Sunday, December 27, 2009

It's that time of year!!

You know, when you’re tempted to buy stuff you’d like to have but you don’t really need. I actually went out on Boxing Day to see what I could find (researched online first) but bought nothing. I was looking at the iPod Touch, because of the killer “Camera Control” app that would let me remotely control my D300 via wifi. One question I didn’t find the answer to was whether I would need to install Nikon Camera Control Pro to use it: a $200 investment. If I do, then it doesn’t make sense to spend all that money for this occasional use. If not, well it would be nice to have a new music device at the same time. Still, I didn’t find any deals except for a FutureShop thing where they were throwing in a speaker dock. By the time I got there, they were sold out.

I have some time to go on my Blackberry contract: next year maybe I’ll get an iPhone to do the same thing.

I went online to Kelby Training (you know, the NAPP people) and started to order some books. There’s the Scott Kelby Digital Photography Library, a Lightroom book (now that I’m using it), a book on Digital Painting and I thought I’d finally break down and subscribe to Layers magazine. However when I tried to enter the order, it wanted a ridiculous $44 for shipping! I cancelled the order and wrote them an email. I could have them ship to my son in New York and for $10 he could mail it to me, but I don’t really want to put him to the trouble. Watch this space to see if NAPP or Kelby, actually, does the right thing here.

 I really want a new digital tablet. Specifically, the Wacom Intuos4 (Buy it here) .

I really like using the little Bamboo, but it’s a bit small and lacks some of the features I’m just starting to appreciate, so the medium sized Intuos is what I need. I’ll keep the Bamboo for portable use with the laptop but this desktop is crying out for something more precise. I’m pretty sure there are some people out there who don’t use their tablets and wouldn’t mind selling it. Drop me a note if that describes you. Otherwise, I’ll order one in a month or so.

There’s some smaller stuff too. I wouldn’t mind getting a couple more CF cards for the D300 – 4Gb fast would be nice if they’re on special. Another 1Tb backup drive as well, so I can back up my backups. Actually I would dedicate one to my photos only, now that I’m getting into Lightroom.

Then of course there’s a new car, remodeling the bathroom and some other work in the house, an ATV, trading my motorcycle for a newer dual-sport, and so on. Anyway, that’s a short list of the material things I’d like to have.

 Money and things aren’t everything (well they help…). What I really wish for is health… for me and for those I love. Because without that, the stuff I listed doesn’t mean much. That’s what I hope for all of you.

 I saved a couple of topics from the last post because it was getting too long.

 So the topics in this Blog post are:
  • The Santa Claus shoot I did with Jim & Jen Camelford
  • Some notes on the Photographic Judging Workshop I attended
  • My early experiences with Lightroom
  • A neat thing you probably didn’t know you could do in Photoshop
  • Doing screen captures
  • A cool music site.
Before we get started, here’s a little reminder:

 Is your firmware up to date?

 (For you lo-tech types, I’m NOT asking about how your diet is going!)

 I read a note on the Kelby site that made me go to the camera and check the firmware revision. Both “A” and “B” were versions 1.03. The Nikon site (the better one to go to is the US site at www.nikonusa.com) said the current version was 1.10. You should check yours. The update is easy, and free. Follow the instructions, though – there’s a warning that if you don’t do it right, your camera may have to go back to Nikon for service! I’m not sure (OK, I don’t know!) about how it works at Canon or any of the less popular brands. There’s firmware in your Point-and-Shoot as well. Best to check.

 Santa Claus shoot

 In a conversation one day with Jim Camelford, he told me that he was committed to doing a shoot at a local school, the kids with Santa. It was a fundraiser for the school and was of course pro bono. Jen would man the computer and keep track of the names. The resulting pictures would be printed and put in a card frame for each kid. Apparently there were about 300 kids to do. I volunteered to help Jim and Jen out.

 The school had their idea of what they wanted the pictures to look like. They had set up a bench with a snowman and a tree and a furry rug and… about a million props. Both Jim and I thought a tight shot of a kid with Santa would be best, but it’s whatever the customer wants, sometimes.



Santa and friend



Same shot, cropped tight.

We had thought in advance about how we would do it, so I bundled a backdrop and stands in the car and drove 3 hours through the snow to get there. Just for fun, I threw one of my studio strobes in as well, with an umbrella.

Our original intention was to use a couple of Nikon hot shoe flashes – Jim has an SB-800 and I have an SB-600 – both equipped with Gary Fong diffusers. The flashes were to be remotely triggered by the D300 in commander mode. It would have worked, but since we had the big strobe, why not use it?

 So this was our lighting setup.



The main light came from the big strobe and we used Jim’s SB-800 on (our) left to fill in and soften the shadows a bit. The SB-600 was placed further over to the right, again to kill some shadows and throw a little extra light on Santa’s face. I personally hated the backdrop but it was better than what was there before. If we could have set it up from scratch, it would have been better to move the bench forward about 6-10 feet so that the backdrop would be right out of focus. We were also challenged by the fluorescent lights overhead which were too bright to eliminate completely. The shoot worked pretty well, and in the end was nicely organized. It was a real challenge to get the kids to smile and pose less-than-stiffly for the camera! And Santa himself, who had to stand at least 6’5” had to hunch over most of the time!



Santa's cute helper. Salimah is one of the teachers who seems to have a perpetual smile and great attitude. How come we didn't have teachers like this when we were in school? Later we had coffee in the Principal's office. Again, it wasn't quite like I remembered it from so many years ago! I softened the face with the clarity slider in Lightroom, otherwise it's pretty well as shot.
Jim, of course, is a huge Lightroom user. He is very skilled at organizing and batch processing and he was the only reason this shoot worked as well as it did. All I was there for was to help provide some lighting hints, and try to get the kids to loosen up a little (“Simon says, make a funny face. Now look at Santa. Simon says, look at Santa…”. Amazing that kids today still know who Simon is!).

 I had fun. I don’t envy people who do this for a living, though. It’s hard work!

We could have done this whole shoot with the two Nikon flashes. The Gary Fong diffusers work really well and if you don’t have one, you should. As I said in a previous post, you can read the details at the Gary Fong site here, and even see a little video on how it works. Down near the bottom of the page is a chart showing which model fits your flash. You could buy it there, but for the same price, and free shipping right now, you can buy it at B&H here.

Judging Course

I attended the Canadian Association of Photographic Art (CAPA) workshop last month. It was run under the auspices of the Greater Toronto Council of Camera Clubs (GTCCC) and was offered to selected camera club members. Attending the course does not make me a certified judge, but it is a step along the way. I was interested in following that path for two reasons:
  • Learning how judges think and what they’re looking for will make me a better photographer, and
  • I’ve watched some judges in action and I think I could contribute, and help other photographers improve their skills.
Now I’m not going to reveal any secrets here (CAPA and GTCCC people, you can relax now!) but I will tell you that if you have the opportunity to attend this workshop, take it. It will make you a better photographer. It’s all about seeing stuff that you missed, and looking for that “wow” factor in your images.

