Thursday, May 29, 2008

REVIEW: Hoodman Pro LCD SCreen Loupe

Today I got a new toy - a Hoodman Professional LCD Screen Loupe that I had read about in The Digital Photography Book. As the weather is getting more and more sunny in Seattle these days, I find myself needing to crank up the brightness on my LCD to see anything. However the problem with doing this is that I frequently judge my exposure by what I see on the LCD (yeah, I know I should use the histogram ...). When I turn up the LCD brightness too much it causes me to underexpose shots so I decided it was time to do something about.

Well I've heard Scott Kelby and other photographers rave about this little widget, and I'm now officially a fan of this little gadget. It works great (although I wish it was bigger for the large LCD on my 1D Mark III), is compact, and travels nicely thanks to a neck strap and carrying case.

As you can see in the image below, I've attached mine (inside of its handy carrying case) to the outside of my ThinkTankPhoto Glass Taxi and attached the strap to my bag so I can't lose it.

6R1E1175_1

Now when I need the loop, I just reach and grab it out and use it. In fact, when I'm done I've just let it dangle until I need it again. I'm sure if I damage it I might change this practice, but this device seems to be really well built so it seems like it would take a lot to damage it.

At first I scoffed at the $65 price tag for this thing because it seemed like nothing more than a plastic cover, but after getting it I see why it isn't the $15 I thought it should be. It is made of a really good rubber that won't damage your LCD, a nice piece of glass that doubles the image size which sure made my LCD seem better than it has looked before, and features +/- 3 adjustable diaopter. After using it in the sun today, I'd say it is priceless. I won't be shooting outdoors without it again - period!

Here's another shot of this device taken from Hoodman's web site (but order it from B&H to save money):

Cost: $65 USD (on 5/29/08)
Value: Overpriced, but very well made
Recommendation: Get it - you'll wonder how you lived without it on your first sunny day shoot

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How to clean your sensor

So today my friend Jeremy Brown was telling me that he is having trouble with a few spots on his shots that seem to be showing up on his shots no matter which of his 4 lenses he uses. He correctly identified that it was dirt in the camera, but didn't know what to do about it.

After discussing it with him and discovering that his Canon 20D (which is several years old) had never had a sensor cleaning, it became clear that it was time to get Jeremy educated on how to clean his sensor.

But wait, won't cleaning it ruin my camera?

Well, if you do it wrong it will certainly ruin your sensor which is the single most important part in your camera, so you should certainly take this matter seriously.

Why not just pay someone to do it?

Yeah, you can do that - for $100+, but the dirty little secret is that the people that clean it may have some college kid in the back room doing it for the first time or not taking special precautions, and in this day and age of blame the customer do you think they are going to accept liability and replace your sensor if they do it wrong?

Yeah, right! Your more likely to hear that there as a problem with your sensor and that cleaning simply uncovered that problem that you are responsible for, and it is due to wear and tear - not something you can claim under warranty. It is for this reason that many people have come to the conclusion that no one will treat your sensor with better care and take the job more seriously than you - especially when you know that doing it the wrong way will cost you big $$$.

Okay, now I'm terrified - what do I do?

Education my friend, and there's no better place to get educated than http://www.cleaningdigitalcameras.com/. After you read that outstanding article, you'll need to get your supplies. However, you'll need to know what to get first, so you can do that by finding your camera here at http://www.sensorswab.com/cameras_bymfg.html and choosing the correct swab number and solution (E2 or Eclipse). If you get this wrong then you are going to damage your camera, so be careful. Some people will use a Sensor Wand with PecPads but Photographic Solutions doesn't recommend this method. Others use brushes, etc... (all of which are discussed at http://www.cleaningdigitalcameras.com/, but the safest bet seems to be Sensor Swabs and the correct solution. Be especially careful if you have a Canon 5D as it seems there was a problem with solutions on its sensor that caused Photographic Solutions to have to shell out some warranty labor and funds to correct.

So how do I know if my sensor is dirty?

