundation and it worked really well. I wore it around my front and my lenses and flash units were right at hand. And, guess what? Despite the weight of the equipment it made carrying all that equipment easy.

And I guess I’ll have to get Marion her own bag as she loved our time in Algonquin Park. Then I’ll have one more bag but one that doesn’t get stored in my photo closet. Neat stuff.

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Landscape photography and more lessons learned

Here’s another lesson learned from my Algonquin weekend: When shooting landscapes turn off the auto focus on the lens!

What? Turn off my expensive autofocus system and go back to manual focus! Why?_DSC0035

When shooting landscapes many photographers use wide-angle lenses. Of course the camera is on a sturdy tripod and there’s lots of time to frame the image the way you want it but when you’re using autofocus you can never be absolutely sure what the camera is seeing. For example, if you’re using autofocus and you’re framing a scene with a tree branch in the foreground, the autofocus will likely focusing on the branch and not on the background. You may not notice this issue until you get your images on a big computer screen for editing and the problem shows up.

Also, when shooting with a tripod it’s a really good idea to use a remote shutter release to reduce camera shake. This can be electronic or a cable (not all DSLRs will take a cable) release. If you don’t own one you can use your camera’s self-timer to fire the shutter. Some landscape photographers go so far as to lock the mirrors up in the camera just before shooting again to minimize camera shake.

Lightroom and the Wacom digital tablet

Now I said this in an earlier post: If you’re using Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or especially Lightroom 2 you’ll really want to introduce a Wacom digital tablet into your workflow – even – or maybe especially if you’re new to photo editing. Now I’m not alone in my opinion. Here’s a link to Scott Kelby’s hugely popular and authoritative PhotoshopInsider blog where Wacom advocate Wes Maggio really spells out the advantage to using a Wacom digital tablet.DSC_8065

Don’t be intimidated by the idea of introducing a digital tablet into your workflow. Basically it’s just a sophisticated usb mouse pad that includes a digital pen. For more global changes (Global changes are changes that affect the entire image.) working with an ordinary mouse or the mouse that comes with the digital tablet do the job just fine. But if you want to  make more local changes then a digital pen, especially one which is pressure sensitive, (That’s a pen that adjusts the size of the line it’s drawing depending on how much pressure you use when moving it.) is a real treat.

I use my digital pen to draw lines around teeth and the whites of my subject’s eyes. With the pen it’s a snap. With a mouse, not so much fun.

Digital tablets aren’t expensive. You can get one of the Bamboo models for just over $100. Trust me, it will be $100 well spent.

I’ll be putting up our images from our wonderful weekend in Algonquin Park this weekend at my Smugmug site at Peter West Photo. And checkout my new teaching site at CameraTraining.Ca.