Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Joe McNally and Scott Kelby - Digital world of Photography.

 Here is a link to a great video of Joe and Scott discussing how photography has changed and is changing in the digital world. The market place has changed, intended use of images has moved from traditional magazines to more of a web model of distribution. Also supply has changed,  the number of photographers has increased and those wishing to make a living in the business must do it not only better but differently and stand out in the new digital crowd. Interesting video, check it out:  Joe McNally & Scott Kelby

Monday, December 13, 2010

Photo Sharpening - Pixel Genius Photokit Sharpener

If you're using the RAW format setting on your camera and you should be if you're not, you'll need to apply some sharpening to your images for output. Raw captures are not run through your camera's sharpening algorithms as they are by default when you use the JPEG setting so you'll need to use Photoshop, Lightroom or some other photo editing package to apply sharpening manually. Even JPEG images can benefit from some selective after capture sharpening.

Photoshop, Lightroom and even ACR (Adobe Camera RAW) have filters or methods that allow you to sharpen your RAW images. Most people use the "unSharpen Mask" filter in Photoshop for this purpose. How confusing is that, "Unsharpen" to sharpen an image? The term comes from an old method used in a traditional film darkroom where a mask was created using a low contrast blurred positive copy of the negative which is then sandwiched with the original negative in an enlarger when creating a print. The intentionally blurred positive only affects (cancels) the low frequency information or blurred details on the negative. The mask also decreases the dynamic range of the negative, with the partial cancellation of the mask it emphasizes the high frequency or fine detailed information in the original thus giving the appearance of sharper detail or acutance.

The digital method of sharpening is so much simpler and the Pixel Genius Photokit Sharpener tool makes it even easier. The tool splits the sharpening of your images into three distinct tasks.

  • Capture sharpening: restores detail lost in the capture process.
  • Creative sharpening: applied to a localized area of your image (ex: eyes in a portrait). 
  • Output sharpening: sharpening to be applied to a re-sized image ready for a specific output media (ie: Print).

Separating the process of sharpening into three tasks provide benefits that most Photoshop plug-in tools do not. Three tasks simplifies the decision process, you can address each issue individually rather than trying to address them all with a single sharpening application. The user can apply just capture and creative processes to an image, and address the output sharpening at a later date incase the output size or destination is changing. The best thing I like about the "Photokit" sharpener is that everything is done with a layer or layer set. So sharpening is applied non destructively and can be adjusted via the opacity setting of the layer. With the creative tool you apply the sharpening with an automatically created layer mask, painting in the areas you wish to sharpen. Creative brushes are also available to blur or smooth areas you wish to soften. I find this useful in getting rid of noise which often shows up more in the background behind your main subject.

 Many well know print makers swear by this tool including Micheal Riechmann of Luminous Landscapes and Graham Nash of Nash  Editions. Give it a try with their 7 day demo I'm sure you'll find the product very useful.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Toronto Zombie Walk - 2010

Zombie Organizers

I managed to find time to take in the Toronto Zombie walk this year and was impressed by the number of people and their costumes. Previous year's boasted six thousand attendees and there seemed to be close to that again this year. Some of the make up applications were very impressive and there was a lot of fake blood flowing in the crowd.

This was a very well organized event, prizes for best zombie, walks and moans were awarded before the dead took to the streets of Toronto. Rain followed the crowd as it crossed Bathurst at Dundas and I ended my journey there.

Best Zombie Winners

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

LightTrac: Photography iPhone App

 If you're an outdoor/nature photographer knowing where the sun will rise and set at a particular location is very important.  This iPhone application allows photographers to scout out a location any where in the world prior to a shoot. You can determine the angle of the sun at anytime on a given day and schedule your arrival and setup time accordingly. The sun's azimuth and elevation changes throughout the year depending on which hemisphere you are located, so this is useful even if you think you know your favorite spots well.
 The application interface allows you to pull up any location with either a map or satellite view from Google maps. Three lines on the map represent the angle of the sun at sunrise, sunset and the current displayed time. The time of day can be changed with a slider at the bottom of the screen so you can preview what the angle of the sun will be at any time of the day. You can also track the location and phases of the moon if you're interested.
 This application is available via iTunes and I think you'll find it very useful and well worth the minimal cost.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Kelby Photoshop Training in Toronto - Oct 22nd

