Saturday, August 30, 2008

Photography Contest Winner

I just returned from a trip to Disneyland and was looking at my local newspaper when I discovered that one of the photos I had submitted to their photography contest had been selected as a first place winner. I had no idea I had been selected, so it was a pleasant surprise.

I had actually written about this photo many months ago in this blog article, so it was fun to see it get some recognition.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

REVIEW: Layers by Matt Kloskowski

Layers by Matt Kloskowski

For those of you who watch the popular podcasts at Photoshop User TV, you'll recognize that this book is by the same Matt that is on the show. This popular show also co-hosted by National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) experts Scott Kelby and Dave Cross features lots of great tips, and I've noticed that some of the best of them come from Matt.

With this in mind, I didn't think twice about ordering this book. I typically get a book from the library and decide if I should purchase it after reading it, but in this case I went straight for the purchase. Read on to find out if that was a good move or not.

First Impressions

I was surprised to see that this book was fairly thin given its hefty price, but some of my favorite books are thin so I figured that it was probably light on theory and heavy on good useful information. After all, Matt Kloskowski is a pretty sharp guy so I was hoping his extensive knowledge of layers would translate into some really great tips and tricks.

The pages looked nice and the organization of the book is pretty good, so now all I had to do was read it. And read it I did on a flight to Chicago (not recommended for most since this is an interactive book that requires using your laptop to do the samples as you read along). It took about 4 hours to read straight through without doing the examples, so plan for at least 3 times that if you follow along as you should.

Chapter by Chapter Comments

Here are my thoughts of each of the chapters of this book after reading them, and later going back and doing the samples.

Chapter 1 - Layer Basics

This chapter is for the true beginner who doesn't have a clue about layers. If this is you, then definitely read this chapter. If it isn't you, then still glance at it to make sure you aren't missing any fundamentals and then move on to chapter 2.

Chapter 2 - Blending Layers

There's some good stuff in here, especially for those who are clueless about layer blending, that will help you understand how blending works and why gradients work the way they do with a specific blending mode. It starts off with the most popular blending modes, and then quickly puts them into use (doing tricks like using threshold to allow for a slick blend). The chapter quickly fades as he does some rather lame examples which prove a point but build something utterly useless. Overall it is an A+ start with an F middle, and an A+ finish where Matt shows how you can use blending techniques to add a Moon to a shot in a very convincing way. The moments of brilliance in this chapter are very useful in real-world applications and demystify some of the things you may have never other understood from reading other books (I know I didn't).

Chapter 3 - Adjustment Layers

This chapter goes into one of the most useful features in Photoshop and explains them in a fairly simple manner. Unfortunately some of his techniques are a little more cumbersome than they need to be (i.e., he chooses to layer mask brush everything you don't need instead of what you do need), but most of the concepts are sound. He leaves out some important details and doesn't really go too in-depth on the how to use these adjustment layers like Scott Kelby does in the 7 Point System for Photoshop CS3.

Chapter 4 - Layer Masks

Layer masks changed my life and improved my Photoshop skills dramatically. In fact one of my first blog entries was about an overlay (blending mode) mask that changed the way I do photo editing forever, and it was a tip I learned from Matt on the show.

Matt shows some cool tricks here and overall the chapter is successful, but I left wanting for more and thinking that if I wasn't already very comfortable with this feature that I might have been a bit confused by how to do some of the tricks he showed. Matt definitely makes assumptions about people's Photoshop knowledge, and this is one of many chapters that really demonstrate that point.

Chapter 5 - Type and Shape Layers

For some this chapter might be great and super useful, but for me it was more of a filler chapter as I have little use for the concepts presented in this chapter. However, I can say that I did learn some new tips and tricks which might come in handy at some point, so it was still worth reading.

Chapter 6 - Enhancing Photos with Layers

This is where Matt could have written a phenomenal book, but instead he wrote a pretty brief chapter that covers the basics. Sure, there's some great stuff in here for those who don't know about the techniques show, but if you've read Scott Kelby's 7 Point System for Photoshop CS3 then nothing here is news to you.

Chapter 7 - Retouching with Layers

Again, like Chapter 6, this is the chapter that screams out for the kind of useful details provided in Skin, The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers and Scott Kelby's 7 Point System for Photoshop CS3, but fails to deliver on it. Sure, there's some good stuff here, but he leaves a lot of critical details out (especially in the teeth whitening section) which novices will find to be very frustrating.

