David Hobby and Joe McNally on the Flash Bus

I was pretty excited to find out that David Hobby and Joe McNally were coming to Minneapolis. These two photographers have been a good source of inspiration for me. They both have a ton of knowledge and give it away at the drop of a hat. David’s web site, the strobist, was one of the first places that I saw and dove into on using flash. But manual mode on the flashes still scared me, and I was excited as all get out to come across Joe McNally. I found his material in his books, a DVD with Bob Krist, and got to first meet him at a DLWS landscape workshop in Michigan. I became a TTL fiend, and wouldn’t leave that realm until recently.

Anyway, fast forward to Saturday, and they both rumble into town on the same bus. David with a slide projector, and Joe with an additional 18 wheeler full of gear. Well, maybe not that quite that much, but he sure pulled a lot of stuff out on stage. It was a great smackdown between manual and TT with David taking the morning and Joe the afternoon. Ok, there wasn’t much of a rumble, as both of them are way past arguing whether manual or TTL is better, but it made for some fun jokes.

There was a lot of great information presented. I feel like my understanding of using manual mode flashes jumped considerably. I am sure to use accent flashes more in my shots now. They make a huge difference. I may need another flash though. I am no where near David’s 12, or Joe’s 144. (I made up Joe’s number).

I came to this photography thing, or really any art/creativity thing fairly late in the game. I didn’t study or learn about hardly any painters or photographers that came before me. I started by learning about a handful of photographers in my generation. So I don’t have any real heros per say, but I definitely look up to these guys, so I took the opportunity to get the worst ever pictures taken with them. Taken with an iPhone is very low light by someone with obviously some kind of shaky hand disease. And these are after I ran them through some noise reduction. Quite possibly the worst pictures they have ever had taken of themselves. Hey, at least I didn’t take em!

Light it Shoot it Retouch it Live Minneapolis

First of all, you will have to excuse the grainy pictures. I was shooting at f2./8 with the camera above my head praying that I got something in focus. I was shooting at 1600 ISO under the “romantic lighting” as Scott Kelby called it. PS. what’s the deal with both of the subjects putting their right hands up? That’s weird timing. Anyway, you can get an idea for the room, the stage, and the screens showing Lightroom or Photoshop.

Ok, let me back up. Yesterday I was at the Light it. Shoot it. Retouch it. seminar put on by NAPP, and instructed by Scott Kelby. I’ll let the cat out of the bag right up front and tell you it was well worth the day and the $99 (I paid $79 as a NAPP member) cost. The event was held at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Despite it being a huge room with a ton of people, I think the setup worked really well. I got there early enough that I got to pick a seat fairly close, but I think even the folks toward the back wouldn’t complain too much. There was a thrust stage that the NAPP folks were concerned that Scott would fall off of. He would shoot from the end of this back toward the end of the room with a large backdrop setup. He was shooting tethered into his computer, and the images he took would display in a couple of seconds up on two huge projector screens on either side of the stage.

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Drobo S for Photographers

Some of you may know that I had my computer and several hard drives stolen. Most of that data was backed up other places, but in a miss mash of backup drives. I had 4 external drives hooked up to my computer. A TimeMachine backup, a main images drive, a drive with video, and a drive of older images. It and the video drive were usually not switched on. They didn’t go to sleep well.

It was a big pain. I decided to upgrade. I would buy one unit that would hold all of my current space needs, and provide some redundancy. I went with a Drobo S. I got it Friday, and went to work getting setup. (It is now Sunday Night and I have it all working. My images are on the Drobo, and my Lightroom and Aperture catalogs are on my desktop and all talking to each other)

The drobo unit is not cheap, but still I was surprised to see that all cable options were included. They have a USB2, a Firewire 800, and an eSATA cable.

I was a little surprised that the drives that I ordered with the unit (Direct from Drobo) didn’t come preinstalled. They are in very generic, straight out of a bulk shipment, from Western Digital. The drives come out of their boxes and insert easily with no cables to attach. Just drop them in. The cover on the Drobo S at least, is magnetic. That’s right, no tools required to put drives in or out. I like that a lot.

I also noticed that it does have the little lock slot on the back, which I intend to use. However, because the drives are so easy to get in, there is no way to lock the drives into the device. I guess I will be hoping that the next idiots that break in, if it happens, just get frustrated when the device is locked, and leave it with the drives still inside.

I hooked the Drobo up using the supplied firewire 800 cable. I will see how that is working out speed wise over the next couple of weeks. I will store my images in the Drobo, so it will be interesting to see how it works out. I have done this in the past with USB2.0 only, but I have another option in mind. OWC has an upgrade option, where you send in your computer and they upgrade it to have an eSATA port. It would be underneath where the vents are. This might be tempting, but then I would have to be without the computer for awhile again.