You'll first sign that your sensor is due for a cleaning when you start seeing dots like those in the picture below:

DirtySensor

However, you can do a quick test to find out simply by getting a white sheet of paper (or opening up a all white document on your computer screen) and taking a picture at the most narrow apeture your lens supports (usually between f/22 and f/32) with your lens auto focus turned off (you don't need to focus for this test and the AF will hunt forever turning to take this shot so it is best to turn it off). When you do that you'll notice spots like the ones shown in my picture, and that is what you'll need to remember when cleaning your sensor.

Yep my sensor's dirty

Yeah, it happens to all sensors and some even come that way straight out of the box when you get them. The good news is that generally a dirty sensor isn't going to be very noticeable until you start shooting at narrow apertures like f/16 or above (pixel peepers - i'm generalizing for a broad audience here).

The important thing for you to remember is that you MUST follow the directions carefully, or else a new sensor at your expense will be in your future. NEVER use the same swap or pecpad for more than one wipe (even though those stupid swabs are $2 each and you'll need about 3 for a typical cleaning).

But my sensor is still showing a few spots when I'm done

Yeah, welcome to the nightmare of sensor cleaning. You may find it very difficult to get your sensor perfect, so that is where the dust delete data feature found in new cameras like the Canon XTi, XSi, 40D, etc... comes in REALLY handy. This feature allows you to capture dust data using a special feature on your camera much in the way you tested your sensor for dust, but it stores this data with the picture so that software that can read this data will remove those dust spots for you automagically (sometimes). The only problem with this feature is that dust moves constantly and you'll collect more when you change your lenses, so you need to capture this data frequently for the best results.

But my camera has a built-in sensor cleaner

Congrats - this is a great feature which will save you a lot of headache, but you'll eventually be cleaning your sensor like the rest of the world. The only advantage you have is that you'll do it less regularly because the built-in solutions work fairly well - but nothing is 100% (short of living in sterile, dust free room your entire life).

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

REVIEW: ThinkTankPhoto Camera Bags

As I mentioned in my blog last week, I'm super excited to announce a special offer on my favorite camera bags. Why? Because these are quite simply the best bags I've ever used because they are designed by pros for use by anyone that wants a quality camera bag. I own 3, and I don't expect I'll need to replace them for a VERY long time.

Many people recommend LowePro and Tarmac so why ThinkTankPhoto?

Those who know me, know of my story where I had a Canon Deluxe 200 EG backpack zipper fail heading to the second qualifying session of the Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix just hours after these shots were taken. I had 3 L lenses and my camera body all come crashing onto the concrete from about 4 feet from the ground which destroyed my 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens. This horrific event put me on a mission to find the best quality bags I could find.

Fortunately my good friend and ESPN featured sports photographer Mike Tedesco let me in on a little secret in his experiences dealing with photography greats. He was in charge of Microsoft's Icons of Imaging program in 2006 & 2007 so he knows what the big name pros are really using. He told me that great photographers were all excited about these great new bags from ThinkTankPhoto.com (TTP) and he told me to check out his Airport Acceleration.

After looking at the configurations and the gear I own I knew I could carry pretty much everything I own (excluding studio gear) in one bag. However, the best part was that if I ever got my dream kit which contains a 400mm f/2.8L IS USM lens I could carry that too. Even better news was that this bag comes with an Artificial Intelligence (15") laptop bag, but there was one small problem - I have a HUGE 17" Dell XPS M1710 laptop so I'd need a bigger laptop bag and the web site doesn't seem to accommodate that. I spoke with Mike about this and he encouraged me to talk to ThinkTankPhoto about this little problem and sure enough for $20 more they let upgraded my laptop bag and I was in business. It had all of the features I wanted but best of all it had mondo zippers that were sure to never fail, so I ordered one (full price - with no special offers :( ).

