Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Ultimate Photograph

Dear Ron Martinsen Photography Blog readers,

I proud to announce the birth of my son, Kai Sebastian Martinsen, on June 26th 2009 at 1:39 PM, so I may be offline for a little bit. In the meantime, please enjoy this article to hold you over until my return to blogging.

Sincerely,

Ron Martinsen

 

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

Friday, June 26, 2009

REVIEW: onOne Software PhotoTools 2.0 Professional

PT2-pro_BOX_2-webIf you’ve read my previous review of PhotoTools 1.0, you know that I wasn’t very kind nor was I a huge fan of the product. While it had some good stuff in it(much of which is still present in this version) it was hard to really enjoy it. I’m pleased to say that this new release of PhotoTools addresses many of the shortcomings and results in a product that is a delight to use.

PhotoTools Rants and Raves

Here’s some of my notes and observations while using PhotoTools 2:

  1. Hand and zoom controls work better and the hand performance is very good.
  2. I actually notice the descriptions better this time which makes my user experience much better!! I went back to 1.0 and confirmed that many were there in the info window, but I just didn’t notice them.
  3. I am still impressed with Kevin Kubota’s filters, but still frequently disappointed with Jack Davis’ because they really need to fade the luminosity to avoid oversaturation issues common with his effects.
  4. I wish the library area was resizable so I could make it larger.
  5. I’m very disappointed there’s no real-time preview, but I’m glad to see the preview window for the filters is on by default (better usability than 1.x). A preview image just doesn’t cut it for me.
  6. I love the new mask brush support. While not as cool as Nik’s U-Point, it does make things much better for selective processing. 
  7. It is great that you can view the mask and change the brush options. I hate the default opacity of the brush (should be 100%) but at least I can change it. I didn’t have a chance to plug in my tablet and try out the Wacom support, but that’s promising too!
  8. Including the X keyboard shortcut for paint-in/out is very useful!
  9. The new library is much more user-friendly. Even though they are subtle changes, they are for the best. I enjoy using it much better than the 1.0 tree view.
  10. I’m so glad to see the favorites feature!  I would have liked to seen ratings for filters like in PhotoFrame, but that’s a minor nitpick. Keywords were a nice touch as well.
  11. I like how custom presets saves a preview image
  12. The preview image for The Debigulator, Crayon, Impression and several others aren’t very useful or representative of what they do.
  13. I was jazzed to see the video about applying PhotoTools to video in CS4 Extended (which I have) so I decided to try it out. I made sure that I was using the “Copy of Current Layer” preference, but initially didn’t realize I needed to restart Photoshop to have it apply the change – onOne might want to add that to the video. Given the new popularity of video with the 5D Mark II and D90, I think this is a great feature to have!
  14. Page Curl / Steve’s Reflection didn’t work as expected (i.e., white bottom under the curl) when using “Copy of Current Layer” preference and a white layer on the previous layer as the details suggest.
  15. There’s still the same bug from 1.0 where if you switch to a different application while PhotoTools is open you may not get back to the PhotoTools window when you try to activate Photoshop again. InsteadBecause the PhotoTools window is modal, you can’t do anything with Photoshop, so you are hosed. It seems there is some Z-Order issue where PhotoTools is still running, but it gets set behind the main PS window. The default remedy is to do a brute force shutdown of the process via task manager, which some users won’t realize so they’ll just reboot or reset their PC. This is a horrible, horrible, horrible user experience! There is a trick workaround though – if you use Task Manager to minimize Photoshop and then you minimize your open windows, you’ll eventually see the PhotoTools window again. I can’t repro the exact steps to get into this scenario, but it happened to me MANY times in the writing of this article, so it isn’t an infrequent anomaly.
  16. It still seems like way too much stuff to actually use in one product. I think things like Frame Effects would be best left out and leave that to PhotoFrame which now does an awesome job in that area. While more is always good from a value standpoint, it seems that many filters are so similar that it might be best if onOne took the approach they did with PhotoFrame where they keep mostly the good stuff (less is more) and offer the legacy ones online.Trying out all of the filters include takes a full day though without a nice live preview feature – UGH!!!!

Overall, I’m pleased with the product but it still isn’t as stable and user-friendly as I would like. However, it offers a lot of value for the money with all of the features that are included.

With that said, let me move on to some samples that show how I used PhotoTools on a variety of crappy images and rescued them into something I might actually want to print out.

