Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Book Arrived!

I picked up my book at the mailbox today!

It was exciting to see my own work printed and bound. However I have mixed feelings about the results.

The photos came out excellently. So did the text. My layout was great. The book quality was superb. So what's with the misgivings?

While I knew what size book I was ordering, when I got it I was initially disappointed. A 10"x8" book is too small for a coffee table. It's nice and all, but it's small. Also, I only produced a 40-page effort (on purpose -- it was a test) and it's very thin.

So: if you're doing a Blurb book,
  • make it bigger (both the physical size and the number of pages. Also the image sizes on the pages).
  • do order the premium paper. It's outstanding.
  • I think I worried too much about sharpening and finishing. All my pictures were National Geographic quality (OK, I'm not talking about the images themselves, although they're pretty good! I mean the reproduction).
  • While the printed jacket is really nice, I'm worried about damaging it. I think I'll hard-print on the cover of the next one.

So my next book will be (a) coffee-table sized, (b) have at least 60 (more likely 80) pages and (c) I'll create my own custom layout grids using a full page bleed size in PhotoShop.

While I'm writing here, I thought I'd remind everyone that the Wacom Bamboo Fun graphic tablet is very reasonably priced right now! Staples has it for $99 (the Fun includes a mouse and a software bundle). It still takes a bit of getting used to, but I'm at the point where I use it for everything. If you buy the one without the mouse, you need an extra USB port to plug one in. The Wacom mouse (by the way, it's pronounced "wack-om" not "Way-com", if you listen to the British voice on the tutorial) only works on the graphics tablet, but that's OK, it's pretty good.

And finally, we've set the date for the Pixel Painting Workshop: March 14/15 at Humber College. Drop me a note if you're thinking about attending and I don't already know about it. Details will go up on the website in a few days.

Have a geat New Year's, everyone. I wish you all health, happiness and prosperity in the year to come.

PS: Food for thought: I'm thinking about a trip out West this summer, in a car not on the bike. Maybe make Alaska? Anyone interested in coming along?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I'm a published author!

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Well, busy in the sense that I’ve been working on a project and have been sitting in front of the computer for lots of hours to get it done.

The project? My first Blurb book. Yes, now I can say that I am a published photographer and author. The fact that it’s self-published, and I only ordered a couple of copies to see how it turned out does not have to come up in conversation. UNDERSTAND?

I put together a 40-page 8x10” (landscape) hardcovered book with a sleeve. It’s called “The Path of Least Potholes”, and to find out why, I guess you’re going to have to buy a copy! Blurb is not that simple to use, but considering we’re generating a whole book here, it’s not that bad. I’ll talk about the process and some of the mistakes I made (me? Misteaks?) in my photo tips section below.

I got an email from them telling me my book has shipped. Can't wait to see it! I'm published!

Last week when I started writing this, I was staring out the window at the snow coming down. I was up in “True North” (as I am now), of course. The lake was now iced over. a couple of nights before, there was open water and the setting sun lit the steam coming off it, reminiscent of a misty dawn. It was tough to capture on camera.

When I woke up the next morning, it was -22°C and everything outside was crispy crunchy. It was a beautiful winter day and when I walked down to the dock, Susan from the Inn across the road told me to check out the frozen ice crystals on the fresh lake ice. They looked like giant snowflakes, so I went back for the camera and took a couple of shots.

These crystals were about 2" (5cm) across. I false-coloured the image to make them stand out.

I also took a couple of shots of my axe, embedded in a log I was splitting for kindling. I painted the background, since it was kind of messy. I’m calling it, “That’s Life NOT in the Big City”.

When I came back in, I waited for the camera to warm back up to room temperature, then set it up to take a couple of self-portraits to use for the back flap of the book. Don’t you hate pictures of yourself? I do…

This is my workstation up at "True North". I've since moved a larger widescreen monitor up here.

By the way, last week I got a few images at the landfill (OK, the “dump”) when I dropped off a bag of garbage. It’s not going to win any prizes as ‘prettiest photo of the year’, but it does tell the story of what they do there. They’re feeding a whole mountain of stuff into that big red machine which reduces things to one or two foot size chunks. Then they plow it all in (that’s why they call it a ‘landfill’.

Planning is well under way for the Pixel Painting workshop we're doing with Hilarie McNeil-Smith in March. Watch this space for an announcement in the next week or so.

I did buy the Wacom tablet I mentioned last time: Future Shop has them on sale for under $100. If you're planning to attend the workshop, you need one. The Wacom "Bamboo" is $79 but the "Bamboo Fun" is only $20 more. You get a mouse with it as well as some software, so it's worth it. It's seamless. No issues with multiple monitors, no locking up the computer, works great.

FacZen Photography Tips

You too can be an author!

There are a number of online companies who will help you publish your own book. The one I used was “”. They seem to be quite affordable, much less than the likes of Vistek or Black's, and from what I’ve seen, their quality is quite high. There are some limitations but there are some workarounds that can make your book fully customized and looking just the way you want it.

