Calvert Photography Club chosen as Peachpit’s “User Group of the Month”

Guy Stephens

Each month Peachpit Press selects one User Group that has been deemed to have been exceptional in their communication with meeting updates, giveaway requests and book reviews and asks them to share some insights and tips with them. Previous groups have included the Sacramento Video Industry Professionals and the Austin Adobe User Group.  In November Peachpit Press featured the the Calvert Photography Club! 

Peachpit BlogI participated in an interview about the Calvert Photography Club with Keely Hild who asked a number of questions about our club.  Questions ranged from what type of format we use for our user group meetings to the opportunity to highlight an exception member.  This was a fun opportunity and great recognition for our club.  You can read the entire interview on the Peachpit blog.

Peachpit has been publishing top-notch books on the latest in graphic design, desktop publishing, multimedia, Web design and development, digital video, and general computing since 1986. Over the past few years Peachpit has grown to encompass several digital product offerings, such as eBooks, online video products, and Safari Books Online; as well as our first conference series. Our award-winning products feature step-by-step explanations, timesaving techniques, savvy insider tips, and expert advice for computer users of all sorts.

Book Review:  Photoshop Elements - From Snapshots to Great Shots

Sharon Shifflett

Photoshop Elements - From Snapshots to Great Shots
Author:  Jeff Revell
Published by:  Peachpit Press

Jeff Revell chose to write this book about Adobe Elements because it was one of the best image processing programs which did not have a price tag that would break the bank.  Elements has the basic functions as its big brother Adobe Photoshop.  The book was written for MAC or PC and Jeff Revell says “Most of the information will be general in nature and you use the same tools that have been available in previous versions of Elements.  They are the core elements of image processing, and just like f-stops and shutter speeds, they will probably change very little in the future.” 

Great ShotsThis book has been the cleanest, most precise, easiest to understand, and quickest to reference than any other “how to book” for Elements that I’ve read so far.  Every book I have tried, including Elements for Dummies, have been 5 times as thick and very weighed down and not any where near as concise and easy to understand.  This book goes through what Jeff Revell calls “Image processing as a three-step process”:  1.The import, 2. Working the pictures, giving them the right treatment to fulfill the vision that one has when they took the photo and 3. Doing something with the images – like sharing with friends, family or clients. 

Jeff Revell especially believes in shooting raw (Chapter 4) and he gives some files to use through (free) and the books ISBN.  This was so helpful, but what was even more astounding was his explanation on how to process the raw files.  Each function of all of the tools was given so that you could follow along so easily. I had only known about Adobe Camera Raw - the Basic Tab.  There are a total of three tabs on the right side of the Adobe Camera Raw Interface.

The Basic Tab  - I was using it, but really did not know the full explanation of the Recovery Slider (fixing areas in our photo that are too bright without having to make the rest of the image darker) or Fill Light Adjustments (for too many dark areas with no detail).  He gave great explanations of all the sliders in very few words and to the point.

The Detail Tab – I had never clicked on the second tab to find the greatest find I have had so far.  Sharpening, radius, detail, masking, and noise reduction, “yeah”.  For those of us who are new to raw, and are still struggling with noise when using a high ISO, or correcting the exposure on photos that were underexposed, this has been so very helpful.  I figured out what was meant by “shooting to the right”- overexpose by 2 stops will not cause noise, but underexposing will.

The Camera Calibration Tab (camera profiles specific to your camera) – As was explained in the book, “When you look at an image on your camera’s LCD screen it looks great but on the computer it is not so great.  The image on the camera is a JPEG that has been corrected and enhanced by the camera.  Raw strips this away, so to add back that pizzazz; you select a new camera profile from the Camera Calibration tab.”  I shoot a lot of people and the camera portrait works great, but not all the time, as Jeff Revel says “Sometimes you need to play around and see which works best”.  It also has camera landscape, camera neutral, camera standard, camera vivid.  The default is camera adobe.

Jeff Revell was totally off the mark when he mistakenly assumed most elements versions have the Layer Mask feature.  I am using elements 8 which does not have that feature (it shows up in Elements 9 – darn).  I was driven crazy trying to figure it out.  I had to go to the internet to find an Adjustment Layer Workaround.  There were a few other areas covered in the book that my Elements 8 did not have.  Mr. Revell was using Elements 10 at the time this book was published. 