I had 4 different external hard drives that my data was scattered over, 3 of which had a backup. They are all getting combined into the one Drobo. I have 5 1TB drives in this thing. With their Beyond Raid tech, I have single drive failure protection, and 3.62TB of available space for my data. Lets get going…

The first thing I did was to create two volumes. I wanted to do this to provide 1 volume for TimeMachine. If I just provided a folder, not a volume, TimeMachine would never prune and delete old files, just keep on growing. I didn’t want that. I am a little confused about what happened. You have to choose a maximum size, and you have to pick less than the available drive space in order to create multiple volumes. I picked 2TB, and it created two volumes each 2TB. I should be able to add more space later to use the extra (I have less than 4TB, remember). The part I am not sure, is that I read a post that said the second volume will be allowed to expand past that 2TB when you add larger drives. I don’t know about that. I might need to do a shuffle when that happens. It would be better if you could set separate sizes in the Drobo Dashboard config tool. I could set 2TB for TimeMachine, and 12TB or more for the other volume. If it is possible, it sure isn’t clear in the tool or the help files.

Time to copy some data.

I plugged in one of the external hard drives to my computer and started to copy files. This will take awhile.

I came back to the computer (after a night of copying data) and found everything silent. The computer had gone to sleep (set to 3h, 1 drive copy had finished successfully), the drobo lights were off, the fans were silent. Very cool. That I like to see.

I don’t have enough time with the unit right now to give any more data than this, but it seems to be working just fine. My Drobo and the 5 supplied drives are working well. I do wish I could see the temperature of the drives or get individual SMART data from them, but the DROBO is supposed to alert me if something is going wrong.

I’ll let you know more as I learn it.

Within the Frame Kathmandu – A Review

A trip that spans two weeks, takes place in a far away place, and pairs you with 9 other strangers is a tough nut to review. I got sick, my camera broke, and my trip home was an endless nightmare. None of these things had anything to do with the instructors or the workshop, but they all happened, and it can sometimes be hard to separate the workshop from the experience.

Thankfully, I think I have the perspective to do that, but I will throw a couple of “experience” issues in there that I think are helpful at the end.

First off, this is a workshop for people that both want to travel, and want to improve their photography. This is not a run and gun bus tour. The first day David told us he wanted us to be bored. Let me explain. We were going to be in Kathmandu for several days. This was to give us time to slow down. How do you get past the “Look, a Monk – click. Look, a prayer flag – click.” syndrome? You give yourself time. And time we had. There was time to wander and take it in. Time to sit and talk. Time to hang out with the monks and other people in Kathmandu. This gave us time to “take it all in”, and allow us to dig deeper for more meaningful images. In the end, I never got bored, in fact, there were places I didn’t get to, pictures I was still searching for, and areas of Kathmandu I wished I had more time to see. But I get it. Slow down and experience the place, the images will follow.

This is a photography workshop for people that want to improve their photography. Not by being told how to technically take better pictures, but by learning how to take more meaningful pictures. You should already know how to use your camera before coming on this trip. There were varying levels of technical comfort with our cameras, but learning about what f-stop to use when isn’t really the focus of this trip. I am sure that some people asked more technical questions, and that David and Jeffery would have been happy to sit and explain some of these things, but there are no sit down classroom sessions on using your camera.

About the closest we got to that was a lightroom session where David covered some of the topics from his book Vision and Voice, which is about applying your vision through post processing to the digital negative.

There was very little “classroom” to this workshop. Most of the time we got together as a group was to eat, or for image critique. This was not a “hey, cool photo” have a pat on the back session. This was about becoming better photographers, and learning to look at images critically. What is the light like? Is it hard or soft? What does that do for this image? Would a different position of the subject change how the light falls on them, and hence the emotional feel of the photograph? What lines are there? How do they lead our eyes? Would a moving of the camera position change how powerful the lines draw us in? What does color do for this image? What would it look like in black and white? There were no perfect images shown. Some images did a better job than others of telling a story, but every image provided a starting point to discussion about what worked and what didn’t and why.

The real learning was in the shooting. By ourselves, with our cameras. Some choose to shoot in small groups of 2 or 3, but most of the time we went out by ourselves. David or Jeffery were not standing there saying, “shoot that”, or “do this” with your camera. I am not saying they were not available, because several people asked them to go walk with them, and they were happy to do so. A few times I came across them while out, saw them shooting and asked them about their process, but for the most part I was on my own.

