365 Days

Karl Barth

Well 2013 is in the books and a new year has arrived.  Of course with a new year comes the new years resolutions.  I’ve always found that resolutions are a waste of time because I never keep them.  I rather set goals for the year.  Goals have more substance and are more meaningful.  Just my opinion.

As I reflect on the past year, one of the biggest successes I had was my 365 day photo project.  That meant taking a picture everyday.  I tried doing this project in 2012 but quit after 4 days because it was getting tough and wasn’t dedicated enough.  When 2013 arrived, I was determined to finish it to completion and I did.  Let me tell you though it wasn’t easy.  Towards the end of the project, I was like “The Little Engine That Could” and saying to myself “I think I can, I think I can.”

If anyone out there has thought about doing this project I figured I would write this blog and explain what I liked versus what I didn’t like.  I hope this information is helpful to you.

In doing this project I learned where my strengths and weaknesses are with photography.  I went out of my comfort zone of only shooting landscape/nature.  I worked on my portrait skills and became more creative like shooting water drops.  I feel my skills improved.

By Karl BarthAnother key thing I learned from Bryan Peterson and practiced was learning to shoot creatively meaning making a picture more interesting.  For example, I have this Christmas decoration hanging up in my kitchen.  It’s a red snowflake with a bell hanging in the middle.  Rather than shooting the entire snowflake I took a picture of the bell. It was much more interesting to me.

Finally the biggest pro to this project is you get to use your camera everyday and not let it collect dust.  Sure you can use a cell phone but I much rather use my real camera and take pictures.  The quality is much better.

As for the cons, the biggest challenge is time.  That may not sound so complicated but when you have a full time job and a family, there is not enough time in the day.  It got worse later in the year when the time changed and there was less daylight.  

Then there is the ever important question on what to shoot.   On most days ideas just popped out.  Then there were those other days  towards the end of the project where I had no clue what to take a picture of.  I didn’t want to be repetitive and shoot the same thing over and over.  I also wanted the subject to be interesting.  It got to a point where it stressed me out which was no fun.

by Karl BarthFinally the biggest con I found was picture quality.  I’m my own biggest critic and I’m probably really hard on myself.  As I look at the pictures in this project there are some bad photos.  They either were not composed properly, over processed, or simply a bad subject.  As a result I felt this project really impacted the quality of pictures I posted.

I don’t want anyone thinking that I hated this project because that isn’t true.  I simply misunderstood how hard this project was going to be.  I’m glad I started and finished the project.  Will I do this project again?  I can’t see myself doing this project again but I may look at doing a 52 week project.  I created a video slideshow of the project.  You can check it out on YouTube at:

I’ve posted a few of my favorite photos in this post.  Enjoy!  Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

Extend your photo editing options

Karl Barth

In the November club meeting the topic/presentation was on software plug-ins.  Software plug-ins can be used with Aperture, Lightroom, or Photoshop.  They offer ways to enhance your photos and make them look great.  Club President Guy Stephens along with club member T.O. Galloway gave a great presentation on the various software plug-ins available and how effective they can be.

Photo by Karl BarthPrior to the meeting, I never used any software plug-ins in my post processing.  I only used Lightroom 4 and I felt it did a pretty good job.  I read about them and had seen other photographers use them but I never tried them out.  After the meeting, I decided to download some of these plug-ins and try them out. 

I started off by downloading Perfect Effects 4 from OnOne.  It was a free download from their site and the software was very easy to install.  I went through the setup wizard and when I opened Lightroom the software was there for me.  For a free program I was impressed with the filters that were available.  There were 70 filters to choose from.

I also decided to download a free trial of Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro.  I was immediately impressed with the software.  I can see why it was so popular.  I was able to manipulate some of my good photos into great photos.  I was also able to get more creative with some of photos and manipulate them to look like paintings.

Photo by Karl BarthLike OnOne Pefect Effects, the Nik trial software was easy to download and install.  When I opened Lightroom, the plug-in was already installed and ready for me to use.  The bad part about using the trial software is that you get the annoying splash screen reminding you how many days you have left for the trial.  It pops up every time you launch the software.

I ended up getting an early Christmas present and got the Nik Software Complete Collection.  It came with Dfine 2.0, Viveza 2, HDR Efex Pro 2, Silver Efex 2, Color Efex 2, and Sharpener Pro 3.0.  I’ve already used all of these programs in some fashion in processing my pictures.  I absolutely love the software.  I’m thankful Guy and T.O. did the presentation.  Otherwise I may never have gotten the software.