Airport Acceleration - now replaced by Version 2 shown below

(UPDATE: This article refers to v1 which is now discontinued)

When my bag arrived it came with a bunch of dividers and I quickly discovered what the hoopla was about. This bag seems indestructible and it is SUPER deep. It was really like having two bags because I could stack two levels across this entire bag and fit EVERYTHING I owned it!!! What's more, I could attach both my bulky Bogen-Manfrotto monopod & tripods to it (although I'm not sure that configuration is recommended) AND my laptop bag inside the outside pocket to carry everything I own. Thanks to the belt straps and beefy shoulder straps, carrying this bag was easy (despite my pinched nerve in my back). I've carried this bag full of gear for 5+ our hikes like the ones I did in Arizona at local Scottsdale photo ops without any problems. This was my first test of my bad back after spending nearly 3 weeks on bed rest due to a pinched nerve, and I never once had any pain associated with this bag in my back, shoulders or elsewhere. It fit great on the plane, and it didn't look like a camera bag so I felt safe leaving it in the hotel room when I was out on business for my real job. However, the thing that impressed me the most about this bag was that despite having it loaded full with gear, I gently held it upside down over the carpet with it open and NOTHING fell out! Yes, the dividers held my gear snugly in place so even if my zipper were to fail as it had in China (which seems impossible with this bag) the odds were in my favor that little - if any - gear would actually spill out! I LOVE THIS BAG!!!!!

My Airport Acceleration Configuration

Here's a picture of what I have jammed packed into my bag:


and inside the pouches:

The contents of this bag is as follows:

  1. Canon 1D-Mark III mounted to a EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM (with an attached Hoya 77mm MC - UV PRO 1 DIGITAL FILTER - HOUVP1MC77) with RRS B1DMkIII-L L-Plate attached
  2. Canon Rebel XTi w/ BG-E3 BATTERY GRIP mounted to a EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens with EW-83E lens hood
  3. Canon 580EX II
  4. Canon off-camera shoe cord
  5. Cokin Z-Pro U960 Pro Graduated Neutral Density Filter Kit (contains 3 GND filters in cases)
  6. Cokin Series Z 77mm Lens Adaptor Ring
  7. 8 AA batteries
  8. Hoya 77mm SUPER-HMC - CIRC POL (THIN) - HOCPSMC77 in its case
  9. Hoya 77mm SUPER-HMC - UV PRO 1 FILTER - HOUVP1SMC77 in case
  10. Hoya 77mm MC - UV PRO 1 DIGITAL FILTER - HOUVP1MC77 (empty case)
  11. Hoya 58mm FILTER INTRDCTN KIT (UV/CP/WARM) - HOFIK58
  12. Giottos ROCKET AIR BLOWER 6.6"
  13. Canon TIMER REMOTE CONTROLLER TC-80N3
  14. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM super telephoto lens w/ hood
  15. Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM super telephoto lens w/ hood
  16. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens w/ Canon ET-67 hood
  17. LumiQuest PROMAX SOFTBOX
  18. LumiQuest PROMAX 80-20 POCKET BOUNCER
  19. Sto-Fen OM-EY OMNI-BOUNCE f/CANON 580EX/580EX2
  20. Canon EF 2x Extender II
  21. Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens with Canon ES-71 II hood
  22. Microstar Micro-Fiber 18% Gray Lens Cleaning Cloth
  23. Promaster OptiClean Lens Cleaner
  24. Hakuba Lens Cleaning Pen/Brush
  25. Bogen / Manfrotto 337 2 Axis Flash Hot Shoe Double Bubble Level
  26. Sekonic L-358 Flash Master light meter
  27. Delta GRAY CARD 4x5"
  28. All manuals for cameras and accessories
  29. Accessory cables
  30. Battery chargers for both cameras
  31. Extra XTi batteries
  32. PecPads
  33. Canon RC-5 REMOTE CONTROLLER - CARC5
  34. Rain cover and plastic bags
  35. and miscellaneous odds and ends that I'm sure I'm forgetting

Artificial Intelligence

Of course, the other little surprise when I ordered this bag was how good the laptop bag was. At nearly 10 pounds, my laptop bag is heavy and unwieldy, yet carrying it in the portrait orientation in the Artificial Intelligence (17") made it feel light as a feature compared to my previous leather Tumi bag (which weighed in at nearly 30 pounds when fully loaded with my laptop and accessories). I was now carrying most of my gear in a lightweight bag that now made my laptop seem closer to a laptop than a portable desktop as I had described it in the past.

