Thursday, December 23, 2010

Out of the mouth of babes

Although my kids are not babies anymore, every once in a while they say or do something that reminds me of that old expression "Out of the mouth of babes....", referring to the innocent way in which kids think and it goes straight from their brain to their mouth.  :-)

My daughter asked me a funny question the other day.  She said, "Daddy, if we have our home alarm turned on at night time, how will Santa get in the house to deliver our presents"?  I laughed so hard when she asked that, because from a child's point of view it's a very logical question!

Then she exclaimed, "I know!!!!  We'll use the motion sensors on our alarm to catch Santa!".  She may have been onto something there (parents know what I mean), so I told her that we would leave it off on Christmas Eve so we don't have any problems.  :-)

Along those lines, I was cleaning up the house today getting it ready for Christmas and I noticed a note that she hung on her stocking.  She was telling Santa, "Thank you for all of my presents.  Put the smallest present in here." with an arrow pointing to a small stocking that she pinned to her larger stocking.  I thought that was very cute, and it fits right in the mood of the holidays as the kids get so excited for Christmas morning to open their presents and enjoy the excitement of Christmas day.

Every once in a while, parents (including me) get a little hung up on the fact that kids don't listen all the time (sometimes not at all!).  Maybe they don't do their chores when they need to, they don't want to do their homework, they argue about going to bed "too early", etc.  It can be frustrating to deal with these same topics every day, and we wonder why they can't just figure out that these things need to be done, and there's no way out of doing them.... 

When I sometimes get frustrated by these little things in life, it's the moments like the discussion I had above with my daughter and finding this little note to Santa that reset my brain and my disposition and remind me that they're only kids and we need to let them be kids.  The chores and other things in life can sometimes wait for another day and we need to just let things be and enjoy the moments...

Have a great holiday season and a Happy New Year!  Enjoy the moments...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Inspiration! "Within The Frame" by David duChemin

I have a lot of photography books.  I enjoy reading the thoughts and techniques of the photographers whose work I like.  Not only do I learn many things, but I also get a chance to live vicariously through them and see some of the places and sights that I probably won't have time (or money) to see in my lifetime.

Some of the books are great and I refer to them often to re-read key sections until they sink into my brain and I can make the concepts my own and put them to work for me in my own photography.  Others are not so good, and get placed on an upper shelf and are rarely touched again.

I'm reading an excellent book right now called "Within The Frame" by David duChemin.  If you're looking for a last minute holiday gift to tuck under the tree for your favorite photographer, then this is the book to get.

This is not a technical book about photography or technique, per se'.  It's about the journey to finding your own photographic vision and achieving the kind of photography that you most enjoy.

Surely, this is a lofty goal for any book.  Finding your photographic vision is an intensely personal journey that every enthusiastic photographer takes.  How can a book help with this?

Stay with me for a few minutes on this topic..... 

I'll tell you where many books of this nature fail.  They use too many words.  It's as simple as that.  I've read books that, although they're good, are written by an author that takes forty sentences to complete one key thought.  So what happens?  Your brain gets totally lost in all the written words on the page and the concept that you're reading about floats right by without sinking in.

This is not the case with "Within The Frame".  David duChemin writes with a down to earth style and states his key thoughts very succinctly.  This makes the book easy to digest.  He then uses supporting text and images to drive home his points. I use the word "supporting" intentionally.  There's plenty to read in the book, but the key thoughts in each section of the book can be lifted out quite easily.  Those points make you think about how you can apply the book to your photography, and that is precisely what a book of this type should achieve.  It should make you think, not try to ram ideas down your throat.

David speaks early on in this book about some key thoughts:
  1. Passionate photography (duChemin says his goal for his image making is "Passionate stories told passionately").
  2. Chasing your vision and telling your stories as clearly and passionately as possible with compelling photography.
  3. Shooting what moves you.
  4. Making the viewer of your photos care.
Having read this book, I totally understand where he's coming from.  My brain is flooding with ideas about how to implement David's key messages in my photography.  It's a completely successful book.  Well worth reading...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Image of the Year"? Huh?