The Lytro Light Field Camera - A Revolution?

Jeff Smallwood

If you haven’t read about it, there was a flurry of activity in the media the last couple weeks about the Lytro Light Field camera. I won’t rehash the details here, but in a nutshell it is a new type of camera designed to capture light from multiple directions at once (the light field), and uses software to create the photograph. The magic is that there is no focusing in the camera, you focus after you take the shot. In addition, you can refocus on different points over and over as you’re viewing it digitally. It sounds a little like science-fiction, but it really is true and based on real physics.

Read the full article about it. I embedded a sample image from Lytro that allows you to refocus the photo yourself to see how it works.

One Photo - Three Phases of Photography

Jeff Smallwood

Don't Wake Me, I'm Still Dreaming Scott’s blog entry is a short, but I think relatively accurate description of what people experience. The only real problem I had with his description was that for phase two, I think you can be in that learning phase yet still be relatively happy with a lot of your results, even if you haven’t progressed on to what he calls phase three. Just because your images don’t come out exactly as you expect doesn’t mean you’re necessarily disappointed.

His blog entry got me thinking about this photo I took a couple weeks ago. Where on the scale did my mind belong when I took this?

Read more to find out.

Ten great gifts for the photographer on your list

Guy Stephens

The holiday season is right around the corner and perhaps you have a photographer in your life, so I thought it would be fun to put together a quick list of gift ideas for photographers.  Here is a quick list I put together this morning to share:

Spyder31) Spyder3 (Express/Pro) - Photographers love to print and share their work, but when the prints come back and the colors aren’t right - well let’s just say there is not much worse than an angry photographer.  If the colors on your monitor are not right, the colors in your print will not be right either.  Calibrating and profiling your monitor is a great way to make sure you are seeing images consistently and should be a top priority for photographers that like to have their work printed.

Datacolor makes a nice line of calibration devices.  I have been using a Spyder3Express with good results.  It was amazing when I first calibrated my monitor and used a printing service that could use my color profile (White House Custom Color) how much better my prints were. If the photographer on your list is not calibrating their display - this is a great gift idea.

2) Lensbaby Composer - Lensbaby makes Creative Effects SLR camera lenses called the Composer, Muse, and Control Freak. Lensbaby’s lenses feature an optic swap system that let’s you swap your optic to do creative and fun selective focus, fisheye, soft focus, pinhole, and zone plate photography.  Lensbaby makes fun SLR camera lenses for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, and Pentax SLR cameras.

The Composer is one of the most versatile lenses in the Lenbaby lineup.  It allows users to create really cool effects by using a selective focusing system.  The photographer simply tilts the lens and then focuses with a manual focusing ring. The Composer stays in the desired bent position without requiring a locking mechanism and is compatible with the Lensbaby optic swap system.  It is cool and lots of fun!

Polarizer3) A circular polarizer - At a recent club meeting, Spencer gave a great presentation on filters.  Among the filters he talked about was the circular polarizer.  These filters as Spencer mentioned can be great for outdoor photography.  A circular polarizer can deepen intensity of blue skies and reduce or eliminates glare.  They can be great when taking pictures of fall foliage or photos around water where glare can be an issue.

B+W makes great circular polarizers that I would highly recommend.  B+W use Schott glass which is world renowned. They also have very high production standards - which leads to an excellent product.

4) Kelby Training - Sometimes it seems like there is so much to learn as we try to master photography.  Not only are we trying to learn how to use our cameras and equipment, but also living in the digital age we have to master digital tools to help us produce our best photographs.  Training can be expensive, but thanks to the Internet and Kelby Training you can get world class training in the comfort of your home or studio. Kelby Training offers an online training tool that gives you unlimited access to a huge online training catalog, featuring exclusive classes from the industry’s most talented and gifted teachers, for only $199 a year or $24.95 a month.

It’s the perfect way to learn at your own pace, on your own time. You can pick and choose topics that interest you, everything from working with Photoshop to using off camera lighting.  The training is great and so is the value.