Camera Support Straps and Camera Strap

When speaking to the nice folks at TTP I mentioned that I was going to be shooting with two cameras at once and asked if they had anything to help with the hassle of a loose camera flopping around my neck. They suggested their Camera Support Straps which attach to my backpacks and a special camera strap to go with it. This cool configuration allows me to let my XTi dangle securely from my back without having it rock back and forth (i.e., it stays put) so my hands can be free with my 1D Mark III. However, I can easily remove the XTi (or leave it attached) for quick shooting. I love these straps and feel that if you are going to be shooting with two bodies, then this is the way to go!

Glass Taxi

As much as I love my Airport Acceleration, I must admit that it is a huge bag. While I enjoy that I can carry basically everything I own in it, there are times (think family events) where I wish I had a smaller more discrete bag that could carry a smaller subset of gear. Again, I talked to Mike Tedesco and he suggested the Glass Taxi. This versatile bag was originally designed to haul one huge prime lens like a 400mm f/2.8L IS USM , but it features a bunch of dividers that allow it to act as a fully functional backpack with numerous configurations in a very compact size. Personally, I use it as a SLR system bag and I hold a ton of gear in it (more on that later). In fact, it is now my bag of choice for 80% of my outings because I can hold so much gear in it. My only complaint about this bag is that the interior pocket sucks because it features just small piece of Velcro instead of a nice zipper pouch found on the Airport Acceleration. Aide from this one issue and my desire that it were just one inch taller so I could cram more stuff into it, I've gotta say that this is one awesome bag. It is lightweight, durable, and super deep so again I can carry two levels of gear inside. It also features a bunch of inserts and even a sling style strap for those who prefer that style, or for people like me it has a proper two strap backpack straps that are comfortable and supportive (with a chest strap).

My Glass Taxi Configuration

Here's a picture of my Glass Taxi stuffed to the hilt with my favorite gear (I carry this bag like this every day):

The contents of this bag is as follows:

  1. Canon 1D-Mark III mounted to a EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM (with an attached Hoya 77mm MC - UV PRO 1 DIGITAL FILTER - HOUVP1MC77)
  2. Canon 580EX II
  3. Canon ST-E2 wireless flash transmitter
  4. Canon off-camera shoe cord
  5. Cokin Z-Pro U960 Pro Graduated Neutral Density Filter Kit (contains 3 GND filters in cases)
  6. Cokin Series Z 77mm Lens Adaptor Ring
  7. 4 AA batteries
  8. Hoya 77mm SUPER-HMC - CIRC POL (THIN) - HOCPSMC77 in its case
  9. Giottos ROCKET AIR BLOWER 6.6"
  10. Canon TIMER REMOTE CONTROLLER TC-80N3
  11. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM OR EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM super telephoto lens
  12. LumiQuest PROMAX SOFTBOX
  13. LumiQuest PROMAX 80-20 POCKET BOUNCER
  14. Sto-Fen OM-EY OMNI-BOUNCE f/CANON 580EX/580EX2
  15. Canon EF 2x Extender II OR EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens
  16. Microstar Micro-Fiber 18% Gray Lens Cleaning Cloth
  17. Promaster OptiClean Lens Cleaner
  18. Hakuba Lens Cleaning Pen/Brush
  19. Bogen / Manfrotto 337 2 Axis Flash Hot Shoe Double Bubble Level

Here's a picture of the accessories that came with this bag that I don't use at this time:


As you can see, this little bag can carry A LOT of stuff!

Cool, which bag should I get?

I hear this question a lot and it is a hard question to answer because it depends on your needs. I have two bags (well technically 3) that really meet my needs, but like most photographers I'm always in need of one more bag I don't have. There are times when I wish I would have gone with the smaller Airport Antidote or Airport Addicted bags, but when I see one in real life and look at the way I'm using my bag I know I made the right choice for my needs. Your needs may be different.

I also sometimes wish I had wheels on my bag like you can get on the Airport Security V2.0 but this bag isn't a backpack so that rules that one out for me,

I know over time I'll probably collect items from the Digital Holster collection so I can maximize my mobility when I'm out with my kids.

The Airport bags look awkward - don't you look like a nerd carrying them?