Sample 1 – Han Woo-Ri Ribbon Dude

Recently I was at the Han Woo-Ri Korean Festival in Federal Way, Washington and there was this guy (I think his name was Man Sung) who spun his head really fast to spin this ribbon from his hat. It was pretty cool in real life, but when I captured the image I was disappointed with the results. To address this, I decided to play around with some of the cool features in PhotoTools 2.0 to convert this ordinary snapshot into a more exciting image that represents the movement that was there in real life. If you hover over the image below you'll see the dull before image, and mouse out or click the image to see the enhanced version created entirely with PhotoTools 2.0:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

Here’s a screen shot of PhotoTools 2.0 that shows how I did it entirely in PhotoTools 2.0:

Click for a larger version

I applied the PhotoTools Reduce Noise to tame some of the noise introduced by this ISO 2500 image. Next, I sharpened the edges using the Edge Sharpen Only filter (so as not to sharpen the remaining bits of ISO noise). I chose to sharpen at this point rather than at the end because the Lens Zoom effect I’d apply last is not sharpening friendly, so it was best to do this first. Technically I should have done it after my next filter – Turbo Boost (to give the colors some oomph and darken the background), but I didn’t. Lastly, I ran the Lens Zoom filter which simulates a longer exposure where you zoom during the exposure to create a sense of movement. I chose the subtle version of this and it added that sense of movement that this shot was missing. Since this shot required a higher shutter speed so as not to blur the subject badly, this post processing helped me to keep the sharpness and add the motion back after the fact. Overall, I’m pleased with the results and felt that PhotoTools saved me a ton of time here. Start to finish this modification took me about 10 minutes.

Sample 2 – Jeong-hyun Lim (a.k.a., Funtwo) Rocking on his Guitar

Next up was another shot from the Han Woo-Ri festival where YouTube sensation “Funtwo” was wailing on his guitar, but lighting and background of this ISO 1250 image sucked.  It needed something to make it cool, so it was time for PhotoTools to the rescue! Hover over the image below to see the original and mouse out or click it to see the PhotoTools version I created in less than 10 minutes:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

Here’s a screen shot of PhotoTools 2.0 that shows how I did it entirely in PhotoTools 2.0:

Click to see larger version

For this version, I started with a quick noise reduction using Nik Software’s Dfine and then I ran PhotoTools (note: noise reduction is included in the original here). I then applied the following:

  1. Funky Senior 2 Preset – This uses the bleach bypass and selective focus radials to give a neat “grungy look” as Scott Kelby would say.
  2. I used the Edge Vignette to draw the attention to Funtwo.
  3. Sharpen CH P1 – I used this sharpening because it doesn’t use the Unsharp Mask Filter and seems to avoid sharpening the noise.
  4. Lastly, I went back and tweaked the bleach bypass to 100% fade to apply the full effect.

I was very pleased with the final results. This once crappy background now looks cool and the colors look fantastic on this shot. In addition, the image sharpened nicely from its original where Funtwo’s face was a bit blurry from his head rocking during the capture.

Sample 3 – My wife and I first thing in the morning

Ever have one of those shots where you aren’t prepared, but somehow it turns out good? This is one of those shots. We literally just woke up, haven’t showered, we have terrible bed head, and my wife has no makeup during her 38th week of her pregnancy where her hormones haven’t been kind to her skin. I had to soften her skin a bit to account for the lack of makeup, but the rest is PhotoTools magic. I intentionally darken out our hair to hide the bed head.

Hover over the image below to see the original and mouse out or click it to see the PhotoTools version I created in about 40 minutes as I had a hard time choosing a filter that wouldn’t darken Moon’s hair too much (click the larger version to see it’s still visible, but it does get lost in small images):

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

Here’s a screen shot of PhotoTools 2.0 that shows how I did it entirely in PhotoTools 2.0:

Click for a larger version

I started with the Holga Color preset and then modified it with Creamsickle filter, Edge Vignette Dark and Edge Sharpen Only filters. The result is an image that focus on us rather than our kitchen and even though we weren’t looking our best we now look as if this was a planned shot.

Sample 4 – Black & White

Here’s a image of my pregnant wife in her last days of her pregnancy that looked nice in color, but I felt it would be better in a black in white with a slight blue tint to it. Hover over the image below to see the original and mouse out or click it to see the PhotoTools version I created in about 30 minutes, most of which was spent trying to decide on the right filter to use:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

Here’s a screen shot of PhotoTools 2.0 that shows how I did it entirely in PhotoTools 2.0:

Click for a larger version

All I did here was apply the B&W Warm 1 + Snappy filter with the Wow Tint Blue+Dark Edges filter and then used the PhotoTools High Pass Sharpening. The net result is a pleasing black and white! Now that I have this formula, I can create a preset and apply it in seconds to any photo I’d like to convert to black and white in the future.

