Monday, December 17, 2007

Treat Yourself

I very rarely recommend something that I have not personally tried myself.  It is a personal rule that keeps customers, friends, and relatives (not necessarily in that order) from coming back and saying ... "I can't believe you recommended that to me - it was awful."  However, there are two products that I am going to make an exception for.

The first is the sequel to the best photography book I have ever read.  It is "The Digital Photography Book Vol. 2."  Scott Kelby blew me away with the simplicity and yet effectiveness of his first book and tough I have gotten a lot out of his Lightroom and Photoshop books - there was something different about this one.  He has such a unique approach to teaching photographic technique that I appeals to all skill levels.  I have recommended vol. 1 to hundreds of customers at Best Buy when I was working in the Camera department and every single response I have heard has been - "thank you, has made me enjoy my camera more."  Now understand that most these people are not photographers - but the book blessed them with the ability to enjoy the use of their SLR in a way that they would have missed without it.  On the flip side - I have also recommended it to several advanced and semi-professional photographers who I know and they also raved about it.  The book hits people at all sill levels.  Book two picks up where the first left off.  Scott focuses a lot on using remote flashes; a capability that is built into almost all Nikon cameras without extra stuff to buy and an ability that Canon has built into most of their flashes.  Both companies are majority guilty of making it difficult to just figure out the hardware - so who is EVER going to play with it or accidentally discover the feature?  I haven't read volume 2 because it isn't out yet; however, I will be picking up a copy the day it hits the shelves.  Check it out on Amazon.

The seccond, is a book I just heard about today on Scott Kelby's Blog.  It sounds totally amazing.  Joe is one of the best instructors out there and I am super stoked to have heard about the book and you can bet I will be picking it up the minute it arrives at my local book store.  I'm not going to go into detail about the book here - instead read Scott's thoughts over on his blog for info on the book.

You probably can't get either for christmas because they are going to be out till late december/early January; however, when you are looking for something to spend all that holiday cash you received - these are both great candidates.

Through The Veil

I'm always looking for ways to capture a bride's beauty in an unconventional way.  I have been trying to get this picture for the last three weddings; however,the two previous brides have either not worn a veil or not pulled it over their eyes.  Anyways, patience is a virtue - I was finally able to get my shot.  Snapped this with my Canon 20D at 1/60 f/4 with my 17-40 mm f/4L zoomed in to 40 mm ISO 200.  I applied a custom b&w conversion and tone correction in Lightroom and applied a bit of sharpening and corner vignetting to finish off the effect.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Is the Grass Greener or more Saturated?

Everyone knows the saying "The Grass is always greener on the other side."  We always look outside our current situation and see on that from the outside appears to be better than the one we claim as our own.  Over the past few weeks photographers and gear junkies (can be the same person, but not always) have been drooling over Nikon's dynamic duo the D3 and D300.  Most are focusing on the D300 because let's face it - the D3 is so way out there on price that if one is blessed to be able to afford one, that individual is probably heavily invested in glass on one side of the argument or the other so the D3 is not worth the time as a distraction.  However, for working photographers like myself who still hold a day job and work professionally on the side - the D300 is so hard to ignore.

To truly understand my predicament one must get the back story.  In the late 90's when I was in High School, I worked as an assistant in a local photography studio Bryn-Alan Photography.  As a youth I was surrounded by photographers using Nikon equipment.  It simply made sense to purchase a nikon camera when I had saved for a bit.  My first camera of my own was a Nikon N90s with a Sigma 28-200 mm lens.  It was a great combo for a young photographer - The camera was a workhorse.  After High School I left the studio to go to college and while in college I didn't really take that many photos because let's face it ... it is tough to go from free film and processing to paying for it, 'nuf said.  I ended up selling the camera for my now wife's engagement ring.  Ok, you can take your moment to say "awe" and the wake up to the reality that I wasn't using the camera because I couldn't afford to use the camera and Film was quickly loosing its market value.  Two years ago I borrowed some Canon gear from a family member to photograph a friend's wedding and was hooked again.  After that, I began the research.  Long story ... less long, I did tons of image tests myself and decided that the Canon 20D or 30D would give me better low light/high ISO images than the Nikon D200.  I loved (and still do) the feel of the D200 - much better feeling camera.  However, I went with the images because that is what really matters.  Now enter the D300 - they have addressed several D200 issues; however, the one I care about is noise.  So, now I look at my 20D and the L glass I have purchased for it plus all the camera accessories and MAN the grass looks greener.  However, when I think of all the money I would lose switching over at this junction in the road ... I just really want to break down into the fetal position on the floor.