Adobe® Photoshop® for Photographers Tour

Friday Oct 22nd
Metro Toronto Convention Centre 
10:00 - 17:00
$99 CAD ($79 for NAPP Members)  

Ben Willmore has his digital camera in hand and is headed your way with the Photoshop for Photographers Tour. In this one-day seminar Ben teaches Photoshop speed tips that will let you perfect any image in record time. Plus, you'll learn his favorite photo-editing techniques for retouching, restoration, color correction, and anything else you need to crank out majorly cool images. What types of photographers should attend this seminar:

  • Digital and Traditional
  • Professional and Amateur
  • Educators and Students
And anyone else who owns a camera and wants to get the best results possible with the least amount of effort!

Pocket Wizard AC3 in Canada - Availabilty Update

The AC3 Zone Controller is now available here in Toronto finally!!!  Canadian Pocket Wizard distributor Daymen  has them on back order expecting stock on 13-Oct-2010. However I was in Vistek this afternoon and they had three (now two) in stock for $95 CAD. I'll have to make some time now and try it out to see how well it works, fingers crossed.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Makeup Application and Flash Photography

 In the past two years while photographing the Toronto International Film Fest (TIFF) I've noticed a couple of strange makup applications on a couple of celebrities. They look perfectly normal when viewed with the naked eye, but once the flash hits them at night parts of their face start to mysteriously glow. Lisa Kudrow was the first person that I noticed. All of my images and those that I've seen posted elsewhere like at "Getty" or "Wire Image" all look like a reverse raccoon, a slightly blue glow under both eyes.

  The Second example of this was during this year's festival. Elizabeth Shue had the same glow about her, although it appeared to be a little more extreme running further down her cheeks. Elizabeth is still a very pretty women and could drop the makeup entirely or at least rethink it's application.

I know little to nothing about make up or it's application, but it looks as if a lightening base wasn't blended in properly or something. Makeup artist maybe need to test their work with a darkened room and a digital camera before sending their clients out in front of the paparazzi because the results posted are not too flattering.I always thought make up if applied properly would enhance some features/contours of the face make the eyes pop etc  and conceal imperfections. The application here does neither, the eyes may pop but i don't think in a way that was intended.

Toronto International Film Fest 2010 (TIFF)

 This was my busiest year yet for TIFF, I covered 24 red carpet galas and I finally made it to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's 'In Style' Party. For years friends have been trying to convince me to go to the HFPA party but I always declined. This year was a week of many late nights, so I figured why not one more. It was worth it, as I managed to see a lot of new young actors/actresses who I admit I didn't know until I looked them up in IMDB. There were a few bigger name attendees which I would have missed due to scheduling conflicts (couldn't be at two red carpet events at the same time). Picked up Ryan Reynolds, Bill Pulman, Charlotte Rampling, Jim Broadbent and Harvey Weinstein who appeared to be running things at the party.

 This year TIFF was trying to move more festival activities from uptown (Yorkville) to the downtown area around their new headquarters "The Bell Lightbox". The Lightbox  was used for free screenings of older award winning movies and a few special events including a mavericks session with Ed Norton interviewing Bruce Springsteen. I hope this place continues to be used for side events only, as it doesn't appear to be a fan friendly venue for a gala  screenings.

 Another location that was popular for TIFF was the Elgin or Winter garden theater. Most of the bigger names were scheduled there for some reason? This is a very nice theater inside but it's a tough venue for fans trying to get a glimpse of a celeb or worse a photo. I only went there once and was so put off by the TIFF people running the carpet I never returned. I missed some of my favorites like De Niro and Eastwood, but didn't want to gamble getting no photos for my time spent waiting around. TIFF touts itself as being fan friendly, this location is anything but.

 Like every year the guest list contained some never before seen talent (for me at least) and a few repeats from previous years. Met a few new Oscar winners including Robert Redford, surprisingly there are no fans in Bob's world he just doesn't see them I guess? Other new winners for me were Helen Miren, Marion Cotillard, Ben Affleck and Kevin Kline. I was also able to update a few more winners with better images like two time winner Kevin Spacey who I met years ago in my P&S camera days. Nine Oscar winners in total a pretty good year. The real stand outs this year were Sam Worthington who couldn't have done more with the fans, spent forever signing autographs and taking pictures with anyone who asked. Also Milan Akerman who is a natural stunner, very very pretty, unlike some when checking the images there isn't a ton of makeup with this young actress simply WOW!!