A Note About Non-PhotoTools Processing

All images in this article were resized to 800 pixels using Genuine Fractals 6.0, and if skin softening was applied I used Nik Software’s Color Efex 3.0’s Dynamic Skin Softener filter.

Conclusion

This version of PhotoTools is significantly better than its predecessor thanks in large part to a drastically improved user-interface. The performance is better as well. While I still wish it had real-time previews, and the occasional crash was maddening, overall I found myself spending hours playing around with all of the possible options. I wish I had the time to list more samples here as I have a ton of cool things I did, but I tried to show that there’s endless flexibility with the samples I’ve included here.

I highly recommend this product for those wanting a ton of features in one product. I will warn you that it’s hard to get your hands around this product because there’s so many filters included, but many will consider that a good thing. Fortunately the new search feature works well in helping you find what you are looking for quickly, and the presets are always a great place to start when you first install this product (in demo or retail form).

onOne Software is offering a 20% discount to readers of this blog if you enter the discount coupon code RMART20 when you purchase any onOne software product online from their web site. Personally, I recommend you buy the onOne Software Plug-in Suite which bundles all of their products in a package that offers a lot of bang for the buck. See my discount coupon codes page for the latest discounts on Plug-in Suite not available on onOne’s web site.

20%-off-525x170 2

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, June 25, 2009

Alien Skin Software offers a 10% discount to blog readers - discontinued

image

It is with great sadness that I must announce that Alien Skin Software has decided to discontinue coupon codes for their affiliates due to abuse by readers posting to coupon code sites. This is a loss for both you as well as me, so I urge readers to not abuse the system. Discounts are offered for readers of an article who decide they’d like to get the product that they have read about and the discount helps both you (save money) and me (make money via a commission).

Please support this blog by using this link when ordering Alien Skin software products, and maybe your support will help me to gain enough attention from Alien Skin to allow the codes to return.

Alien Skin Software, makers of BlowUP 2, Bokeh, Exposure 2, Image Doctor, and more have decided to make a 10% discount available to readers of this blog. If you enter the discount coupon code RMN0908 (DIFFERENT FROM THE CODE IN THE PICTURE) when you check out (as shown above). If you’ve searched the web before you know that valid Alien Skin coupon code codes are hard to come by as Alien Skin hasn’t done this type of thing in the past, so if you’ve been holding out on purchasing great products like BlowUP or Exposure then now is the time to act while this code is still available.

Be sure to check back in the future when I write about Exposure (very cool) and Snap Art. Also be sure to check out my article on Bokeh for an update to the article.

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.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Top Photographers Interview: Clint Clemens – The Father of Modern (and Future) Automotive Photography

image

Prior to my obsession with photography (one of many obsessions in my life), I was (and still am) a car guy. In fact, all of my film shooting in the early 80’s was of only one subject – cars! In 2006, I was lucky enough to finally buy my dream car – a Porsche 911 (997) C4s Cabriolet, but I’ve only taken a few pictures of it with my DSLR as I’ve always wanted to get some special shots of it.

Porsche is famous for great automotive imagery and offers posters at their dealerships, so my office is wallpapered with their posters. However, there’s one poster that all true Porsche lovers know and lust after and that’s Clint Clemens’s famous “Kills bugs fast.” poster of a 911 Turbo.  It represents the type of image I’d like to get of my car one day, so you can imagine my excitement when I had the opportunity to speak to the legend who created this iconic image!

KillsBugsFast

Clint Eastwood, I mean Clemens, Kills bugs fast.!!!!

For normal people my age, when people thing of Porsche iconic moments they think of the movie Risky Business and Tom Cruise being chased by Guido the Killer Pimp in his dad’s Porsche 928. However, for hard core Porsche fans like myself, we think of the ultimate Porsche poster by which all others are judged – the 911 Turbo “Kills bugs fast.” poster. This is a “the” poster to own (which sadly I don’t), but two of my friends have a framed copy hanging in their office. Now stop and name two people you work with who have the same ANYTHING framed in their office – it just doesn’t happen, but this poster is just that cool (especially in real life).

When I found out that Clint Clemens took this iconic image he immediately got to my top 50 list, but when I went through his portfolio I began to feel like I was on Wayne’s World and was saying to myself “I’m not worthy.” With this in mind, imagine my delight when I had the opportunity to talk to Clint and ask him about this legendary image – yeah, it was hard to take notes!