Yes! At least I feel like I do, but like most things in life it is another case of revenge of the nerds! These bags, despite their awkward appearance are very comfortable. Part of the reason why they look awkward is because they are rectangular which gives them much more storage space than traditionally shaped backpacks. What's more, they don't really look like a backpack or camera bag, and since you can hide the straps it is really good camouflage for your bag.

I've worn my bags all day without any problems, and Mike's taken his to Antarctica and said he was happy with his so I don't think you'll find that comfort is a problem with these bags. In fact, the only complaint I've ever had in the comfort area with these bags is that the chest strap is way too high so it feels like it is going to become a necklace if you aren't careful, but fortunately it never does.


These bags sure are expensive

Go into any photographers closet who has been shooting with a SLR for over 2 years and count the number of bags they have. The reality is that photographers spend a lot of money looking for bags because they never find anything that meets both their storage and durability requirements. I think these bags solve this issue, so unless you want to branch out and have options (as I have done) you can honestly live with just one of these bags and never have to spend another penny. I can and have lived with just my AA and I've been plenty happy, and honestly I could probably live with just my Glass Taxi.

These bags aren't available locally and I'm afraid I might not like them

I've been in your boat and shared your same concern. Ultimately I called TTP and talked to Alvin about all of my concerns, and he explained that as long as the bag is resalable they'd be happy to take it back anytime. Jokingly I said, what if it sits in my closet for 2 years and I want to return it. His response - without hesitation - no problem. I've confirmed again that this is the official policy and not an overzealous salesperson, so they REALLY stand behind their bags! When I explained my concerns about failing zippers or fabric they didn't hesitate to say that it isn't going to happen with these bags, and if it does they'll fix it at their expense. In the 6 months I've had my bags they have been used and abused and they look like I just bought them. They've been on numerous trips and used heavily, so I'm convinced they are really professional quality.

In life you usually get what you pay for, and in the case of these bags I think I'm getting more than what I'm paying for because I feel the quality is superior to anything else I've seen on the market yet the prices are competitive with equivalent products from Lowepro and Tamrac.

Special Offer

Click here for the latest offer.

I've really got to see these bags before I can place an order

Some camera shops carry these bags, so I suggest you ask around. If you know me personally I'll show you my bags with advanced notice, or you may find a friend in your camera club/forum that has one. Either way I just ask that you support this blog by ordering through the web site using the special offer here.

UPDATE - 6-4-08

I'm traveling to Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix Formula 1 race for a photo shoot this week and I really wanted to keep my bags down to a minimum, so I decided to see if I could get all of my gear in my Glass Taxi. Well, to my own amazement - I did! Here's a picture:

June 001

The contents of this bag is as follows:

  1. Canon 1D-Mark III mounted to a EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM (with an attached Hoya 77mm MC - UV PRO 1 DIGITAL FILTER - HOUVP1MC77)
  2. Hoya 77mm SUPER-HMC - CIRC POL (THIN) - HOCPSMC77 in its case
  3. Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM super telephoto lens
  4. Microstar Micro-Fiber 18% Gray Lens Cleaning Cloth
  5. Promaster OptiClean Lens Cleaner
  6. Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
  7. Canon Rebel XTi w/ BG-E3 BATTERY GRIP
  8. Battery chargers for both cameras
  9. Rain cover and plastic bags
  10. and miscellaneous odds and ends that I'm sure I'm forgetting

UPDATE - 9-1-09

I've added more ThinkTankPhoto bag reviews here:

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Monday, May 19, 2008

REVIEW: Beyond Portraiture by Bryan Peterson

If you've read any of the Bryan Peterson books you know his style, and the good thing is that he sticks to that formula in all of his books. If you haven't, then you are missing on great books from one of the best photography educators around right now.

Byran's books follow several concepts based on the topic of the book, with exercises that challenge you to master those concepts. In addition he is bold enough to share his personal good fortunes so you get to see what a $40,000 stock photograph really looks like (which I find EXTREMELY valuable).

This book has the following sections which I'll describe briefly:

Understanding People

In this section Bryan helps you to understand the process of going up to a total stranger, getting them to sign a model release and getting a great picture of them acting naturally in their environment. It all sounds simple, but it isn't and his exercise will help guide you though the daunting process to help boost your confidence.