I also got a chance to talk to producer David Alexanian who was involved with Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boormen's Long Way Round / Long Way Down TV series. Some of the best Television you'll ever see,  if you like adventure and travel. Asked him if they are planning to do another trip, and he confirmed Ewan's last statement on the Long Way Down series "See you in South America". It seems the boys are starting their next adventure next summer (2011), Long Way Up appears to be a go, I can hardly wait!!

 Had fun with the usual group of friends I've made over the years, it sure makes the time between photo shoots pass quicker when you have a gang of people to share stories with and compare schedules and guest lists. It seems more and more people are attracted to the rail by the red carpet each year, and more time has to be spent holding on to the precious real estate in the front row. I found that there was very little pushing going on this year, except maybe for "The Town" debut. Even then once the lady behind me figured out she wasn't getting between a friend and me she soon left to try and elbow her way in elsewhere.

 The rail is a tricky place you never really know where a celeb is going to choose to sign some autographs. To get an image it comes down to luck and being able to find a clearing between the heads of security guards, body guards, TIFF volunteers and carpet organizers,  carpet camera crews, the celebs' PR people and the rest of their entourage and the people we call "Money" the producers who often hang around the carpet. Once you find a hole, your camera also has to function properly. You must balance shutter speed, aperture and ISO and more often than not you rely on your flash going off properly. I find it very strange how often the 1/250th of a second I picked to take a photo is exactly timed with another photographers decision and our two flashes multiply and wipe out any hope for either of us getting a usable image. But that too is the fun of this type of photography, timing is often everything. Like the photo of Kelly Lynch who I'd ask to look over her shoulder and she winked at me while doing so, one of my favorite images of the year. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pocket Wizard AC3 in Canada

The new zone controller from Pocketwizard has finally shipped and is expected in stores soon. However Canadian distributor Daymen has announced that dealer ordering and distribution of the AC3 in Canada has been delayed and will now begin in late August or early September. Suggested retail price here in Canada is $97.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Purple Martins in High Park

 Purple Martins have returned to High Park here in Toronto after an eight year absence. The largest of the swallow species are obligate aerial insectivores, which means they eat only flying insects, and they take them only on the wing, not off the ground. The local population suffered from starvation during a cold spell back in 2002 which killed off their food source.

 Their old High Park residence had become overrun with house sparrows and had been closed in by the surrounding trees, these birds like an open space around their home.  In 2007 the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority erected a new house located on the south shore of grenadier pond, part of a shoreline restoration project. It took them 3 years but this May two nesting pairs have returned to the park. Lets hope they are successful at breeding here, Martins develop a strong loyalty for a nest site which they successfully breed and will return year after year.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lumiquest Softbox II -vs- Aurora Mini/Max

  I have a Lastolite EzyBox 24" square softbox that can be use for location portrait work using a light stand and it works perfectly. But I wanted to add a small softbox for when the flash is attached directly to the camera or on a flash bracket, mainly for macro work. I looked at two similar products Lumiquest's Softbox II and Aurora's Mini/Max. Both are roughly 6"x8" in size, fold flat for storage, and are meant to attach directly to the front of the Speedlite head.  Both units use roughly the same design, triangle shaped walls which fold out are use to separate the front diffuser from the speedlight head by a few inches, and both use some sort of velcro method of attachment. And here lies the problem with one of these.

  The Lumiquest SoftboxII when unfolded is made up of the the main diffuser screen and four hinged walls which have a small narrow strip of velcro at each end. Four 1" pieces of velcro tape are provided and are meant to be stuck to the sides of your speedlight to accept the softbox walls. However the walls when folded in to create the pyramid like softbox shape, they do not match the shape of the Speedlight head. The shape appears almost square, instead of rectangular which would match the flash head shape. The hinged walls flopped around as I tried to form a shape that would accept the flash and frustration soon hit. I reviewed the instructions provided on the box, and a very vague reference is made that you should trim the flaps to match your flash, I had to ask myself which flap? I soon concluded that the frustration level of this product wasn't worth the money.

