Thursday, August 28, 2008

murphy taunts me

It can only be described as ironic justice that on the week I post the virtue of my Vista setup that it crashes into oblivion. NO WARNING - simple, quiet, dead. I didn't even get the courtesy of a blue screen of death. Not sure if it is a case of simple file corruption or if there is a drive issue. Fortunately my essential data is backed up on a redundant drive. Doesn't make the next week fun - just means I'm not playing in traffic. SpinRite is doing its thing tonight as I sleep to try and salvage the drive and it's data ... not holding my breath. Until I get things back up and running please have patience with my posts as I am frantically trying to get my production machine back into a usable state. The machine boots up to a black screen with my mouse still visible ... but that is it. A bit odd. I am not sure if were able to fix the issue if I would trust the install. Perhaps this would be a good time to do an Ultimate install? I will have to think on that for the evening.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

image continuity

Today we take a quick look at the importance of preserving image continuity. Any time we modify an image it is super important to retain the context of the image. This is especially true when we remove objects from the image - check it out and enjoy!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Windows Vista Essentials PART 3 of 3

PART 3 Applications

Before I dive into this final portion of Vista Essentials I want to provide a disclaimer: What follows is not intended to be an in-depth review of software titles. Instead, it is designed to be an overview of software functionality as it relates to the Vista Experience. Anyone who reads this blog knows I use Photoshop and Lightroom as well as Office and other production pieces of software - I won't be talking about those today because they don't have anything to do with Vista or enhancing the Vista experience.

Edison - Verdiem Sofware - - FREE

Go green with your PC. Edison is a great application I was recently turned on to by Paul Thurrott. Edison overrides your computer's energy center with a more user-friendly system that will save you on energy by managing more closely when and how your system goes to sleep. If you only have one machine the savings won't be that drastic; however, it becomes drastic when you manage multiple computers.

SnagIt - Tech Smith Products - - $49.95

From the same folks who produce Camtasia (the software I use to record my video tutorials), TechSmith offers a product that is indispensable to me. On the Mac it is so easy to do selective screen captures with built in tools. Upon shifting production to the PC I immediately felt the growing pains of being limited to the "print screen" utility built into Windows. Snagit allows for capturing a window, the entire screen or a selection of the screen and is directly exportable to a jpg. Super great and absolutely necessary for me. I keep a catalog of other photographer's work that I often have to screen capture off of their websites. When I am looking for some inspiration I flip through the photos I have collected. SnagIt also makes the screen grabs you see on this site possible.

ISO Recorder - Alex Feinman - - FREE

Again - this is a feature built into OSX that isn't standard on Windows. I have several peices of software that are ISO images. I have to be able to burn those ISO images to a DVD or CD - this is a VERY basic utility that does just that. No frills, no fancy UI - just integrates into the built in Vista burning window.

Argentum Backup - Argentum - - $25.00

BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP! There are tons of backup solutions out there. I use Argentum because it doesn't create a closed file. A lot of backup software backs up the data to a database driven system that require the backup program be re-installed before the files are unpacked. The backup Argentum creates is just a mirror of the folders it is backing up. This means that if my computer crashes I can grab that drive - toss it in a SATA enclosure and grab any needed data on my other system. It's fast and in a pinch if the worst were to happen I would be back up and running faster than having to re-install my operating system.

When windows XP offered basic compression utilities for ZIP creation I figured I would never need WinZIP again ... enter the RAR. If you are looking for a great compression utility that smokes what XP and Vista have built in - or find the need to open a RAR compresses file WinRAR is the way to go.

IrfanView - - FREE

The ULTIMATE image viewer. I have TONS of RAW, PSD, PNG, JPG, etc files that I hate having to open photoshop or bridge to open - enter IrfanView. It's fast and that is why I use it. I wish I could say I use it to 10% of it's potential; however, I just use it to view material. This application can view, batch process, resize, convert file tyes, act as an interface for your scanner, and so much more. For me - I needed a way to open my images on the fly very quickly - IrfanView allows me to do that.