When I talked to Clint about this image I found out that Porsche trusted him so much that his only information from his client was the slogan “Kills bugs fast.” and he was simply told to “illustrate the idea”. It was up to him to figure out the rest, and so he did. What’s more, this was during a time when Clint invented this type of image style which is so common today – the sharp image of a moving car with a blurred background. Yep, that’s right Clint invented this concept in 1980, and he was the only photographer who could pull this shot off thanks to his patented rig to grab these shots off with his FILM camera!

In case you glossed over that last statement, let me say it in another way - these are in-camera film shots in the days before Photoshop and Digital Cameras existed (resume bowing) where you had to get it right in the camera. Pardon my French, but H O L Y  F * * K!!!!!!!!!!

How to Interpret Speed

In 1979 Clint was inventing motorized overhead light banks and new concepts on how to photograph cars at his studio in Boston. In this studio, which would go on to be featured in American Photographer for its revolutionary design, he would practice with silverware to prepare the lighting he needed for his famous shots. However, he quickly learned that this was an expensive endeavor that found him working to simply pay for the studio bills, so he left the studio for the road – where cars belong.

It was around 1980 when got the idea to attach a camera to a car. After numerous failed attempts using steady cams, and other devices from the video world, he and Craig Hunter of Safari Filmworks in California invented his patented camera mount using SpeedRail. He also invented a system that would allow him to drive the car (yes, you read that right) while looking at a video screen that showed his a real-time view through his viewfinder (hum, can anyone say Live View?) and remotely trigger the camera to take the shot at exactly the precise time – ON FILM! <censored barrage of jubilant expletives>

Naturally this was a HUGE hit with his clients, and for roughly 10 years Clint would go on to build around 8000 of these rigs and enjoyed a monopoly on this photographic technique. In fact, he was getting clients sending him magazine ads for a shot he did for another client, and they’d just put their logo and text on the page and say “we want this with our car”. This was the heyday of his career, but it all came to an end shortly after he landed the print and television campaign for the launch of the first Mercedes E-Class in America (W124). Despite having a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with the famous German magazine, Stern, they took photographs of his rig while he was shooting in Las Vegas’ Valley of Fire and published them. Game over. His secret was now out and everyone started to copy him. 

BMW

For most of us, that’d be game over and we’d sue until the end of time, but Clint moved on doing tons of great work in transportation photography. However, even there he started to notice that competition was becoming intense, so it was time to reinvent himself again.

“The Art of Photography has been lost”

One of the interesting discussions I had was about photography in 2009. He explained how he feels that “the art of photography has been lost” because the “barrier to entry” has been lowered. It used to be that you needed to know how to “choose the proper film, expose it, color balance, etc…” and that made it difficult for just any average Joe to master this craft. However, digital photography has changed all of that so that anyone can do it. Clint offered a good analogy:

“Imagine photography is a rain barrel and the photographers are the water. It used to be that the barrel had a inch or two of rain, but now the rain barrel is overflowing. The value of a photo is inversely proportional. Imagine if the same happened to another craft like dentistry where anyone could be a dentist?

Now if the barrier to entry has been lowered, how does one succeed in these times? If you examine Clint’s work and see how creative he has been, then you know the answer – you raise the barrier to entry!DHL

Raising the Barrier to Entry – Modern Day Transportation Imagery

Just as Clint broke new ground with his automotive work, he’s not just sat back and let himself become obsolete. Instead, what Clint has done is pushed himself to raise the barrier to entry once again. The way he’s done this is by redefining how cars are photographed by recognizing that a camera is just one way to create an image of a vehicle, and that the real objective is the image itself!

Imagery to the Web

Clint points out that that the evolution of images require that in today’s world that we think about how the images will be used. The web promotes interactivity and implies 3D, so CGI is where all car stuff is going today. To embrace this change he has founded two companies, Goodstock (HDR Spheres) and Zerone (CGI), to help lead the way in the future of automotive imagery.

HDR Spheres

Most of us have heard the term HDR as High Dynamic Range photography created by products like Photomatix where multiple exposures are blended together to create the perfect exposure, but that concept is really just Tone Mapping. High Dynamic Range is about combining multiple exposures to create a super high resolution image and HDR spheres are about using a device to create a spherical image of an environment that can be later used with a CGI image of a vehicle to create image based lighting (accurate lighting and reflections on the vehicle). It also raises the bar for CGI as it creates lighting with the same conditions found in the real world shot, so when you render the car it looks like it was in that scene. In short, this concept eliminates the need for the vehicle itself (which is replaced by its wireframe) as  the image is entirely computer generated. To better understand this concept, visit http://www.goodstock.de/page/en/technology for a more detailed demonstration.