Chapter 8 - Layer Styles

Once again, Matt only touches the tip of the iceberg on this complex and rarely discussed feature set. He provides some great examples of how to apply them in a meaningful way, but he only scratches the surface. Towards the end he really gets lazy and only provides the dialogs to show what you set to get a particular effect, but I think he's missed some useful instructions along the way.

Chapter 9 - Smart Layers

Smart Layers are super helpful and it is good to see Matt trying to make an attempt at demystifying them, but sadly he does nothing different from all of the other books out there that talk about smart layers. There's plenty of oddities about this feature that he could discuss, but he simply dives into some examples (some of which are excellent) and moves on.

Conclusion

Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Value: Poor (a bit overpriced for what you get)
Recommendation: Recommended*

I really wanted this to be a great book that I could recommend to anybody, and I wanted it to be a book that really advanced my skills. However, I think what we have here is a book with lots of good information, but even more potential because the author simply failed to follow-through on a good idea. This book convinces me that Matt is probably a bright guy who likes to start great eyes, but who fails follow through and finish them. This book could have been great, and it could have been a Kelby-killer, but in the end it is a brief but useful primer on Layers. For a better value, consider getting The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers and/or Scott Kelby's 7 Point System for Photoshop CS3 instead.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Canvas on Demand

After hearing lots of great stories from friends, I decided to print my first canvas at Canvas on Demand. It was a picture I took at Deception Falls (not to be confused with Deception Pass) along highway 2 in Western Washington State. Here's a picture of the shot, which I admit has some flaws:

I chose to get a 16x20" photorealistic thick gallery wrap with no additional processing. I created the image myself using a 100% crop of my image and then I added a border (because I didn't want to scale the actual image any larger so I could see a 100% print on canvas).

The shot itself may not be to everyone's taste, but I enjoyed it because it reminded me of my favorite trail in Washington State. I also chose to use it for my first shot because it wasn't a perfect capture, and I wanted to see just how good this service really was. I didn't have a tripod for this shot so I was shooting hand held (well actually partially hand held and the other part of the body was on a crooked rock), so the 1.6 second exposure shot ended up suffering from camera shake (no IS on my 16-35mm lens). As a result the image was a bit blurry and needed some help.

The original unmodified image isn't bad, but it isn't the type of picture you usually use for a $100+ canvas. However, I had a good deal on this one so I decided to experiment to see what the worst a canvas might look like. After all, we pixel peep a lot on the screen, but the reality is that most prints are going to look way better than what we see on our screen. In addition, everyone was bragging how wonderful there canvas' were, so I thought I might be able to save this shot with a nice canvas.

I was concerned about color space issues so I was sure to stay in Photoshop CS3 using the Adobe RGB color space (per Canvas on Demand's web site instructions), and create the required JPEG file to upload using the same application (i.e., instead of using Lightroom which I normally use in my workflow).

I also wanted to make sure there was no upsizing/downsizing issues so I created a 17 1/2" x 21 1/2" image to account for the 3/4" wrap edge, and placed my image in it with no cropping or scaling so it would be EXACTLY as it came out of the camera.

Of course, I did apply the Scott Kelby's 7 Point System to it so that the overall exposure was better, and I used his frame idea from The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers. The result wasn't probably the best choice for a wrap, but it was going to tell me what an average picture would look like on canvas as well as what text might look like as well.

I placed my order on Friday, July 11th 2008 at 2:13 AM, and it shipped on 7/16. It arrived on my doorstep via FedEx on 7/23, so it wasn't the fastest turn around time, but it got here safely.

The Result

When my canvas arrived I was immediately impressed, but I also felt something wasn't quite right. The first thing I noticed was that the image was darker than I expected. I had used the color space they suggested - Adobe RGB - and I have a calibrated display, so I was bit perplexed by the difference.

I also noticed that my image, which already had plenty of sharpening to compensate for some slight camera shake on a long exposure, had obviously been sharpened again - and too much this time. The result was an over-sharpened image, but honestly if you stand a few feet away it looks fine (great in fact).

The last issue was one that I didn't notice, until a co-worker pointed it out - my border was crooked because the canvas had shifted a bit during stapling.

The net result was that I had a canvas that I liked, and it looked okay, but it was over processed and too dark. I solved the dark problem by putting it in a window of my office so it is backlit (like my display :) and that helped. Viewing distances of  greater than 2 feet helped the over-sharpening problem, but the crooked problem just couldn't be ignored.

