Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

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It is here and it is beautiful…

April 3, 2010

For weeks now, I like many others have waited for April 3rd, 2010.  On this day the UPS man comes down from on high to deliver the latest gadget from Heaven (okay… Cupertino is nice, but maybe not heavenly).  Today Apple delivers the iPad.  Now I’ve been a gadget-guy my entire life.  I love being an early adopter even when it means dealing with version 1.0 “challenges” (I’ve been trained never to say “problems” from my consulting peers) just so I’m able to have the latest and greatest from the gadget world.  Well, today is no different.  An hour or so ago I received my first, of many (more later), iPad.

My iPad

The iPad is an fascinating device and I’m interested to see how the technology world at large will accept this device.  At an entry point of $499, it’s not a no-brainer decision for most.  Of course it depends on your need.  As a photographer, I see this as a must have piece of technology.  Why?  I get to show my work on a beautiful, portable device, to anyone that wants to look.  Remember, everyone we meet is a potential client.  When I’m sitting in a Starbucks with the iPad drinking a Grande Latte waiting for my son’s preschool to let out and someone asks me about the device, I’m going to show them my photography.  When reading a book on the train to visit a client in Philadelphia and someone asks to see the device, I’m going to show them my photography.  In fact, whenever I have the iPad with me and I have the opportunity to show it to someone, I’m going to show them my photography.  I know this works as I’ve been doing it with my iPhone for years.  In Aperture (or iPhoto) I can rate my images.  My portfolio pieces are the only images that get a five star rating.  When I sync my iPhone (now iPad) to my computer, it syncs all my five star images.  I now have an album of all my portfolio pieces.  I can’t tell you how handy this is while teaching a class or meeting a perspective client.  I know that it has intrigued people enough that I’ve gotten new business from it.  Now, I have a screen that blows the iPhone’s screen away (in size anyway).  I’m really excited to start showing the iPad (i.e. my photography) off to anyone that asks.

Sure, there are a number of other reason this device will change my work-life.  I do a great deal of technology consulting and this device is a fantastic way to keep in touch with email, log on to client computers remotely, browse the web, etc.  For my photography business, this will be a part of my higher end wedding package.  I’m going to include a custom engraved (assuming Apple starts doing this) iPad with some of my wedding packages loaded with all of the proofs and final images selected by the bride and groom.  Talk about a high-tech wedding album!  There are some other things I’m working on too, but you’ll have to wait for that.

Well, back to my iPad.  I haven’t had much time to play with many of the features yet so it’s going to be a fun day.  Let me know your thoughts about the iPad or any other technology that is making a difference in your photography in the comments section.

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Catching up…

May 15, 2009

Well, a month between posts is not what I had in mind for this blog, but it’s been a pretty busy month.  I’ve done a few commercial jobs, shot a wedding with a friend and moved into a new house.  I’d say it has been busy!

Settling in to the new place has been exciting.  We’ve moved to Skippack, PA, a nice little artsy town with many small shops and restaurants.  Skippack also has the propensity to draw large crowds to stroll its streets during the many festivals it hosts throughout the year.  Surprisingly, there’s only one photographer in town with a shop on the main walk.  Perhaps the town could stand another… 🙂

The more weddings I shoot the more I like them.  Sure, it’s really hard work, but there’s something about the atmosphere – nervous energy and excitement.  I have another one or two this month (waiting for confirmation on the second) and I’m looking forward to them.  I’m very much a people person and if you get a fun group for the wedding, the day is a real joy.

[EDIT: Wow, did I post the wrong picture!  Not sure what happened, but the image I posted did NOT look like I expected – completely my fault!  I’m replacing with two of my favorites from that day.]

First Dance

Daddy's little girl...

I’ve done a significant amount of printing over the last month both in house and outsourced.  I’m still extremely impressed with the color and quality my Epson 3800 provides.  It’s just a dream printer for the type of printing I’m doing.  The problem came in when I needed to print multiple size prints.  I use QImage to print.  This software arranges multiple size images on paper in a way that optimally uses the print media.  The prints look great, but my paper cutter destroyed the prints.  Ughhhh.  After a little research I found that the best paper cutters are made by Rotatrim and they’re not cheap! 🙂  Now what?