The first thing to do is go to the blurb website and download their software, called "Booksmart". Version 1.9 is the current one as I write this.

My book cover

Even though I put together a small book (only 40 pages) as a first test, I realize that workflow is an issue. Jim Camelford (he’s published a couple of hefty tomes) gave some hints which I unwisely ignored, so here they are again, but in my words.

The concept is like this: Blurb offers several designs from a small square book to a large format coffee table sized book (13x11”). You can have as many pages as you like in it, up to 440 pages (now THAT would be a book!). There are dozens of page layouts provided by Blurb, but you can’t modify them. So if you don’t find the layout you want, you’ll have to work around it.

You make .jpg files to fill the containers they provide. So if a page has two 5x5.5” image containers in it, that’s what you give them. The problem is, you’re probably going to end up cropping your pictures to fit their layout, unless you use a larger container and drop the pictures wherever you like in it. You could drop, say, a 5” x 3” image in a box and align it top or bottom or middle. You could also use a full-page bleed, create a suitably sized image in PhotoShop and position things where you want. Text too. Work with a grid, though, especially if you're going to put a customized page opposite a standard one. All files should be prepared for printing: proper exposures, clean cropping, sharpened appropriately, 300 dpi resolution and high quality. You get out what you put in.

You could just drop your pictures into the Blurb containers and let the program resize or fit them. But then the sharpening and resolution wouldn’t be optimum and, well, it is your book, so you decide.

Pre-plan your text. Blurb has several default styles: body text, headings, captions, etc. Choose the font, size and colour for each of these and store them as defaults. You should make everything consistent through the book.

The thing is, PLAN YOUR BOOK FIRST. Collect all your photos and text in one place then make subfolders for each section (which could be just one page!). Decide what fonts and colours to use and preset them. Decide on picture sizes and prepare them in advance. Here are a couple of things Blurb doesn’t tell you:

1. You don’t need to import pictures into their library. You can just drag them from Explorer or even Bridge directly into the program.

2. Resize them according to the pixel sizes given in Blurb. Not 6”x6”, 1801px x 1796px. By the way, in Photoshop be sure to enter “px” in the crop size box or you’ll end up with inches. 1801 inches is one HELL of a big file!

One of the page layouts from my book.

3. If you’re working in Word to write the text, set the font, size and colour to what you want in the book. If you have to, change the page colour so you can see your text (I couldn't figure out what was going on until I realized I was trying to look at black text on a black background!).

4. Try to be consistent. Your book will look MUCH better if pages look similar throughout. Stick with only one or two fonts and colours and sizes; try to keep the page layouts the same or similar.

Creating the book is a tedious process. And "niggly". I scrolled several times through the book and found little problems every time. Remember, this is going to be printed, so you have to get it right.

When you're all done, you connect to the Blurb site and upload the book for printing. Remember, it's a pretty big file so it will take a while even at high speed. Then you need to tell them how many copies, where to ship them and give them the usual credit card information. My 40-page book was $33 (I chose premium paper), plus shipping.

So go for it! You can be a famous author and published photographer just like me!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Long time No write!

What have I been doing for 2 weeks? Not writing in the Blog, that’s for sure.

The photo tip I have for you today is how to buy outstanding full colour business cards with your own artwork.

Lots of photographic stuff that I’ll talk about a bit; not all of it taking pictures that I can show you, though. . I’ve only been shooting pictures sporadically except for a couple of assignments (there's a lot of that going around. I just read Shannon's Blog and I think we're in the same place!), I’m up North and actually enjoying the onset of winter,

What happens during a power failure? With not much to do, I played with taking spooky pictures and I put my crockpot on top of the fireplace to hopefully keep cooking my dinner! This was a longish exposure, moving the camera, with a flash at the end.

I’ve been working on some workshops and seminars. Let’s start there.

I did a workshop on non-destructive Photoshop techniques for the Club that I wasn’t satisfied with. I got off-track and didn’t prepare well enough. You ever go brain-dead? How about in front of 24 people? How many times have I hit alt-shift and clicked on a layer mask to superimpose it on a layer so I could see both; I couldn’t for the life of me remember how to do it at the workshop. Lesson learned, I’ll do better next time. Best part of it was the “head swapping” exercise from the group shots that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.

I’m working on developing some workshops which I’ll teach or work with experts teaching. We’re not there yet, but watch for it at (you have to admit that we got a cool web address!). Stay tuned.

On to some hardware stuff. I’ve tried to live a philosophy that I’d like to share with you. “Always buy the best”. It doesn’t always work — money jumps up and rears its ugly head — sometimes I buy lesser quality stuff just to try it, intending fully to upgrade later. Such was the case when I found a “cheap” graphics tablet at Tiger Direct. It was made by “Genius” and was only $70. How could I NOT buy it. I knew that I really should buy a Wacom tablet but this one leapt off the shelf into my hands.