Overall this book was so helpful that I wanted to keep it for a reference book and that is why I decided to do this review.  I did not want to part with it, I wanted to be able to page mark, and highlight important parts of the book. The differences in the more complex functions like masking were the only negative thing I had to say about the book.  If you are new to editing in Elements or you are thinking about shooting raw and are concerned you can’t do it – get this book.  I wish I had it before I did the last years editing in raw (I have only been shooting in raw for one year).  Now I have to go back and do some changes to a lot of my favorite pictures to make them even better.

Overall Rating:  9.5 out of 10

Revisiting the past – through forgotten photos

Megan Snider

When I received my first digital camera in 2007—a Canon PowerShot A460, a cute little guy—I knew nothing about photography. I’d grown up under my mother’s watchful eye (and lens), so I was used to posing for photos—but never taking them. That camera was a college graduation present, unveiled just before I went to Italy with my family, so I had no time to adjust to the new point-and-shoot. Not that I really needed to.

Photo by Megan SniderI was recently thinking about that Italian vacation, the photos I took—and where they were. In an era pre-Flickr, Shutterfly and the iPhone for me, my photos were all burned to CDs and removed from my old laptop. By some miracle, I found the two CDs with my Italian images and started looking through them this week. What an eye-opener.

In the years since that vacation, I’ve upgraded to a “big girl” camera, joined the Calvert Photography Club, met countless photographers and learned tons amount about style, composition and the technical aspects of getting a winning shot. Though I have much still to learn, where I am now is a wide leap from where I was in June 2007.

More than understanding exposure and shutter speed, I’ve learned about what makes a photo . . . nice. I’ve developed a personal style and love playing around with vintage filters. My Photoshop skills have increased tremendously—but more than that, I’ve learned how to take a better photo while I’m actually taking the photo. Everything I didn’t know in 2007.

Photo by Megan SniderAs I was clicking through the pictures, I kept thinking, “Man, if only I’d had my Rebel.” Looking at the gorgeous scenes of Venice, Rome and Florence made me wistful for what I could have captured had I been interested in photography beforehand. But then I realized, hey—as Guy always says? The best camera is the one you had with you.

And since I can’t re-create that trip and the magic of my first time traveling abroad, I decided to fake it.

Opening the pictures I thought had potential, I made my way through the shots armed with my new knowledge and taste. The Calvert Photography Club has definitely sharpened my critical eye. I cropped out power lines I’d never noticed—along with the clipped masts of ships, the stray arm of someone just off-screen. I fixed the white balance in many, darkened the “blacks” with the levels to make them pop, cloned out unattractive signs in the backgrounds of portraits. I leveled the horizons – something I never, ever noticed until club members began pointing them out in critiques.

But beyond the technical quirks, I thought about what makes a compelling photo to me now. I love vignettes, drawing the eye to action, the serenity of a simple landscape. I’m drawn to paths and bridges and walkways. I love epic mountains, peaceful water, laughing people. Those were the pictures I singled out from the 500 I took on that Italian trip.

Photo by Megan SniderOnly five hundred photos—in a week and a half. Makes me laugh. On a just four-day trip to London in 2009, I took almost 1,200. And in California this year? About 1,600.

After playing with my old photos for an hour or two, I couldn’t believe the results. What I’d considered basic, “blah” point-and-shoot shots from my vacation had morphed into something else entirely. Though far from an expert, I was impressed with how much I’d been able to change them. Without setting foot in busy, bustling and fume-clogged Fiumicino Airport in Rome, I’d “revisited” a beloved place—and emerged with fresh images.

Though, you know, I’m totally cool with a wealthy benefactor sending me back to Italy—this time with my Rebel. It’s no problem.

Plug-in and Simplify

Lisa Snider

On Saturday, November 17, 2012, the Calvert Photography Club met for its monthly meeting in our new home, at Trinity United Methodist Church, located at 90 Church Street, in Prince Frederick. A special thanks goes out to Robbin Haigler, for all of the hard work she did in finding the location, which is centrally located in Prince Frederick, with room for our club to grow. 

President Guy Stephens opened the business portion of the meeting by announcing that our club has been selected by Peachpit Press as the “User Group of the Month.” A blog post will be written about our club, which will be featured on-line. Guy will share a link to the blog post once it is up.