I wrote customer service and they immediately responded to try to make things right!

The Do Over

Since my canvas didn't turn out perfect, the folks at Canvas on Demand (CoD)wanted to make things right, so they asked that I submit another image - but this time in the sRGB color space. They explained that they have a different printer now and that sRGB works better, but they hadn't updated the web site yet. This means that if you are reading this and decide to do a canvas, don't forget to submit in the sRGB color space!!!!

I resubmitted, but when I did they asked if I liked the image despite the minor issues previously mentioned. At that point, I explained to them that I was using an experimental image and what its flaws were. CoD asked me if I could submit a good image instead, so I see what a good picture would look like.

With this in mind, I scanned through my collection and decided to provide one of my Formula 1 photos as shown below. This time I just sent them the image (which was actually a cropped JPEG from this original image) without any modifications and asked them to do the hard work. My image didn't meet their minimum size requirements by a few pixels in one dimension, but they took it anyway and simply added black borders for the wrap portion as shown below in the actual image they built (and sent back to me per my request):

CanvasOnDemand_Order2

My order was submitted on August 1st, shipped on the 6th (via FedEx ground) and arrived on  the 12th. Again, not as quick as I would have liked, but when you know you have a canvas coming I suspect that time moves a little slower! :)

The Do Over Result

As I write this blog, I sit in awe of the canvas that sits next to my TV. The image and its quality are fantastic and I'm simply blown away.

I'm not sure what they used to do the upscaling, but I've asked and will report back as I'm impressed with the results. I knew this image was too small for a 16x24 (yeah, I went larger this time) but I thought I'd try just to see what they could do and the results are breathtaking!

I've observed that the image is slightly darker than my on-screen version, but I think that can be attributed to just having a backlit display is going to add something you can't capture on print. However, the highlights and shadows on the print are identical to the on-screen version and the Ferrari red is spot on.  It honestly looks like it did in real life!

I also observed that the printed version is sharper on the nose of the car than my submission which suggests that they might have applied some sharpening (perhaps selective since the car isn't over-sharpened anywhere). I also observed that the wing, which seemed like it might have been over-sharpened on-screen looked perfect in print, so the theory still holds - you can get away with a lot more sharpening in print!

My only disappointment with the result is that I wish the road surface was part of the wrap instead of the black border, but that's a minor nit. In reality, I'm giggling like a schoolgirl every time I see it!

The canvas is straight this time, so all seems to be well.

Lessons Learned

  1. Submit in the sRGB color space!!!!
  2. When doing a canvas, just make sure your aspect ratio is correct and send it to the folks at Canvas on Demand (CoD). They know what they are doing, so save yourself the hassle and let them do what they do best.
  3. When adjusting your image, lighter is better than darker (within reason) so if your image looks too dark on calibrated screen then you won't be happy with the print.
  4. I learned my lesson from my first canvas to only hold on the sides of the wood because if you cup your hand inside the wooden frame you can leave fingertip indentations on the canvas - argh!
  5. Pay for faster shipping, because when you get that notice that your order has been shipped it can't arrive fast enough!
  6. The folks at CoD really know what they are doing and care about the results you get. From the care taken to prep the shot, to the excellent packaging to make sure it arrives safely, and through the follow up to make sure you are happy. These are the pros and you are getting what you pay for with these guys - premium results!

Order yours at a Discount!

I'm happy to announce that Canvas on Demand is offering my blog readers a $25 gift voucher towards the purchase of your own canvas simply by clicking this link and giving them your email address.

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!

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Building a Canon 10D Animation & How Lenses are Made

Marius from my photography group posted a cool video from geekoligist.com today that animates the construction of a 10D.

This lead to others in the group posting cool links about lens construction:

All Fun stuff for geeks like me who like to understand how things work. Enjoy!

Thanks Marius, Bill & Jay for your contributions to this blog!

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Formula 1 Photography Update

So the purpose of this blog began as a place where I would log my journey into the world of professional photography where I hoped to have a chance to shoot F1 photos semi-professionally. I've since learned a lot and realized that I may have set my aspirations WAY too high.

My First Attempt at FIA Accreditation

With tickets purchased for the 2007 Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, China, I began my quest to get FIA (Federation International Automobile - the Formula 1 governing body) permission for a press pass to the race. After much work, I found that you have to apply via their media accreditation procedure which among other things, requires a sponsor as well as previous publications showing your work (which is a bit of a catch 22, because how do you show previous work without a pass?).