Mistake. Not only did it cause my computer to crash (with no available restore points – another sad tale), but also I discovered that (a) it doesn’t work with dual monitors and (b) the drivers for CS4 aren’t written yet. Fortunately, I was able to get my money back. Now I’m looking for a REAL Wacom tablet. That said, although there’s a learning curve for working with a tablet, it’s very cool. I’ll get one soon.

Read my lips. “Always buy the best”. Don’t put yourself in the position of saying, “Gee, I wish I had bought the [fill in the blank here]”.

I mentioned above that I shot some assignments this week. I did. One was my usual ID card thing, I’ve got that down to a science. I shoot about 40 people, bring a small printer with me and by 10am, I’ve printed and delivered all their pictures.

Yesterday, however, I had an interesting project: I got to shoot some live models. As opposed to dead ones, like rocks and trees. Unfortunately, the client won’t let me post any of the photos I shot, but it was really fun. Let’s just say the goal was to create a holiday greeting card for a retailer and the idea was to have the store owner with a couple of beautiful women draped all over him, a glass of champagne, “Happy Holidays”. The women were spectacularly beautiful and so easy to shoot. We did do some really sexy shots as well that the client can’t really use publicly and I learned that posing them – especially the one girl who was experienced as a model – was not that difficult.

What was tough was the venue – a small store. Good backgrounds were hard to find (the client wanted to show the store, so I couldn’t bring a backdrop). They also didn’t want me setting up a bunch of lights, so… Gary Fong to the rescue! I love using this damned simple piece of Tupperware plastic and if you don’t have one, get one. Now. Go. (I’m a Loblaw’s commercial for Cheesecake). I wish I could show you the pictures. At one point, I set the D300 to commander mode and the remote trigger on the flash on. I put the flash over on a counter about 10 feet away from the camera. I added a little fill light from the on-camera flash (almost 2 stops under). Excellent!

Another neat trick was to use the radio remote shutter release. I set the camera up on a tripod, and I was able to walk over and talk with and position the models, get them looking in the right direction, and shoot by pushing the button in my hand. Or use Live View and stand back and compose the picture on the viewscreen.

It occurs to me that if you don’t have a D300 or at least aren’t familiar with some of the Nikon features, you won’t know what I’m talking about. “Commander Mode” is setting up the camera to control a remote flash, not attached to the camera. “Live View” is being able to compose your picture looking at the big LCD on the back of the camera instead of through the viewfinder.

I spent a few days up North last week, and the weather caused a few challenges. It snowed. In Toronto, they got a couple of centimeters, here: almost a foot. Heavy, wet snow. So heavy that the branches of my evergreen trees, which normally the oil delivery truck can drive under, were actually touching the ground!

The stuff also stuck to my satellite dishes — TV was OK but the internet dish (Xplornet) couldn’t connect. I hate being off-line. I also hate ladders, but I did climb up and clean it off so I could get back on.

While I was up there, I plowed snow off the roof, then I cleared the driveway, breaking the shear pin in the snowblower.

Long day…

I was exhausted and although I shot a few pictures, I wasn’t inspired. However I did shoot this scene on the way home on Thursday.

There was no light in the cabin when I shot this. It was daytime. Can you say, "Photoshop"? By the way, this was a 1/20 sec exposure with the 200mm VR lens, resting on a fence gate.

So on to our photo tip of the day. Of the week. OK, of the semi-month!

FacZen Photography Tips

Business cards from your own pictures!

Due to my former life as a desktop publisher and print broker, I still have some wholesale contacts with people who don’t deal directly with the public. One of them is really great trade printer. Although they do other stuff too, they focus on Business Cards. And they’re really good at it. They do runs of 1000 cards or more at a time.

Their claim to fame is a full-colour card, printed on both sides of thick, rich stock, coated with a high gloss or now with a matte lamination. I tested the latter last week and I LOVE the rich results.

Now that said, you need to have the right picture to benefit from the matte finish. It should have plenty of “pop” and not too much detail and complexity. If it does, glossy works better. If you go to, you can see what I put on the back of the card, although I punched up the saturation when I did. Those crop marks and stuff are part of my graphic design.

If you want some cards with your own images on them, I can get them for you. Here’s what you need to do:

  • For each side (of course you could leave the back blank) you need a 3.75” x 2.25” image at 300dpi. They’ll trim 1/8” all around so you end up with a 3½” x 2” card. There’s a template you can use to show you where it will be trimmed and the area you should keep your type in. Ask me for it.
  • You have to finish it completely. Lay all the type down, do all the stuff to complete it, flatten it, crop it to size, and sharpen it appropriately,
  • You need to convert it to CMYK from RGB.
  • Now save it as a .tif file, lossless if any compression.