  Option two was the Mini/Max by Aurora, the same physical size as the previous model but a much better design. The pyramid type shape is again created by walls which this time were sewn together down to a small rectangular shaped opening to accept the Speedlight head. Velcro is used again here for attaching the head but the strip on the softbox is wider and therefore makes attachment easier. A removable cinch strap which wraps around the flash head replaces the velcro tape, so there is no permanent attachment of velcro to your flash. The installation of the Mini/Max to my 580ex II was simple and straightforward no instructions required. And unlike the Lumiquest, the design looked as if it was purposely built for a standard size speedlite/speedlight unit no trimming of flap A or slot B.
The Mini/Max also has two small diffuser like portals on the wider two walls which can be opened to provide more light to say bounce off a ceiling or near by wall.

 I didn't compare the actual output of each box against one another as I was never able to install the Lumiquest on my flash. I soon realized that this unit wasn't worth the money for the frustration it would cause in the field and I returned it. The price for the Lumiquest was close to $20 more than the Aurora at a local provider of both units so this was a no brainer, easier to use and less money too. I went with the Aurora and was pleased with my results the 1st time out.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

DIY Wimberley Macro Flash Bracket

 After buying a Wimberley F2 macro flash bracket I discovered a company that sells mounting parts for GPS devices that look like those used on the Wimberley M4 module. In fact the ball joints used in the M4 articulating arm are stamped with "RAM" the same company who manufactures the GPS bracket pieces.

The "RAM" raw stock parts do not look as polished as the Wimberley components and you would have to create a homemade mounting plate to replace the M1 module but a simple piece of flat aluminum bar stock and a few 1/4" screws & nuts could easily be used as a replacement piece.

The Wimberley F2 macro bracket is made up of two modules in their Shapeshifter product line:

1) Module 1: M1 Quick-Release Arm, which is used to connect the bracket to your camera or to a lens collar. The connection requires the use of an arca-swiss dovetail style plate, so if you do not already own one you'll have to purchase one.

2) Module 4: M4 Macro Arm, is the articulating arm where you attach your flash.

Most of the components which make up the M4 module can be recreated using the parts available from RAM. They are not identical but are close enough to work with some customization. RAM also offers other components which can be ordered if you want to custom build a macro bracket of your own design.

Components that appear to match closely with those of the M4 module are:

RAM-B-237 (x2):

RAM-B-230 :

RAM-B-201 (x2):

 The cost of the individual parts available through a local supplier (GPSmart) when added up would be slightly cheaper than buying the M4 module from a local Camera store. If you didn't already own an Arca-Swiss style plate and replaced the M1 module with a home made mounting plate/bracket the cost savings would be well worth experimenting with this homemade solution. 

Cost of the Ram parts to replace the M4 module:
RAM-B-230 : $19.95
RAM-B-237 (x2 @ $9.95):  $19.90
RAM-B-201 (x2 @ $19.95): $39.90
Total:  $79.75

The cost to buy just the M4 bracket in a local Camera store is approx $100, if you can find one sold separately. I couldn't find one here in Toronto, so i deducted the price for a M1 module that is offered, from the price of an F2 package price. The local SRP of an F2 bracket is $180. Again if you do not already own an Arca-Swiss style plate you'll need to buy one (apprx: $60) to use the Wimberley F2. So with that addition cost you have a huge budget for supplies to build a home made M1 like mounting plate to replace Wimberley's version. Might not have a quick release option, but it should only cost a few bucks to cobble together compared with at least a $100 for the commercial version.

 The Wimberley F2 macro bracket is very flexible and sturdy once you have tightened the ball joints the flash head isn't going anywhere. I've heard complaints that some of the competitor brackets suffer from slip or drift if you mount a heavy flash like a 580ex or SB900. I'm using an 580ex II and have had no problems so far nor do I foresee any, the F2 is a rock solid solution. I have a P40 like plate mounted to the bottom of the camera and find I can place the flash head anywhere I want it, even when using extension tubes. The F2 also provides a nice handle if you mount it on the left hand side of the camera. I want to add a small softbox to soften the light from the flash, and do not expect any issues with the F2.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sheraton Centre Peregrines

On May 28th the Canadian Peregrine Foundation hosted a public viewing of the Peregrine Falcon banding of this year's chicks at the Toronto Sheraton Centre.  Members of the Ministry of Natural resources brought the chicks in off the 43rd floor ledge where they call home to be banded. They installed two bands one on each leg they consist of both Canadian Wild Life Service and U.S. Fish & Wild Life bands.