What I was trying to do while out on my own, was to be mindful of the image critiques we had just done, and what I needed to add or remove from my own images to make them better. Sometimes I went looking for lines, negative space, color contrasts, etc that had worked well for some images in the critiques. Some of the participants naturally gravitated to certain types of images, and I found that I would try to look for an “Elly” or a “Jay” image, when that wasn’t something I would normally do. I would push myself to take images I wouldn’t normally. I would push myself to look for opportunities I normally wouldn’t take. I would push myself to interact and communicate with local Nepalies instead of just a click and run. I would push myself to be mindful of the force my vision, and if my image was telling a story that made sense.

Again, that work I did, was all by myself, with my camera. Not in a classroom, not with someone looking over my shoulder. I know that at times some thought that there wasn’t enough instruction going on. For me it was just fine. Don’t get me wrong, David and Jeffery were always there, always around, and always willing to answer questions. Interestingly, when I showed up I fully intended to pair up with them and not leave their hip pocket until I had it all figured out. It’s not how it ended up happening, and I think the struggle to make images that I took on by myself on the back roads of Bhaktapur made me a better photographer.

You can call it Murphy’s law if you like. It seemed like several of the people on the trip had multiple cameras. I had one D90. It died. A mysterious partial death actually. It wouldn’t shoot at anything other than wide open. I had to shoot at f/1.8 on my 50mm, f/2.8 on my 70-200, and f/3.5 at 10mm on my 10-24mm wide angle lens. Weird. I shot for a few days like that while I tried to figure out the issue and how to get a replacement. I lucked out and found a store in a more tourist part of Kathmandu that had a European version of the D90 (only differs by power plug and lack of warrentee) that I ended up buying. I only bring this up to say that you need to be prepared yourself. David was more than willing to help me out with his contacts in the US, and another participant offered me his backup camera, but this is not a Nikon or Cannon sponsored event. There is no case of gear that you can loan out, or save your butt in a pinch. Last time I travel with only one camera body.

How about things like accommodations and food? Remember, this is Nepal. Rooms are smallish, plugs might not work, power can go out, hot water can disappear, but you probably won’t care. It’s all part of the trip, and really not that much under the control of the WTF staff. It’s all a part of traveling, the adventure, the experience, and the treasure trove of stories you will accumulate. Have you ever lost power while you were in the shower? Have you ever gone for a bus ride with a goat? Have you ever had a huge important cultural festival happen outside your hotel window? With half the hotel on your balcony? Have you experienced some of the nicest kindest people on the planet. Have you sat and had a conversation with a Tibetan monk? Have you ever eaten Buff Momo’s? I tried to eat localish food quite a bit, and enjoyed most of it, but you be wiser to pick WTF Italy if you are overly concerned about food. On the other hand, mango lasi rocks, and a tomato basil pizza I had in Kathmandu was really good. So chil out, have a local beer cup of chi, and enjoy that you are actually in Nepal.

If you want to hit and shoot as many places in Nepal as you can, this is not the trip for you. If you want to have the time to experience the place, and absorb the culture and people while taking photographs, then this is a workshop for you.

If you want someone to hold your hand and show you where to stand, what height to put your tripod, and when to press the shutter, you may be disappointed by this workshop. If you want help to understand what goes into a powerful photograph, and be given the oportunity to try to make those images yourself, then this is a workshop for you.

In any workshop, you get out what you put into it. I think that really applies to this workshop. To get the most out of this workshop, to improve your photography in a short period of time, then you really need to put in effort.  I have been to other workshops where if you get up early, get in the cars, find the location, set up your tripod with the other 25-30 people, it is hard to get a bad shot. You won’t get a great or unique shot, but artistically, it is easy to coast. Without making the effort in the Kathmandu WTF, you won’t come home with pictures you are happy with. But if you come on this trip with the desire to improve your photography, give David and Jeffery the benefit of the doubt, put in some honest critique of your work, you can’t pick a better trip.

I am very happy I went on this trip. David and Jeffery recognize that you are spending real money and want to make it a great trip for you. It is not a cheap endeavor, but considering the small participant count, and the access to the instructors, it is a great value. If you read this and think “exactly, I would love this type of opportunity to work on my photography,” then I bet you would have a great trip too.

My new studio: uClick Studios

I have been looking for some studio space for a while now. I have had some projects that I wanted to shoot on white seamless, and my living room wasn’t going to cut it. I first looked around my neighborhood, because I wanted something that was in walking/biking distance. That wasn’t working out well. The places I found were small, and yet still seemed expensive.

I looked at possibly getting space with someone else in an established studio building in north east Minneapolis, but the distance to get there, combined with the price, I just wasn’t sold.

Then I came upon uClick Studios. Unfortunately, this is not close to my house either, but it is close to my current consulting job in Chanhassan, and allows me to rent by the hour instead of by the month.