How much is it going to cost you? $95 plus taxes and shipping. If you’re in Ontario, that works out to about $120, all in. Call any printer and ask them to quote on 1000 cards printed 4/4 full colour full bleed on 14 point C2S card stock with writeable aqueous coating on both sides. Delivered to your door in a week or so by UPS.

Subtract $15 if you only want it printed on one side. Add $35 if you want it on 16.5 point stock with matte lamination.

Remember: you’re doing ALL the artwork. We’re just printing what you give us, so we’re not responsible for any typos, errors, etc. Yes, I’m making a (small) markup on this, but someone has to pay for my Blog!

Contact me directly at for more information.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Groups & Quick 'n Dirty Workflow

Last night, I shot the Humber College Motorcycle Instructors annual awards banquet. I told them I didn't want to be paid for the gig since I wanted to enjoy the evening, and I'd do photos for them (for us) as a favour. I also didn't want to treat it as a professional project, in other words, I didn't want to spend hours editing the images. That said, I do have some pride, so I wanted to deliver some quality images.

I was asked to capture the groups of people getting awards, and I also shot around the crowd to get some pictures of the audience. I used the Gary Fong diffuser on the flash all night -- some people asked me, "why do you have a tupperware bowl on your flash?" The answer is obvious when you look at the great lighting on the images. I shot a group of 8 people and had even lighting all the way across! Anyway, here are some tips about what I did to photograph the event.

FacZen Photography Tips

Shooting groups and quick-and-dirty workflow

  • I prepared the camera. Knowing I was going to use the diffuser and the flash all night, I set the ISO to 500, aperture to f/5.6, WB to 'flash'. I made sure I had an extra set of flash batteries and a spare camera battery too.

  • I took a couple of test shots and removed the top of the diffuser since the low white ceiling was great.

  • Almost every time I had a group to shoot, I shot at least two exposures. Invariably, someone closes their eyes or looked in an odd place and having more than one shot helped a lot a number of times (see below).

  • I made sure I focused on the eyes. With the D300 there are two ways to do that -- focus, then with the shutter release held halfway down, recompose the image; and move the focus spot to where the eye is in the composed image.

OK, I'm not really good at this stuff, but the results were pretty good, so I hope these tips made sense.

Now I got the pictures home, and uploaded them to the computer. I'm going to talk about workflow. Remember, I just wanted a quick-and-dirty method of producing the final images. In fact, I ended up with about 90 exposures and I posted 65 images to the site!

So here's the quick workflow that I used.

I opened the pictures in Bridge and ran a slideshow with my right hand over the Ctrl-Delete combo and my left over the 6. The former immediately discards an image, the latter marks it as an image I like.

  • When that was done, I created a new folder called "originals" and copied the remaining images in there.

  • Next I opened the images, flagged ones first. This time I shot in .jpg (usually I shoot RAW but I didn't feel like it yesterday). If an image looked like it needed overall colour correction, I opened it in Camera Raw.
  • Once in Photoshop, I adjusted levels, cropped, and cloned out obvious things.

  • I don't think anyone is going to print any of these images. So I started downsizing right from the beginning. After a while I decided not to bother, so I used a pre-set crop as much as possible. 4200x2800px is a 3:2 ratio, so I preset that. One click flips it from landscape to portrait orientation and back, so that's fast.

  • For most pictures of women, I softened the skin and reduced wrinkles. Here's how: first I duplicated the background layer (ctrl-J), then I used the healing tool to remove wrinkles, especially under the eyes. I reduced the opacity of the layer to leave a hint of the lines in the image -- you have to be a little subtle. Yes, you can turn a 40-year-old into a 25-year-old but who's going to believe it?. Then I flattened the image (Shift-Ctrl-E) and copied the layer again. This time I applied a strong gaussian blur to the layer, then used the eraser tool to erase everything except the facial skin. That means eyes, hair, lips, clothes, etc. Sometimes I would leave the background on the blurred layer too. Now reduce the opacity again until it looks right, then flatten it again.

    The other thing I did from time to time was to select the teeth (that new selection tool is quick!), copy them to a new layer, create a dedicated hue-and-saturation adjustment layer, reduce the saturation and turn up the brightness a touch, then flatten it down. It took me longer to type this than to do it. Voila! Instant teeth whitening!
  • Now I touched things up with the dodge and burn tools, looked at the background again, flattened it and sharpened the eyes. Always sharpen the eyes! I added a catchlight if necessary.

  • Save, and done. Next image. I know, I know. There are lots of reasons NOT to do it this way, but I told you it was quick-and-dirty!

  • Guys got much less treatment. I like heavily lined faces and lots of texture. Women are different (I heard that somewhere).

  • No texture in this one, but I loved Rob's expression. Ray, in the background was distracting, so I used the Blur technique above to fix it.

  • I did nothing at all to the "crowd" shots. They were there just for interest.

The entire process took 2 hours or less for 65 images (well I edited about 35 of them). Then the upload, and we're done.