I always try to avoid being unnecessarily overly critical of the photography of other people.  Everyone has their vision and who am I to criticize someones art, right?  If they ask me for my opinion I certainly provide it without hesitation, and I've had many great and interesting discussions this way and I've learned a lot about myself and my photography along the way.

What I'm being critical of here is American Photo magazine.  They recently published their list of "2010 Images of the Year".  The image at this link of the blue house was actually selected as an 'Image of the Year'.


For the life of me, I can't find one single redeeming quality in this photo.  Thinking that I might be off base and with my curiosity of other people's opinions now piqued, I've showed this photo to many people and they all said the exact same thing, "What's it supposed to be?  It's a terrible picture".

I don't know why this annoys me so much, but a blog is about expressing your opinions, so I guess I'm just doing that here.  I read American Photo magazine and they always strive to publish high quality content and photos.  With so much great photography out there and the thousands of photos that must have been considered in this competition, I guess it just irks me that a photo of the side of the house with a satellite dish and some telephone wires is lauded as an 'Image of the Year'.  I can't imagine people sitting around a table saying "That's a great shot....It's an image of the year"!

Come on American Photo.  Please filter this stuff out and keep your content at the high quality level that it has been in the past...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Photo Carousel #7: "Milkweed In Cold Sunset"

Here's a nice shot taken at the Mohonk Preserve in New York when I was coming to the end of a great day of hiking with my daughter.  This is my seventh Photo Carousel entry.

I'm getting more comfortable executing these types of classic shots.  I used to struggle to find nice compositions like this with the right lighting elements, etc, but all of my practice is starting to pay off nicely because I'm "seeing" these scenes more easily these days.

As we came to the end of our hike, the sun was setting fast and we were almost back to the car. The temperature was dropping quickly through the mid 40's and into the 30's in what seemed like just a few minutes.  When we rounded the last turn in our trail and came to this open field, the sun was just finishing cutting across it with a great golden color.  The photographer's classic "golden light"...

My daughter (8 years old) is just learning to take photographs and I showed her how to get behind these milkweed to let the sun shine through them to make a nice effect. Her response was "Cool, that looks much better.  Thanks Dad!".  She went to take some photos of some other plants nearby that she liked and I stuck with these to try to get my shot....

From the creative and technical perspective, a number of things came together nicely here that I wanted to mention as a learning experience...

I composed the shot that I wanted with the two primary large fluffy weeds positioned near two intersecting "Rule of Thirds" lines.  Not right on them because I wanted to keep certain things out of the frame, but close enough.  Dividing up the frame in my mind in various ways and placing elements where I want them was the single biggest thing that I did years ago to improve my photography.

Interestingly, I originally framed this shot to cut out the two smaller weeds in the bottom left corner, but then I realized that their shapes echoed the two larger ones and I thought that was cool so I put them back in.

With the composition and the light in place, I was ready to shoot but something was still missing.  Warmth.  This scene needed some warmth.  I decided to wait for the setting sun to enter the top of the frame.  I knew that the small aperture I was using on my Canon S95 would get me some nice streaks of golden light across the frame. Patience paid off, and it worked perfectly!  I fired off a few quick shots at various zooms on this same scene just as the sun came into the frame and this is the one that I liked the best.

The scene is -2/3 stop underexposed to make the colors a little more rich.  A straight metering of the overall scene would have overexposed it due to the mostly darker field I was shooting, so I dialed in some negative exposure compensation.  Any time you want to make the colors in a scene like this a little more rich, just dial in -1/3 or -2/3 exposure compensation if the scene can take it without ruining the mood.

About one minute later the golden light completely ended as the sun ducked behind the hill. We were left out in the cold gray light of the rapidly approaching darkness to finish our walk to the car. 

We completed the day with a nice post-hike dinner in the town of New Paltz, NY at the Gilded Otter Brewery.  Another great day out with my family, during which I was able to snag some nice photos...

Monday, December 6, 2010

I feel like Charlie Brown!

In the classic cartoon "A Charlie Brown Christmas" that airs on TV every holiday season, we find the main character Charlie Brown fighting his way through the over-commercialization of Christmas to find the real root of the holiday season.  Thankfully he does, and the story ends on a pleasant note that expresses the true meaning of the holidays...

I feel a little bit like Charlie Brown these days.