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The studio is run by Tracy Rust, and is just getting going, but she has great enthusiasm, and a ton of great ideas. The studio is available by the hour. I have used it a week ago to do some yoga pictures, and have it again this next week.

The picture above was taken at uClick, and the setup I used in the studio is the picture at the top of the post. I was using white seamless, but she also has several other backgrounds available. There are two shooting bays, and one has windows for using natural light. They will soon have a covering system if you don’t want that light. The space is not huge, but is quite workable for a two light setup with a small number of subjects.

The lighting is being finalized, and there should be a studio light available for the background as well now, or in the near future. The studio provides the lighting and radio trigger that you place on your camera. No need to bring anything other than your camera if you so choose.

Tracy is also working on getting different props and chairs and seasonal props for the studio. These are all things that are difficult to keep and store on your own, so they will be welcomed.

If you are interested in renting space at a great rate, contact Tracy at uClick and check out this new photography studio for rent.

What is your Primary Lens for Shooting Landscapes?

I got an email the other day asking about lenses I use for landscape photos. I appreciate that someone thought my opinion would be valuable, so I started to send a response, but then thought I might as well respond via a new post. Here is the actual question so we are all on the same page:

I noticed you posted your equipment list on your website and I’m hoping you can provide me with a little advice.  I recently purchased my fist DSLR (Canon Rebel Xsi) and use it primarily to photograph my 2-year old son.  The only lense I have is the kit lense that came with the camera (which is a Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6).

You take great photos and I really like the landscape photos in your Portfolio (http://www.cyberward.net/photography/).  We spend a lot of time outdoors so, if you don’t mind, what is your primary lense for shooting landscapes?  I’m looking for big, bright colors and crisp, clean images.

First of all, thanks Thomas for the compliment, and congrats on getting a Digital Rebel, so lets take a look at the two questions.

Now this may surprise you, but the bright colors and crisp, clean images can come from your camera. You don’t need another lens for that. The lens has very little to do with color. That has to do with the way your camera is set to convert the image to JPEG. I don’t have a Canon camera, but I am certain that there are picture settings of some sort like portrait, landscape, normal, vivid, etc. I am not talking about the ones on the top dials that modify the shutter and aperture, but settings that control how much color, contrast, and sharpening the camera does. I usually have mine set on vivid or landscape. Play around. Take one picture at each setting and see what you like.

If you don’t have the “Digital Photography Book” (vol 1, II, III) by Scott Kelby, you may want to check them out. Also see my books section.

The second part to this is post processing. Get to know iPhoto, Picasa, Lightroom, Photoshop (Elements), or what ever image editor you have access to. Play with your images. I usually bring up the blacks, maybe a little saturation or vibrancy, something that adds some contrast like clarity or definition, and probably some sharpening. I don’t go overboard, but a little can go a long way.

Again, check out my book section if you want some suggestions on books for image editing.

Ok, you mentioned sharpness. That’s a tough one, because there are so many variables. Your camera technique, your post production, the aperture you pick, and the lens all make a difference. There is more to it than just the lens. Each lens has an aperture sweet spot, and more expensive lenses have larger ones, but I don’t worry about it much. I pick the aperture I want, and let the pixel peepers worry which settings are the sharpest.

I shoot most of my landscapes and my kids with a 17-55 Nikkor. I moved up to it after owning a Tamron of similar focal length, and you can read about that here. Going to this lens over the kit lens gives me the ability to use larger apertures (f/2.8) and focus faster, which is important for kids, not so much for landscapes. I also use my 70-200mm VR Nikkor. I don’t have a wide angle lens, but it is likely the next on my list of things I would like to get. I have used some before, such as the 14-24 f/2.8 Nikkor on a D700 (wow!) and the 12-24 f/4 Nikkor on my D90. I really liked using them, but they take a different style of shooting to get good pictures from them.

I also wrote about the first gear, first lenses, and the first books you might buy in my first posts of this year.

Now, the gear that I wrote about here is Nikon, but Canon, Tamron, Sigma, Sony, etc. all have very similar products. What I suggest is that you rent a lens. We have a great store, West Photo in Minneapolis that rents lenses for a reasonable price.

I hope that answered your question. Fell free to leave comments if you have more questions.

Aperture 3 vs Lightroom 3 Beta 2

My first photography “library” program was Aperture 1.5. I bought it right about the time I got my first DSLR, the Nikon D40. I wanted to shoot raw, and needed something to process the images. I wanted to be able to file, sort and tag my images. I set out to evaluate Lightroom and Aperture. My results were here.