FireFox 3.0- Mozilla - - FREE

Last but not least - Mozilla Firefox 3.0. I have talked about this browser in the past so this will be brief. I aplaud Microsoft for the phenominal work on IE 7 - it is an amazing browser. I aplaud Apple for bringing Safari to the windows side - it handles RSS like none else. Both these browsers are installed on my system; however, I rarely use them. Firefox is my principal browser. Great tabbed browsing experience, the best password manager I have EVER been exposed to. I LOVE using it. It seems that Firefox is like Michael Phelps - so far ahead will anyone catch it?

There you have it - we have reached the end FINALLY Three days - three pieces to the puzzel. These posts have been my journey to a great Vista experience. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to email me or post in the comments. If there is another piece of software you feel I would enjoy taking a look at please shoot me a link and I will take a look - see. This final portion of Windows Vista Essentials will be Monday's post so look for the Video tomorrow.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Windows Vista Essentials PART 2 of 3

PART 2 Configuration & Tweaks

Two Facts:
  1. Everyone is different and we all like our icons in a certain place or like the interface to look a certain way. No matter what operating system you use one shapes it and molds it into something unique and personal.
  2. Computer manufacturers load their computers with unnecessary, bloated and annoying demo, trial, or marginally functional software. This is unfortunate; however, it is a fact of life. When paired with the lack of a CD or DVD containing the operating system means removing said software isn't as simple as it used to be.
Everyone is Different
How you choose to customize the windows interface is up to you. There isn't realy a wrong way to make your OS look - just make sure it is efficient for your work flow. For me that means making my taskbar thicker to accomodate "large" size quick launch buttons. The applications I live by day in and day out reside in the quicklaunch. The utilities and programs I use ocassionally are relegated to the start menu. I go into the settings and turn off the audo fill feature for the start menu because I want to choose what is in the list - not let Vista (or XP for that matter) pick what is in the list.
Possibly the most preformance impactfull change is the removal of the Widnows Sidebar. I've never realy had a use for it (but hey - I disable dashboard via terminal on my mac too so I guess I am an odd one). The sidebar eats up processor cycles, available RAM and screen space - three things I am not willing to part with. I don't have Windows hide my innactive taskbar items because I want to see what is running - and out of sight out of mind often means lost preformance to fluff tasks runing in the background. Finally - I clear the desktop. I use the desktop for my files I am currently working with and at the end of the day or week they are either deleted or filed in an appropriate folder.

Loose The Bloat
The easiest way I know of to remove the junk that comes loaded on a machine is to have it optimized by your local Geek Squad. Optimization usually takes 15-45 minutes (depending if the unit has a long first boot up process) and will only set you back $29.99. If you are more of a do-it-yourselfer you can remove the extra bloat-ware and tweak the operating system with any number of utilities; however, I have found the Geek Squad does a great job and all their work is backed for 30 days - so if they screw something up they will make it right. In the old days one would simply pop the operating system disk in the computer and install just the Operating System and ONLY the software desired. Presto - clean fast copy of the operating system. Unfortunatly, Toshiba and Gateway are the only manufacturers on the Windows side still offering disks. Dell just stoped including them; however, one can request a set for free - you just have to ask. Even companies like HP who give users the ability to burn recovery disks don't give the user a way to JUST instal the OS apart from the bundled software. I am sure there are some great tweaking utilities out there that do a great job; however, my unit was optimized before I took it home and I have no complaints. I did my Virus / Spyware installs and other configurations - but OS tweaking is somthing that I wanted Geek Squad to take care of for me.

The final peice of the puzzle are the applications which I will cover tomorrow. I have a few applications for enhancing the Vista Experience but I won't get into those here - I'll save that for tomorrow.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Windows Vista Essentials PART 1 of 3