This represents a change in the art because to play in this world you are no longer the  photographer, but rather the artist seeing the vision of how the image will look. The later half is no different than things have always been in photographer, as anyone can take a snapshot, but only the best photographers can create art with their imagery. Here the rules and tools have changed, but the fundamentals remain the same.

Models from Mars

CGI

Of course, some of you out there will say – hell, if the car is in CGI why not just create the environment in the computer as well? Of course, Clint agrees and has formed Models from Mars exactly for that purpose! This is the next step where  both the environment and vehicle are CGI based and the possibilities are limitless! His company is doing groundbreaking work that creates huge 1GB scenes and shrinks them down to an ultra light 4000 poly image using 8 & 16k texture maps. This is the same technology used in video games, and its where the future of interactive worlds will continue to evolve.

How you can be a part of the future?

SweetSorrowWhen I was listening to Clint, I was thinking crap – my dream of ever doing transportation imagery has just been flushed down the toilet! However, he pointed out that his company will be selling devices for creating the HDR Spheres that will be used to aid in the imagery created, and that artists could use CGI based products to create their own vision. It won’t be easy, but those that stay with the times will reap the rewards of the working with high barrier to entry techniques.

I also started thinking about my own job as a computer programmer. I realized that I work with a team of people to create a successful product, and there’s nothing that says that my imagery couldn’t be the same. So while the days of creating an image as a individual effort might be replaced by collaborative effort, the result is still the same – capturing the vision from your minds eye and turning it into a reality for the world to see. This is the heart of what Photography and art are all about, so this is simply a new medium and process for accomplishing that goal.

But is Clint still a Photographer?

LakeBoatWith all of this discussion I started to wonder if Clint was even taking pictures anymore, and of course the answer was yes!  He’s still very proud to be a founding member of Canon’s Explorer of Light program, and Canon still sponsors him. He’s currently shooting with a Canon 1Ds Mark III & 1D Mark III and loves his favorite lenses – the EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM and EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM. His son shoots with a 5D Mark II and recently shot a video film called Walden that features Clint (as the boss who fires McAlister - 6:56), so his legacy is sure to continue.

Clint is also still excited about new developments in the industry so much so that he was quick to send me a mail when he read onOne’s blog about their new DSLR Camera Remote for the iPhone. With technologies like this and Live View we can more easily accomplish some of the killer transportation shots he once created with crude setups, but he’s happy to see people follow in his footsteps. Nobody can take away his contributions to transportation imagery, and his current work will continue to push that industry in new directions. I look forward to seeing the evolution of his work, and I’m looking forward to taking pictures of my car using “old fashion” techniques that Clint invented.

Of course, I couldn’t help but ask Clint if it was still possible to get that cool “Kills Bugs Fast” poster that’s missing from my wall. He said he’d be happy to make an 11x14 matted and signed copy for my blog readers for $350, a 16x20 for $500, or even larger versions upon request by contacting him at mail@clintclemens.com. In fact, he’s willing to make prints for many of his killer photos found on his web site.

It has been a true pleasure for me to talk with this industry icon, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this article as much as I have. Feel free to post comments as I’m sure that Clint will be reading them.

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.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

onOne Software PhotoTools 2.0 lite (FREE) & DSLR Camera Remote for iPhone/iPod Touch

Just a quick note about some cool stuff announced from onOne Software here recently:

onOne PhotoTools 2 lite - FREE

Times are tough right now so onOne Software is stepping up and offering a lite version of PhotoTools 2 for FREE! If you want to upgrade to the Pro edition (which I will be reviewing soon), you can use the discount coupon codes here. Until then, enjoy what you get here for free – it’s good stuff!

iPhone Goodness

onOne DSLR Remote for iPhone / iPod Touch Those who know me personally, know that I think that the iPhone 3G is the greatest electronics device ever created – period. When world famous photographer, Clint Clemens (#2 on my favorite photographers list sent me a mail about this new DSLR Remote application last week I knew I should get excited because Clint has always been on the bleeding edge of technology. After seeing what onOne has done, I’m looking forward to trying it out on my iPhone to see exactly how it works and if it is as cool as it looks.

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.

Sorry I’ve been offline so long…

This blog hasn’t gone idle. I’ve just been busy moving into my new house. I hope to return to writing articles sometime next week. In the mean time, enjoy some of the archived articles on this blog and the new 10% discount code from Mozy found on the discount coupon codes page.

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.