With a bad paper cutter and a short delivery time on the prints, I went to a new online friend – White House Custom Color.  WHCC prints everything from proofs to books to posters all at reasonable prices and with fantastic results.  After a quick couple of test prints (they deliver second day mail!) I was able to reprint my entire order, package in a beautiful box and receive in just two days.  I was really impressed and, best of all, so was my client.  From now on, WHCC gets my printing business.  I still love my 3800, but for multiple size orders this is going to save a lot of time and money.

On a technical note, I recently converted my Mac Book Pro to dual boot with Windows 7.  “Dual booting” allows me to choose which operating system my Mac Book uses upon start up – Mac OS X or Windows 7.  For those of you that aren’t familiar, Windows 7 is the next version of the Microsoft Windows operating system after Vista.  Microsoft has provided a pre-release copy on their website for free download.  You’re able to use this “release candidate” until July 2010.  Be warned!!! After the expiration of the release candidate you need to reinstall Windows 7.  There is no upgrade from this to the released version.

Suffice it to say, I’m LOVING the dual boot option.  While I’ve totally mostly converted to OS X, there are still some tasks with which I need Windows.  While my experience with VMWare Fusion for running Windows virtually has been nothing but positive, sometimes you need all the horsepower a real machine provides.  I’m really exited that my Mac hardware supports Windows 7 extremely well.  If you find yourself a Mac user with a need to run Windows from time-to-time I really like the Boot Camp option for a true Windows environment.

Lastly, I’m working on better defining my communication.  Currently, I have one Facebook and Twitter profile.  I’m going to divide this into a person profile and a photography profile.  I’ll provide more information via Twitter and my Facebook fan page as soon as the changes are complete…

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An HDR and Silver Efex Pro weekend…

March 23, 2009

What a fun weekend!  Late Friday, I got word that two photo-friends, Eric Lawton and Bob Lott, were heading to Longwood Gardens Saturday morning.  I met these two fantastic photographers on my first trip to the Tetons and Yellowstone with the Nikonians Photo-Adventure Trip.  If was fantastic to catch up, meet Eric’s family and hear about Bob’s latest adventures, especially his work with high dynamic range (HDR) photography.

HDR photography is a somewhat new and certainly interesting form of photography.  The concept is to increase the total range of light that an image contains through the use of multiple images at different exposures.  Huh?  Okay, it’s not as complicated as I just made it sound.

Let me present an oversimplified example.  Let’s begin by stating your camera’s sensor can capture 100 levels of light at a certain exposure (yeah, I know you spent a lot of money on your camera, but for this example, it’s only capturing 100 levels of light.  It’s only an example!).  For many images this range is fine because there are only 100 or less light-levels in the image and you’ll capture them all.  (Okay, this is waaay oversimplified, but bear with me).  Some high-contrast subjects, however, have many more levels of light than the 100 your camera is able to record – let’s say 500 levels of light.  So what do you do?  You decide on an exposure of 1/125th of a second, f8 and ISO 200.  Let’s assign this exposure the value of 250.  This means your camera has recorded everything from light-level 200 – 300 or half the light below the exposure and half above.  Anything over 300 is lost in blown highlights and anything below 200 is pure black.

So how do you fix this?  Simple!  Take five photographs each at different exposures.  The first records the 200 – 300 range, the second from 100 – 200 the third from 300 – 400, the fourth from 0 – 100 and the fifth and final from 400 – 500.  The beauty of this is most cameras will do this bracketing automatically (read your manual under bracketing)!  Last, you combine the images and create your final image.

Here’s an example from Saturday.  Walking in to the main conservatory of Longwood Gardens is a stunning, glass-roofed building with an ever-changing display of plants and flowers.  Photographically, the problem is the amount of light from the glass ceiling and the darker areas towards the bottom of the room.  Here’s an example of a “normal” shot of the room.  In it, I selected 1/80 sec, ISO 200 and f11.

Conservatory

As you can see the ceiling is washed out due to the amount of light and there are numerous dark areas towards the bottom of the room.  To combat, I used a nine image series of images each with a difference of 1 stop.  In the end I had four “overexposed” images, four “underexposed” images and one “properly” exposed image.  I fed those into HDRSoft’s Photomatix software and it blends these together to give you the following HDR image:

Conservatory HDR

HDR photography can also bring out enhanced detail in an image.  Take these two images.  The first is “normally” exposed while the second is an HDR using five exposures of 1 stop difference each.