Four months ago I took the plunge. I picked up a Vista based Windows machine after 4 years of exclusively owning a Mac. When I dropped my Dell on eBay Windows XP was just finding its feet in the world. Now all my old tricks and applications are either out-dated or just flat out don't work. I'm a new fish in the pond. I had HUGE reservations about living in a dual operating system home - I was very comfortable in OS X; however, my 4 year old PowerBook was struggling to keep up with my RAW work flow. I needed a production machine badly and I was blessed with an amazing machine that should have cost me immeasurably more than I paid for it:
HP Pavilion M9040N
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 2.4Ghz
3GB DDR2 667 RAM
3x 320 GB HD
TV Tuner Card
NVIDIA GeForce 8400 GS 256GB Video Ram
Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit
(hopeing to upgrade to Ultimate 64 in the not to distant future)
My initial reservations around Windows Vista were not dissimilar to the general public's distaste for Microsofts current operating system; however, the deal was too good so I dropped the green and picked up the machine listed above. I wish I could tell you that my first few weeks were an amazing experience but it wasn't. I had USB driver issues that caused my computer to blue screen all over the place (since patched) and stuff wasn't where I was used to it being from XP. I was cranky and frustrated and so after putting up with it for about 2 months I installed XP on one of the 3 drives in the computer so that I could give it a try to sooth my woes. After a few weeks in XP I found that Vista actually ran things like Photoshop and Lightroom better. GASP! The past month has been a journey for me a journey of acceptance and tweaking. Surrendering to the superiority of Vista over XP (not OS X) I decided that if I was going to live with Vista I had better get it set up to do what I wanted. This weekend I will be posting a 3 part post windows vista essentials. I will be sharing some of the software, websites, and configuration utilities that have transformed my Vista experience into one of the BEST Windows experiences I have ever had. We live in a Vista world - lets make the best of it!

this week in photography

Any time I run across a great resource I try to pass it along to you. If you haven't taken a listen to TWiP (This Week in Photography) you need to do so. It is a very enjoyable podcast. I ran across it a few weeks ago and now I am listening to back catalog episodes. They talk about everything from news to recommendations on gear. The episode I just finished talked extensively about inkjet printers (something I plan on purchasing sometime this coming year). Give the podcast a listen - I think you will enjoy the photo banter.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

patience ...

Considering buying a camera? Looking into replacing that old body for a "new" model? Any time one purchase a camera there are a few things to consider. What do you need/want that your current camera does not offer, How much are you willing to spend, and how soon will the "new" camera be replaced? I don't intend to address the first two in this post - though I plan on addressing it in depth down the road. Today we look at the third question. Before I say anything else I must start with this: If you need a camera today buy a camera today. However, if you can hold on for a few weeks (possibly borrowing or renting a camera) your patience might be rewarded. Every two years there is a HUGE photo show (photokina)where vendors always display new product. I am not so sure that anything new in the Nikon SLR field will be presented; however, it is almost certain that Canon will have a few new bodies in response to Nikon's D300 & D700.

This is relevant for two reasons:
  1. If you want to save a few bucks, new cameras mean the current models will go clearance which means same camera less bank
  2. If you wan the best of the best - latest and greatest, you will be getting the cameras right off the assembly line.
Either way - I think it would be wise to wait and see what comes out next month. Besides - most vendors don't wait till photokina to announce the product in an effort to one-up the competition. Only disclaimer... Just because a camera is announced does not mean it will be immediately available. If a 5D replacement is in the pipes it will probably be October / November before it hits the shelves. These are just some things to consider. If you want to get a greater sense for what is coming you can check out 1001 Noisy Cameras for the latest rumors and speculation. I don't post it here because they are just that ... rumors.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lightroom HELP!!!

Every now and then I need a little help - this would be one of those times. I am having some trouble with Lightroom 2.0 and Photoshop and I need your help! Check out the video - it explains better than typing it out.

Friday, August 15, 2008

flower power

Camera: Canon 20D 1/250 f/5.6 -2/3EV Aperture Priority Lens: Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 with macro attachment

This is an image I captured on my photo walk Wednesday. The image was taken on a hiking trail within Cherokee Park in Louisville Kentucky. No surprise - the color is what drew me in. The surrounding plant life was dominantly green and brown while the plant here simply stood out. I pulled out my cobbled together macro lens and started playing with focus priority and depth of field. I made about 11 exposures of this image - this one was right in the middle. This is the image that I liked the best. I've made some minor brightness adjustments and applied a light vignette within Lightroom to spotlight the central focal point. I don't claim to be a nature photographer - but I was very happy with this exposure. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

a better image

This is a perfect example of why I love blogging. You the reader! Mike emailed me this today as a better photo than what I posted originally. I LOVE IT! Great use of Photoshop. About fell off my chair (and since I use a Yoga ball for a chair that would be bad) when I saw this image. Mad props Mike - thanks so much.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

out shooting

I'm off work today - the weather is AMAZING. I am dropping everything and I'm goin' shooting! I'm grabbing my camera bag and hitting the streets to shoot. If you have the opportunity I would encourage you to do the same. When was the last time you just went out and took some pictures? I think it is about time to head out - I'll see you guys tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

virtual horizon - useful or waste?