There were three young this year all males which are identified by their weight. The males will weigh less than the females and both will be larger than their parents come fledge time, baby fat.

To calm the chicks down a young volunteer would spray a shot of water into their mouths, an old falconer's trick. This may be to only the water these birds will consume during their life, if you see a falcon drinking water they are often sick. The three males were named  Star-Scribe,  Lorenzo  and Legacy each had different colored tape added to their bands so they could quickly be identified when the fledged. Legacy was named by the some ladies who were in attendance from Rochester NY. Legacy's mom Rhea Mae was an offspring of a Rochester Falcon Mariah.

Star-Scibe,Legacy and Lorenzo (L-R) being held by MPP Glenn Murray, Sheraton Ctr representative, volunteer.

I would like to thank the Canadian Peregrine Foundation and the Toronto Sheraton Centre Hotel for this opportunity to see and photograph these majestic birds up close.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Memory Cards: How fast is fast enough?

  The trend of using higher resolution sensors (more mega pixels) in new cameras continues, and often these new cameras have faster frame rates (fps) in continuous drive mode than their predecessors. So not only are the files becoming larger than ever, the cameras are generating them faster which may require you to upgrade your memory cards. The addition of HD quality video to most new cameras also has to be considered when looking for new storage media.

  Memory technology has changed to allow more storage space and provide faster read/write speeds to keep up with the flash memory requirements of modern electronic devices. CF cards come in numerous storage sizes and speeds starting with slower Direct Memory Access (DMA) type cards which offer speeds up to 33Mb/s to the newer Ultra DMA (UDMA 6) cards which offer speeds up to 133Mb/s. Secure Digital (SD) cards have replaced CF cards in a lot camera models including some of the newer DSLR being released. Some of the professional grade DLSR models offer both media types, allowing users to store files to either card type or both at the same time. Being able to store JPEGs to one card and RAW files to the other has real benefits, both for speed and convenience if your a photojournalist. SD cards have also undergone numerous updates and are now offered in SD High Capacity (SDHC) or SD Extended Capacity (SDXC) with write speeds as high as 104Mb/s.  

  Like everything storage space and speed comes with a price. Your camera will be able to use all available space on any card when saving your pictures, however it may not be able to take advantage of a card's maximum write speed. The speed that a camera will empty it's buffer has an upper limit, and ideally you want your card to be able to handle that maximum speed. If your card is too slow,  your camera will bog down when you select continuous drive mode and start blasting away. Too fast and you could be wasting your money, however the extras speed may allow you to transfer your images into your computer a bit faster.

  So how fast is too fast when it comes to memory cards, it really comes down to your camera's write speed requirements. Rob Goldbraith's web site is a great resource for digital photography information, and thanks to Rob you can check his extensive database of cameras and cards to see which brand and model will provide the best performance for your camera.

Check out Rob's Camera / Card data base at:  CF/SD Performance Database

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Overlooked Photography and Photoshop Learning Resource

 There are plenty of online resources for learning about Photography and Photoshop some are free others like Lynda or Kelby will cost you some money. I'm a member of Kelby Training and although it's expensive i've found it to be worth every penny. I've managed to take advantage of some of the member discounts with Kelby's partner companies, which has reduce the cost of my membership by more than half. The first couple of videos of each course are free to review so you check out the content before paying for a membership.
  One of the free resources that you may have overlooked is your local library. Here in Toronto the public library has an arrangement with "Safari Books Online" to provide online access  to approximately 4100 of the 9000 books in their electronic catalog. These books are mostly technical reference books dealing with software and IT subjects, but there is a decent collection of photography related items also. Although these titles are only available online, it makes perfect sense for the library to provide this type of access. How often does Adobe release a new version of Photoshop? If they were to buy a dozen copies of each newly released book to circulate amongst their branches it would cost them thousands of dollars, and they would be out of date in less than 2 years. This way they can provide the latest version with unlimited copies and all at a fraction of the cost. 

  Some examples of the resources available here in our library are Digital field guides for most camera models including the newer models (ex: Canon 7D, Nikon 300s). Newly released photography books like "Mastering Canon EOS Flash Photography", which was just released 15-Mar-2010 (13 days ago as of this posting). There are 144 books and 66 videos on Photography and another 68 books and 92 videos on Photoshop related products (Elements, CS4, Lightroom, Camera Raw etc..)