There were a few interesting images, though. Remember I said to take more than one exposure when you have a group? Here's an example where one of the two shots was much better that the other, except for the one guy who closed his eyes. So I opened both, selected the better shot of that guy (CS3 has a great selection tool!) and pasted him into the other shot. Because they were shot from the same place and with the same exposure, I had very little fancy stuff to do to replace the person in the image. Here you go:

This was in the original image...
This was in another one...

...and this was the final product

There were 3 images where I had to paste in a face from another image. You guess which ones! Oh, and out of respect for the women whose faces I retouched, I won't post before-and-afters here. Some of them might be reading this! 2 hours including everything. It took me longer to write this Blog!

If you want to see the full set of images I shot (well the keepers, anyway), click here.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Comfort Zone

It’s been an interesting photography weekend. Quiet, but I’ve been doing a lot of photography-related stuff and I’ve learned a few things in the process.

To digress a little, I've been a touch under the weather -- I think I'm fighting something. It's making me sleepy, sometimes I fall asleep right in the middddddddddddddddddddddd...

Where was I? Anyway I went out and chopped some kindling in the snow, I actually felt better. I spend too much time at this damned keyboard! I actually started writing this last night but got too tired to finish it, so here I am in the morning, getting over my “lack of caffeine headache” (if I don’t have a coffee at least in the evening, I wake up with a headache. I must be actually addicted to the stuff), revisiting what I wrote and rewriting it all!

Oh, and climbing up to fix my satellite dish too!

On Saturday, I visited Shannon, she was exhibiting at a craft show in Huntsville. She sold a bunch of pictures... I'm envious. She has a great eye but she told me she’s weak on the technical side of things. I don’t believe it – a few of the techniques she talked about are beyond me, and I came home to try some of them. I was inspired to write the photo tip below after trying her “multiple exposure in the camera” technique. The results were terrible but I have a little insight in how to do it next time.

In addition to the prints Shannon was selling (and she did well with some very fine images), she had prepared some greeting cards which were selling well. There was another photographer there whose images were so-so and he was selling too! There’s hope for us all. Anyway when I got back I was determined to create some saleable products and I put together some “boutique” size frame able images (my name for it – I’m sure there’s an official name!) which are essentially 3½ x 5 images printed on 5 x 7 paper, with a title and signature. I looked at them last night and realized they are a bit smaller than I would like, so I’m going to revisit it today and make them bigger. 5 x 7 on 8 x 10, I think. I have to redo them because they’re too down-sampled to print well at the larger size. I’ll leave the small ones up but reprice them accordingly.

You can see these images at

There is now a link on the home page to the featured “Art Print” gallery. Please visit it and BUY SOMETHING! Christmas is coming and these prints make wonderful, thoughtful gifts.

So enough for the commercial. On to the Photo tip of the day.

FacZen Photography Tips

All Work and no Play...

...makes me dull. In the sense that you need to experiment in order to move forward. I’m self-taught, for the most part but I do appreciate the value of taking courses to learn new things from time to time. That said, the best way to learn is to try stuff! I joined the Richmond Hill Camera Club a few years ago so that I could learn from others. My first impression was that the club was a bunch of old fuddy duddies but I’ve come to realize that their wealth of experience is a valuable source of learning. Often, when I see how something is done, I want to try it – and that’s what this tip is about.

Try things. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Digital “film” is cheap, so what if you burn some shutter actuations? It’s not costing you anything. You will be amazed at the things you can do. Let me give you a few examples.

• When I first joined the club, someone showed us pictures taken through “water glass”. I went to a local store, bought a few dollars worth of glass pieces with different patterns in them and played. I got a few acceptable images, but mostly I got an understanding of how it’s done.
• Maria, at the club, paints with light. She does studio still life setups but doesn’t use traditional lights, just a flashlight and long exposures. Her work is awesome. I tried it. I now have an appreciation for how hard it is, and I got an idea about trying the same technique on landscapes shot at night. I can’t wait to try it!
• “Panning”, or moving the camera to follow a moving subject is an art. There are some technical things you need to know, but how do you figure out what shutter speed you need to get the effect you want? The answer? Experiment!

This image was actually taken at 1/80 sec. I was amazed at how much motion blur you get at that speed when you pan the camera!

1/5 sec @ f/36. Again I panned with the bike but you can't be really smooth at that shutter speed.

• What about moving the camera when you shoot a long exposure? Or one that isn’t so long… remember that rule of thumb about what shutter speed you can handle? So turn it around. Try shooting at 1/10 second and deliberately moving the camera. Or put a flash on but leave the shutter open for a longer time.

1/5 second stopped right down to f/36 and I deliberately moved the camera while shooting.

• Move “parts” of the camera. Like zoom your lens or change your focus while the shutter is open.1/30 sec. I rotated th zoom ring while the shutter was open. Amazing what you can accomplish in 1/30 sec!

• “Play” in Photoshop. Do you know what the Art History brush does? Take an image and try all the different filters on it. See what they do.