This is the first year that the commercialization of Christmas has completely pounded me over the head until I can't take it anymore.  Black Friday, Cyber Monday, twenty-five emails a day with announcements of new sales, exchanging Christmas shopping hint lists, Christmas decorations in the stores in the first week of September!  Argggggh!  I've had enough!!!  I want a simpler, less complicated, less shopping-oriented Christmas.

The kids having fun with a glowing string of lights...
This is the reason why my wife and I are going to continue to intentionally try to turn the holidays back in time at our house this year and in the future.  We like to get back to what the spirit of Christmas is truly, memories, and the simple joys of the season.

We've always had a few nice Christmas traditions that we carry on in our house.  Some of them include things like:
  1. Decorating the house a few items per day for the first week of December to surprise the kids with a new treat every day when they come home from school.  They run around the house looking for what's new.  :-)
  2. Putting out photos from our past Christmas holidays to enjoy the memories and swap funny stories. 
  3. Visiting New York City to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, the decorated store windows, and a dinner at Ted's Montana Grill.  
  4. Hiking into the woods to put some Christmas decorations on "our" same pine tree every year to see if they survive the winter (we then go back in the spring to take them off).  
  5. Making some of our own Christmas decorations.
  6. Baking Christmas cookies.
  7. Turning out all the lights to watch The Grinch, Rudolph, and The Polar Express (which, if you haven't seen it, is a fantastic Christmas movie that should be in everyone's collection).
I hope you have (and keep!) your Christmas traditions too.  Every family has them, but sometimes they get pushed aside in the hustle and bustle of the shopping season and this is what I'm trying to reverse.  I don't want the holidays to rush by in a fury of sales and then be over before I have a chance to enjoy them. 

So, in the spirit of getting back to more easy-going holidays, here are some thoughts for the future that I plan to do:
  1. Find a traditional Christmas event in a town near my house and go to it (tree lighting ceremony in the town square, etc).  They're out there, but sometimes they're not easy to find around where I live.  I like what many other countries in other parts of the world do in this regard.   In Germany (for example), many of the towns of significant size that have a Marktplatz (town square) have a traditional Christmas market to ring in the season with crafts, foods, wines, hot drinks, singing, a giant town tree, etc.  This link to some photos of the German Christmas Markets shows exactly what I'm talking about.
  2. I will not exchange Christmas lists with anyone.  If I know them well enough (and vise versa), I should be able to buy them a gift without being told what it is, where to get it, and how much to pay.
  3. I will log into every online store where I shop and change my account to use an alternate email address.  This way my primary email account won't get pounded with emails at the holidays, which forces me to sort through all of this shopping junk to find the real emails that I want to read.  I can then go check my "Christmas email account" when I want to, not when the stores want me to.  This will go a long way in improving my psyche because I can just "turn off" the constant sales stuff.
  4. I will not shop in any store that puts out Christmas decorations in September!!!
  5. I will share these thoughts with anyone who will listen to me in the hope that the spirit catches on!
I hope that everyone reading this post enjoys their holiday season and finds some peace in these fast paced times...Enjoy your family, enjoy your memories, and skip that sale at the store so you can sit by the fire and relax a little bit longer.  Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Topaz Labs - InFocus (Refine Detail, Restore Clarity)

Here is a link to a new tool from Topaz Labs called "InFocus".

Topaz has a good reputation for its Photoshop plug-ins, so I thought I would post this here and you can try InFocus for yourself using their free trial offer to see if it lives up to its hype.

As the Topaz web site explains, fixing blurry photos is an extremely difficult computational process.  There are so many factors that contribute to the possible causes for a blurry image that no one company has come up with a solution other than merely sharpening edges in the photo and hoping for the best results.  From what I've tried of these tools, they haven't been worth the money.  A blurry photo has always remained a blurry photo....

With this new plug-in, Topaz claims to be the first company to tackle the difficulties around fixing blurry images.  If this plug-in truly works, it could be a lifesaver for an image that was otherwise ruined or heavily compromised due to accidental blur regardless of the source of the blur.