Aperture was working will for me, but then I got a little more demanding in my image processing, and that’s were I ran into trouble. Now, I am sure there are others that were incredibly happy with the editing tools in Aperture 2, but I wasn’t. I started to process the images that I most cared about by opening them in Photoshop. Then I decided I wanted to use Camera Raw, and needed to go find the actual NEF file first to open it in Adobe Camera Raw before opening them in Photoshop. I didn’t often need to use Photoshop layers and such, but I did every once in a while. Mostly I just like using Camera Raw.

That’s when I discovered that Camera Raw was the engine behind Lightroom. It was a library and UI with Camera Raw doing the image manipulation. Hmmmm…. So I did a trial of Lightroom, and then bought a copy of Lightroom 2. I was still using Aperture 2 for some things like Books, which Lightroom doesn’t have an answer for.

Now, I was fairly happy with Lightroom 2, but when Apple announced Aperture 3, I was thinking I might be headed back. The upgrade price wasn’t too much, so I went for it. I should have just done a trial. I had issues with it right from the start, but maybe you won’t. I will try to compare the two programs, only bringing up my issues with Aperture 3 at the end.

So, here I will try to compare what I like and don’t like about Aperture 3 and Lightroom Beta 3. For this comparison, I use past experience, and two events that I did where I processed a wedding on Aperture 3, and another party on Lightroom 3 beta.

1) To start with, I still like the library organization of Aperture better. I like folders. I like being able to group projects, books, slide shows and whatever else into a folder. It keeps things together. I had got used to the collection method of Lightroom, and how separate it keeps these virtual folders from the actual image location. For a while I thought it seemed fine, but when I went back to try Aperture 3, I realized I missed it.

2) In the beginning I was put off by the Modules in Lightroom. I felt that it was a bit restrictive. In reality, it was just fine. I got used to it quickly. Now in Lightroom 3 Beta, you have more access to your images in the Develop module (collections), so that area is improving as well. The floating Inspector in full screen mode in Aperture is pretty nice though. Full screen mode in Lightroom is a great feature, but I wish it had a floating window like Aperture. Yes you can remove all the other side bars, but it’s not the same.

3) I still like the Develop Module of Lightroom better than Adjustments in Aperture. Aperture 3 is much improved. Some of the deficiencies in V2 to Lightroom was the gradient tool, brushes, and presets. Aperture 3 added the brushes and presets which was welcomed. I still feel that I can adjust an image to better results with brightness, clarity and a touch of vibrance than I can in Aperture with exposure, definition, and a touch of vibrancy.

4) Brushes are a great Aperture 3 addition, however I find it much easier to add and adjust presets in Lightroom. I like the ability in Lightroom to adjust the brushes. I have presets, but I can tweak them as I would like. I have not figured that out in Aperture yet. I also just like how Adobe has laid out out the menu system for applying presets and brushes better. To me, the masking in Lightroom seems better than in Aperture. It might be subjective, because I wasn’t using the same images, but it just seemed to work better in Lightroom on the images I used it with. Also, I use the graduated filter on sky’s all the time. This is something that Aperture should implement.

5) I like the ability to move the linear points on the histogram in Aperture. I would often pull in the endpoints on an image that maybe didn’t get shot with quite enough light range.  I missed this in Lightroom, but after figuring out how to use the tonal curve, it is probably a wash, but moving endpoints in a little bit in Aperture is really easy. On the other hand, I am starting to use the ability in the Tone Curve and some of the other blocks to adjust while moving the mouse on the image. That way you select the tones you want to adjust, and Lightroom moves the tone curve. That is pretty cool. That was there in Lightroom 2.

6) Books. Aperture has, Lightroom doesn’t. Some people don’t care, but I like the layout engine in Aperture. I wish it had a few more features, and made it easier to export to my own book printer, but that may come. There is now the ability to for plug-ins to work with it. It would be nice to be able to create custom templates that you can save off, but there are only really hacks for this that involve saving copy’s of existing books, and swapping out pictures. I do use the book feature, and if I am sticking with Lightroom, will still keep Aperture around for this function.

7) Printing. Lightroom has been much better than Aperture in this regard. The print module in Lightroom 2 is great, and is a little improved in Lightroom 3 beta. I don’t print much from my own machines, but I have used it to create print layouts and print packages that I have exported to jpegs that I have had printed elsewhere. You have great control over layout with Lightroom. There are a few tricks to getting it to work. I was glad that I had purchased Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for Photographers by Scott Kelby.  Aperture 2 has very basic printing ability. You couldn’t print different images on the same page. Aperture 3 has improved the printing ability, but I still don’t think it can match Lightroom. If you print a lot of your own images, you should probably look into this a bit more.