  So CS5 will be released soon, and you will be looking for a book to help you along with the new features. Before you buy get a library card if you don't already have one (they're usually free) login and take a look at what your local library has to offer first.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

AC5 Soft Shield Distance Test

In late 2009 Pocket Wizard starting shipping free* AC5 soft RF shields to address the the problems between their FlexTT5 triggers and Canon Speedlights. The AC5 is essentially a sock made of RF shielding material which surrounds the flash and is cinched off to an RF shoe filter provided as part of the kit.

The RF noise from some Canon flashes were interfering with the radio frequencies used for communications between the MiniTT1 (master) and the FlexTT5 (slave) triggers. The RF interference impacts the distance you can remotely trigger your flash units. To see how much of a difference this solution would make, I performed a quick test to measure the effective distance of the units with and without the AC5 solution. Prior to testing I installed the latest firmware version 5.0 available from PW. I place a FlexTT5 and 580ex II on a light stand at the end of a standard narrow apartment / condo style building hallway and backed off until I lost reliable communications between the camera and the flash.  Here are the results I obtained:
FlexTT5 FlexTT5 + AC5
Distance in Feet 40 100+

 The hundred foot limit might be related to a metal door frame I encounter in the hallway (the door is used as a fire break). It seemed that once I crossed the threshold of the frame I lost reliable communications.

 Pocket wizard has started including the AC5 soft RF shield with all FlexTT5 units sold and is about to start selling an AC7 model which is a hard plastic version. From early product images of the AC7 it appears to allow easier access to the flash controls (bonus for manual flash users) and has two lightstand/bracket mounting points. No information is provided at this time if the AC7 will provide any increased usable distance over the AC5 model.

* offered until 30-Jan-2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Saving & Restoring Wacom Tablet Preferences

 If you own a Wacom Intuos 4 tablet you have no doubt spent a considerable amount of time customizing it for each of your applications, time you only want to spend once. The latest Wacom driver allows you to save / restore a copy of your current tablet settings in case it becomes corrupt due to machine failure etc.. This process also allows you to share your setup with other users or transfer your preferences amongst multiple machines you may access.

Note that this process will save or replace all Expresskey, Touch Ring and Radial Menu settings for all applications. Make sure you have made a backup of the current machine settings before replacing them with a file you have created or obtained from another source.

Saving your current tablet settings:
  • Go to Start> All Programs: and choose 'Wacom Tablet'
  • Launch the 'Tablet Preference File Utility'
  • Within my preferences, you will be given the option to 'Back-up…' for a future 'restore'. Click the 'BackUp' button.
  • Using the "Save As" dialog, specify a name and location for the backup file.
 Restoring / Replacing current settings:
  • Use the same procedure from above by selecting the  'Tablet Preference File Utility' only this time click the 'Restore' button.
  • Select the appropriate file from the open file dialog box to replace the current tablet setup.
  • That file's setting are now loaded for access from your tablet.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Wacom Intuos 4 Graphics Tablet

A few months ago I purchased a Intuos 4 graphics tablet for photo editing. After using a mouse for years I struggled with the new pen interface for a while. This seems to be the standard experience of all new users, and most say you must force yourself to use the pen and soon you'll never use a mouse again for graphic applications. Well I persevered and within a few weeks I found the pen felt very natural especially when using a brush to create a layer mask or applying localized adjustments.

 The Intuos 4 tablet is available in four different sizes, based on the active interface area ranging from 6"x4" (small) up to 19"x12" (extra large). All models come with a two button pen and traditional mouse which use electro magnetic resonance battery free technology. The tablets themselves contain a series of programmable buttons called Expresskeys for often used keyboard commands, and a four function iPod like Touch Ring which provides users with a variable type interface. The touch ring can be used to control brush size, opacity, image magnification or anything that has a variable adjustment setting.  The feature I like best  is the Popup menu system which provides an unlimited number of programmable drill down menus which overlays the screen of any application. All of the buttons, touch ring features and popup menus can be set so their functions change depending on the current active application also.

 The three larger models all have the exact same features, only the physical size and active area is different. The smaller model does lack one important feature which for me influenced my purchase decision. There are only six Expresskeys compared to eight on the larger models, however more importantly the smallest model lacks illuminated button displays. If you program the Expresskeys to change with each active application, remembering what they do could become confusing. There is a default key which displays the key functions on screen for the smaller model, but for convenience I went with the medium sized unit.