 Part of the purpose of judging photos at the club level is to educate and encourage photographers. A good judge is more like Paula Abdul on American Idol than like Simon Cowell. Find something good about an image, and compliment the maker, then objectively come up with a suggestion or two to improve the image. The trick is to do that within the 20 or so seconds that you have to look at each image in a judging session.

 Here’s an example.



“Winter Road”


This isn’t fair, because it’s my own picture and I’m biased. Putting that aside, if I were judging this image I would say something like, “This is a well exposed image, with detail visible both in the white snow and the dark trees. The viewer’s eye is drawn from the dark lower left corner, along the curving road. It is sharp from front to back, however there is no defined subject and the dirty road takes away from the pristine feeling that the maker was presumably intending. This image scores a “6”.

One of the toughest challenges is to properly evaluate and score ‘artistic’ images. You have to think about what the maker is trying to convey and put aside your own likes and dislikes.

 Here are a couple more images, they are for you to score and comment on. Use the comment tab below this post and try to rate these images objectively.




"10 Below"



"Dawn Chopper"

I'm going to submit this one at the club next competition, so we'll see how you did compared with the accredited judges, OK?

If you are not now a member of a camera club, go out and join one. People all have different learning styles, but one of the best ones is to see what someone better than you – or different from you – is doing. So if you are in a club, be sure to participate in the competitions – you will learn, I guarantee it. By the way, the really best way to learn how to do something is to teach someone else. Think about it!

As far as I know, there are no clubs up here in the Minden/Haliburton area. You'd think there would be something affiliated with the Haliburton School of the Arts. I’ll keep looking, but if not, I’m going to try to start one. There are lots of artists and photographers up here.

Speaking of Lightroom… (I was, wasn’’t I?)

I’m starting to get used to it a bit. My workflow isn’t quite right and I haven’t properly organized my photos and backed them up the way I should, but I’ll do that this weekend. The beauty of the program is how you manage your files. One thing that really stands out for me is how easy it is to output images for the specific purpose intended: for instance, I used to open each picture in Photoshop to resize it for this Blog – in Lightroom I select “Export”, tell it to make .jpgs and fit them in a 1000x1000 px square, and click “OK”. All done. If I want the same images for print, I would do the same thing but just change the size and resolution parameters. And it doesn’t matter how many pictures I do at a time, it does them all at once. There are lots more good things in the program, and I’m slowly learning them.

How? Well by trying it, and emailing Jim when I’m stuck (happening less frequently now!) and by going through my back copies of Photoshop User magazine. By the way, the “Help” site is one of the few that actually works! Type a question in the search field and believe it or not, a RELEVANT document or documents are there. I’m impressed. As I said above, I’m going to acquire some Kelby Training books in the next couple of weeks to keep me on the right track.
I’ll leave you with a picture I took a couple of days ago on the way back to the house. The temperature was +1°C.



Some people have IQ’s smaller than their shoe sizes. Outside this little bay, there’s open water – the first freeze was only a couple of weeks ago and what looks like solid ice in the distance is not, it’s the beginnings and probably less than an inch or two thick. To top it off, there’s fast flowing water from a culvert coming in at the bottom left of the picture and that is open water you’re looking at. And some idiot’s snowmobile track about 6’ away from it. Darwin was right…

So did you know you could do arrowheads in Photoshop? Bet you didn't! I didn’t until I came across it while looking for something else recently. Here’s how.



Select the line tool which is nested under the shape tool in the tool palette



Click the little down arrow in the option bar at the top, and the arrowhead dialogue opens up. The values in the dialogue seem to be the default, except for the “concavity” which I increased to its maximum (50%) because I liked what it looked like.
Now drag to draw your arrow on your image. It comes in on a separate layer, so you can use layer effects like a drop shadow to make it look cool.

While I’m at it: “how”, you may ask, “did you do the screen captures?” I used a simple free utility called “Screenhunter 5.1” which is available at http://www.wisdom-soft.com/. They have a couple of more fully featured programs for a few dollars, but the free one does what I want, except for one thing: it doesn’t have multi-monitor support. It only works on your main monitor. You can set it to capture a rectangular area, the active window or the whole screen, at the press of the f6 key. It saves the file in your choice of a number of formats, I chose .jpg as a simple choice. Pretty cool! If I recall correctly, Hilarie pointed me at this one.

A cool music site

I often like to listen to music while I work. I don’t have a great CD collection, I don’t own an iPod (yet), I haven’t burned a whole lot of music tracks. The 100 or 200 tracks that I do have are getting a little old, if you know what I mean.

I used to be on a site called Pandora.com but they kicked off all non-US IP addresses. A couple of weeks ago, I came across a new site called http://www.jango.com/ which doesn’t have any obtrusive advertising, allows you to specify which artists you want to hear, you can even mark songs you like and don’t like and you’ll never hear the latter again. Every now and then, they throw in a new or budding artist, and ask you if you like or dislike him or her. When you ban a song, sometimes it pops up a box letting you see an advertiser and keeps it there for a dozen seconds before it goes away. I’d say once every hour or two. It’s clean, no viruses, etc.

My playlist is mostly jazz and blues: from Oscar Peterson to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Diana Krall and some technically good artists like the Eagles, CCR, etc. You choose what YOU want to hear. Their selection was quite limited at first, but there’s more and more stuff on there every day. Anyway, I like it – you might too!


Season’s Greetings, everyone! See you in the new year!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Busy, busy times!


I’m sitting here writing this in front of a curved bank of 3 monitors. The Biggest one is on the left, it’s the new 25” spectacular HP screen, running Lightroom and showing me the selection of photos that I’ve chosen to accompany this post. This new monitor is outstanding.

When the screensaver comes on, it runs a slideshow of my favourite images. I’ve seen them before, obviously – it’s the same screensaver I use on the other computer – but they’re so bright and crisp, I get carried away just watching them. I love this new monitor, but the only issue with it is that it’s too brilliant. I just got some prints back and they’re less than I’d hoped: the operative word is “muddy”. The colours are calibrated on the new monitor, but the image is so brilliant and beautiful I don’t want to turn it down! In future, I’ll use the other monitor for final tweaking of the brightness and contrast levels of my photos before sending them to print or posting them.

To my right is the laptop screen. My Blog is onscreen, with the previous post showing so that I can refer to it as I write this one. It’s dull by comparison.