Everyone has a comfort zone. Mine is taking pictures of rocks and trees. I realized that I've taken photos of the exact same log in the water near my house probably 30 times. Sure, I'm waiting for that day when the light will be magic or when a deer will walk out and stand where I want him to. Great, if that's what you want to capture, but get out of your comfort zone and play! You’ll be amazed at what you will learn.

I've been shooting 'people' pictures -- some candids and informal portraits; long time exposures at night; camera motion; slow shutter subject exposures and pans; architectural shots; I've been painting in Photoshop and using different adjustment layers; I've even tried printing some images (yeah well, I have a ways to go there!); I'm learning how to judge competitions; learning a new camera, preparing images for sale, researching and writing a blog and technical tips and I'm planning workshops... my bathroom reading is National Geographic and Scott Kelby. In short (OK, it wasn't short!) I'm playing. Learning all kinds of stuff. Now if I were retired, I could spend some real time on it!

Let me leave you with something DeWitt Jones said in his motivational video (paraphrasing from memory): "Mother Nature doesn't stand at a forest and say 'there is only one good photo here, one photographer will capture it and all the rest of you are losers'. " If you open your eyes and try to see things differently, there are a million different pictures to take. Go Play!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Pixel Painting Revisited

I tried it again. I think I've found a technique that I really enjoy doing, and I owe Hilarie for my inspiration.

In fact, we corresponded several times by email and she has shown no hesitation in helping me to understand and use the concepts. If anyone is interested in a course on how to do this, please get in touch with me and let's see what we can put together. I already know two people in addition to myself who are interested.

Here's my second effort. It is very significant to me because Gary, the subject of the "painting" was a dear friend and he died in July at the age of 53. Two of the many loves in his life were motorcycling and sailing, probably in the other order. In August, 2006 I went out sailing with him on Dr. Ron's boat and took a few pictures -- this was one of them. I find Gary really at peace in this image. Click on it to blow it up. I hope you like it.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Pixel Painting

At the Richmond Hill Camera Club last night, we were treated to a presentation from Hilarie Mcneil-Smith. Hilarie is a self-proclaimed "Pixel Painter". She takes a photographic image and applies magic to it. I was intrigued.

I always wanted to do this but never knew how. I still don't know how, but I did come home and play with an image -- with no success whatsoever. I painted, all right, but handing someone a paintbrush does not make him an artist.

The evening started a bit slowly, I couldn't really get into it. That is, until Hilarie started actually creating a painting on the spot and it got exciting. here's a link to Hilarie's gallery, check it out:

Anyway, this morning, I brought up an image I had captured yesterday and started playing with it. Two hours later...

So everyone knows I like pictures of rocks and trees. Guess what I started with? I couldn't possibly tell you what I did in detail. I created a few layers, labelling them "log" or "rock" or "beach" or "water" and used different brush effects on each. Don't ask me which brushes! In the end, I didn't like the log, so I applied PhotoShop's "cutout" filter to its layer.

So here's my first attempt at pixel painting. Now if you came across one of Picasso's first original sketches, it'd be worth a fortune, right? So this is my FIRST pixel painting. Anyone want to buy an original print?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Did you miss me?

I've been working away, doing stuff. I haven't had much time for photography, or for writing, which is why I haven't posted anything here in almost a week.

Did you have a good Hallowe'en? The only thing I really did that was Hallowe'en-ish was to wear some biker stuff to an early morning breakfast networking meeting. There were half a dozen people there in costume. Naturally, I took a few pictures which are in my gallery. This guy had fun, though:

The rubber nose (aw, I gave it away!) certainly didn't look real. It was off-colour, looked like plastic. A little Photoshop and...

Anyway, I drove up North right after the meeting and stopped for a couple of pictures along the way.

Aren't evergreens supposed to stay green?

Later, I took my bike out for the last ride of the year. I rode up highway 35 past Dorset, turning around just before Dwight. It's a great stretch of road. I stopped to see what pictures I could get at Wren Lake, where we were in September on the workshop. There's a parking area just North of the bridge that leads to a forested trail to the lake and I took some shots in there.

FacZen Photography Tips

Batteries, memory cards and third party stuff

Today I'll be talking about batteries and other stuff that gets attached to your camera.

  • Always carry a spare battery. Do you know how frustrating it can be to run out of battery in the middle of a photo shoot? Oh you do… and you don’t have an extra battery yet…

    Remember that in the winter, batteries can’t deliver their full potential, so you’ll run out sooner than you think.
  • And while we’re on the subject, what about memory cards? A high end DSLR shooting in RAW can fill up a memory card really fast!

    At a recent workshop, a friend of mine recorded a day’s worth of shooting on a 4Gb Sandisk Ultra III Extreme CF card. The best you can buy. When he plugged it into the computer, it failed. He lost a whole day’s shooting. S#(;@ happens. Wouldn’t it have been better to use a couple of 2Gb cards instead, or even change cards during the day just for security?
  • I also bought a remote shutter release online, from the far east. OK, well eBay. The price was very low and I did read a couple of reviews of this manufacturer's product which said their quality was really good. The jury's still out.