GuyOur September Photography Boot Camp was a wonderful success, so plans will be made to have an annual “basic” workshop, as well as an “advanced” topic for those who would be interested in that. In the meantime, Vice President Jeff Smallwood will host a Photo Basics Class at the Calvert Library on November 26, 2012, from 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. The class is free, and open to public, but registration is required through the library. Guy will also be hosting a second topic at the Calvert Library, Mobile Phone Photography, in either January or February of 2013, for those who are interested. 

The Solomon’s Island Fall exhibit, which is currently up, will be coming down early to allow room for the Christmas Exhibit which the visitor’s center has planned. The next opportunity that club members will have to submit their work for possible display will be for the winter exhibit.  Photos submitted for this exhibit should feature winter themes such as snow and Valentine’s Day. Club members should watch for Guy’s
e-mail soliciting entries for the display. 

In other business, our nominating committee, composed of Sharon Shifflett, Nick Iascone, and Lin Moos, has identified candidates for our upcoming club elections. The positions which will be voted upon are the President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer. The following individuals have agreed to run for these positions: President – Jeff Smallwood; Vice President – Megan Snider and Karl Barth; Secretary – Lisa Snider (incumbent) and Ursula Lawrence, and Treasurer,
Bonnie Bryant (incumbent). Guy then opened the floor up for possible further nominations; none were put forth, so this is the roster of candidates. Guy also mentioned that he will remain very active with the Board of Directors, in his role as Past President. Voting will take place via an on-line ballot, which will be sent out to all members in good standing (those with their dues paid up). The winners of the election will be announced at the December meeting, and will be put in place in January, 2013.

Worth noting are the addition of three ballot questions which, if approved, will require a change to our current by-laws. They are (1) raising the dues by $5.00 per year, to help offset the monthly fee to Trinity United Methodist for our new monthly meeting location; (2) realignment of the club year, from March to March, to January to January; and (3) getting rid of the term limits for the President and Vice President roles, which is consistent with how other camera clubs in our area operate.

Club members should also be on the lookout for a brief member survey, which Guy will put forth, to gauge ideas for future trips, members’ interest in topics, etc., for the coming year. 

In the absence of Treasurer Bonnie Bryant, Robbin gave the Treasurer’s report. Members are reminded that club dues which are outstanding should be paid to Bonnie ASAP. Once dues are paid, be sure that you have provided your e-mail address to Bonnie. This will ensure that you are added to our club e-mail list for future communications, such as the ballot for our upcoming elections. There is a club sign-in sheet which is circulated at each meeting; be sure that you sign the sheet. Bonnie also maintains the monthly snack sign- up sheet – please see her to add your name to it. Bonnie has a volunteer for the December snack, and is accepting volunteers for the meetings in the new year. Finally, we now have 65 paid members in our club.

We closed out the business portion of our meeting with Spencer providing an update on our lending Library. Spencer advised that the list of great new books is growing – he has new books available for loan on such topics as commercial photography, software specific titles, and beginner’s photography, among others. Be sure to login to the members’ only section of the web site to view the titles, which are available for loan for a period of 2 months. Remember, too, that both Peach Pit and O’Reilly Presses offer free books to our club members, for only the price of writing a review of the book for our club’s blog.

Today’s program was presented by President Guy Stephens, in conjunction with member T.O. Galloway, who kindly agreed to present a portion of the program entitled “Plug-ins.” Guy began his presentation with the definition of a plug-in – it is a “software add on” to a host application, which offers a streamlined set of steps to simplify a task, or extends the functionality of the program. Plug-ins may do image editing, provide filters and effects, may reduce noise and correct offer lens correction, improve workflow by offering streamlined import/export/backup functions, or provide ease of publishing and printing. Common platforms used which accept plug-ins include Photoshop, Photoshop Elements (PSE), Lightroom and Aperture. Common plug-ins which members may be familiar with include Photomatix for HDR, Alienskin, and Nik Software.

Guy presentsPlug-ins which may be right for you to use depend on the platform you use, your workflow, your needs, and your style. A google search of your platform will provide you with a list of plug-ins that are compatible with your platform. There are trial versions available of most plug-ins, which are worth experimenting with prior to your purchase. On-line videos can often be found, also through Google, which give you the steps for use. You can also sign up for free webinars providing plug-in instruction, which often offer a purchase discount after completion of the webinar. Nik software typically offers a 15% discount, and Topaz offers a generous 30% discount.