In the middle is my Dell monitor, the one I’ve been using as the secondary monitor with the laptop up to now. It’s currently connected to the laptop, and I’m running MS Word, writing this. I like to pre-write the blog in Word, then cut and paste it in when I’m done. I installed a “KVM” switch – a $25 device I picked up at Tiger Direct which allows me to switch this monitor to either computer, along with the keyboard and mouse (actually my Wacom tablet/mouse) at the press of a button. Slick. I keep an extra mouse plugged into the HP computer, and I have the touchpad on the laptop keyboard, so I can navigate and switch pages and applications on the machine the keyboard is not connected to (great English, right? “Never end a sentence a preposition with!”).


Cool. Looks like the dashboard of a Boeing 787. My computer table is getting a little crowded, but if I sit up and look out the window, I can still see a corner of the lake. Or I could if it weren’t night. Or winter. The Inn across the road has some Christmas lights up, I really should go out and take some night shots. Nah, it’s -20°C out there. I’m rambling, aren’t I?



Tell your friends what you want for Christmas.
Here are a few ideas. Clickable links.
  • A membership in NAPP. The gift that keeps on giving.
  • A Gary Fong Lightsphere. I used to carry a ton of lighting equipment, now just a piece of Tupperware in my camera bag. You want the “Cloud” one, choose the right size for your flash here (scroll down), and buy it here.
  • A 2x teleconverter for your long lens
  • A new lens. Nikon or Canon.
  • A new camera
OK, you're allowed to dream, right?

Here comes the whiny part: I haven’t done a Hell of a lot of productive work in the last week or more: installing this new computer, plus dealing with the networking issues took a lot of time. Then a Blackberry Desktop application upgrade crashed my laptop and I had to actually go back to an earlier restore point to get it going again (there must be a registry issue with my laptop. Any new software install causes it to sit and cogitate for 30 minutes or more on the first reboot afterwards. I’ll have to look into that sometime). Then we got hit with a gigantic snowstorm and I’ve been dealing with clearing snow, getting my snowblower repaired, having the roof cleared, etc. I also had to deal with updating a website I’m responsible for and helping Jim with a Santa Claus shoot. So it’s been busy, and that’s why it’s been 3 weeks since you’ve seen a new post in the Blog!

Took me a long time to say that, right? Oh well, that’s what you love about me! And I hope you like reading my stuff because this post is turning into a long one! Through the magic of the computer, I came back and added this paragraph after the fact and decided to postpone two topics I was going to include, for another day.

OK, so today’s Blog topics are:
  • Some computer issues
  • Switching to Lightroom
  • The wondrous human eye
Computer Issues.

Here’s the thing. I said I didn’t lose any data when I lost the old desktop, but when all is said and done, it takes forever to get a new machine up and running. I don’t want to start the old Mac vs. PC debate but…. Anyway I have my reasons for sticking with PC and I won’t bore you by going there.

I’ll just say this: what happened to the good old days when Windows was just one file? The Windows 7 folder contains over 65,000 files in over 14,000 folders and occupies 12.5Gb. Does anyone else think this is a little over the top?

Networking was the biggest timewaster. Here’s a hint, folks: in both Windows 7 and Vista you have to not only specify the folders you want to share, you also have to address the permissions in TWO places: on the sharing tab and on the security tab. You have to create a user named “Everyone” and set the permissions for it. “File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks” has to be turned on and installed. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need to find someone who does. I could just barely do this, and not alone, either (thanks, Jim!). When I got up here today and fired up the laptop, it was all wrong and didn’t work again. I think it’s because I reverted to an earlier restore point because of the Blackberry-induced-crash. Hours. My internal body clock is all screwed up from these 3am days. I guess that’s why I’m writing this at 1:00am!

Lightroom

To top it all off, I decided to switch to Lightroom. I admit arguing strenuously against it and even ribbing Jim about it (the word “proselytize” comes to mind. He’s so committed to the program!). It’s a change in my workflow and, I hate to admit it, it’s better. But I’m on a learning curve into which I have to invest some time (better grammar?).

I installed the trial version when I set up the new machine. I argued that I could do the exact same functions using Bridge/CS4 and Camera Raw. I could – to an individual photo – but not to a batch of them, at least not with the ease that Lightroom does it. I have not installed the new LR3 Beta – too many bugs for now, I’m told – I’m running LR2.6. What really convinced me was a plug-in that allowed me to seamlessly upload a bunch of images to my Smugmug gallery.

Smugmug deserves a mention here. It’s where I host my galleries. It’s unlimited, loaded with features, and there are real live people behind it you can talk to if you have questions. It’s not free, but it’s very reasonable for what you get. If you look at it and decide you want to have your own Smugmug gallery, please paste this into the “referred by” field on the signup form: 16NrueyZ8KPmc. Or my email address (glenn dot springer at faczen dot com – you know what to replace!) and you’ll get a $5 discount on your membership and I’ll get a credit for my renewal too. Go to http://www.smugmug.com/ to see what it’s about, or check out my galleries at http://www.faczen.smugmug.com/ (badly in need of reorganization!).
One of the biggest Lightroom revelations for me was the concept that you don’t actually have to generate a .jpg for an image until you’re ready to. And you can change some parameters, like size and resolution, etc on a whole batch of images all at once.

Lightroom, like Photoshop, is a very deep program. I don’t know how to use it properly yet. Nor will I ever, I expect. It will take some time, but the workflow and organization of my images is vastly improved over what I’ve been doing up to now. I recommend it. I went back into my Photoshop User magazine archives (which you get if you’re a NAPP member (a hint you might give someone looking to get you a useful Christmas present!) and I’m re-reading the articles that I skipped in the past because I wasn’t a LR user. The first one I came to, oddly, posed exactly the same question that I had: “where’d all my pictures go?”. Unfortunately, it didn’t answer it: you open a folder and it says there are 50 pictures in it but it won’t show any of them to you. I’ll figure it out eventually! (Got it! Turn off the filters!)

The “Adjustment Brush” in LR is excellent. Non-destructive dodging and burning and clarity and saturation and sharpness and… all adjustable on specific areas of an image. Again, there are complexities in the tool I haven’t got to yet. I’m used to the concept from Camera Raw but this seems to work better. The cropping tool works like the one in PS except that when you drag, you’re dragging the image not the cropping rectangle! Takes a moment to figure out why it won’t move! I like to crop my images: there’s often stuff in a corner I don’t want, or I want to reframe an image to focus on something, and I don’t believe that everything has to follow rules, like be 8x10 proportion, etc. Non-conformist, that’s me!

Anyway, I can’t make this into a LR tutorial, it’s too long already. Just admitting that the millions of photographers out there who are committed to LR are not wrong. See? I can admit when I'm wrong!

The wondrous human eye (just musings)

I went out late one afternoon last week to talk with my neighbor (about my recalcitrant snowblower!). As I trudged home along the snowy road, I was greeted by a magically saturated dark blue sky with a few stars poking through, as the day faded into true night. It was incredibly beautiful, but I knew I couldn't capture it. Again, I stepped outside a few nights ago to enjoy some fresh air and I looked up at the stars, one of my favourite things to do. After a couple of minutes, my eyes adjusted to the light and I could see the millions of stars that make up the Milky Way galaxy painting a swath across the heavens. OK, I couldn’t see millions of them, but there were a LOT.