8 ) Slide shows. Lightroom 3 beta added the ability to match the time of the slide show to the length of the song. It will automatically adjust the length of each slide to match the song. this is very cool. Aperture 3 has a feature that allows you to press a button in real time to adjust the length of time the image is displayed. This sounds better than it works in real life for me. Maybe I just need more practice. On the other hand, the control you now have over the Ken Burns theme is amazing. You drag rectangles (like cropping rectangles) on the screen to specify the start and end sizing for each individual image (if you want) to get great control on how the image moves and expands. This works really well. This extra control is definitely a plus over the slide shows that Lightroom supports.

9) Web Galleries. I can’t say much about this. I keep thinking that I will use these features, but I don’t. I end up exporting my images and using custom javascript or using gallery software like Zenphoto. I end up exporting my images and FTP’ing the images myself. I have played with the built in galleries a bit, and some of the galleries that Lightroom has look pretty nifty. Neither seemed to have the perfect gallery for me. I looked at the effort it would take to create a custom gallery, and it looks like some are available for Lightroom  and that it would be the easier of the two to actually create a custom one.

10) Because I don’t use the web galleries, I need to get my images somewhere. To do that, you need to export them. There were several places I would put images, including Flickr, Facebook, and websites. With Aperture 2, I would export images separately, then use the Flickr uploader. With Lightroom 2, I found a Flickr plugin that I could use to upload the images directly. One of the issues though, is trying to keep track of images that you had already uploaded. I tried to add a flickr keyword to my images, but often I would forget. Aperture 3 and Lightroom 3 beta have improved upon this situation. They now let you create a linked folder/collection to these services. This allows you to see what has been uploaded, revise flickr images (with pro account), and sync new images. Unfortunately both programs give you very little control or options. I would like to be able to specify a set, for example when uploading to Flickr. Another issue that I had was with watermarking. I would on export use a plugin to put my name and a border on my images. Lightroom 3 has improved it’s exporting function so that you can apply watermarks whenever you export now. That is welcome.

11) Faces and Places. Aperture wins her. I don’t know how many professional photographers will want to use Faces. I find it a nifty tech, but haven’t committed to it. Probably because I haven’t committed to Aperture. I apply tags to photos of family members names right now. For my other work, I don’t tag them with names. I think it would be a better way for dealing with family photos though. The GPS integration is another story. I have yet to get a GPS device because it seemed like such a hassle to deal with the GPS data. Lightroom does have a couple of plug-ins, but I haven’t tried them. Aperture is the first with a out of the box solution. I imported some iPhone pictures, and also tagged some of my other pictures on a map. I thought it worked well. I like the map view. I think this is a great step. I would definitely think about getting a GPS unit if I am using Aperture long term.

12) Video is slowly starting to become more a part of a DSLR shooters workflow. I was quite excited to see that Apple has started to address this. It works pretty well. Aperture imports the clips with your other photos, and applies your metadata. While viewing your images, you are able to view video clips, and can even adjust the start and end points. What would be fabulous is if you could adjust the clips. Right now no editing is possible. Lightroom Beta 2 has a first glimpse at dealing with video. Before this second beta, Lightroom would tell me that it had files it couldn’t import. Then I had to go move them to another location my self. I have forgotten to do that more than once, before formatting the card. Lightroom’s version doesn’t allow you to view the files or trim them. They will open in a default player however. Better than nothing. I have seen a demo of how CS4 Extended will allow you to take an adjustment layer an apply that to all frames in the video, even as the objects move through the frame. That would be super cool to see in a future Lightroom version.

Ok, so where am I at? First of all, Aperture is almost unusable for me. It is very frustrating. I get distorted images, where they turn green, or pixelated, or have a big X across them. This started when I was using Aperture 2, and from what I have heard on the web, was probably about the time I upgraded to Leopard. I still  have issues with V3. I haven’t used it as much lately because of it, but it seems like the issue is becoming less frequent.

Second, Aperture 3 is slower than Lightroom 3 beta. Especially on images that have used the new brushes. I have a 3gig 2.2 iMac. It’s almost a couple of years old. I am careful to close all that I can when I am running Aperture or Lightroom, but the issue is most obvious on Aperture. The computer becomes unresponsive. It appears to be processing something, but there is no message, and no ability to interact with the program.

I still feel more comfortable with, and feel like I can get better results using the develop module from Lightroom, and it’s brushes than I can with Apertures adjustment panel and it’s brushes.

To me, Aperture wins some of the “extra” categories like Faces, Places, Books, and handling of video. There are also some parts of the library functions I like better with Aperture, such as the combining of items into folders. I am getting used to how to use Collections in Lightroom however, and I am liking the key wording area too. One little nicety of Lightroom is the little arrows to the right of items in the library. These arrows usually bring up some extra information. The ones I like the best are the ones dealing with files and the file system. When in a collection, if I want to see the Lightroom folder where this image came from (if I am looking for other similar ones) there is a button next to “folder” that will take you right there.