Working with People

Here Bryan discuss how to find people to shoot, dealing with shyness, posing them versus capturing them and then asking for permission and more. He brings up an interesting concept around people as theme which I really enjoyed. His chapter on Hiring Models is a bit outdated, but still worth reading.

Overall though you learn that Bryan really enjoys people and that he gets to know many people before he starts taking their picture. It is this style of befriending someone and then capturing them in their natural environment that sets Bryan apart from you or me and what helps him to get such great and natural looking shots (even when they are really posed).

Light

The section on Light offers some basic ideas about how to get good outdoor lighting on your portraits. While there's nothing great in this section, it is still entertaining to read as all his sections are. In fact, just the stories alone on some of the photographs make it worthwhile to read even if you aren't a photographer!

Composing Powerful Portraits

This section starts off string with some good advice about getting good portraits with solid composition techniques. The wonderful shots and stories he tells make you excited about the possibilities that are all around you. The last chapter on Lens Choice is a little weak, but I've got a blog post that can help you out with that subject! :-)

Photo Editing Techniques

This is probably the weakest section in all of Bryan's books merely because he's a bit of novice in this area and the concepts he presents are a bit outdated, but you can tell he gets his influence from Scott Kelby for some of his work so it once again reaffirms my belief that The Digital Photography Book is indeed one of the best books for any photographer to own. It seems I am not alone in this belief either as it is now (as of the time of this blog posting) the most successful Photography Book ever.

Other Reading

Here's some links to other Bryan Peterson books on this blog:

Conclusion

Skill Level: Beginner to Advanced
Value: Worth every penny
Recommendation: Highly recommended. It is hard to go wrong with Bryan's books and this is just as great as the others. Learning to See Creatively and Understanding Exposure should be read first, but this is great stuff and a must read if you are into portrait photography.

Support this blog by ordering this book using this link

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

onOne Software and ThinkTankPhoto.com Discounts

Please visit the Discount Coupon Page for the latest offerings.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

How do I manage and edit all of my photos?

I read a lot of email on a photography group that I belong to where If you study the behavior of newbies you see the following pattern over and over again:

How do I edit my photos?

Now if the person has done any research then they will learn that nearly everyone is using Adobe Photoshop CS3 or CS4 for Windows or the Mac, but then they see the price tag and their eyes bug out of their head. Now if they are lucky, then they can qualify for an upgrade which makes the price a little more palatable. These folks usually get it, and then realize Photoshop wasn't written for normal human beings so they have to start reading a bunch of books. After a lot of effort they eventually learn that they can make beautiful enhancements with layer masks and filters, in only a few hours! Then they look at their 500 pictures they took thanks to their new camera with its great burst mode performance and realize they are totally screwed! This is when they start asking questions again about how to make this painful process better because they can't afford to spend that much time on a single photo. In response to this inquiry they learn about the latest buzzword - digital workflow.

Managing your Digital Workflow

I'm going to let you in on a secret. There's a way to process that big stack of photos you have, and do lots of cool things with it without opening up Photoshop. In fact, you can process each photo in less than 5 minutes (or even as little as a 30 seconds depending on how good your original shot was). In fact, not only can you do that you can also:

  • Have an easy way to triage photos to delete bad ones and filter out your 1 star photos from your 5 star photos
  • Find pictures quickly based on keywords, categories, date taken, lens used, camera used, etc...
  • Crop, rotate, spot fix, heal, red-eye correct, etc...
  • Generate a web gallery
  • Print with advanced features
  • Apply presets to make the photos look much better in an instant
  • Have a history of all of your changes so you can always rollback or create snapshots PLUS you never touch the original!
  • Modify the metadata associated with your pictures for use in other programs, the web, or even for use with media agencies
  • Export a variety of different types of photos from your original with different sizes, dpi, file formats etc... in the single click of a button
  • plus MUCH, MUCH, more

The answer is Adobe Lightroom 2.0.