I guess the real issue is that a once Nikon shooter switched over to Canon and now wishes he had stood his ground and hung on to the Nikon platform.  However, now that I know I am a Canon shooter - I can turn that frustration into fanboyism for Canon, hiding my pain in insult and nitpicking .... yeah that will NEVER happen.  I am a Canon shooter who was once a Nikon shooter.  I would encourage anyone reading this (if there is anyone reading this) to realize that Nikon and Canon are competitors - Nikon releases in response to Canon and Canon returns the favor as well.  Nikon is currently king of the image-to-noise ratio hill; however, I am sure canon will respond with something in like kind with it's rumored 5D replacement ... or perhaps they won't.  Any way you slice it ... the battle goes on. 

Thursday, December 6, 2007

DUDE! Best Buy's Gettin' DELL

So, there are so many things that I never expected to see.  However, I guess it makes sense.  As we all gathered around the yellow dot (that's where we meet at Best Buy before we open for a team meeting and pep talk) when our GM made the announcement.  By December 30th Best Buy will be carrying Dell.  Not just the medium range units Wal-Mart carries ... NOPE  XPS systems.  The company will carry an assortment of standard configurations of the XPS and lower lines.  HOWEVER, Best Buy will also offer Build-To-Order items.  Not sure how they will implement that though their current ordering system - but I am sure people way smarter than me will have it figured out by launch.  So now when you you walk into Best Buy you have:


Are there any missing here?  I can't find one.  This is HUGE.  I know tons of photographers who rely on Dell's XPS laptops to manage and edit their photos on the road and I can't wait to set them along side my Apple laptops to give customers the ULTIMATE selection.  That's all I have for today - see ya later.

Friday, November 30, 2007

back in the day on eBay

Over the past week I have started to bid on flash brackets.  Originally I looked at B&H; however, budgets being what they are - I wanted to look around to see if I could save some money on the purchase.  So where is a penny-pinching photographer to go?  I started looking around eBay for equipment and found some good stuff.  I was just thinking about how much eBay has changed over the years.  Back in 98 when I made my first eBay purchase it was kinda like the Old West.  Not a lot of people - certainly no businesses and people basically did whatever they wanted.  Thinking back on the state of things - It is amazing that I braved the bidding waters.  But hey, I was a teenager in high school - kids do some crazy things.  Anyways, I was just thinking about how much more established eBay is now.  There are businesses, a secure payment system, consequences for evil, and a population more crowded than New York City.  Even though some things have changed - the exhilaration of bidding on an item and watching it and then someone trying to slip in the last second and steal it from you (yeah, I've done it too) is what eBay is all about.  As long as that never changes it will still draw me in.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Just Horsing Around

Please forgive me on the title - just couldn't resist.  Anyways, I saw a neat tip the other day on compositing text over an image using layer masking and was intrigued by the idea - not that I hadn't heard of it before, it just wasn't something that I had thought about in a long time.
I have had the past few days off from work (a blessing beyond all measure) 
so my wife and I have been spending some time in Bowling Green with her family (see the post below to get an idea of where they live - photographer's dream).  Earlier this evening I was looking outside at the great "golden hour" lighting around and saw that the neighbor's horses were at the front of the property (they are usually off toward the back).  After feeding the dog I grabbed my 20D and walked over to take a few photos.  It always amazes me at the size of a horse.  They are HUGE animals.  Fortunately, there was an electric fence between me and them so I was cool.  After snapping a few photos I wandered back inside and dumped the photos into 
Lightroom per my usual workflow and began sorting the photos.  One in particular (shown above) jumped out as a prime candidate for some photoshop action.  I went out and found a excerpt from Black Beauty, played with some color and layer masking (see illustration to the left) and BOOM - cool looking layer comp.  If you are looking for a step-by-step guide, pickup the current Photoshop User Magazine on the newsstands right now.