You can’t capture this on film, or in digital form. The camera does not have the dynamic range or the sensitivity to do it. There was too much ambient light that late afternoon to get a still image that would include the stars; the dark night scene can be done but not with pin-point sharpness – last post I showed a star shot but it was 10 seconds long at f/1.8 so there was some movement. You can turn up the ISO but then you get a grainy, noisy image. But your eyes can do it.

As I sit here writing this, my reflection in the HP monitor caught my eye. Can I capture this? Judge for yourself. But can I also include the nuances of shadows on the brightly sunlit snow outside the window at the same time? I think not. But I can see it.




I have lousy eyes. Astigmatic, needing several diopters of correction, I have floaters from a retina problem some years ago, my night vision sucks… and yet I can see so much better than my camera can. I have infinite depth of field – I can look at the hairs on my arm then pick out a small bird in a tree with no effort or noticeable time lag.

I think the HDR concept addresses some of those differences. HDR stands for “High Dynamic Range” (sorry for the basic level tutorial here) and essentially what you’re doing is making a composite image that reveals a much larger than normal range of light levels, more than the four octaves your camera can see, and closer to the seven your eyes can do (I hope I got those numbers right, it’s from memory).




I’m not very good at doing HDR’s but this image should give you some idea of what I’m talking about. A normal photo would either pick up the detail in the trees or the rich colours in the sky. You can pick out details in the bright sky and clouds lit by the sun, and at the same time see the nuances of the greys in the water and pick out the detail in the snow-covered trees by sandwiching exposures shot at different shutter speeds. That's what an HDR is. I also admit to some additional manipulation where I painted colour in the water and removed colour from the trees, but that’s not what this is about.

The depth of field issue is being newly addressed by a technique called “Focus Stacking” where images taken by focusing at different distances are combined so that everything is in focus.

I think that an upcoming generation of high end cameras will have both of these features built in. I don’t know how, or whether it will be soon, but I think that future photographers will be able to create incredible images that might approach how we actually see things. I hope I will still be around to see these advancements.

But I wrote this piece because I marvel at what the human eye can see and how powerful that built-in computer we call a brain really is.



In the spirit of not letting you go away without seeing some images, here are a few.

The following three images are terrible, technically. It was snowing fairly heavily and the subject was at least 300m away. I include them, though, for the purpose of considering how tightly to crop a subject.





The first image was shot with my 120mm lens. Notice how it tells the story about what’s going on – they’re clearing the snow off a cabin roof, the snow is deep and the roof is steep.




This is with the 400mm lens – or my 200mm with the Kenko 2x teleconverter (buy it here) It doesn’t really say that much, it’s an interesting composition but because of the quality due to the snow coming down, it doesn’t stand out.




This is a tighter crop and is compositionally more interesting but you lose the story. Sometimes you lose too much by trying to isolate the subject.

These two demonstrate a bit of what the camera can do, and are just images I enjoy.




This is exactly how my eye remembers seeing it. And for once, I didn’t do any fancy photoshop – the only thing I did in CS4 was to remove a couple of pieces of dirty snow that had fallen off a car and were in the frame on the right. Believe it or not, I shot this through my front windshield, while moving!



Here I wanted to convey the feeling of the deep snowfall we had had, but in order to show some detail in the snow I had to increase the contrast of the image and change the exposure. So I created a second layer of the wall and door, and changed its exposure values, then added considerable saturation. I used a layer mask to make those effects apply only to that part of the image.



Next time, I'm going to say a few words about the judges course I attended, and about how we set up and lit the "Santa Claus" shoot that I helped Jim with.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

It's not "IF", it's "WHEN"

Did you miss me? It's been a while since I posted, but as you might have guessed from the title, I suffered a computer crash. My other excuses involve some medical issues and some work stuff that's kept me busy for the past couple of weeks. So not only haven't I posted anything, I've hardly pushed a shuitter release in the last month. I do have a couple of things to talk about and show you, though.

So in today's post, I'll talk about being prepared for that big day when your computer crashes, share some new purchases with you and show you a few images. Fair enough? Let's get going!

When your computer crashes.
As I said above, it is inevitable. Your computer is going to crash. Everybody pretends it only happens to someone else, never to you, but ignoring the fact that it WILL crash isn't smart. You have to be prepared.

I lost zero data. None. But then the computer that I use most of the time wasn't the one that crashed, it was my old desktop. I brought it up North about a month ago. The other day I walked into my computer room (OK, my third bedroom/office) and booted the machine, or tried to, because my scanner was hooked up to it. "Blue Screen of Death". Then nothing: "please insert a boot disk...". The hard drive was toast. My computer guy (Bob, the Greek Geek. He's really good: contact him or check out his website and be sure to tell him I sent you!) had a look at it and told me it wasn't worth fixing. Hardware + labour > new. Besides, it was an old P4 system and not worth it.

So I bought a new machine. The best deal I found was an HP bundle at Costco: a quad core system with 8Gb of RAM, a 750Gb hard drive, a 25" high resolution monitor and Windows 7, all for under $1000.

Now even though I didn't lose any data, I've spent the better part of 40 hours getting this thing up to speed. Configuring it (thanks, Jim — I don't what I would have done without your help!), installing basic software, then physically installing it up North. I discovered that my wireless stick won't work, so I can't get it online until I hit Tiger Direct and get another one tomorrow, and my attempt at networking it with my laptop using my old router was fruitless. Windows 7 seems to work OK, but I haven't spent enough time learning how to take advantage of some of the new stuff. I will eventually.

Imagine how much more painful this would have been if I had lost data. Imagine yourself losing your computer. What about your emails? How about your address book? All your passwords and accounts and favourites. Your accounting and banking information. Your documents. Your photos... are you backed up?

I don't have the world's best backup system. Far from it. But what I do have, saved my bacon. So I'm going to suggest you might want to consider doing something similar. There are two parts to the backup, the data and the programs. I did not have the programs backed up and to tell you the truth, I don't really know how. I know it can be done: people talk about "ghosting" a drive or creating a system backup. I ran one yesterday on my laptop (a system backup). It took almost 12 hours to do, but it worked away in the background while I did other stuff.. I tried to do the new system too, creating a set of System recovery DVD's, but my DVD drive doesn't like my disks, apparently (it works, though -- I did copy some data onto a DVD). So I would have saved several dozen hours if I had done a system backup on the other machine — not really, though because who needs to save old Photoshop CS2, or my XP operating system? Or Office 2003?