    While the release (made by Phottix) worked really well in tests -- I was able to trigger the shutter from about 100' away -- I'm not sure it's perfect. I wanted to use it for long exposures and the specs say you can set it up to do that: press and hold the release for a bit while in "Bulb" mode and it'll lock the shutter open until you hit it again. It's only doing that intermittently, sometimes it just fires the shutter for some (short) indeterminate period of time. The thing is, when it's holding the shutter open, it's draining its battery, which is a CR-lithium one which ain't cheap. The other night I shot half a dozen time exposures totalling about 20 minutes. A couple of nights ago, I tried it again and I got one 10-minute exposure before it died. I talked about it with Jim and he told me to bite the bullet and buy the Nikon release. Guess I will.

It’s up to you, but I tend to buy off-brand batteries on eBay instead of the expensive OEM ones. The OEM (Canon, Nikon, etc) will warn you that off-brands can damage your camera. It’s your choice if you believe that or not. Compare Nikon’s eL-en3e battery at $79.95 locally with a no-name equivalent shipped from China at TWO for $20 including shipping. But for memory cards, I stick with originals. Sean found out that they can fail too, but I’m not willing to risk the same thing happening on an off-brand.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Speaking of Rocks

I've been trying to get this blog to just show the past month's worth of posts, but it insists on goin all the way back to the beginning -- my Newfoundland motorcycle/photo safari in 2006. OK I just fixed it. You can still read the Newfoundland stuff by clicking on the 2006 date in the archive list on the right.

It's just text from back then and while it's interesting reading (I'm biased), pictures would make it better. Especially since the purpose of the trip was to take pictures.

So I'm going to give you a link to the slideshow I produced after the trip. It was created using Photodex ProShow Gold, and in order to see it, you need to run the viewer which is easy to do: just say "yes" when it asks you if you're sure you want to run the program. When it starts, just click on the puffin's nose to run the slideshow. Be sure to have your speakers on -- I hope you'll like the music too.

One thing: this was the first slideshow I did with that software and I wanted to see all the cool transitions, so they're all different! Normally I'd use only 2 or 3 of them.

Here's the link! (Click the photo)


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hallowe'en is coming!

Is there something special about this time of year? Strange things go on in spooky places. Check this out:

Now there was something happening here. Kate was looking at her camera and the world gave a shake. Some presence was there. It seemed to emanate from a gravestone:

So I turned around and noticed a strange light emanating from the ground at the left, illuminating a gravestone. I took a picture of it and then, when I opened it on the computer later, I found this on the image:

Is that Suzannah? Is it exactly 100 years since she died?

Then there are these photos, of people who normally don't look like this...

PS: Darlene said I could use the picture here. She said "have fun with it." Iris doesn't know I put hers up here but she's a good sport.

FacZen Photography Tips

The Gary Fong Diffuser

Robert Fowler sent an email to the Richmond Hill Camera Club list with a link to a site that discussed the Gary Fong Diffuser. For those who don't know what that it, it's a tupperware like cup that fits over your flash and softens the light. There are those who swear by it and think it's the best photographic accessory invented since chocolate (I was going to say "sliced bread" but chocolate is definitely head and shoulders above bread).

I use one, and have for several weeks. It's not bad -- and it works well under certain conditions. Very well. But when it's used as the only source of light (the recommended application), I find it boring. Yes it gives soft light, but it doesn't compare with creative lighting tools. Here's an example:

These two photos were taken a couple of months apart, the one on the left with a studio strobe and umbrella, plus a reflector disk on her left. The one on the right, with the Gary Fong diffuser as the only light, on-camera. The background wallpaper is closer to the one on the left, although less saturated.

This image was taken with available light outdoors, backlit with the Gary Fong diffuser on the flash and about 1 stop underexposed flash compensation. The flash lit the face quite nicely, without appearing too harsh.

In summary, I find the GF diffuser useful for quick-and-dirty ID shots but other lighting is required to make the picture more interesting. It's an awful lot better than a naked flash, though.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Horizon Straightening part II

FacZen Photography Tips

Straighten that Horizon (Part II)

As I said, I'm going to show you how to straighten those horizons in PhotoShop. I use CS3, but I think it's been available in earlier versions as well. It's really quite easy.

Open your photo in PhotoShop (I'll call it "PS" or "CS3" from now on) -- I'll use the same example I used the other day:

Now find the "ruler" tool. It's hiding behind the eyedropper. Click and drag a line on an object -- or the horizon -- that you want to be level in the shot.

Click on the picture to blow it up if you can't see the line well. PS remembers the angle that you drew the line. So now click on Image>Rotate Canvas and select "Arbitrary". PS brings up a little dialog box and all you have to do is click "OK", this is what happens:

Now you can use the conventional crop tool to crop your image straight.