B&W Impact

No matter what advances in photography have or will be made - I am constantly reminded that nothing holds a candle to B&W photography.  Strongly contrasting tones convey so much mood and feeling - B&W has so much more magic than color.  

Photo of Louisville, taken by my good friend Steve Parellis.  Taken with a Canon Rebel xti and a 28-135mm lens at iso 100.  
Panorama stitched together using Photoshop Elements Photomerge.

A few weeks ago I photographed a wedding in downtown Louisville and have been working on the images over the last few days.  The reception is always tricky because of lighting challenges.  The light is so much of the mood but I always struggle with color casts.  One of my favorite ways to capture the reception is in B&W.  For one, it eliminates any color cast issues.  Secondly, it allows you to photograph using higher iso for an antique film effect.  And finally, it captures a very 1950's elegant drama that feels like it belongs in a Frank Sinatra song.  In my book those are some pretty good reasons.  Lets take a look at some supporting evidence:
The image was not bad to begin with; however, this is a great example of color taking emphasis away from the bride and groom.  The background should frame them and point toward them.  I felt that it was doing exactly the opposite.  I felt that the couple got lost in the business of the colors - primarily because there wasn't sufficient contrast
In so many instances photographers try to eliminate shadows.  This is partly because so many times harsh shadows are not flattering.  However, there is defiantly a case for shadow in wedding photography.  And one might argue that B&W is defined by shadows.  Not only does the B&W version cause the Bride & Groom to pop off the page - it also brings out the detail in the Bride's dress.  All-in-all, this was a no-brainer.  Much better in B&W than in color.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

((XM)) For The Holiday Season

99.9% of all the content is photography related; however, occasionally (as with this post) I take a few minutes to post about a service or product that I enjoy using.  I just renewed my XM subscription and purchased a new radio for the car.  If you have never given XM a whirl you really don't know what you are missing.  All you have to do is make one long trip this time of year to become frustrated with trying to find something good on the radio.  It's tough enough finding something in your own home-town  ... add driving in and out of range on local FM stations and the case for satellite radio begins to come into focus (had to get a photography alliteration in here somewhere).  Being able to listen to the same GREAT selection of music/talk/sports from my home in Louisville, KY to my parents house in Altus (middle of nowhere), OK makes a drive much more enjoyable.  

I'm not paid by XM or anything - I pay for my service like everyone else.  You should swing by a local dealer like Best Buy, Circuit City, Wal-Mart, etc to check out pricing.  You can also check out XM Online for more information.  Ok, that's the end of my plug ... you may continue on your way.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


There is an old saying that you have to spend money to make money. So so how is one expected to make the initial money needed to use in the multiplication of the rest? Photographers experience a similar predicament in regards to equipment. You have to work jobs to buy equipment; however, one needs the equipment to get the job. What is a so what is the solution?

The first piece of advice is to consider the borrow factor. When I shot film I was Nikon through and through. When it came time to move into the digital world my decision to make the move to Canon was based on three factors:

  1. I had sold my film gear a few years back for my wife's engagement ring ... yeah, I know - what can I say, she's worth it.
  2. In my own image tests (comes in handy working in a retail store with access to tons of cameras) showed me that Canon was giving me better image results at higher ISOs
  3. Most of my friends who are established photographers are Canon shooters
Number three was the difference maker for me. The ability to borrow gear meant I could focus more on the investment of the camera body and then save and invest in quality glass. If I had to do it all at once I would have ended up with a decent camera body and a crap kit lens. When making an SLR purchase one should always consider the borrow factor ... it is HUGE

In spite of the great ability to pester your friends for gear ... after a few times it starts to get uncomfortable. You will come to , as I have, the sad realization that you need to buy your own gear. So what is a photographer to do when they are short on green and need a lens? RENT IT.