Adobe Lightroom - The GREATEST thing since sliced bread for Photographers

There are numerous inventions recently that have made photography much easier and enjoyable:

However, none of these enhancements helped avid photographers manage the mounds of photos they would collect either in boxes or on hard disks. While there were cumbersome products to use for professionals like Microsoft Expression Media, they flat out sucked for the average Joe. Lightroom did something different, it took some of the power of Photoshop and combined it with the feedback of REAL WORLD photographers into something that could ingest those hundreds or thousands of photos you had sitting on your hard disk and allow you to manage them quickly and easily. More importantly, they developed a user interface that was not intimidating like Photoshop and allowed one click access to most of its powerful features. In fact, they even went so far as to provide hover support for certain features where you simply hover your mouse over the feature (say B&W conversion) and you could actually see an instant result of what that effect would do WITHOUT actually applying it. What's more they applied this concept to your history list so you could actually see how your picture changed over the history of your edits by simply hovering over each change step.

I could go on and on about Lightroom because I'm a big fan and have managed 29,000 photos in my 2007 collection and currently (as of 5/8/08) nearly 4000 photos in my 2008 collection (which I broke into years for my personal benefit - I could have kept them all together). However, I'm going to just give you a step by step list of what I do after I shoot a batch of photos and show you how I spend about 15 - 45 seconds "editing" my best photos and deleting the garbage before I upload my shots to my web site:

1. Use the Microsoft Live Photo Gallery's Import Photos and Video Wizard to dump the files into a new directory and rename them plus add a default tag. Photo Gallery sucks beyond this purpose, but it is a nice way to get your photos organized in multiple directories with human readable names. Alternatively you can use Adobe Lightroom's Import Photos from Device and then skip to step 3. I go back and forth as to which method I like better.

2. Import the pictures into Lightroom (which Lightroom supports directly without step 1, but I prefer my way). Lightroom requires you to import so it can create a database of your photos for searching and history tracking, and so it can avoid modifying your originals. This is a GOOD THING!

3. Select All photos OR choose Choose Selected for one or more directories, then create a new Collection for the shoot and now I can always get to this batch of pictures quickly. In some cases I’ll just move the imported photos to an existing Collection (i.e., new pictures of model X will go into model X’s existing category)

4. View the pictures in the Library and reject (aka black flag) the bad ones for deletion and delete them in one shot (assuming they are on the same drive – Lightroom 1.x is dumb only removes them from the disk if you do this from the Previous Import or All Photos section, otherwise it will just remove them from the database and leave them on the disk - be warned!)

5. While viewing in step 4, I’ll generally mark the shots I like with stars (from 1 - 5) and in some sets I’ll also mark them with color categories to represent Macro shots, Landscapes, Portraits, etc… for quick filtering in huge sets.

6. Given the rapid growth of my picture collection, I also try to multi-select and batch tag photos for quick filtered retrieval. This is super helpful when your collection grows huge and you want to find all your shots of X without having to have a separate collection just for X.

7. While marking pictures with stars, I generally like to side-by-side compare similar pictures (I usually shoot 5 of the same shot) to see which is the best. Lightroom Library’s XY compare rules for this, and I use this to delete most dupes (still leave some if the decision isn’t easy)

8. After rating the pics, I’ll filter down to my 3 star or better shots and then go to the Develop tab to enhance those pictures.

9. I start by cropping and rotating, and Lightroom does this better than anything I’ve ever seen

10. I then do AutoExposure and adjust as necessary, followed by Custom white balance with the eye drop tool. I then hover over the history in Lightroom and look at the thumbnail to see what white balance I like better (as Lightroom has real-time preview of history elements in the thumbnail). I usually prefer the As Shot or Auto white balance, but Custom is the most accurate. During this phase I will usually adjust the exposure and black levels as Auto Exposure is usually needs a little tweaking for my taste. I usually end up with High Contrast for the point curve too.

11. Next I’ll apply some of the built-in presets like Punch, Sharpen - Landscape (which is like Unsharpen Mask in Photoshop) and use hover over history technique to examine the changes in the thumbnail to see which I like best. Once I’m happy with the result, frequently I’ll copy the changes I make to one picture and apply them to others (very common for studio shots where the conditions are fixed but only the poses change). During this phase I may tweak step 10 again.