In August of 2007 Nikon announced the now "king of the hill" the D3. Touting image-to-noise ratio that blew away the competition with a full frame image sensor able to resolve more efficiently than any other DSLR on the market, The D3 dropped into the world and changed the game forever. One feature that was a big press piece early on was the virtual horizon. Utilizing the internal gyroscope as more than just an orientation reading, the D3 built in a really cool piece of technology. Early hands on reviews and commentary by Moose Peterson and Joe McNally sorta killed the feature as a - it's cool but I don't find myself using it all that much.

The virtual horizon is a feature that the Nikon D700 inherited from it's older brother. Shortly after geting my hands on one I hunted that feature down (not super easy) within the tools menu. When selected the LCD gives you an image like the two at the top of the photo above. While this is a neat feature I realy don't see a real-world practical use for this other than setting up a tripod. I did a little digging - I wasn't ready to let this potentially amazing feature go without a fight. If you have used a Nikon D80, D200, D300, D700, D2x, D3, etc you are familiar with the function (fn) button next to the depth of field preview button.

Several functions can be set to this button. It is designed to give photographers quick access to features that normally one's eye out of the viewfinder. Different camera models allow for different features. I was excited and hopeful to see the Virtual Horizon as an option in the list. When bound to the fn button this feature transfors a bit. While depressed the exposure meeter becomes a level both in the viewfinder and on the top LCD display. This means while framing an image for capture you can note your level settings within the image capture process without taking your eye from what is important - subject.

In a world where we can straighten images in just about every editing application it is refreshing to see a feature that assists photographers in taking the image correctly in the camera. The virtual horizon is a HUGE feature when paired with the fn button and should not be overlooked when considering your next camera.

Monday, August 11, 2008

all about fonts

Today we take a quick look at manipulating fonts as a design element. As photographers design is frequently given a diminished priority when compaired to photo technique. While that is understandable, it is crucial that we learn to interact with fonts to enhance our image presentation.

Friday, August 8, 2008

call in the big guns

Do you want the best online training experience? Looking for great instructors on a board spectrum of technical topics? I have been enrolled in Kelby Training since it's release at the start of the year. During the first month I crushed through all the classes that would interest me and right about the time I finished there were more added. Every week I try to pass along a great service or product that I use. Kelby Training doesn't pay me to plug them ... as a matter of a fact I pay them. Thanks to Kelby training I have sat under instructors like:
  • Scott Kelby
  • Joe McNally
  • Moose Peterson
  • Matt Kloskowski
  • Vincent Versace
  • David Ziser
  • Bert Monroy
Those are just the people I have sat under - there are tons more in other areas that are outside my interest. I have been totally blown away with the scope and depth of the coarse catalog and continue to watch my email for announced new classes.

A sweet feature of the service is that you can try it out for free! Set up an account (no money required) and browse the classes. You will be able to view the first three sessions of each coarse. If it is something you enjoy either set up a monthly payment or pay for a full year up front. I have learned so much over the last 8 months using their service - I am sure you will to!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

hands on Nikon D700

Late last week I got a chance to spend some time with the new Nikon D700. HOLY COW! After about 2 minutes of playing around I turned to the guy I was with and said "Dude, this thing makes me want to go do bad things so I can afford to buy this." The Nikon D300 ... pretty cool but I am happy to stick with my Canon gear ... this bad boy ... Let's just say I am pricing my kidneys on eBay. Anyways - The top photo would normally be of the front of the camera I am talking about; however, for me - the back is where the gear lust starts so that is what I wanted to have at the top.

The first thing you notice when picking up the D700 as compared to the D300 is the viewfinder. When I placed the camera to my eye and focused the lens attached I was instantly reminded why camera manufacturers get away with charging so much more for a full frame camera. Everything looks so BIG - totally HUGE! The second piece I immediately appreciated was the refined directional button on the back that is inherited from the D3. There is a separated center button from the d-pad. This makes it much easier to select items in the menu. Everything else on the camera body is basically a carbon copy of the interface on the D300.