So right now, I fell like I want to use Aperture, but will be sticking with Lightroom, and upgrading to v3 when it comes out. I will be keeping Aperture around for using the books feature. You may have different conclusions, but those are mine.

If you have a Mac, I recommend giving each a solid couple of weeks of a free trial with real images, and see how things go. You get to make your own decision.

Visual Poetry by Chris Orwig Book Review

Clint Eastwood, Yvon Chouinard, J.R.Tolkien, Hemmingway, Picasso, Steinbeck, Henri Cartier-Bresson and many more people than I can recall.

What do these people have in common? They were all quoted in Chris Orwig’s book Visual Poetry. (amazon) In fact, when I fist started reading this book, I was amazed at all the great quotes that came up in the first couple of chapters. For example: “You can do brickwork as a laborer or as an artisan.” Anne Lamott, and “All children are artists. The problem is to remain one when you grow up.” Picasso.

So, I started to write them down (as you can tell). I wrote down more than a dozen as I started combing the pages looking for quotes. Then I realized that I wasn’t paying attention to what he was saying, but was just collecting quotes. Ok, lets leave that for another pass then.

I then really tried to absorb what was being taught in this book. I don’t know if it was because I was reading before I went to bed late at night, or between calls of “Daddy, daddy, daddy, look at me!”, but I had a hard time.

The book was starting to feel “over my head”, which I found really frustrating. I know tons about my camera and how to use it. I know rules of composition and what f-stop and lens to use when, but what Chris was saying was just not getting absorbed. It was starting to get hard to read. Many people loved this book, so I couldn’t give up on it. I had to finish it.

Three quarters of the way through, something connected when he started to talk about shooting portraits, then kids, then weddings. Maybe this was because of what I am shooting right now. I looked back through the previous chapters, and they didn’t seem all that different, so what had clicked? Was I starting to get it? Not quite yet.

What was getting to me at the beginning, was that Chris is a poet. He writes beautifully, takes great pictures, and I sometimes get lost in his words. I have trouble identifying with the artist in me, where he considers himself an artist who happens to use a camera to express his creativity.

Creativity is a scary word to me. I can understand technical things. I know what every button and dial on my camera does. I even read the camera manual. I can skim those things and absorb the material, but art, creativity and vision are works in progress.

I am starting to understand vision, thanks to David duChemin (book reference). At least partly. I am starting to get a handle on what I want a picture to look like before I take it. But then again, it is a lot of the technical aspects that I see in my head.

This idea of creativity flowing through me, generating ideas, and generating art. Bah. That isn’t me. Maybe this book just wasn’t for me. Maybe it is just one of those things that I put up on the shelf and move on. Maybe I’ll eBay it when I am finished. But I had to finish.

I had just finished the Found Objects chapter toward the end of the book, and was flipping back through the book. I was looking for something that I can’t remember now. I saw a section at the back of a chapter with exercises to do, and a flickr group to post to. Then I saw it for another chapter. Guess I skipped those. I looked at some of the suggestions, or assignments. Man, some of those are tough. 10 of them? “Good grief, how would I do that?”

Bam! It hit me like a Nikor 200-400mm lens dropped by Joe McNally from an airplane above me (not that he would do that). This book was a textbook on generating or finding my creativity. How did I miss that? I was being lazy! I was skipping over the most important part of each chapter. As I looked over the exercises that were suggested, I was getting even more ideas, and getting frightened/excited about how I would accomplish some of them.

I have now finished the book, but I haven’t really started. I am not sure what I was looking for when I started this book. Did I want to know how to “see” poetry? If I did, I wasn’t ready to see how much work it would take to get to the next level.

I started to then realize how the book/chapters were structured. There is much more here than use this f-stop and lens. That is not the reason to read this book. Each chapter talks about new ways of seeing. The photographer profiles are about people who see different, who see creatively. The exercises at the back are about learning to see differently. Learning how to see children, flowers, and even road signs, is what this book can teach you.

Some poeple are born with more talents than others. Some people have to put in more effort to get intouch with some aspects of our inner selves, such as our creativity. This is me, but for the first time I think I have found a textbook to get me going in the right direction. This is not a required course. I don’t have credits or loans sitting behind me to prod me to complete the course work. I just have a goal of creating more creative images that connect with the person viewing them.

Who’s with me. Care to go to creative school?

Visionmongers Book Review

visionmongers book coverThe title: Visionmongers, Making a Life and a Living in Photography is a perfect title. It was written by David duChemin who writes the pixelatedimage blog. He also wrote the book “Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision“. (See also this “interview” I did with him after reading Within the Frame.)