Normal exposure

HDR version

The difference is subtle, but the HDR shows more detail especially in the darker areas of the image.

I hope that gives you some insight into this interesting area of photography.  Give it a shot.  It’s interesting stuff.

Here are a few other non-HDR shots from Saturday that I really liked:

longwoodgardens0018

longwoodgardens0021

longwoodgardens0088

Sunday, Jen and I decided to take a trip to the Philadelphia Zoo.  Without children it was a great time to focus on taking some pictures.  When I got back to process some images, I decided to make a few black and white images.

At the last camera club meeting, I was asked if I would give a presentation on B&W post-processing.  “Sure”, I replied, “It’s two minutes in Silver Efex Pro!”  That’s all I know!

Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro is an award winning and highly recommended B&W conversion software.  Seriously, it’s all I use and I just use the default settings.  I’m using it from inside Aperture.  For me, I right-click my image, select Edit With and Silver Efex Pro and after it starts take the default settings with the click of the Save button.  I’m done!

Here’s a couple from today’s zoo shoot:

Diamond Back

Queen of the Jungle

If you’re looking for some additional software, I’d highly commend the Nik Software Complete set.  It imcludes Silver Efex Pro along with the other Nik Software tools – Color Efex Pro, Dfine, Sharpen and Viveza.  I’ll post more about these cools packages in a later entry.

I hope you enjoyed this entry.  Check back often…

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Your mobile portfolio…

March 3, 2009

Okay, I have to admit that the last few trip-posts had me struggling to finish.  While I know some folks enjoy hearing about my travels, I view the last few posts as sitting with your parents as they break out the photo albums – really boring! 🙂  I wanted to make this blog informative and not a bunch of loosely fitting images.  So, I’m getting back to what I originally intended – providing information.  Enough said…

One of my favorite gadgets is my iPhone.  For me, it’s a fantastic tool for communications, business and entertainment.  I’m addicted to the iPhone Store where I’m constantly browsing and looking for new and exciting applications and I won’t hesitate to purchase if they’re below $10.00 (many are).  From Facebook to Scrabble and many, many more, I’m an App Store junkie!

One feature of the iPhone that’s helping my business is the ability to show my portfolio.  Let’s face it.  As soon as someone hears you’re a photographer they want to see your photos.  Many times they’ll ask, but if you have to ask, they’re not going to say no.  Out pops my iPhone, I open my images and they’re flipping through the many photos I have stored.  Often, the act of flipping through them is entertaining in and of itself!  Plus, the iPhone’s screen is great for showing photos.  It’s beautiful.

iPhone Galleries

iPhone Photos

iPhone Race

iPhone Flower

If you’re using Aperture or iPhoto, it gets even easier to import your favorites automatically.  With your iPhone connected, select it in iTunes and click the Photos tab.  The first check box allows you to sync photos directly from your Aperture or iPhoto libraries.  In the example below, I only sync with my three star or greater libraries, but you can select Smart Albums and/or individual albums.  It’s up to you.

iTunes

Once I set my iPhone to sync with a Smart Album, everything is automatic.  Whenever I rank a photo three stars or greater during my workflow in Aperture, I know it’s appearing on the iPhone.  At the next sync, the images are copied to the iPhone and you’re ready to impress!

I’m only familiar with the iPhone, but I know many other phones/PDAs can do the same thing.  Check it out.  It’s a fast and convenient way to show your photos!

Coming up!
I have an interesting post coming on a recent pinup workshop.  Besides having two great models to shoot, the instructor, Paul Pruit, led an interesting workshop on lighting.  Stay tuned.  This was a good one!

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Raw vs. JPEG…

January 14, 2009

A good friend of mine sent me a Facebook message asking about the differences between shooting raw files and shooting JPEG.  She just made the jump to digital (it’s about time!) when she received a Nikon D90 for Christmas from her (awesome) husband.  Talk about a great gift!  Most new digital photographers, including those with digital SLRs, start shooting JPEG because it’s easy to use and allows for more shots per memory card.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

JPEG files are one of the many file formats used to represent images on a computer.  The JPEG standard was developed in the early 90s and was made a true “standard” in 1994.  One of the main features of a JPEG file is that it’s compressible and that the compression amount can be determined by the user.  Compression allows JPEGs to take up less space than other file formats.  This is why you’re often asked the quality of the JPEG when you save a file to your computer or in your camera.  Of course, once a JPEG is written at a quality less than 100%, that information is gone and you’re not able to recover.  JPEGs take up less space than other formats depending on the amount of quality/compression  you select.  JPEGs are common across most computer systems, in web browsers, picture frames, etc. and probably the most common image format today.