There are TONS of rental sites out there - shoot, your local camera shop probably rents glass. However, if your shop is anything like mine , they are WAY over priced. Enter I don't remember exactly how I found this place, but it is the best. Great pricing and super smooth system. First, you hop online and browse the selection (They carry Nikon and Canon). Next pick the lens you wan to rent and add it to your cart. When you are ready, place the order. A few days (exact time depends on your method of shipping) later a box shows up on your doorstep. Inside is the lens. You get the lens for a week (or however long you rented it for) and then when your time is up - slip it in the pre-paid, return shipping bag and drop it off at the nearest post office.
Rentals are generally between $30-$50 a week based on the price and type of lens you rent. You can even purchase insurance for $2.00-$3.00 so you know you are covered in case something happens. This was my first experience with rentglass .com and I can tell you I will be using them again - until I can afford ALL the glass I want ... so I am thinking that will be never. If you need better glass and can't afford to purchase it ... check out they won't let you down.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

are your images safe?

So - what is the biggest problem with backup? NO ONE DOES IT! Why? Two reasons - no one thinks about it until it is too late, and no one wants to manage it. What is the solution? Tons of people have solutions. Apple has a new automated solution called Time machine that takes the thought out of backup - simply set it up when your first install the OS. There are a few other automated solutions out there that require little to no upkeep. So what's the deal - why do people (including myself) ignore backup. The answer is simple ... no one sees the need. The average consumer doesn't backup because they don't see the pressing need for backup. I have to admit I was one of the masses for a long time - no backup. I had good drives, what was the need? All that changed when a friend of mine lost thousands of photos when he moved (not copied) his photo library to an external to free space on his desktop computer. A month later the external drive failed. Even though I did not lose any images - I instantly began to think of my images that resided on a single hard drive. The fact of the matter is - drives fail with little to no warning. Should we all switch to CDs and DVDs for backup .... doesn't sound like fun to me. The key with digital backup is redundancy. Having the data in several locations so that if one fails there are backups. A common form of this is RAID which can be used to link multiple drives in tons of configurations to automatically manage mirroring backup. The problem with RAID is that it has zero flexibility when it comes to expansion and is a pain to setup.

A few weeks ago I ran across a new device that takes the hassle out of redundant backup - it is the Drobo from Data Robotics. A 4 bay USB external storage device - it employs 'RAID like' redundancy without the overhead or complex nature of RAID. Wanna use small drives that's cool. Wanna use big drives that's cool. Wanna use a mixture of different sizes of drives EVEN BETTER! Have all four drive bays full with drives and need more space - just pop out the smallest drive and toss in a bigger one. If a drive fails you just get a replacement (any size you want) and pop it in - Drobo does the rest. Check out the site - it will change the way you do backup ... especially if you don't do backup at all. It is not a question of if your drive will fail - it is a matter of when. Don't be unprepared BACK UP YOUR DATA TODAY. I'm not saying Drobo will fit everyone's needs - but it is pretty darn cool. Give it a look - I think you will like what you see.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

american backyard

"american backyard" - ©2007 rickmead designs

It never ceases to amaze me how something so extraordinary goes unnoticed for so long. My in-laws moved into their current home outside of Bowling Green, KY almost 5 years ago. Who knows how many hundreds of times I have walked by this photo. For some reason last week I was inspired to snag a camera and capture it. No major editing: a little cropping, sharpening and b&w conversion (IR style) in lightroom then exported as a jpg. Captured using a Canon 20D with a 17-40mm f/4 L lens.

RCR - renamed

Some of you reading this may be readers of Rick's Camera Review - my former blog/podcast.  I have been fighting it for about a year not ... RCR needs to die.  I don't have the time or the determination to produce a podcast.  I have revamped the blog and with a new look comes a new name.  Hope you stick around and subscribe!