This book is a blend of the two. David is very clear in this book that if what you want is to make a living in photography, he wants to help you find out how to make a life in photography. There is a difference. You need to find a way to do something that you enjoy, find a balance between work and family, and find a way to feed your family.

If you are thinking of leaving “your day job”, or have recently jumped ship, or are starting to make some money from photography, this book is for you. In fact, if you are a working photographer, and feeling frustrated, this is also probably a good read for you.

So how does David DuChemin tell you how to make a life in photography in Visionmongers? He scares the shit out you. Seriously. I put the book down several times to go shoot instead of read. I kept thinking “Am I really good enough?” (Which is something that he addresses.) I think this was somewhat his intention. David follows a thin line (successfully I think) where he tries to make sure you understand just what you would be getting into. This is not an easy road. This is not a glamorous job. This is not a two hours a day job. This is hard work. Damn, I gave away the killer secret in the book already. Oh well.

David doesn’t want to scare you out of the life of a photographer. He is not afraid of anyone taking his job. He has made is own job. That’s a big theme in this book: making your own job. He just wants to make sure you really want to do this.

So after getting shocked a couple of times, and trying to take a real look at who you are, what your photography is like, and where you want to go, if you are still reading, David is back to all smiles. Back to giving honest, practical information, and concrete ideas about how you can get going as a full time paid photographer. (Ok, the whole book is refreshingly honest, but the second part isn’t as scary 🙂

There is a ton of information in here that while very relevant to photographers, isn’t really about photography:

  • Understanding what you are good at, and what your market wants
  • Learning how to serve your customers and exceed expectations
  • Basic marketing (logo, business cards, website)
  • Importance of contracts and insurance
  • Understanding finances (assets, liabilities, debt, pricing)

You aren’t going to be reading this book to learn what you should be shooting. Look to “Within the Frame” for that. You are reading this book because you want to know exactly how to make the transition from amateur to professional. You get the answer. You get the answer from several people in fact: Chase Jarvis, Gavin Gough, Zack Arias, and some others. David and the others all say the same thing:

  • Be good at what you do (taking pictures with vision)
  • Find a market to serve (while doing what you love)
  • Work really really hard

No silver¬† bullets here, but there is sound information you can apply in your own journey. As someone who wants to make the transition, I think this book succeeds in preparing one for the journey ahead, and in providing some great “1st step” marketing business advice. David mentions some other books in this one as follow ups for some of the business and marketing ideas that he has presented too. Who knows they might end up getting reviewed here.

Anyway, if you fit the criteria I mentioned at the top, of a photographer that wants to transition to paid work, part or full time, or a beginning photographer that wants some more business advice, then this is a must read.

Can an Andrew Bird concert teach us about Photography?

I had the opportunity to attend an Andrew Bird concert last weekend. It was held at St.Marks Cathedral. That’s a fabulous venue for this kind of concert. It just wasn’t particularly my favorite kind of music. Now, don’t get me wrong, this guy is incredibly talented, and the church was full of people that completely loved him. I did like some of his music. But not all.

So, while I was listening, I found my self watching the lighting. I watched how they changed the colors, and went from dim lighting with hard focused spots, to lots of warm glowing amber light, depending on the mood he was trying to convey. I started to wonder if I did the same thing when I lit people. Do I do enough to light someone purposefully to convey a mood to the scene?

Andrew is all about layers. Lots of layers. He uses more audio layers than I have ever used photoshop layers. He starts off by playing a fairly short piece into a looped recorder. This loop replays it’s self, all the while recording the next layer. They keep stacking and stacking. His main instrument is a violin. I have never heard so many different sounds out of one instrument. It was fascinating. Picking, strumming, fingering, hitting with the bow, and of course, playing with the bow as you would expect. He is technically amazing.

So, I started to think… how well do I layer? With flashes. I was at a workshop with Joe McNally, and he did exactly the same thing. Started with one speedlight. Then added a softbox. Then added a trigrip. Then added a light bounced into the floor. Then another. How about more volume with another light behind the trigrip. Lastly, add a hair light. Layers. Always in control. Always adding something deliberately one at a time. Do you do that? Can you build an image one layer at a time?

One of the things that I had a hard time appreciating was toward the end of his songs. At some points, he lost me. Too many layers. They diluted the message. No longer were there discrete layers. Each new layer was no longer complementing the next, but starting to muddy the whole thing. So what would Joe do? Tear it all down and start over. It was one of the things that he talked about. When you get to the point where things are out of control, and you start throwing speedlights around because it doesn’t yet feel right, and more must be better…. just start over. Tear down, turn off, and start again.

I was amazed at how similar this artist was with a photographer. I had never thought in those terms before. If you get the chance, give Andrew a listen. You may learn something about photography.