Well, to make a long story short, I got two small magazines to agree to publish articles, so I needed to get to a race before China to get them content so I signed up to attend the 2007 United States Formula 1 Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It would turn out to be the last GP in the US, so it was great that I was able to attend. It also gave me an opportunity to practice taking some shots.

Step 1 - The 2007 United States Grand PrixUSGP Test Shoot

The photos from my first F1 race shoot made me very happy, but when I started to share them with others I realized very quickly that others thought they sucked - bad. However, I learned something after taking over 3000 pictures, so that was the most important thing (more on that later).

With pictures in hand, I finally decided it was time to make my articles, so I sent the first pictures and story off to The Spiel who promptly published my article (half of which was in color) in their July 2007 issue. With some additional work, I got my pictures (only) published in the October 2007 issue of The Star on pages 86 through 91. The Star also agreed to publish my next article from China and sponsor me, so I was ready to apply for accreditation. I tried to follow the rules to the letter, but I quickly discovered that my odds were slim since my magazines were exactly the kind of magazines they DID NOT want to see, but I figured the worst that could happen is that they would say no. On September 20th, 2007 I got an official FIA response to my application - denied.

Accreditation Denied, so Off to the 2007 Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai

I was pretty disappointed, but I knew my odds were slim so I traveled off to Shanghai, China to enjoy the 2007 Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit.

I enjoyed the race, despite a mishap which destroyed my best lens but left me with about 2000 pictures, some of which were actually very good (by my standard).

This resulted in my third published Formula 1 article in The Star which was entitled Shanghai Surprise. I was the author of both the words and the photographer, and I was pleased with the result. However, I learned something very important in the process - be sure to prepare your images yourself because busy publishers won't do it for you. There were some shots that needed some work (including cropping), but I didn't bother to do it myself so I was disappointed to see how they ended up in the magazine. Oh well, lesson learned.

 

Attempt 2 - The 2008 Canadian Grand Prix

Armed with better gear, including a Canon 1D-Mark III I thought that I would have a much better chance at getting "the shot" that would make me feel like a real F1 photographer. After taking over 6000 photos, I think I got a few that I can be proud of. Unfortunately, I haven't had the time to process them and get more than 3 on the web.

Lessons Learned

While the Canon 1D-Mark III is much better than my Canon Rebel XTi, the fact remains that you need to take A LOT of shots because you are going to have more misses than hits. Now maybe there are pros who would disagree with me, but they are probably a lot closer to the action than I am in the stands or using a Nikon D3 with the buffer memory expansion service.

There's a few other things I learned:

  • If you can sneak down to lower in the stands, do it and apologize (or move) later. It doesn't matter how big your lens is, the closer you can get the better. (duh)
  • If you can go out of your comfort zone and shoot manual on a fixed spot and let the vehicle come to you, you can get better shots, but this takes A LOT of discipline.
  • It's better to switch to JPEG to get the shots than to be stubborn and stay in RAW
  • 17 GB of camera storage is not enough for a full day of shooting at the track. Plan for 2000 raw shots per day.
  • Sunscreen can erase the printed label next to your buttons on a Canon Rebel XTi
  • Trust your camera's metering more than your LCD or image histogram