Anyway, let's talk about something easier: backing up your data. First thing you need is something to back it up onto. DVD's are not OK. They degrade with time and are not totally reliable anyway. What you need is an external hard drive (Jim, I know, not good enough for those who use DROBO systems and multiple redundant backups, but I'm talking to folks like me who don't really have those extreme needs). Here's the drive I have: go buy yourself one for Christmas. It's only $109 at B&H. It's a Western Digital MyBook USB drive and it holds 1Tb (that's 1000 Gb!) of data. Click here to see the specs and you can order it at B&H, probably the most reliable place to buy stuff.

How do you do the backup? Couldn't be easier. Plug the drive into a USB port on your computer, and into power, then drag your entire "My Documents" folder onto it. Be careful not to just drag the shortcut, you need the whole folder. Open it, then back up a level to see the folder itself. My 'Documents' folder is almost 3Gb in size. That's only 0.3% of that 1Tb drive! Once it's there, rename it so that you know what date it was. Next time you do a backup, keep this one and give the new backup a fresh name. Because you have such a nice big backup drive, you don't need to delete it, but I generally delete the third one back, just to keep things clean.

Not finished. If you have Vista or Windows 7, your pictures are not in this folder! You need to do the same thing with your pictures folder. Am I making any sense? Here comes the hard part: your address book and your emails! They are likely not in the Documents folder. You need to open your email client (I use Outlook  2007, for instance) and locate where the data is stored. In Outlook, click on Data File management under the File tab, and it should tell you where the files are. Mine is at C:\Users\faczen\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook. Or you could just search for *.pst. Once you find it, drag a copy (Outlook has to be closed) to your backup drive. Do the same thing with your "Favourites" list in your web browser. Now you're done.

So if your computer crashes, and you fix it or get a new one, you can plug the external drive in and copy all that stuff back into the machine. How often you do a backup is up to you: I do a full backup every month, plus I keep critical stuff in other places, like my active database and my QuickBooks files. I copy those every night to a USB flash drive and often to my backup drive and other computer. I'd be dead in the water without this data.

OK, I've rambled on enough about doing backups. You know you have to. If you haven't done one recently, stop reading this and get going. You'll be sorry if you don't, when (not if) your computer crashes.

I bought a Kenko Telextender.
Against my better judgement. I really wanted the Nikon TC-17e which is a 1.7x extender, but they're over $400. The jury is still out about the Kenko one. It's a 2x extender and yes, autofocusing works on my 70-200 lens. It does help you reach out and touch stuff, but I'm not convinced it's terribly sharp. I'll do some more testing, but here's a shot that shows what it does:


This paddle was over 100m away. This is the full frame image, cropped only slightly, reduced in size to make it manageable to post here. It was shot at 1/2000 second, f/11, ISO =800. On a tripod.

Here's another shot, comparing images with- and without the extender.


The main picture was taken without the extender, lens zoomed to 200mm. ISO=800, exposure = f/5.6 @ 1/2500 sec. The inset on the right is blown up out of this image. The inset on the left comes from the same shot taken with the 400mm (200mm x 2) at exactly the same settings.

There is a clear quality difference between the two shots: by virtue of the fact that the crop was bigger on the 400mm image. Not a great test, but it shows that there is a place for this converter in my camera bag. It was quite inexpensive, roughly 1/4 the price of the Nikon. BTW, I can't shoot pictures with this thing worth a damn without a tripod.

I'll take some more comparison shots later. There weren't any birds around today to shoot!

If you want to see and/or buy these telextenders, click here:
I promised you some images
Well I have two groups of photos to show you today.First, I got interested in shooting star trails. I set the camera up at about 1am and left the shutter open for a good hour, plus.


The top image is the original. The others are the same shot, manipulated a bit. The exposure was 3816 seconds (63 minutes) at f/8, ISO 400. Lens was my 24-120, set at 24mm.



These two images are "as shot" and with some extra noise reduction. Exposure was 4209 seconds (70 minutes) at f/10, ISO=200. For noise reduction, I used the "median" filter at a moderate level (9 px) on a new layer. I changed the blend mode to 'overlay' and reduced the opacity of the layer to about half, then used curves to bring the brightness back. Note the softness in the tree branches.

The D300 has some amazing noise reduction algorithms built in. I just found out how it works: the camera creates a second image with exactly the same duration as the original -- so this shot actually took almost 3 hours before i could see it. It mixes the two images together, subtracting any noise generated by the sensor. The colour of the image is a mystery. There's no light pollution in the direction I shot, so I don't really understand why the image is yellow. Someone suggested it's a white balance issue. The camera was on auto WB, and it selected a colour temperature of 4150K.

Here's another neat shot


 Exposure was 4915 seconds (82 minutes) at f/10, ISO=200



Here's another kind of star shot. It's Orion's Belt. This was shot at f/1.8 using my 50mm prime lens,
for 10 seconds at ISO=1600.

Let me leave you with a couple of family images. There's one of Maria, my daughter-in-law and one of my mother, both with my new granddaughter Leah. I selectively reduced the clarity slider on my mom's face, but otherwise, the pictures are pretty well as shot!




Enjoy!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Getting stuff printed

As the title says, this Blog post is about getting stuff printed. But before I delve into that, I want to express my thanks to Larry Becker, Executive Director of NAPP, who was kind enough to say some good things about me on his NAPP News podcast this week, and he put a link to this Blog on the front page of the NAPP site. He commented that I had some good things to say about NAPP on the Blog and he's right, I did.

I didn't say stuff because I wanted anything: well, OK, I could use a Mac, and a pro-series Nikon lens in the midrange would be nice... but more and more, I find myself going to the NAPP site for inspiration and to learn new techniques. I regularly browse the member's galleries for ideas and often come across some real gems. There's one fellow I'm corresponding with and have asked his permission to talk about his work on here, but I'll wait untill he says it's OK before I say anything else.

The only constructive criticism I would make  (OK, I could make more, but not today!) is about "constructive criticism". Comments that people make on members' pictures are always complimentary, always positive like Paula what's-her-name on American Idol. Like, "Nice Capture. I love the texture in the background and the glow of the skin tones...". Honestly, these comments come from a lot of knowledgeable experts and I'd rather read, "This shot has great potential. Try moving the subject out of the center and drop the exposure a little so the hilite on her forehead isn't blown out. Oh by the way, nice texture in the background!". There seems to be a general taboo on constructive criticism there.

Anyway, I've had hundreds of new visitors to my Blog and I'm honoured. I hope people find it interesting and informative. With a new expanded readership, I'm going to have to put more effort into my writing, and research stuff better before posting!

On to the topic for today -- getting stuff printed.
Now I'm NOT talking about getting your photos printed at a service bureau or on your own printer. I'm not qualified to talk about that stuff because, well, I'm not good at it, and I left the darkroom behind me 25 or more years ago. No, I'm talking about getting stuff PRINTED. Like on a printing press. Like cards and brochures and forms and labels and... you know, "PRINTED". Many of you may not do that very often, sometimes never, but if you need a business card, why shouldn't you design it yourself in Photoshop and send it to a printer to be produced? You may not be a graphic designer, but well, every time I hand someone one of my business cards, I feel that 'glow' when they say, "nice card!", knowing I did it myself!

Here's my FACzen business card, front & back:

By the way I love how the back of the card looks with the trim marks and border there, so I used it just like that on the photography.to website!
I designed it but I didn't print it. In fact I sent it to a company called "5000cards.com" and they printed it. But you can't just send them a JPG file and expect it to be printed the way you want. You have to prepare it for them. And that's what I'm going to talk about here.

Now the company I just mentioned is not typical. They know exactly how to print business cards from electronic artwork — that's what they do all day. And they have some special requirements and some templates and all kinds of good stuff to help you so that you'll have predictable results. If you do go to 5000cards.com (they advertise in PhotoshopUser magazine and I was very satisfied with how I was treated and the results), by all means go to their website and follow the bouncing ball. Your local printer, the guy you're more likely to deal with for smaller or more custom jobs, is a little different. This Blog is about dealing with a local shop.

Sidebar: about this supplier
5000cards.com has another name, it's "Boss Logo". Same company. They happen to be located in Toronto but that doesn't matter much. Their business revolves around the 'trade' so I'm sure they have two different pricing structures for end users and people who are reselling thir work. I'll ask them and report back here when they get back to me. If they don't deal with end users, well I have an account there, so you could order through me. Send me an email! They work by ganging up orders on one big sheet, so if you order anything special — spot inks, different coatings or stock, etc., it will cost you more. However they do a damned fine job with their standard stuff. I had my cards done with a matte laminate and they look spectacular.

Because they deal with "us" — digital people — they've taken the trouble to design and make available templates in a variety of programs. Like I said, "follow the bouncing ball" — start on the Online Resources tab and read about the file specs (they want .tif files, BTW) and look at the templates. You will need to sign in before they will share their pricing with you. BTW when I first started dealing with them, their minimum order was indeed 5000 cards. Not true any more, my last order was for only 1000. And they do a lot of other stuff, not just cards.

Yes this is a plug for them. They don't know (yet) that I'm writing this. They did a great job for me — on my own stuff and on outside jobs, and I wanted to acknowledge them.

In the old days, a printer would only accept colour-separated film and burn printing plates from the film — one for each colour (I'll talk about 4-colour process in a minute). Today, like us, they're digital. They still need a printing plate but it's a digital process and they can work from a file instead of pieces of film. The guy I deal with works best from a .pdf file. So we'll talk about that.

The first thing you need to know is the difference between RGB and CMYK colour. Red, Green, and Blue are "additive colors". If we combine red, green and blue light you will get white light. This is the principal behind the monitor you are looking at right now, and it's also what you use when you prepare a file to be printed on an inkjet printer, whether on your own desktop printer or at Costco or another bureau. However, open up that inkjet printer: it doesn't use Red, Green and Blue ink! Magic happens between your computer and the printer and your file gets translated! The printing world operates in subtractive color, or CMYK mode. Cyan, Magenta and Yellow (and black) are "subtractive colors". If we print cyan, magenta and yellow inks on white paper, they absorb the light shining on the page. Since our eyes receive no reflected light from the paper, we perceive black. Ideally, 100% Cyan plus 100% Magenta plus 100% Yellow would absorb all the light and you'd get black, but to get a really good black, you need to add a layer of black ink as well. The letter "K" is used for the black layer to avoid confusion with "B"lue.

4-colour process is laying down amounts of up to 4 different colours of ink: CMY&K, to produce any given colour. If you want red, you mix Magenta and Yellow. For green, you mix Cyan & Yellow. For dark blue, Cyan, Magenta and Black. you can get any colour that way. Sometimes printers use premixed "spot" inks, say to achieve the exact colour that a logo requires, but that's expensive because they have to stop everything, wash the press, mix the ink, ink the press, run it, wash it and replace the standard CMYK inks again for the next job. You want to avoid using spot colours if you can. For standard stuff anyway. Spot inks are more precise, generally richer and you can do neat stuff like putting down metallic inks, matte and gloss varnishes, etc. but that's not for normal work. It's too expensive.

Sidebar. Getting fancy.
If you want to print a pure rich black, it ain't going to happen by using black ink only. Without getting too technical, you should mix in some CMY as well, usually Cyan. Photoshop knows this. Open Photoshop, and press the "D" key to set the colours to the default. Now click on the black swatch and look at the color picker. Notice the percentages of different colours that Photoshop assigns to the colour "Black".




It's not 100% of everything because you would create "mud" by laying too much ink on the paper and it would spread out like crazy when it gets absorbed by the paper you're printing on. But it's not just black!
So the first thing you need to do is convert your document to CMYK which you do in Photoshop under Image --> Mode. So let's get started. As an example, I'll use a job I did recently for my own company which makes First Aid kits. (we make really outstanding First Aid kits. You need one in your shop, your car, your house, your backpack... if you tell me you saw this here, I'll give you a discount when you order via our website) I needed some new labels for two new kits and instead of just doing a simple silkscreen, I decided to do full-colour glossy labels. The printer I send to likes to use 8.5x11 sheets, so in this case, I put two labels on the same sheet, then he trims them out after printing.  Without going into a lot of extraneous detail, he likes working from a 300dpi file, so I made sure all my documents were CMYK, 300dpi. I created a new document in Photoshop with those parameters, then I dragged the two images I wanted to print into it.




No fair critiquing my artwork, OK? I never claimed to be an artist, but it seems to work!


Remember I said he was going to trim the images out of the sheet after printing it? Printers have these huge cutters that resemble a guillotine (that's what they're called, actually). I'm always surprised that printers aren't missing fingers and stuff, but the machines are intelligently designed: you have to hold down two separate buttons to make the blade come down, so your hands are nowhere near the blade. Anyway, to make it easy for him to cut, you want to line stuff up so he has the fewest operations. The green arrow above shows you that I need to line up the left edges of the two images so he can cut them in one shot.

You have to tell him where to cut. So you need to put "corner marks" on the page to guide his knife. I find the easiest way to do that is to drag some guides into the document, then use the pencil tool (holding the Shift key down to keep it from straying off the vertical or horizontal). The marks have to be OUTSIDE the printed area, like this:





Next, you go around the document and lay down all the corner marks. I like to do that on a separate layer so I can change it if I have to without affecting the pictures. If you're going to do this a lot, keep the layer as a separate template, then drag it into the document you're working on and drag the corners to where you want them. "Snap to Guides" helps.


Some of the corner marks may not be visible because they're hidden by the guidelines. You can turn those off temporarily with Ctrl-H. They don't print, so don't worry about them.

Now save your document, flatten it, and print it to a PDF file.


Remember, it has to be in CMYK mode.



I use a free PDF program called PrimoPDF (sorry Adobe. It is free...) It does what I need it to do. If you need more features, check out their premium product here. Be sure to set the colour management to the US-standard. This is the Photoshop print dialogue box:





Primo PDF asks you what you want to do with the file you're creating. It compresses differently and adjusts other parameters accordingly. I chose "Prepress" as you can see from the next image.





The resulting file was about 1.5Mb in size. Next step is to send it to the print shop as an email attachment. Now if you trust the guy, you can just tell him to go ahead. Be careful: ask for a proof if you can. For any large job, you might even want to be there before he runs it, to do what they call a "press proof". If you're printing thousands of pages or printing on tons of paper, it's a good idea to have a last look before that typo you never noticed gets printed on 3/4 of a million expensive sheets of paper.

 This isn't rocket science.
  • Create your images
  • Convert them to CMYK
  • Place them on the appropriate size sheet for your print shop
  • Add trim marks as necessary
  • Print it to a full-resolution PDF
  • Send it to your print shop
  • Sit back and pour yourself a glass of single-malt scotch to celebrate
  • Send me a bottle as a thank you
  • Don't tell anyone how easy it was.
Any questions?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Memory. Wouldn't it be nice to still have some? And some portrait tricks

The older I get, the more I realize I'm losing it. I suppose that's not a bad thing -- when I start not realizing that I'm not remembering stuff, I'll be on that slippery downward slope. My father has an expression: "Everything hurts. Except the stuff that doesn't work". He's pretty well with it for a guy in his 90th year.

Back to me (this is all about me, after all!) and the subject at hand. Sometimes I can't remember what I did 5 minutes ago, never mind last month. Today I'm going to talk about two things: trying to keep track and remembering stuff, and my beginning experimentation with portraits.

Remembering stuff.
Photoshop is such a wonderful program. I think if I keep playing with it for another 20 years (I have been at it that long: I started in 1990. How I wish I had taken some formal training!), I might start to be able to use it in more than a perfunctory manner. I skim the surface. I jump from one tool, one method to another, trying whatever happens to catch my eye or my imagination, then moving on to something else.

The problem is, I might do something once or twice, then not use it again for 6 months, or whenever the mood might strike me. I come across an image and say to myself, "Gee I remember using a similar technique a while ago, I'll bet it'll work well on this image too..." and then for the life of me, I can't remember how I did it. An example? Orton effect. Or doing HDR's. Well I never really mastered that one, but it's still a good example. Here's another one — a big one for me: painting in Painter 11. I spent a whole weekend on a course with Hilarie learning how to use the program and how to paint. I had great visions of becoming a pixel artist. I did a couple of great images (if I do say so myself!), then I didn't use it for 5 or 6 months. I honestly don't remember how.

Or all the great stuff I picked up at the Ben Willmore  Photoshop workshop I attended last year. Or the tips I read about in Photoshop User magazine, try once and say, "that's neat! I'll have to remember that!".

I need to find a way to remember how I did stuff, that I lose if I don't use it regularly. Especially those things that worked well.

Some stuff sticks with you.but only if you keep using it. Like now I remember that hitting alt-backspace will paste the foreground colour into the selection of an image. Or the "X" key switches between foreground and background colours. Or the Ruler Tool is now hiding under the eyedropper. But a lot of the time, I just can't remember what I did to achieve a certain effect. For example, the picture of the Empire State building which I posted a couple of weeks ago: I would have liked to have the base and the background of the building shrouded in fog. I remember that last year, I created a fog effect on an image by using a layer mask, and I think I used a gradient to make it happen, but damned if I can remember how.

Get to the point. Make a long story short (too late!). I'm going to start writing down what I've done to images when it works out well. That way I can go back and use the technique again months later. Photoshop has a tool which helps you do that: the "History Log" (access it under General Preferences). It will tell you, stroke by stroke, what you did on an image and you can either create a separate text file or store it in the metadata for an image. How useful is it? So-so. It's very detailed. Here's an quick example:

2009-10-28T10:08:39-04:00 File soft kelly-72.jpg opened
Open C:\Users\faczen\Pictures\Blog 1000\soft kelly-72.jpg

Hue/Saturation 1 Layer
Make adjustment layer Using: adjustment layer
Type: hue/saturation
Preset Kind: Default
Without Colorize

Modify Hue/Saturation Layer
Set current adjustment layer To: hue/saturation
Preset Kind: Custom
Adjustment: hue/saturation adjustment list
hue/saturation adjustment
Hue: 0
Saturation: 32
Lightness: 0

Merge Visible
2009-10-28T10:18:09-04:00 File C:\Users\faczen\Pictures\Blog 1000\soft kelly-72.jpg saved
Save
 OK, it helps, but it's not good enough to remind me "how" I did something, just "what". So what I decided to do is to create some text files to describe what I've done when I want to remember a technique. Not in incredible detail like the above, but follow the comments I'm making on the following image. I'm doing this on the fly: writing it as I create this Blog post.:



You need to blow this up to see the detail of the changes between the before and after of this portrait. Click on the image. I'll wait right here until you come back.
A little background: I shoot headshots of students in a certain safety course every month. I've mentioned this before. I need to print a 2"x3" photo for them to submit to the Government for their ID. I shoot about 30 or 40 pictures in half an hour, then I spend an hour or so outputting them. I do the same thing all the time, so I created an "action" in Photoshop to accelerate the workflow: It opens the image, then opens a levels dialogue so I can adjust the brightness, etc. Then it opens a cropping dialogue so I can crop the image to the exact size I want. It sharpens it and saves the file. All 30 or 40 pictures are done the same way. Then I place them 15-up on a sheet and print them on a Canon inkjet printer and trim them out. I need to remember to turn the saturation down about 10% and move the hue up about 5 points because my printer still doesn't match my computer screen no matter how hard I try. The images aren't very flattering, but they're not half-bad. Sometimes I'll clean up some blemishes before starting the action, and sometimes I'll stop it before the sharpening, especially for women whose images should be a bit softer than guys. The left-hand picture is exactly what comes out after the action is completed, except for size.
 A sidebar. These pictures are taken with the D300 and the 24-120mm lens, usually zoomed to about 100mm. I use the SB-600 flash with the Gary Fong diffuser attached, the exposure is on Manual at 1/100 sec at f/11, ISO 400, although I'll open up a bit if the subject has dark skin. The resulting photo is about 1 stop underexposed so no hilites are blown out. I get the students to sit in a chair facing about 30° to the left, then turn their heads over their left shoulders and look at the camera (I need both ears in these shots).
 I opened the image, but in Camera Raw, not immediately in Photoshop. In a conversation with Dr. Ron I had learned that a technique for creating smooth, glowing skin in portraits was to reduce the clarity (move the slider to the left) and I wanted to try it. I actually reduced it quite a bit, to -65%. Then I opened it in Photoshop and at the same time, I opened the original image as well. I dragged the smoothed version (low clarity) into the original image to put it on a new layer. Why? Well because I wanted to retain the detail in the hair and eyes, etc so I was planning to overlay the two versions.