 As I said before my favorite feature is the pop up menu system which provides an unlimited number of shortcuts to application menu features replacing the need to use the keyboard almost entirely with Photoshop. I've programed the top pen button to access the menus and they are currently set up to access my most commonly used Photoshop and Lighroom functions.

Here are the menus I use for Photoshop so far (underlying key commands appear in Red):
Main Menu:


Adjust: I remapped some of the key shortcut commands in Photoshop to open an adjustment layer.




Thursday, January 21, 2010

Small Bird Photography

Small birds are always a challenge to photograph, they rarely spend more than a few moments in one place and often seek shelter in thick brush. Some birds can be lured out into the open with feeders, but even then it's hard to get clean natural looking images. If you're like myself and live in a large city, you may not have access to a yard where you can set up a permanent feeder. A simple and effective solution is to use a portable feeder station / stage which can be easily transported and setup in any local park.

The set up consist of a few common photography items you may already own, or could use anyway:
  • Light Stand: Any light stand can be used, if you do not already own a stand I'd suggest using the Manfrotto 5001b. Cheaper stands can be found, but none fold up smaller than this model. The 5001B folds down to 19", weighs only a couple of pounds, extends to 7' which is plenty. 
  • Clamps: Which are used to mount perching branches or other props you wish to include in your stage. I found that a 'Superclamp' in combination with a few background clamps work well. Cheap 'A' clamps found in any hardware store can also be used here.
  • Small container used to hold the attractor: seed , orange slice, grape jelly etc.. Size is important, you want the container small enough to allow only one bird to feed at a time. This forces other birds to wait on your near by perching branch, right where you want them. You can use any small plastic jar lid with a hole drilled in it to accept the light stand's threaded stud. I use a 1/4" wing nut to secure it to the stand.
  • Perching branch: Any branch can be used, however look for one with moss, lichens or interesting bark. Ideally you want one main branch with only a few sprigs. If you must remove some sprigs, try to remove them so the broken stub will not show in your image. Also do not break boughs from living plants, there are plenty available on the forest floor, and these often have more interesting details anyways.
 When using this setup place it in an area where your subjects are already active. Start out by placing the light stand near natural cover until the birds become use to it, then slowly walk the stand out into a clear area that offers cleaner backgrounds for your images. Birds like Nuthatches, Chickadees and Gold Finches will soon be swarming all over your feeder and will provide many great opportunities for natural looking images.
     The main advantage with using this portable staging method is control, you can control:
    • Where the subject is likely to perch.
    • The background, which can be changed simply by moving the stand left/right, or raising/lowering the stand height.
    • The light on your subject. You can easily move the stand so that your subject is always front lit adjusting the location as the sun tracks across the sky.
    • The elements in the image. Interesting looking branches can be used and quickly swapped out to give variety to you images.
    • Pests, squirrels will be attracted to seed placed in an accessible area. The light stand restricts their access.
       Before you use this method, ensure the park bylaws do not restrict feeding wildlife. And remember please do not remove any branches from living plants. Take great images, and leave only footprints.

        Wednesday, January 6, 2010

        Rosco Strobist Kit

        The Rosco filter sample kits have become very popular with users of Speedlite (Canon) / Speedlight (Nikon) flash units. So much so that Rosco was going to stop their free sample program completely due to the overwhelming demand. Strobist blogger Dave Hobby approached Rosco and together they created a "Strobist" kit which contains commonly used color correction and tinting filters. For a small fee (approx $10 USD) you receive 20 1.5" x 3.25" different colored filters. Multiple pieces of the more commonly used correction filters CTB, CTO, Plusgreen for fluorescent correction are supplied along with numerous tinting filters for special effects, a total of 55 in all. No longer a free solution, but better than having to purchase separate larger more expensive individual sheets and building your own kit.
        Here in Toronto you can still obtain the free filter kit at The Source Shop (as of Nov'09) and you can purchase the Strobist kit at the DV Shop for $16 CAN.

        Friday, January 1, 2010

        McNally high above New York

        I've been following Joe McNally's tutorial videos on the Kelby training site and reading his two books on photography. Always amazed by his work and thought i'd share this clip of one of his more daring location shoots: