Thursday, March 27, 2008

REVIEW: National Geographic Photography Field Guide: Secrets to Making Great Pictures

Today I finished reading the 1999 version of this book written by Peter K. Burian and honestly I thought it was outstanding. While this book focuses on film photography, most of the concepts mentioned apply to any photography no matter what camera you are using.

When reading this book you really get a sense that you are a fly on the wall in the life of a National Geographic photographer. This happens because it is featured with 10 chapters that have short interviews and tips from some of the best photographers ever to work at National Geographic. I thought these things were outstanding and worth reading even if you skip the rest of the book.

There's something useful in all but two chapters of this book. The film chapter isn't going to be useful for most of us these days, and the last digital photography chapter is woefully out of date.

A cool feature of this book, which helps it to earn a true title of field guide, is that the inside covers are 18% gray cards, and the first page can be used for white balance metering.

The link I've provided here is for the updated 2003 version (2nd Edition), so I would imagine it is even better than the one I picked up from my local library. I would assume that the digital portion isn't so out of date, and that some of the content has been updated to reflect the use of digital ISO and its advantages.

I really enjoyed this book, but I'd probably keep Scott Kelby's book in my bag as my field guide. However, I have no troubles recommending this book for purchase. It is an excellent book and worth having, but at the very least you owe it to yourself to get a copy from the library. It is an easy read, and worth the day or two you'll spend reading it.

Learn more about the 2003 version of this book by visiting the Amazon link provided at the beginning of this article and reading the table of contents.

Skill Level: Beginner to Advanced Value: A steal at the current price of $8 on Amazon Recommendation: Once you are prepared to wander outside your local area or take on more challenges with photography, you'll find this book to be a great learning tool. Highly Recommended.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

How to help others take better pictures

During the last couple of weeks I’ve gone through over a dozen books that were mostly picture books taken by famous photographers from Sports Illustrated, Time, National Geographic, Life, and others. The one thing I’ve noticed that is true of 95% of the photos I’ve looked at is that none of them would pass the scrutiny that you or I face these days as digital photographers. Many of these photos aren’t sharp, they frequently are cropped poorly, they have tons of visual distractions that don’t add value to the shot (including dust spots), they are grainy as hell (because many come from film), the exposure is off, the colors are a bit muted, etc…

All of the things that normal people get hammered for on web sites, and through stock agencies are present in these great photos. Yet, I wonder if these great photographers faced the same rejection that many of us face if they would have gone on to be great photographers or if these great shots would have ever seen the light of day?

Granted, the pros of today have paid their dues. Many shot on film without all of the high-tech wizardry we have at our disposal, they shot on the move, and they shot with lesser equipment (by their own admission – not mine). They also faced @hole editors who made them feel like crap, so they know what it feels like to take a photo you are proud of and have it dismissed as a snapshot.

However, when I carefully analyze current magazines, post cards, and posters with photos being praised as great I see many of the same mistakes we all make. Perhaps the shutter speed was a tad slow, perhaps the focus was a bit soft, perhaps the light wasn’t just right so the ISO had to be cranked up and noise (beyond the help of Noise Ninja) was introduced. However, they still get their photos published and they continue to be labeled as great.

Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of current pros who are simply photography gods who could get a shot with a built-it-yourself camera and natural light, but it does seem that in this day of high res cameras, print, and monitors that we’ve all gone a bit crazy (especially me) about the technical merits of a photo rather than the creative merits of a photo. I know I’m guilty of this because I do it to myself. I find myself doing it because I know when I submit a picture for review – anywhere – I’m going to have someone tell me that the crop is wrong, the picture is a bit soft, there’s noise (even at ISO 100 or 50), and the exposure is a bit off. This has caused me, and I think many aspiring photographers, to focus on what is wrong instead of what is good about a photo.

With this in mind, I would encourage anyone who reads this to take time to start looking differently at people’s photos when they submit them for a critique. Sure, we all want to learn and get better so helpful tips are important, but I also think it is even more important to say what the photographer did well. Encouragement goes a long way, and in this super tough, over saturated, and highly competitive field, a little praise would go a long way. I know it would certainly help the dozens of people who have told me off-line that they are afraid to post their pictures (or in some cases, even comment to a post) for the fear of having their pride and joy slammed to bits.

When a friend asks you "what do you think of this photo", I would suggest using a template similar to Flickr’s Score Me In Detail when replying:

Creativity - 5 Marks

How creative is the photo? Is it original? How unique is it? Is the idea a good one? Does the photo tell a story without a title or explanation?

Colors - 5 Marks

Are the colors suitable to the photo? Are they justified in being vibrant/soft? Are the colors too bright, dark, light etc? If the photo is b&w, do you think choosing to use b&w was a good choice? Has the conversion been done well?

Exposure – 5 Marks

Is the photo too light, too dark, or just right?

Crop – 5 Marks

Is the image cropped very well? Is the subject in the right spot? Are there elements YOU find distracting in the picture?

Opinion - 5 Marks

These 5 points are personal to you. Even if the composition is off, the colors are wrong and the idea has been done much better, did it still capture your attention? Did it make you smile? This is where you give it the points you personally want to give it. It may not be perfect in principle but you might love it anyway. Many pro’s photos get published for being a 5 here when many of the above would get < 3 from me.

PLUS, include something positive to say about the photo in the format of:

“What I like most about this photo is…”

When offering suggestions simply offer the one thing that you think would make the biggest impact to improve the photo and BE NICE. Saying delete it isn’t being nice!

If a photo is original or super creative, simply share your praise so that photographer can continue to be inspired to take more risks.

Here's a quick template you can copy and paste to make it easy to provide a thoughtful reply to your friend:

<BEGIN COPY HERE FOR TEMPLATE>

Exposure (0-5):

Colors (0-5):

Crop (0-5):

Creativity (0-5):

Opinion (0-5):

Total (25 max):

What I like MOST about this photo is:

The best thing you could do to improve this photo is:

<END COPY>

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REVIEW: The Digital Photography Book - Volume 2

If you've read this blog very much then you've frequently seen my constant references to Scott Kelby's The Digital Photography Book Volume 1. While it may not be the most in-depth or comprehensive book in the world, I think it is one of the best because it is definitely one of the most practical. Scott's no-nonsense style just gets to the point and tells you what you need to know. It's the kind of stuff you wish you knew before you learned the hard way if you are already into photography, and it is certain to keep you from making some bonehead mistakes if you are new and listen to his advice.

Naturally, the moment I realized there was a Volume 2 I purchased it from Amazon and read it right away.  I'm pleased to say that volume 2 is another outstanding book, even if it isn't as good as the first. I should also point out that it is a second volume, not a second edition, so YOU STILL NEED VOLUME 1.

Volume 2 goes more in-depth on lighting and wedding photography and has plenty of great advice. While I wouldn't necessarily say that this is a book you should keep in your camera bag like Volume 1, I can say it is worth every penny you pay for it.

If you want to take better pictures without depending on natural light, this book is a must have. I highly recommend it!

Conclusion (Updated August 8, 2009)

This is a fantastic book that ages well (i.e., other than a few gear products being updated everything still applies just as much now as it was written). I need to add a walkthrough for this book to give it the review treatment it deserves as it is really a must own book for every beginner.

Skill Level: Intermediate
Value: Excellent (worth 10 times as much for what you learn)
Recommendation: After you read Volume 1, you should buy this book. Go get Volume 1 first though.

Get All Three Digital Photography Books

This and the original The Digital Photography Book have been on my Which Books Should I Read? list since they came out, so it should come as no surprise that the new The Digital Photograph Book – Volume 3 is immediately added to that list. I recommend getting all three in this nice hard cover case as you’ll find yourself going back to read or reference these books over and over (or at least you should be if you are smart).

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REVIEW: The Moment it Clicks

After seeing recommendations from Scott Kelby (The Digital Photography book) and David Hobby (of strobist fame) to read Joe McNally's The Moment it Clicks, I figured I had to check it out.

When I started reading this book I discovered a couple of things. First was that Scott and Joe are great friends, so that meant that Scott's recommendation was very biased. It also seems that Joe, Scott and David are all a bit friendly with each other too, so I started to think I might have been tricked into getting this book. Sure, the pictures were nice, but did I do the right thing?

The next thing I noticed was that Joe uses a lot of jargon and the book lacks any useful configuration guides or equipment lists. This made me start to not like the book at first, but I kept reading it because it had some really cool pictures. The more I read it, the more I liked it and then I began to love it.

I think one thing I liked about this book is that you discover a famous guy like Joe is really photographer who makes mistakes just like the rest of us. The difference between us and Joe is that he's got years of experience, tons of shots, and had some great opportunities that he fought hard to get. You also discover that many times, he was just flat out lucky. Joe has talent for sure, but he's not some photography god who never makes mistakes. In fact, he'd argue that me makes a lot of them, but sometimes the mistakes teach you something and make you better.

In the end I really enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it. I learned the value of using gels on a flash, despite all of the cool post-processing we can do with Photoshop. I also discovered that if you really want to get killer shots, you need a Elinchrom Octabank!

If you pay attention, Joe does share some gear recommendations and some lighting placement suggestions that are helpful to know. He also has some entertaining stories and fantastic pictures. As others have mentioned, it makes a great read plus a great coffee table book too.

In the end, I really enjoyed this book and plan to refer to it from time to time. If you are new to photography then it is too early to read this book, so go read Scott Kelby's The Digital Photography book. If you aren't a master of everything except for light already, then this book will not provide much value to you beyond being a great coffee table book.

Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced Value: Very Good Recommendation: Nice to have, but not a must own

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Monday, March 17, 2008

REVIEW: Top 100 Simplified Tips & Tricks Adobe Photoshop CS

DISCLAIMER: There are newer editions of this book by a different author which might be much better, so this review only pertains to ISBN 0-7645-4182-X by Denis Graham. In my continuing search to suck less at Photoshop I have been digesting a lot of books and videos. The latest was a very promising book called Top 100 Simplified Tips & Tricks Adobe Photoshop CS which is another Visual book. I had enjoyed Teach Yourself Visually Photoshop CS3 so much that I thought this book, which looks similar, would be great -- I was wrong. This book is visual and it does contain some decent information for those who are new to photoshop, but in the attempt to come up with 100 tips the author really stretches by covering filters, the file open dialog, ImageReady, and more. In the end, I felt like there were about 10 tips and tricks that weren't covered in Teach Yourself Visually, so this book wasn't worth my time. Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate Value: Poor Recommendation: Spend your money elsewhere. Start with Teach Yourself Visually.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

REVIEW: Professional Secrets of Natural Light Portrait Photography

Lately in the evenings I have been reading Professional Secrets of Natural Light Portrait Photography by Douglas Allen Box which has a 2001 copyright but the pictures have more of a early 90's feel. This book had been recommended to me by a colleague at work and I was using it to try to understand natural lighting better. The author does a pretty decent job of explaining some key concepts in the first 16 pages and then goes into a bunch of examples after that. However, it seems that if you read the first 16 pages you basically get what he is telling you in the rest of the book (not exactly, but close). The key points from this book are:
  • Try to keep your light to the left or right side of your camera
  • Have the model setup such that one side of the face is darker than the other to give a sense of texture and depth (to avoid a flat looking face), but allow enough light so that the dark side isn't blacked out
  • Shoot with long lenses (he usually shoots from 135mm - 250mm in most of his shots at f/5.6 @ 1/60 sec) to effectively blur out backgrounds
  • 1 hour before sunset is your best shooting time (dawn is good too, but most people can't get ready and look good at dawn - the light gets harsh in a hurry too)
  • Blue sky is your friend - that is where your light source should come from
  • North-side windows are almost always good, as are west in the morning and east in the afternoon
  • Most natural light shots can be done well on both sunny and cloudy days if you know what you are doing, and rarely will you need a reflector or other light assistance (this contradicts other stuff I've read in other books)
  • Keep people's heads on a separate plane so they have their own space (this is a good one)
  • Have people were the same color pants and shirts (I hate this one)

He has a few other points as well that are featured in bold on a lot of the samples. If you have the time, it is worth a read, but it wasn't the book that caused me to have many ah ha moments so I was a little disappointed.

Skill Level: Beginner

Value: Poor - not a lot of bang for the buck

Recommendation: Get it from the library like I did

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Fun with filters

When I took pictures of the Shell Gas Station this weekend, I knew I could do something fun with it. However, the original was suffering from a few problems. For one, the building was a bit under-exposed and the sky was blown out. Now I had 8 different exposures to play with, so I knew I could save it, but I wasn’t sure which way would be best (i.e., HDR, cloning, etc…). My first attempt was to apply Graduated Neutral Density and Polarizing filters from Nik Software Color Efex Pro 3.0 Complete on a selection of the sky (using a mask). I also added light on the bottom half of the photo using an Exposure Adjustment layer and then I used Noise Ninja to cut out on some of the noise in the shadows. Here’s the result:

I thought this was much better, but many people said they wanted to see this one in B&W or Sepia – boring! Anybody can do that, but it doesn’t really do much for me. However, the concept could be used to make the photo more interesting so I decided to do a Sepia version this way:

and a aged color version this way:

Here’s a couple solarization filter shots from Color Efex that I liked a lot:

The black and white above is cool, but the color one here is my favorite:

and finally here’s a cooler version of B&W that I like way more than your typical grayscale. Some may hate it because it is a bit more overexposed with a harsh contrast, but it isn’t dull like a typical grayscale so I like it:

What are your thoughts? Which do you like the best? Thanks for reading, Ron

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Telescopes - The greatest bargain lens you can buy

So my good friend at work, Leszek Mazur, who got me into DSLR photography in the first place by causing me to lust after some of his work, brought in his new toy to work today. It was his new Celestron 80mm ED - 3.14" f/7.5 telescope that he only paid $312 dollars for (you read that right - there's no missing zeros) this phenominal piece of glass. Now normally this lens is used for Astrophotography, which is what you do when you think that DSLR photography doesn't cost much money and you decide you want to buy some really expensive gear. Anyway, we hooked his telescope to my Canon 1D Mark III, put it on a tripod, used mirror lockup, and took a couple shots. Here's what we got (be sure to click them to look at larger versions to really appreciate them) :
Yeah, remember - this is a $300 piece of glass! It requires manual focus, and is a fixed 600mm lens so it is hard to work with, but WOW is it one hell of a deal!
Now I have to control myself and not get one, but GOD I do want one!!!! I can't wait until he takes his next Moon shot with this bad boy. I'm sure I'll really regret not buying it when that happens!
Enjoy,
Ron

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REVIEW: onOne PhotoTools 1.0 Professional

Recently I reviewed Nik Software's Color Efex Pro 3.0 Complete, so I decided to check out some of its competition to see how it fair's against other products. After reviewing PhotoTools 1.0 Professional Edition, I think I may have been a little bit too harsh in my review of Color Efex. The Good
  • Lots of really good filters for top notch pro looking photo enhancements
  • Some well known photographers swear it is a great product
  • Layer Mask/Fill with black feature is very useful
  • You can have up to 16 layered effects in a stack - outstanding!
  • You can create your own presets based on a collection of presets. You can even reorder filters in the stack (just like Photoshops layers concept)
  • It has an automated batch mode to apply presets to multiple photos and output to disk. The zoom and hand controls are much better than Color Efex (especially double-click like Photoshop)
  • Good online video help
  • I loved the Kubota Daily Multi-Vitamins A2, and onOne Super Sharpener filters. The skin softening was fairly decent as well.
The Bad
  • Lack of real-time preview (ala Adobe Lightroom, Color Efex, etc...)
  • No 16-bit support like Color Efex
  • Effects aren't as precise or controllable as Color Efex Fewer choices with more control (ala Color Efex) would be better than the current filter overkill and duplication
  • You have to double-click to apply the filter - not intuitive No obvious undo or stack item delete
  • Stack fade window should be non-scrollable and library should scroll below the search box It is not intuitive or obvious that reset button by the fade slider resets the stack - it seems it would reset the fade (fade is basically opacity)
  • The Polarizer, Smart neutral density, and graduated neutral density filters can't even come close to what Color Efex has and those alone are worth the purchase price of Color Efex.

The Ugly

  • Disappearing windows every time you launch their tool in Photoshop drives me crazy! I was in a different app (instant message came) while PhotoTools was loading and it caused everything in CS3 to disappear. I couldn't click on anything and had to terminate
  • Photoshop forcefully – I lost all my work (not good).
  • After installing, I had to restart Photoshop 3 times (each time getting more of PhotoTools features to work) before it worked as it should have. This seems to be related to the fact that it uses .net 2.0 and some componets were not JIT compiled properly.

You can download your own demo copy here, but I would strongly encourage you to try Nik Software's Color Efex Pro 3.0 Complete before deciding which to purchase. For me, I'll get Color Efex if I can just get myself to spend that much money for a filters program.

Features: 3/5 - tons of filters, cool stack concept and batching are great, but the lack of precise control really hurts this product.

Functionality: 1/5 - The UI sucks bigtime in my book

Price: 3/5 - A bit expensive but there's a lot of stuff there and now you can get a discount by using Coupon Code MARTSN when you order.

Recommendation: Buy Nik Software's Color Efex Pro 3.0 Complete first if you can afford it, and if you still have money burning a hole in your pocket then buy this too as there are features here missing from Color Efex. However, if you can only buy one, then get Color Efex.

If your budget is tight, then search elsewhere.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

My first AH-HA moment with Photoshop - Masks & High Pass Filter

Don't you hate those cursed selection tools in Photoshop? Have you ever wondered how in the hell people could possibly do certain effects because it takes you hours to select something and when you do your filter it looks like crap?

Well I stumbled across something that was by mere chance and it has helped me to be able to do some really cool stuff with Photoshop. I actually feel like I know what I am doing and I can do some really neat tricks now that I know this.

So what is the big secret? It's called a mask and it basically a new layer that you can color on like your 5 year old colors and still get really cool results! When combined with the High Pass Filter and Overlay blending mode (yeah, I didn't know what the hell that was for either) you can create sharpening results that will make you forget that stupidly confusing unsharpen mask.

I learned this really cool trick in this short little video I discovered when playing with podcasts on iTunes after reading Scott Kelby's book.

If you watch this video, towards the middle there will be a cool demo that talks about making the eyes on a baby pop more (although this kids eyes are incredible so you really don't need it). Take a look here and learn some really cool new tricks:

http://www.photoshopusertv.com/photoshoptv/photoshopuser-tv-episode-122-february-25-2008.html#more-248

Warning, these guys may be killer Photoshop users, but they are total geeks so plan to groan many times at their lame attempts at being funny.

Here's a quick example where I wanted to take a friends photo (thanks Eric) that was pretty good and just blur out the distracting background so that it looked like it was shot with a f/2.8 depth of field.

Before:

After: (using a gaussian blur and a mask to keep the bike from being blurry)
Note: These bike photos are copyright, Eric Kool-Brown - All Rights Reserved and were taken during the Seattle Hot Rod Show.

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REVIEW: Teach Yourself Visually Adobe Photoshop CS3

Background

Years ago during the Windows 3.0 days I was a computer whiz and would digest a computer programming book a day, so learning a software program was something I could do without even picking up a book. When art programs like ULead Photostyler, Corel Draw, Paintshop Pro, etc.. came out, I quickly took to them and mastered them with little effort or attention to the manuals (and they actually came with very good printed manuals back then).

When I went off to work for a big high-tech company in 1994 I didn't have time to keep on everything that came out, so I stopped paying attention to art programs. By the time I started caring again, I decided to get what I was told was the best program out there at time time - Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1. About a month after getting this product I finally started to play with it and discovered there was a 6.0.2 version, but Adobe wanted some serious money (at least I thought so at the time) to upgrade (for a point release!!!) so I immediately had a bitter taste in my mouth for Adobe products.

As someone who had been using DOS for years in my earlier career, and who had owned a Apple Macintosh IIci, I enjoyed the ease of use a graphical interface application in Windows offered so my expectation is that a graphical user-interface should be developed so that everything is discoverable without any special keystroke combinations or need to go to the manuals. Discoverability is key above everything, so when I first played with Adobe Photoshop my first thought was "what a piece of crap". This thing was the most unintuitive, hard to use, piece of garbage I had ever seen! And that is saying a lot because at one point in 1991 I actually owned every piece of mainstream commercial software that was available for Windows 3.0, so I had used quite a bit of software (some of which was pretty bad).

I thought, this is what every one is raving about? What the hell? However, I was determined to understand what the hype was about, so I read the manual (they actually had one those days, but it sucked worse than the UI). That was a waste of time, and ultimately I never learned a hell of a lot. I also had learned that my beloved Ulead Photostyler had been purchased by Aldus who was in turn purchased by Adobe and that wonderful program was taken out to the pasture and shot. And they say that Microsoft is a monopoly? Ha, ha, ha!!!! What about Adobe?

Anyway, fast forward to 2007 and I find myself again with the need to use Photoshop as everyone swears it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. As a result, I purchase the top of the line CS2 suite I could buy and once again they come out with CS3 about a month later. This time they are kind enough to offer me an upgrade, but not to the super duper top of the line version, but an inferior version that causes me to lose some of the products I had in my version. Wow, this is the same crappy Adobe I remember from years ago!

Anyway, I get my new copy of CS3 that magazines are raving about and I'm expecting something really great. I install it (which turned out to be a 6 week process due to problems with the upgrade) and guess what - it looks like the same POS that I was using back in the 6.0.1 days! This ugly beast hasn't changed, and sadly it hasn't improved! Well, that's not entirely true, but in terms of usability it is still crap. A relic of poor design from the early 90's and they seem to be proud of it. There are ton of features that are completely undiscoverable without inside knowledge, that it is no wonder there is an entire industry dedicated to teaching you how to use this piece of crap. Anyway, this time there's no manual and the choices for resources are daunting so I just decided to go to the local library and take a look for myself.

The Review

After going through a stack of books, I found one that really caught my eye. It was called Teach Yourself VISUALLY Adobe Photoshop CS3 and it seemed like it was something that I could read easily and not feel like I needed to know the secret handshake to be successful.

This book is a very colorful book that starts from square one (and I mean square one - new computer users would be comfortable with this book so most of us will skip the first chapter or two). It teaches you all of the basics of Adobe Photoshop CS3 in a very easy to understand way and it doesn't make you feel like an idiot (or is it dummy these days :-)). I followed along with each of the topics which are broken into two page sections where you can lay your book flat and learn a given topic. It is well organized and easy to read. After about 5 days of reading after work I found myself comfortable with Photoshop and ready to take on different challenges.

A really nice feature of this book is that it also gives you a bunch of tips along the way of little obscure things that you'd never know if someone didn't tell you (like double-clicking on the hand zooms the image to "fit to window" size - who knew????).

If you are a Photoshop novice who has been intimated by this poorly designed and painfully slow product called Adoble Photoshop, then I would encourage you to pick up this book right away and read it. It is the stepping stone you need before you take on the billions of other Photoshop resources out there and it will be one you go back to frequently when you forget how to do something.

Skill Level: Beginner
Value: Excellent (much cheaper than a course, and a stack of useless books)
Recommendation: Highly recommended for anyone new to Photoshop

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

REVIEW: Photographic Lenses by Ernst Wildi

Photographic Lenses: Photographers Guide to Characteristics, Quality, Use and Design is a very technical book about lenses, MTF charts, etc... I have found it to be a useful resource for understanding lens construction and what a lens is really capable of doing if it is built properly. Warning, this book will make you want to go out and get a Carl Zeiss lens as there are numerous examples where lens perfection exists and it's a Zeiss. This book isn't for everyone. If you aren't technically inclined you'll fall asleep in the first chapter and never come back to it. Even I had times where I'd start to doze off and have to bring myself back. Despite this, there is some really good stuff in this book and it seems to be a definitive resource about lens development and facts. Despite its old and outdated appearance, it does mention all of the latest digital technologies and advancements (except for perhaps Canon's DO lens technology). If you are a Canon user, you might enjoy Canon EOS Lenswork III book. However, if you want a more objective resource and to learn more detail that is generally useful (like understanding MTF charts and their shortcomings) then this is a better resource. Skill Level: Advanced Value: Moderate ($29.95 is a bit expensive for what you get) Recommendation: For data geeks only, but if that is you then you'll love it

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REVIEW: Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 Complete (Archive)

ATTENTION See my review of Color Efex Pro 4 – the best plug-in on the planet!

NOTE: A 15% discount on Nik Software for readers of this blog by entering the code rmartinsen when you order online or call to place an order. This offer excludes 3rd party software, bundles and upgrades.

A couple weeks ago I downloaded a fully functional demo of Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 Complete. I learned about this product from a respected pro portrait photographer who swore by it. I also discovered that Nikon Users use a similar light-weight version of this product called Capture NX which is heavily used by pro Nikon photographers.

You can visit the web site for info about the product, but it basically consists of a Standard (15 filters for $99.95), Select (35 filters for $159.95) & Complete Edition (All 52 filters which includes the ones you really want for a whopping $299.95). You can view the list of filters and samples, but I found the most helpful ones to be the bi-color filter (which I used on my strobist glass shot below), the neutral density filter (which saved my a$$ on a shot the other day), the dynamic skin softener (which isn't intuitive, but works well once you figure it out), Glamour Glow, and finally the Pro Contrast filter. [UPDATED - As time has gone on, I've found many other filters like the stylizers, reflector, and film effects to be very useful as well. ] The others are very good with some being super cool, but those are the ones I saw myself using most frequently during my 15 day free trial.

I love the way this software works and the filters are excellent, but I'm having a hard time justifying paying $300 for 52 filters. It isn't the best value for what you get, but what it does it does well. Here's a shot that was done using the color stylizer (versus the photo stylizer for the first girl photo in this article) with an eyedropper place on the swimsuit color.:


REVIEW (Updated July 25, 2009)

Features: 4/5 - not enough filters for a 5, but the ones it has are outstanding and only a few are pretty useless. It has some nice black and white filters as well, but Silver Efex Pro is a much better choice.

Functionality: 3.5/5 - The UI is probably an improvement over previous versions, but could still use some improvement. As I get used to the U-Point system I realize why this is the best solution out there right now, BUT there's some stupidity in the UI controls (zoom comes to mind) that is rather frustrating. The performance can be slow at times as well.

Price: 4/5 – A very good for what you get in the Complete version compared to other products on the market. The dynamic skin softener, reflector, graduated neutral density filter and polarizer filter will make you want to own this product and pay for themselves quickly in time saved. It's like buying expensive chocolate - it's not worth it, but you enjoy it so much you do it anyway. I paid my own hard cash for this and after using the demo, you'll likely submit and do the same.

Recommendation: If you have the money, get it - you won't regret it. A group discount is now available for readers of this blog on the Discount Coupon Code page.

Additional Related Articles

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Time for more gear

After my first strobist experiment I realized, I need more gear. As a result, I decided to place another order with B&H and got this: Adjustable Clamp Company PONY SPRING CLAMP 3" w/TIPS $6.50 I ordered 4 of these to hold backgrounds and stuff. These are giagantic though - so I'm wishing I would have ordered the 2". May have to return some or all of them based on size alone. They work well though and I love the 1" ones I have already. Westcott 6 IN 1 42" ILLUMINATOR REFLECTOR KIT $99.95 Nice kit and now is listed as $120 on the B&H site. I guess I got a deal - whoohoo! Comes with a video too, which I'm going to need to get this damn thing back in the bag! I paid $141.55 which includes $15.60 for 3 day shipping on 2/27/08 and it arrived today on 3/1/08. As well as my first order with mpex.com (who has a crappy web site) and got the following: LumoPro LP604 5-Section 6ft Stand $39.99 This is a decent compact stand. Not as nice as the Bogen Manfrotto, but close enough and a great value. When I buy my next stand, it will probably be another one of these. Strobist Pro Rosco Color Correction Gel Pack $14.95 Okay, I was lazy here. If you have access to single sheets of colored transparencies, you can get what this kit offers you. If you don't, then it is an easy way to get some gels to play with. Rosco DIY Kit $9.95 A total waste of money. Don't buy this kit. It is basically some black straws (which are hard to find) and piece of black construction paper and some mirrored paper. No instructions included, so you have to search out instructions at places like http://lightingmods.blogspot.com/2007/06/diy-black-straws-snoot-grid-part-1.html Bogen/Manfrotto Compact (Umbrella) Stand Bag $39.00 Another waste of money, but I have a larger version I got for my tripod (for free) that I like quite a bit so I got this one. It is small, but large enough to hold two umbrella stands (maybe 3 -we'll see). It's way overpriced though. Bongo Elastic Ties $5.00 Black rubber bands with little things on them - not quite as nice as what you see on the strobist blog and worth about $2.00 if you ask me. LumoPro LP632 Umbrella Swivel w/ Hot Shoe Adapter $16.99 This was the highlight of the order. This is a nice adapter and very economical. I'll be buying more of these in the future and recommend them. The only downside, which some may consider to be a an upside, is that they feature teeth in the rotating portion which limits your angles (not by much as the teeth are small) and the speed at which you can change the angle. All told it was $154.06 after $28.18 for UPS Ground shipping. I ordered it on 2/27/08 and it came in on 3/1/08, which was the same as 3 Day from B&H. Good deal!

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REVIEW: The Digital Photography Book

I was at the library this weekend and ran across a very fun book called The Digital Photography Book, Volume 1. Scott Kelby has a very fun and personable style where he doesn’t beat around the bush and just makes recommendations. As he puts it:

if we were out on shoot together and you asked me a question about how to focus on a flower but not the stalk, I’d say set your camera to f/2.8, focus on the flower, and shoot. I wouldn’t give you a lecture on aperture.

I LOVE this style! :-)

When he covers buying gear, he just flat out says – got to B&H and why he recommends them. He doesn’t go into a chapter of how to pick a good merchant or a feel good speech about buying local. He even has a website with his recommendations: http://www.scottkelbybooks.com/gearguide/ and he as recommendations based on three categories (w/ examples):

  1. I’m on a budget (aka married) (i.e., Bogen/Manfrotto 486RC2 - $65)
  2. I can swing it (the kids can work in college J) (Kirk BH-1 $355)
  3. I’m a rich bastard (Really Right Stuff BH-55 $455)

I love this style of book because there’s no bull$hit – just someone willing to give you his honest advice. I've purchased The Digital Photography Book, Volume 1 and The Digital Photography Book - Volume 2 from Amazon.com and plan to keep them in my big photography bag.

Conclusion

Skill Level: Beginner

Value: Excellent (worth 20 times as much for what you learn)

Recommendation: Highest Recommendation - if you only one book on photography, this is it!

UPDATE

This was one of my very first articles when I started this blog, so this review isn’t quite up to the standards of reviews I’d write today. However, I still strongly recommend this book and encourage you to read the feedback (as well as “look inside” on Amazon.com to see how good this book really is!

Get All Three Digital Photography Books

This and The Digital Photography Book - Volume 2 have been on my Which Books Should I Read? list since they came out, so it should come as no surprise that the new The Digital Photograph Book – Volume 3 is immediately added to that list. I recommend getting all three in this nice hard cover case as you’ll find yourself going back to read or reference these books over and over (or at least you should be if you are smart).

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A nice glass of Scotch

Here’s my very first strobist shot, and I’m quite pleased with how it turned out: http://ronmart.smugmug.com/gallery/4426854_XY4FF#260106070 Comments appreciated! Here’s the setup: http://ronmart.smugmug.com/gallery/4426858_iuRAy#260106212 This shot was inspired by this strobist 101 assignment: http://strobist.blogspot.com/2007/03/on-assignment-flavored-vodkas.html

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A time to try out strobist

I decided here recently to jump on the Strobist bandwagon to see what I could do. I started by placing an order with B&H for more gear. Here's what I purchased during round 1: General Brand PRO GAFFER TAPE (2"x12-yd) BLACK - GBGT12B $4.50 Basically this is a special kind of duct tape that isn't super stick. Works well, but is probably cheaper to buy locally. I wanted to make sure I had the right thing before I did that though. Westcott 43" UMBRELLA (SOFT SILVER/BLK BACKING) - WEU43SS $19.60 Ordered this on 2/17/08 and as of 3/3/08 it hasn't shipped. I am wishing I would have bought it from mpex.com instead now. Canon SPEEDLITE 580EXII - CA580EX2 $359.95 Saved $50 here thanks to a rebate (last day - whew), but now I'm wishing I would have ordered two (drats). I had a 430EX before this and I love this new flash. It integrates with my 1D Mark III also, so that is pretty sweet. The 430EX is fine for normal on-camera work, but the 580 EX II shines for off-camera work. Savage BACKGRND PORT-A-STAND w/FREE 53" WHITE - SABGSPASQ $109.95 This was a pretty good deal I think because the stand is very stable, easy to assemble, and a pretty good value. No regrets. Bogen / Manfrotto 2905 - Swivel Umbrella Adapter (Lite-Tite) $28.95 This is a very nice one, but the LumoPro LP632 Umbrella Swivel w/ Hot Shoe Adapter recommended at mpex.com are just as good and cheaper. It doesn't include a hot shoe adapter. Bogen / Manfrotto 6' STAND w/RETRACT LEGS $54.95 This is a fantastic compact umbrella stand. I love it - no regrets. Westcott 43" UMBRELLA WHITE SATIN/REM COVER BLK - WEU43SBC $24.95 Works well and is fairly compact. I hate the fact that they have a cheap switch to open and close when a typical rain umbrella mechanism would work just as well. Canon ST-E2 wireless flash transmitter $209.95 Some people love these, others curse them. I'm not sure if I'll keep it or not, but thus far I really like it. It beats having to buy pocket wizards too! Pantone HUEY $79.95 Not really strobist related directly, but i got tired of having people tell me my exposures were off. Now were are on a level playing field so let's see what happens. Bogen / Manfrotto SUPER CLAMP w/STANDARD STUD $27.95 I wasted my money here as I don't really have a use for it. I only bought it because the strobist site said buy at least one. I may return this as the Gorilla Pod might be more practical and cheaper. Savage Muslin Styled, Paper Background Panels - 40x60" - Verona $39.95 If I had any art skill or lived closer to my sister who is a pro artist, I would say this is a rip-off. However, I don't so I love it. Smith-Victor 575 UNIVERSAL TO SHOE MOUNT ADAPTER - SM575 $9.95 What a piece of crap. Poorly bulit, but it does work. However, I discovered that I can live without it because the Canon flashes all come with a base and that base has a threaded socket on the bottom that can be screwed into an umbrella stand's pivoting head and it works just as well (actually better because the flash is exactly where it needs to be versus this one which puts it a little high). Overall, I've screwed up in my decision to go with the BM head because it cost me $40 and is no better than the LumoPro LP632 Umbrella Swivel w/ Hot Shoe Adapter for $16.99. The total cost, including $43.25 for shipping was $1,013.85. Wow, I thought this strobist stuff was going to be cheap! :-(

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Introduction

This is my new photograpy blog where I will talk about the things I learn on my journey to become a well known pro photographer. You can find a lot of my existing work at http://ronmart.smugmug.com, and I'll be posting links here from time to time. I am also on flickr at http://www.flickr.com/ronmart.

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