Sometimes, you might want to straighten an image which has, for instance, a slanted wall or tree, but rotating the whole image wouldn't work for you. Here's an example:

I chose this image because it has some very extreme lines to straighten -- although I quite like the effect and wouldn't do anything to it in real life. PS won't actually let you do this in one shot because it's so extreme, but you can for most images.

A word about the cropping tool. You can preset the finished (cropped) size after selecting the tool but before starting the crop. Be sure to include the characters "px" for "pixels" or "in" for inches, etc. I want a 4200 px x 2800 px image, so that's what I key in. You can also create a preset for a size you use frequently.

OK, now start the crop. Drag over the picture and it'll select the area you want to keep, proportioned correctly according to your preset. Don't activate the crop yet -- notice the menu bar has changed: and there's a check box available called "perspective". Check it.

OK. Now you can drag the individual corners of your crop wherever you want. For instance, I dragged it to make the edge of the picture parallel to the tree on the left, then I double-clicked on the image to accept the crop:

Now do the same thing on the other side, and you're done (sometimes you can do both at once, but with this image it was too extreme and it didn't work).

Powerful, isn't it? If you're an oldtimer and you remember view cameras, it's almost like tilting the back of your 4x5 to match the perspective of that building you're shooting.
There you go. Not so tough...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Here it comes again!

Yep, winter. I drove up North today, fighting sloppy slush most of the way. When I got to Kirkfield, I had to stop for this picture. Hope you like it (the picture, not winter. Well I hope you like winter too...).

So how did I create this image, you may ask? If you didn't ask, that's OK, I'm going to tell you anyway. I'm putting on my "instructor" hat.

First thing I did was to recognize what (I think) is a good photo opportunity. I drove past it, thought about it, turned around and grabbed the camera. Braving the snow and sleet, and the trucks going by threatening to inundate me with wet slush, I chose my viewpoint and took the exposure. Before I did, I made sure that I selected 200 ISO, and I spot-metered on the building because I didn't really want an average exposure. Snow is NOT 18% grey... of course I took several exposures, mostly to find the best viewpoint because I was pretty sure of the exposure values themselves.

I opened the images in Bridge and selected the one I wanted to work on. Double-clicking opened it in Camera Raw where I did some minor adjustments. I didn't touch the colour balance -- I didn't know then what I was going to do with it, but it looked pretty good to me. I brought the exposure down, added some black, and a bit of sharpening. Then I opened the image in CS3.

So here's the original image I started with:

First thing I did was to hit ctrl-J. That opens a new layer with the whole image (it actually creates a new layer with whatever is selected, but the whole image was selected...). Next I looked for problems (OK, "challenges"). There was an icecream ad on the right side of the front of the building. There was a power line. I didn't like the concrete pillar on the left. There was a telephone pole. I decided I could crop the pole out, but the rest would have to be cloned. So I got to work with the clone stamp. Oh, and there was a fuzzy water spot on the side of the building (it was snowing, you know. I did get some on the lens).

That took about 15 minutes. A little touch up with "Levels" to increase contrast, and I saved my work as a .psd file. Now I got the "black and white" feeling, and opened a "black and white adjustment layer". I went through the default filters, the one I liked best was the yellow one; but it wasn't quite what I wanted so I moved some sliders around. I wanted the GATEHOUSE sign more contrasty, so I decreased the red and magenta sliders, and increased the yellow.

I started cropping it. I used a preset ratio of 3:2 (4200px x 2800 px) but that didn't give me enough foreground with the telephone pole cropped out, so I turned on "perspective" and dragged the vertical corners until I included what I wanted to see, while maintaining my aspect ratio. I slightly adjusted the angles to straighten both sides of the building.

Saving the image again, I wondered what it would look like with some selective colour, especially on the sign, so I clicked the layer mask on the adjustment layer and started painting with black to mask the sign. Cool! I flipped the layer eyeball off for a second and thought the window frames would look good in colour too, so I started painting again on the mask.

This all took another 10 minutes or so. I blew it up, ran 'round the edges and looked for problems, fixed a couple of things. I saved it again, then thought I'd put it on a matte; so I increased the canvas size by 400 px then selected the image part, copied it onto another layer and added a drop shadow. Almost done! I wanted to name the picture, so I did and matched the ink colour of the name to the red in the picture.

Another save, then we're done. Well almost -- I wondered if it would look better as a vignette, so I reloaded the image just after the canvas size increase but before the drop shadow, and ran a vignette action. I didn't like it. Back to the other version.

I flattened the image, sharpened it a bit, then saved it as a .jpg. Finally, I ran an action I call "resize 1000" which changes the horizontal dimension to 1000 px, to downsize it for the blog. I saved that one separately.

So all-in-all, about 30 minutes in PhotoShop. I kind of like it, do you? Comments are welcome, good or bad!