I'm a bit skeptical, so I'll try it for myself to test it out.  But if it works, it could be a great tool to have in your photo processing arsenal for when a problem image comes up that you want to rescue.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Color management - A marriage between your monitor and your printer

And 'huey PRO' is the priest!  :-)

If you do a lot of high quality photo printing at home, you're well aware that printer ink costs a small fortune.  Over the life of a printer, the cost of printer ink adds up to many times what you spent on the printer in the first place.  To replace all eight ink cartridges in my Canon Pro 9000 Mark II printer costs me $85 each time!  Yes, $85 each time!

So logic would follow that you want to get your photos out of your printer with the correct colors the first time so that you don't waste money re-printing photos that you've had to correct to get them to look right when printed.

Unfortunately, this is not as easy as it sounds.  I talk to people constantly who say to me, "My printer stinks....It never prints my pictures with the same colors as what I have on my screen".  Some of these people are using printers that cost $300 or more.  Trust me, the printers don't stink.

My answer to them is that 8 or 9 times out of 10, it's because the person is editing their photos on a computer monitor that isn't properly calibrated, or isn't calibrated at all.  They are then sending photos with dubious colors in them to a printer and expecting that their printed pictures come out "right".

The response I hear back is:  "I took my monitor out of the box from the factory, why isn't it calibrated properly from the factory"?  The answer is:  It just isn't.....and there are a variety of reasons why.

On top of not being calibrated properly from the factory, your perception of the colors on your monitor changes as the lighting changes is in your room throughout the day.  Sun pouring in the windows at one time, compact fluorescent or tungsten bulbs at night, etc.  Lighting is very dynamic.

So how does a person level the playing field when there's all this to consider to get proper colors?

Answer:  Calibrate your monitor so that you're displaying and editing colors based on a standard and accurate color calibration, and adjust the monitor throughout the day for changing light.

Sound hard?  It's not.  It's actually easy!  Simply purchase and install the huey PRO device from Pantone and away you go.  It really is that easy.  Go to the link above to see what Huey can do for you.

Once you install the software and plug in the device, it will step you through the process of calibrating your monitor.  It takes about five minutes.  Once done, the custom calibration is loaded automatically every time you boot up your computer.

What's even better is that you can set Huey to automatically monitor the light in your room and adjust the monitor settings based on what it's seeing throughout the day so that you're seeing accurate colors all the time.  Perfect!

After doing this with the initial version of Huey that came out years ago, my prints out of my printer are much closer to what I see on the screen because my monitor is displaying standardized colors and my printer is printing standardized colors.  No more was I saying, "'s still not right" and going back for another round of corrections and printing.  The prints I make after using Huey are very accurate.

Using Huey should get you much closer to your goals of accurate printing and I think you'll be pleased by using this device.  However, on top of using Huey to achieve proper monitor calibration there are other things that you can do to ensure even better color matching between your monitor and your printer.  You could inadvertently be doing some things wrong that you're not even aware of... 

Some of things to watch out for that could be causing color match problems from monitor to printer include the following:
  1. Make sure you're specifying the proper kind of paper that you're printing to in the printer dialog box for your printer.
  2. Make sure that you're having either Photoshop OR the printer managing color when you print, not both.  If you use them both to simultaneously manage color when printing then your colors will be far out of whack.  You have to explicitly turn one on and one off and then they should stay that way as your defaults.
  3. Make sure you're editing and printing in the same color space.
  4. Make sure that your printer head isn't clogged (it will be very obvious if it is).
  5. If possible, get a printer profile for the paper that you're printing to, and use it.  These can often be found on the paper manufacturer's web site.
My hints above are just the tip of the iceberg.  Sophisticated color management is the topic of many books and web sites, and I don't intend to echo those writings here.  Simply Google "printer color management" and you'll see many of the issues that people face and their solutions.

My point with this post is that there's a simple way to get much more accurate prints the first time without struggling, and that's to use huey PRO to calibrate your monitor.  If you have further issues after that then a little digging within Photoshop help, Google, and/or your printer manufacturer's web site should get you the rest of the way there.

I should note that there are significantly more sophisticated monitor calibration devices out there other than huey PRO, but they also cost a lot more.  My thought is that huey PRO is probably all that most advanced amateur photographers really need to get their color management and printing on track.

Enjoy making better prints!