Raw files, on the other hand, are specific to each camera manufacturer.  Actually, there is at least one company, Adobe, makers of Photoshop and other applications, that created a standard raw file (the DNG file), but this is somewhat beyond the scope of this discussion.  The camera manufacturers create the file format and provide portions or all of the format to the software developers that create the processing software.  Raw files contain the raw data coming straight from the camera sensor (among other tidbits of information).  With raw files, you need more specialized software to read and “develop” these images into a standard format.

So, why would you shoot raw if it uses more space and is more difficult to use after downloading from the camera?  It all depends on the type of shooting you do.  Simply, raw files contain much more data than JPEG files.  Since raw files contain the actual information from the sensor, the images can be developed on the computer using different techniques and different settings.  JPEGs are developed in the camera.  They are created using the settings on the camera.  Settings like white balance, saturation, sharpening, etc. are used when the JPEG is created (developed) in the camera.  While some of the impact the setting has on the image can be adjusted after the file is created, you can never recreate the file from scratch using a JPEG.  The information simply isn’t there.  With a raw file, you can reprocess with different settings until you get the desired image.

Also, raw files contain a significant amount of extra information.  This gets a little more technical, but a JPEG file by definition contains 256 brightness levels.  A typical raw file at 12-bits of data will contain 4,096 brightness levels while a 14-bit raw file (more prevalent in higher-end cameras) will contain 16,384 brightness levels.  There’s a lot more information that can be used to create your image with a raw file.

So, what does that all mean?  Even with the settings “baked in” and “only” 256 levels of brightness, JPEG images can look amazing.  The difference is in the development process.  Here is an example:

You’re shooting a wedding.  It’s a bright sunny day and you’re shooting the bride and groom, along with the wedding party, outside.  These are your “bread-and-butter” shots from the wedding.  Later, when you pull the images from the camera you notice all the outside photos have a yellow cast to them.  It’s then you realize you never changed the white balance after shooting indoors with a flash.  Now, if you’re using JPEG files, you have a long day in front of you as changing the color cast is not a trivial task.  If you have raw files, you simply change the setting for white balance to the correct setting and the image is reprocessed on your computer and the color cast is removed.

There are downsides to shooting raw files.  For the most part, you’re going to need special software to develop a raw file.  So instead of popping out your memory card and sending the files  to Facebook or Flickr like you can with a JPEG, you need to develop the images.  This will take time and computing power.  Some folks simply don’t want to be bothered or don’t have the time.  Imagine shooting the NCF Championship game this weekend between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals.  You’re taking picture after picture of Donovan McNabb scrambling and completing pass after pass to Westbrook, Jackson and Smith (sorry, I couldn’t help myself!).  Your publisher needs images fast.  There’s no time to sit down and process images.  You need to send them off ASAP so they can be ready for publication.

To wrap this up, I shoot raw.  Why?  It fits my work flow.  I know I’m going to spend time and energy making my photos look the best they can be.  I know I’m not going to get everything right in the camera, so I like having the flexibility of shooting raw.  The choice is really up to you.  There is no right or wrong.  I’d suggest, though, that unless you have a specific reason to shoot JPEG (don’t have the software to develop raws, don’t want to spend the time, etc.), shoot raw.  You’ll get a lot more flexibility after you download the images.

Let me know your thoughts!

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The Microsoft Juggernaut…

October 21, 2008

Since moving to a Mac environment, I’ve attempted to do everything on the Macintosh.  From email and web browsing to photo editing and finance I was getting most of my work complete, although was using a Windows virtual machine for Quicken.  Simply, the Mac version of Quicken stinks and, using the VMWare Fusion product, the Windows version of Quicken runs really well.  I still returned to the PC for a number of tasks including filing email, most office documents and scanning documents – basically MS Office tasks and Adobe Acrobat.