Next, I removed blemishes, using the Healing Brush. I worked on both layers. It was easier on the smooth layer because a lot of the blemishes were gone anyway. I created a layer mask  on the smooth layer and started painting out the things I wanted to retain from the original image: the hair, the eyes, the mouth. I like adding soft hilites in the eyes, so I duplicated the background layer and painted hilites at the bottoms of the irises using a soft chalk brush at about 25% opacity. I reduced the opacity of this layer to about 60% before merging it down so that the hilites would blend in better.There was a strand of hair over the left eye which I cloned out carefully on both layers. The hair was a little too bright, so I used the Burn tool to bring it down a little. I saved the image as a .psd file, then flattened it and saved it as a .jpg. Done, except for resizing it up slightly for this Blog, and putting the before and after on one file.

So this was a pretty simple technique (if you're a Photoshopper, you'll know what I mean. If not, you'll think this was crazy overkill!). But unless I do some more portraits in the next months, I'll forget what I did so I'm going to copy what I just wrote, from the picture on down, and save it in a Word file to retrieve when I want to remember. Back in a sec... ok, done. The filename is "Soft portraits using the Clarity slider".

OK. The lesson here is, it's never too late to start recording things so that you'll remember them later. Start today. If someone asks "how did you do that?", you can tell them. If you want to do it again, you can look it up and see what you did. I plan to start today, recording successful activities. I'll come back in 6 months and tell you how it went.

Two more images before I leave you today. I was working on a picture I took of my 6-year old granddaughter Kelly a couple of days ago (just getting a feel for the same technique) and I had created a layer mask. In order to refine it, after painting on it, I alt-clicked on the mask so I could see it directly and this is what I saw:



Does that look like the sketch of a 6-year old? Bizarre. Is that what she's going to look like when she's 20? Hope I'm around to see the beautiful young lady I just portrayed!

And finally here's a fall shot I just happen to like. Hope you like it too!



This looks really different on a white background.
Click the picture to enlarge it and view it on white.
You can see more of my stuff, of course, by going to my Smugmug gallery. Everything is organized by month, although I have to do some work on the site to move some things around and hilite the images that I happen to like best!

TTFN!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Retouching Tutorial

Today's Blog is about retouching photos in Photoshop.

First, if you're not a NAPP member, you should be. Not only do you get a subscription to Photoshop User magazine, but you also get access to the member's area on the NAPP site, an opportunity to post a small portfolio there and have other knowledgeable photographers comment on your work. And you get a discount on NAPP/Kelby-sponsored courses and products.

NAPP is the "National Association of Photoshop Professionals" and their website is at http://www.photoshopuser.com/. Membership information is here.


Zooming In:
If you're using Internet Explorer, did you know you can easily zoom in to the page? I find it a lot easier to read when it's a bit bigger. In the lower right corner of your screen, you'll see a little "+" sign and it probably says "100%". Click there. It goes to 125%. Click again. Now it's 150%. A third click and you're back to 100%. Try it. You'll like it!

I got the idea for how to do this retouch by watching a tutorial by Scott Kelby on the NAPP site yesterday. I didn't do everything his way: for one thing, I missed how to do some stuff and found my own way (I plan to go back and watch it again: there are some things with masks I still don't know how to do and he made it look so easy!). Also, I wanted to put my own spin on some things.
After watching the tutorial, I looked for an image to play with and found one that I had shot last week. Here it is:



Not a terribly exciting picture but the element I was looking for, to practice with, was the water. Like the image in Scott's tutorial, it's not very interesting. What I wanted to do was to put a reflection of the trees in the water, but I also wanted to retain some of the texture, rather than just having a mirror-like reflection.

I'm sort of going to take you step-by-step through the exercise. I'll give you the basics, that way you can experiment on your own and find your own way of doing things like I did.

The first thing I did was to make a selection of the water. I used the Quick Selection tool and then cleaned it up using the lasso and other tools. I used the rocks sticking out on the right as the limit of the selection. What I wanted to do was paste a reflection of the trees into the water area only. Scott said to "save selection" but I must have done it wrong because I couldn't retrieve it later so I had to go back and do something else. What I did was to proceed to the next step: I selected inverse, in other words, everything else, then pasted it into a new layer and copied that new layer to a fresh file. But before I did that, I used the Transform tool to flip the image upside down.

Now I went back in the history to where I had selected the water. I selected the other document, and used a little trick to select only the active area -- I did a "select all" then used an arrow key to nudge the selection -- it automatically changes the selection to active pixels only -- try it -- then the reverse arrow key to negate the nudge and put it back where it was. OK now Ctrl-C to copy, return to the original document, and select "paste inside" from the menu. That put the inverted picture of the trees in the water only. Now I could move it around to where I wanted it.

But that made a mirror-like reflection with sharp edges. So the first thing I did was to reduce the opacity of the new layer to about 65%, so a little of the texture of the original water showed through. Not enough for me, though, so I had a brainstorm and went into the Filter Gallery and found the "ocean ripple" filter. Bingo! I changed some of the parameters until it looked right to me then applied. the filter.

I didn't like the hard edges along the shoreline, so I created a layer mask, then I got a soft, rough brush (I like the chalk brush), changed the opacity to about 30% and started painting ON THE MASK along the edges. If you look at the mask (alt-click it) you can see that you're painting grey on it. Remember, the mask blocks when it's black and is transparent when it's white.

Starting to look good. Now I repeated the process, but with a lot less detail on the water in the distance. Here the selection was just the hillside and I actually pasted the inverted reflection right into the background layer (well on a new layer, of course). I reduced the opacity again, transformed the image by scaling it up so that it overlapped the trees in the foreground and the edge of the frame, then changed the blending mode to "darken" so it would only affect the water.

Finally, I wanted to increase the contrast of the image, and the saturation, so I duplicated the background layer, set the duplicate layer to "Multiply" and then played with the levels until I was happy.

The whole process took me about 15 minutes. It took longer to write this! And here's the result:



Blow it up to see what it really looks like. Finally, I decided to try to crop the image better, so the finished product looks like this:



It's a keeper! I wish the sky were nicer, but that's a job for another day.

So what did you think? Was it a worthwhile topic? Did I give you enough detail, or too much? Did you get some ideas by reading this? Please give me some feedback and let me know if I should continue to do this kind of tutorials. Either click "comments" below, or just send me an email!