Guy uses Nik plug-ins, which feature “U-Point” Technology, great for localized enhancements, and he went on to discuss and demonstrate several.

Dfine 2.0 by Nik reduces digital noise in a picture, by analyzing a photo and giving you a thumbnail of proposed enhancements which you may tweek, as need be, or select as is. 

Viveza 2 by Nik allows you to make localized adjustments to a photo much more simply, by selecting a control point, and effecting changes to just a portion of a photo, such as color, brightness, contrast, saturation and structure, to bring out the detail.

HDR Efex Pro 2 allows you to merge 3 images, taken at 3 different exposure settings, into one image which helps bring out the detail in the photo. This sometimes results in an image which more closely reflects what is seen or, if the effect is exaggerated, can result in an “other worldly” or painterly effect. The end result is based on the photographer’s tastes, and how far they push the plug-in. 

Color Efex Pro 2 by Nik offers an extensive set of filters which may be applied to an image. Examples of available filters include the classical soft-focus effect, vignette filters, black and white filters, and more – a total of 52 filters are available to choose from. It is also possible to “stack” filters, one on top of the other, and then save the stacked filters as a “recipe,” to obtain repeatable results.

Silver Efex Pro 2 is wonderful for converting your color photos to Black and White, and then tweeking the results and/or applying presets to a photo and then tweeking. You can also choose to mimic old black and white film types which you may like.

Sharpener Pro 3.0 is wonderful for output sharpening, for printing and for the web.

Most plug-ins from Nik can be bought individually for $99.00-$199.00 each, or as a complete collection, which is often more economical, if you will use several.

T.O. Galloway then discussed and demonstrated some of the plug-ins which he uses, from Topaz Labs. Topaz offers more affordable plug-in options, which do similar things.

Topaz Lens Effects offers different types of lens – such as selective focus, Bokeh effect, pinhole, toy camera, fog, fisheye, etc., which can be fun and creative.

Topaz DeNoise 5 is a noise reduction tool which is similar to Dfine 2.0 by Nik, but does not offer the U-Point technology, for really specific picture portion selections.

Star Effects adds a star pattern to existing light sources, which sources may be selected in a picture and turned on, or off.

Topaz Remask 3 allows you to cut out an element in a picture without having to be very precise.

The presentation was very informative and piqued the interest of many club members, including myself. Now which plug-in should I ask Santa to bring, or maybe the whole collection? Have I been that good this year? 

While I pondered this thought, the club took a 5-minute break to enjoy the refreshments provided, and briefly mingle before the slideshow presentation.

After the break, Tammi Gorsak treated the club to her slideshow, featuring her summer vacation to the Smokey Mountains. Her photographs, set to a breezy tune, were lovely.   

Upcoming events were discussed next by Robbin. Our next field trip is set for Saturday, December 1, to Flat Iron Farms and their holiday display. General admission is 5:00 p.m., but Robbin is in negotiation with their staff to see if we can gain early admittance – by 3:30 or 4:00 – to take pictures of the barns and landscape before dark.
Watch for a future e-mail from Robbin with all of the specifics.

Our next photo assignment is “feast,” to be interpreted as everyone sees fit. Finally, as we are moving toward the winter, and the chance of inclement weather, Robbin advised that the church (our new home for club meetings) is generally closed when the school system is closed. As we meet on Saturdays, it may be advisable to call the church, for the most accurate information, and listen to their voice mail message, which is updated by the church secretary. 

The last segment of the meeting featured 6 submitted images taken by our club members depicting this month’s shooting assignment, “Patterns.” As our meeting was running a bit long, and we had only Jim Rogers of our official critique team in attendance, each image was allotted 2 minutes for the critique session. Bill Conway graciously offered to help Jim with the critiques, as well as other club members, who volunteered their thoughts and ideas. Each offered what they liked about the image, as well as offering constructive criticism, where appropriate.

In closing, remember that “a photographer must be prepared to catch and hold on to those elements which give distinction to the subject, or lend it atmosphere.” – Bill Brandt, photographer

How to Fake a GND Filter by Combining Two Images

Jeff Smallwood

The technique is simple and involves opening the two images as layers and using a basic layer mask with a tight gradient. The video and explanation are done with Photoshop but the technique will also work in Photoshop Elements. Lightroom is not required either, although I use that in the demonstration to open the images as layers.

Read more and watch the video.

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