Backblaze5) BackBlaze Online Backup - What is a photographers most important asset?  Their photographs of course!  But what if a disaster were to strike and they were to lose their photos?  I don’t even want to think about it, but it is an avoidable scenario.  While many folks do back up their photos, perhaps to DVD or a second hard drive, many times both copies of the photo are in the same location.  What it a fire or flood were to strike - both the original and the backup could be lost.  This is why photographers should always backup their photos offsite as well.

Backblaze is an easy to use and inexpensive offsite backup service.  In fact $50 a year gets you unlimited (yes unlimited - I have almost 2 terabytes on Backblaze) online backup.  It is easy to use and is automatic.  This is a gift that can really keep giving!

6) BlackRapid Camera Strap - Ok I admit it, I hate camera straps, at least I did until I tried the BlackRapid strap.  You see most camera straps hang around your neck, not very comfortable in my opinion, but the BlackRapid is different.  The BlackRapid R-Strap is worn diagonally across the torso from shoulder to hip and is adjustable to fit most photographers.  The weight is distributed more evenly and the camera rides comfortably on your side.  At almost $60 they are a bit expensive for a strap, but money well spent in my opinion.

BlackRapid makes a few different models and even has a strap made specifically for women.  The RS-7 seems to be the current flagship model.  The RS-7 is specially designed to work with BlackRapid?s MODS system. It features attachment points so you can customize your strap with your choice of storage and other features.  Check them out if you hate neck straps too.

iPads7) iPad - While the iPad is not simply a photographers tool, it can be a great tool for photographers for many reasons.  First it is a great portable Internet device, especially with the 3G service.  Having a mobile version of the Internet can be helpful to photographers in many situations from scouting shoot locations to checking weather and sunrise/set times.  Of course the iPad has a beautiful display that is well suited for showing off your images (think a mobile portfolio).  You can also get the optional camera kit and upload images directly to the iPad, handy for both storage and viewing.  Maybe you would like to put on a slideshow of your photos, with the Keynote application you can build and present a slideshow.

There are of course a lot of photography apps available for the iPad as well.  It is a fun an versatile tool.  You can even subscribe to and read photography magazines or books on the iPad.  And if all this isn’t enough? yes it plays “Angry Birds” too.

8) Aperture or Lightroom - Aperture and Lightroom are powerful, easy-to-use tools to allow photographers to refine/process images, showcase photography, and manage image libraries on your computer.  I like to think of them as RAW workflow tools, if you shoot images in the RAW format having a tool like Aperture or Lightroom can save lots of time and energy in processing (think developing) your images.  These tools make it very easy to edit images - change the white balance, crop, adjust your color and sharpness and so much more.

Which one is best for you or the photographer in your life?  That depends if they use a Mac as both programs are supported on the Mac.  Aperture only works on a Mac, so if you are on a PC Lightroom will be your only option.  Both programs support a plugin architecture and work well with Photoshop (should you need the power tools).

Expodisc9) ExpoDisc - Our advanced digital cameras and software allow us to adjust the white balance after we take the shot, but how can we get it right the first time when we take the photo?  Enter the ExpoDisc - The ExpoDisc Professional Digital White Balance Filter is a custom white balance filter that allows digital photographers to quickly and easily set an accurate custom white balance. Consistently producing excellent results in natural, artificial, and studio lighting, the versatile ExpoDisc even excels in difficult mixed lighting environments.

The ExpoDisc is easy to use, you simply place the ExpoDisc in front of your lens and capture the incident light while setting your camera?s custom white balance. Using an ExpoDisc custom white balance will virtually eliminate the need for RAW or JPEG post-capture color adjustments.  I have one on my wish list this year!

10) Composition: From Snapshots to Great Shots - A good book is always a great gift for a photographer.  This upcoming book from Laurie Excell sounds like a great choice.  In this book Excell starts with the basics of composition and explores how the elements of color, shape, angles, and contrast work to create compelling images. Contributing photographers, John Batdorff, David Brommer, Rick Rickman, and Steve Simon, provide unique perspectives on black and white, sports, art history, and other subjects related to composition. Beautifully illustrated with large, vibrant photos, this book teaches you how to take control of your photography to get the image you want every time you pick up the camera.

Of course there are many great books out there - I love the books by Joe McNally, Scott Kelby and Bryan Peterson.  Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson is one of my favorites and one that I recommend frequently.

So there it is, a few holiday gift ideas for the photographer on your list.  Would love to hear suggestions from other readers - what would you recommend or what is on your list? 

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