I use Acrobat for scanning all my documents to PDF.  While I can complete this on the Mac using the software that came with my scanner/printer/fax, the Acrobat product does it better.  Since I own the Windows version of Acrobat, I scan on my PC and save my documents to the Mac.  I’ll update to the Mac version of Acrobat when I upgrade to CS4 suite.

Being in the “Windows” work environment all of my career, I’ve always used MS Office.  Quite frankly, I really like the product and wasn’t looking to change.  I recently download the latest Open Office 3 product and, while impressed, still didn’t get the results I needed from converting Word and Excel documents.  Plus, I still wasn’t able to file email in the folder structure I’ve used for years.  So a couple of days ago, I broke down and purchased Office 2008 for the Mac.

Arriving today, I quickly installed Mac Office 2008.  Of course, the first app I need is Entourage (Outlook’s Mac Office counterpart).  What’s the first thing I find?  There’s no support for my Outlook PST files.  They all need to be converted to Entourage.  Okay, let’s get started… What?  There’s no built in support for this!  Sigh.  Out to the web I run looking for a solution.  It turns out there’s a company, Little Machines, that sells a program that converts PST to Entourage.  It’s $10 – a great price if it works.  I’m currently moving all my PC files, including my PSTs, to the Mac.  Then I’ll start my conversion.

So I have to ask… Why no Outlook, or Outlook support in Mac Office?  That’s crazy.  It’s the same product (Office for the Mac/Office for Windows) and all other formats are supported.  What happened to Outlook?  Oh well.  I guess it’s another way to keep you on Windows.  I’ll let you know what happens with my conversion.  I’m holding my breath! 🙂

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Mac OS X and VMWare Fusion V2.0…

September 18, 2008

While I want to dedicate this blog to photography and building a photography business, I am a technologist at heart and believe this is applies to the photography crowd.

A couple months ago I decided to buy my first Mac since the late 80s.  Having recently purchased an iPhone 3G, I was interested in writing iPhone applications.  Off to the Apple Store and local retailers I went looking for the cheapest way to re-enter the Mac world. Instead of boring you on the details, I found a demo 20″ iMac at a local store with a 2GHz Core 2 Duo and 250 GB hard disk for $749!  An extra $100 got me to 4 GB of RAM.  I Was a happy camper!

I have to tell you, I really like Microsoft Mojave… I mean, Vista.  It works much better than ANY Windows OS I’ve used. Your mileage may vary, but even the initial versions worked well for me.  I figured, I’d continue to use my Vista laptop as my primary machine, while using the Mac for iPhone development.  Hmmmm… not so much.

The iMac and Mac OS X have converted me back to a “Mac-head” (or whatever Mac folks are called these days.  While I still use my Vista machine on the go (tucking the iMac under my arm didn’t work out) or log in through Remote Desktop to use Internet Explorer on some sites, most everything else is done on the iMac.  It simply works better.

I know, as an engineer “simply works better” is a terrible argument.  Where’s the proof?  Well, the iMac is rebooted only a couple time in the last couple months mainly for OS upgrades.  The Vista machine… lots more.  Plus, I just like looking at the OS X.  I have an external 20″ monitor I share with the iMac and laptop and looking at OS X is really nice.  I know… nothing concrete.  Just look at them.

I’m not advocating you dropping Windows and running for OS X (a brisk walk will do!).  In fact, I’m still doing my photo editing over on Vista, mostly for the portability of the machine.  I’m sure I’ll catch a lot of flack on the ANPW, especially during the Aperture training.  In fact Aperture will most likely be the reason I move photo editing and cataloging to the Mac.

For the odd application that hasn’t been developed for OS X I use VMWare Fusion.  This application allows you to build a virtual environment for other operating systems from Windows to Linux right on your Mac.  Basically, you’re running another machine INSIDE your Mac!  I’m no stranger to virtual machines, but Fusion is really nice.  The Unity mode of Fusion makes it look like the Windows application is running on the Mac.  It’s very impressive.

The inital point of this post was to let everyone know that VMWare has just released version 2.0 of Fusion.  Best of all, it’s a free upgrade to all Fusion 1.x users.  Nice.  I’m about to install, but wanted to give you the heads up.

I’ll continue to use my Vista machine for classic development (I’ve yet to find anything as good as Microsoft’s development tools), but will eventually move all other tasks to OS X.  To my IT and development friends, I’m still drinking the KoolAide.  It’s just a different flavor!