12. When necessary I’ll remove spots, use the spot-healing tool or red eye fix (rare) parts of the image

13. When I’m done, I’ll compare the original to the current (rotate and cropping is always applied to the original)

14. Sometimes I want to try multiple effects on the same shot, so I’ll create a a snapshot or duplicate "virtual image" and do something entirely different (different crop, B&W, etc...)

15. When I’m done, I go back to the library and select all of my top rated pictures (usually 3 stars or better, but if there are too many 3’s then I go to 4’s) and go File Export Presets Export to Smugmug (a plug in that uploads my photos directly to my favorite web photo site). I usually do 1920x1200 240dpi output images that are between 115kb and 355kb depending on orientation and complexity of the content of the photo, but they only take seconds to upload to smugmug via Cable modem on a wireless network I use at home.

From start to finish, it may take me a few hours for a batch of several hundred pictures, but that's about how long it used to take me to edit one picture in Photoshop. Now, if I have a REALLY good shot that needs more work than Lightroom can do, then I'll certainly take it into Photoshop and spend some time with it, but Lightroom helps me to quickly identify which one or two shots might fall into that category.

What about Apple Aperture?

For those of you on a Mac, you may find that Apple Aperture is what all of your friends are saying you should use. From my casual observations of Aperture, I feel like it is a good product with some advantages over Lightroom, but that Lightroom is still the superior product on the Mac.

What about Adobe Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw?

Lightroom's life really began as Adobe Bridge which was Photoshop's way of providing a visual picture explorer. To modify RAW photos that come from most digital SLR cameras, Adobe invented Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) to give photographers a simple way to provide edits to these digital negative images using this user interface:

ACR

If you look carefully between Lightroom and ACR you'll notice that Lightroom's Develop Tab is just a pretty user-interface for ACR. Everything that you see in Lightroom exists in ACR, but Lightroom has some really great presets which don't exist in ACR so that makes it much more powerful. In addition, the history and file management features don't exist in ACR so Lightroom is still worth your money even if you already use ACR.

Adobe Bridge tries to offer much of the functionality of Lightroom, and in some cases it offers even more. However, Adobe isn't stupid. Most people get Bridge for free with Photoshop or Photoshop Elements (which ships with many PC's) so they save their good stuff for Lightroom. If you've already invested in Photoshop and have bridge, and can't afford Lightroom you can make due using Bridge and ACR, but as soon as you have the money it is worth upgrading to Lightroom. You'll find that you rarely use Photoshop, Bridge and ACR after that and the time you spend working on your photos will drop dramatically, and the results will improve drastically (for the non-Photoshop God's).

I hate buying software only to discover it sucks

Me too, which is why I would have never bought Lightroom had it not been for the free fully-functional 30 day demo. After trying it out and seeing what it could do, I feel in love and had to buy it.

I downloaded Lightroom and the UI sucks

At first I HATED much of the UI in Lightroom, and in fact there are still some things that drive me insane. However, after you get the hang of it then you'll discover quickly that it really is a great product that is very easy to use.

I work between my laptop and desktop frequently, but I don't see how to do that in Lightroom

Me too, and while it isn't explained very well there's a really cool trick you can do. Store your pictures and Lightroom catalog on a compact external hard drive and install Lightroom on both your desktop and laptop. Now when you use Lightroom just open the lrcat file from your external drive and it can find all of your pictures on that drive. The only trick is that you have to make sure you use the same drive letter on the desktop and laptop (I call mine drive H:). While I haven't tried this on a Mac, the same concept should work on that platform too. If you have more than one disk drives worth of data, then simply add external drives and make sure they have the same drive letter between the two machines.

What if my external drive with the pictures isn't available?

A REALLY great feature of Lightroom is that it cache's your images (in DNG format for the geeks out there), so if you don't have access to your drive that has the pictures you can still work in Lightroom's library to find, rate and categorize photos. I use this as a way to work on my photos while on a plane to determine what stars I give my photos and which ones I want to delete (using reject) when I have my hard drive attached.

Okay you convinced me I'm going to get it!

GREAT, I know you'll love it. If you could do me a favor and use this link it would help me to support this blog so I have an incentive to spend my time writing more cool posts like this.

Happy Shooting!

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.