One of the things I was most curious about was the virtual level built in. When the D3 came out it got a lot of press; however, I never got to try it out for myself. Using the airplane style level displayed on the LCD screen didn't appear very useful due to the inaccessibility of the feature - you have to go into the tools menu to activate it each time. On the flip side - I was able to find a better solution. If you bind Virtual Horizon to the fn key that resides on the front of the camera below the depth of field preview button the exposure meeter turns into a level while the button is depressed. Realy comes in hand for checking level without taking your eye out of the viewfinder - and that is the point isn't it?

Ok, so the real thing we all want the D700 for .... ISO BABY! So this beast inherits the sensor from the D3 and thus should also share it's ISO preformance (at least in part). First setting I changed was the ISO ... all the way up to 6400 (was that wrong ... If it is I'm not sorry, not even a little bit). I began shooting existing light and playing around a bit. Check out the images below.

ABOVE: The image of a price tag across the isle taken with the 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR (Yes this is a DX lens - which means that this is actually like a 5 mega pixel image). The image lookes great regardless of the high ISO ... but wait, you're not impressed yet.
BELOW: A 100% crop of the image reveals superb image quality - you can even read the fine print on the tag. Please note - this isn't even the best the camera has to offer - I would love to see what a full fram lens would look like!

As I mentoned above - I used the camera with both the full frame and DX lenses. When you place the DX lens on the camera it puts a box in the viewfinder so you know what will be captured and what will be left off. Looking at the box realy made me realize how much you lose with a cropped sensor. I was unbelievably impressed with Nikon's newest release. I honestly have no complaints (aside from price ... $3,000.00 YIKES!).

I love my Canon; however, I can officially say that if Canon doesn't get its act together by the end of the year I just might have to trade in my gear ... my wallet is not going to like this.

Brush Tool - [LIGHTROOM 2.0]

Today we take a look at the new brush tool within Lightroom 2.0. This feature is HUGE - allowing you to selectively make adjustments to your images in their NATIVE RAW format. Even if you shoot in JPG the advantages of selective editing . Take a look at the video - It is the first in a series of Lightroom 2.0 videos.

Monday, August 4, 2008

inspire your desktop

images courtesy of David duChemin -

Over the past few weeks I have been musing around the subject of inspiration. What inspires me and what inspires you. I have been focusing on the little things that I surround myself with on a daily basis. Objects that I have intentionally placed withing close proximity to my daily path. Today I want to talk about our Desktop Wallpaper / Background images. Some people enjoy custom images while some are content with the standard image that came loaded by the manufacturer.

Every month I anxiously await the Wallpaper update on David duChemin's website the pixelated image. During the final week of every month David publishes one of his images in high resolution with a calendar superimposed on the bottom left or right corner. The images come from all over the world and have a talent for drawing one into the image. I constantly surround myself with wedding images - brides, wedding parties, cakes, etc. Every month I make a concious effort to download David's latest image and load it on my laptop. His images inspire me and I wanted to share them with you.

Video Tomorrow

Just a quick note - the Monday video will be published tomorrow. This weekend I gave up the ghost on Vista and rolled my Quad Core back to XP. I don't have everything moved over which seriously impairs my ability to record a video. I should have everything lined up by Tuesday for the video - thanks for your patience and understanding.

Friday, August 1, 2008

the look

Camera: Canon 20D 1/15 f/5.6 ISO 200 Lens: 17-40mm f/4
Light: Canon 580EX II 1/16 power triggered by Quantum FreeXwire

There are times when you say - this image is basically just out of the camera and that's it. This is not one of those images. I did a full portrait workup on this: I brightened the eyes, removed uneven skin tone, removed circles under the eyes, smoothed out odd "strapless squeeze", and blurred the background. Finally I added a elliptical vignette for some drama and signed it.

For image capture I had the camera set to manual. It was pretty bright in the room so ISO 200 worked fine and my assistant had the strobe turned WAY down ... around 1/16 power. The light is just out of frame on camera left (I know ... I am sharing the camera side of the nose ... so sue me). This image was taken right after the bride (my sister) had finished getting ready and was striking a bit of a pose for me.

It never ceases to amaze me. I leave a wedding a little frustrated just about every time. See, in my mind I am thinking about all the photos I didn't get... I sit down and start looking at images and WOW - that shot came out better than I thought and holy cow I can't believe I nailed that! My observation is that weddings are like interviews ... they usually go better than you think they did.