Ron's Race Recommendations

  1. Get a good monopod with an even better head. Without this you will not get pro quality shots (unless your are using something else for support)
  2. A long zoom lens is hard to beat. Good examples are the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM or Nikon AF VR Zoom Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED, but there's some fantastic primes like the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM or Nikon AF-S Nikkor 400mm f/2.8G ED VR too. However, you aren't going to get a big prime like this into a race, so stick with the big zooms.
  3. Hold your camera with your right hand and put your left hand on the TOP of your lens (at the end of the barrel) and create opposing force between your two hands to create a tripod like steady. This alone made more difference in my shots than a more expensive camera or anything. This is the key to getting pro sharpness!!!!
  4. Bring a towel to keep your hands clean and be sure not get sunscreen on your camera, but be sure to use PLENTY of sunscreen. Carry lots of water too (frozen bottled water in your bag are great for the end of the day).
  5. Use evaluate metering and try experimenting with your SINGLE auto focus point (never let the camera decide) to get your intended subject in focus
  6. If using a lens with IS, be sure to change it in the proper mode for panning (Canon users, this is mode 2)
  7. Push-pull lenses are your friend. If you do step 2, you'll discover that it is impossible to zoom during a pan and get a sharp shot with a twist zoom.
  8. Make sure you can shoot at 400mm, even if it means you have to use a Canon EF 2x Tele-extender or Nikon TC-20E II 2x Teleconverter for D-AF-I & AF-S Lenses. Teleconverters are pretty good these days, and post-process sharpening is even better. Don't be afraid to use one of these and be stupid and shoot at 200mm. Nearly all of my shots from my first two races were with a 2x teleconverter, and I don't regret it one bit. In case you are wondering, don't get the 1.x teleconverter if it won't push you out to 600mm+ on a cropped body.
  9. A Hoodman Loupe is a wonderful tool for examining your pictures between sessions in the field. I wouldn't shoot a race without one.
  10. Try something different after each 100th shot you take, but stick with the same thing for at least 100 shots (excluding special events like accidents). If your camera supports it, voice record a note about what you did (I forget to do this).
  11. Focus on the drivers head and frame your shot accordingly.
  12. Don't get hung up on trying to get the perfect pan shot as head on shots like this are good because they can be cropped to look like this. On a side note, this shot was a JPEG because my buffer was filling too quickly when I had 10 minutes to shoot at near eye level with the track.
  13. Bring your wide-angle lens and get pictures of the action. My first double truck was of a wide angle crowd shot.
  14. Don't forget to take lots of pictures on your way to and from the track (as well as evening festivities) to help tell a story about your experience. You'll be happy you did later (and I regret not doing this more).
  15. Carry a pro quality camera bag that can hold a lot of stuff in a small space like a Glass Taxi.

  16. Bring ear plugs!!!!

  17. Record the race at home as you'll be too busy shooting to really pay much attention during the race.

  18. Don't chimp while the action is going on as there will be plenty of time to do that between race sessions. An occasional glance to make sure you are capturing your intent is good, but move on fast.

  19. 1/250 second is your friend for panning. Unless you are shooting an ordinary car which is going to be going < 100 mph, you'll find that anything slower isn't going to work very well for panning (unless you like really blurry pictures). You can go up to 1/320, but faster than that and you start freezing action which kills the sense of speed.

  20. Personally, I find that f/11 is the best aperture to get the driver as well as most of the car in the shot, but I generally have to shot around f/8 due to the light required to do that at 1/250+ and ISO 100. During my first race I thought f/2.8 - f/5.6 would be good, but I think that results in too much of the car being blurry.

  21. Don't be afraid to raise your ISO. Many digital cameras today actually perform better at ISO 200 than ISO 100, so don't be stuck on ISO 100. While going beyond ISO 400 may not be good for some cameras, you should own a camera that can at least do 400 well as overcast days with long lenses means you'll be needing a higher ISO. The Nikon D300, D700 or D3 are an excellent choices for high ISO situations, as are the Canon 40D, 5D, Canon 1D-Mark III. However, Nikon definitely has a huge advantage here.

  22. Scout out the track for the best seats in advance and realize that row A may not be the front row (as I discovered in Canada where A comes after ZZ). However, on most tracks you want to be high because the fence will ruin your shots on the lower rows. Don't rule out the cheap general admission seats either as they can be at track level and you may get lucky and find a hole in the fence.

  23. Bring rain gear for you and your camera so you can still shoot in the rain. Ponchos may look funny, but they work well.

  24. Fully charge your batteries each night before you shoot and bring at least two sets (1 is fine with 1D Mark III's). If your camera supports a battery grip, then use it with extra batteries - you'll need it.

  25. Bring a laptop with large capacity external drives or a Epson P-5000 / HyperDrive to allow for offloading your files each day.

In the end, the most important thing is to have fun. It may take a while to get great shots that your super happy with, but you'll enjoy many of your shots in the privacy of your own home.

In my case, I may be done shooting F1 for a while as it is starting to become cost prohibitive to me. I may consider other motorsports that are cheaper like MotoGP or possibly even IRL. However, what I have learned for now is that I'll have to make a name for myself a different way as this sport is just too tough to do on your own with a sponsor or some other means of funding.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Plug-In Suite 4 Video now Available

PS4_BOX_2-web

For those of you who missed out on the webcast from onOne Software can now catch the online version available here:

Flash Version

QuickTime Version

onOne Software is known for many popular plug-ins for Photoshop, and they have decided to offer my blog readers a 10% discount all of their software simply by entering the coupon code of MARTSN when you checkout on their web site.

Be sure to go to their web site and check out their new Plug-In Suite 4 to learn more information not show in the video.

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!

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