Monday, August 31, 2009

Think Tank Photo coupon code will be back shortly

There’s apparently a glitch with the roll out of the new Think Tank Photo web site, so please come back to get the updated code.

In the meantime, I’m updating the links on the TTP articles.

Thanks,

Ron

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REVIEW: Topaz Adjust

High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography is super popular right now, and one if its more popular features is tone mapping which allows people to come up with creative highly processed effects that have become loved by some and hated by others. In fact, this concept has become so popular that HDR programs like Photomatix are even starting to allow people to tone map a single image (versus the previously required multiple images) so that they can achieve these effects. Other products like Lucis Pro 6.0 also offer the ability to create these effects for a whopping $595!!!

This article isn’t about passing judgment on this new style of post processing, but rather showing another option called Adjust by Topaz Labs.

User Interface

If you read my review of Topaz Lab’s noise reduction program, Denoise 3, then you’ll notice that this user interface is basically the same. It consists of a series of presets (for which you can create or download more), some tabs to make adjustments, and then a bizarre little menu button. It’s also not very good at resizing images in its preview window, so if you choose the “Fit” option then the results will generally look very bad (and much worse than they will in Photoshop). In fact, I highly recommend maximizing the window and using 100% when you can to see the real impact of the chosen effect.

Overall, its user-interface is functional, but it definitely isn’t as nice as what you’d typically find in Nik Software’s Color Efex or onOne Software’s PhotoTools. However, some might argue that the presets make it easier than Photomatix and equivalent to the much more expensive Lucis Pro

Click for a larger view

Sample Effects

There’s over 20 presets which can be used as starting points to get your desired effect. For example, here’s an enhancement I created using the Psychedelic filter. I created it on a new layer and then dropped the opacity down to 80% to remove some of the heavy noise it created, so if you hover over the image you can see the before and after images:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

Here's a really boring shot of Vancouver that I took out of my hotel room when I was waiting for my wife to get ready. It was a super crappy shot as you can see by the original when you hover over the image below, but after applying the Psychedelic filter some might argue that it sucks less:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

Here's my kids frog Chub featured in my Viveza for Lightroom article where I got almost identical results with just one click to apply the Psychedelic filter and a minor adjustment to the strength slider in the Details tab. The results are pretty darn close to what I got using Viveza and actually look pretty good to me, especially considering how bad the original shot (mouse over below) was:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

After seeing what I could do with these crappy photos, I decided to take a reasonably decent landscape shot that was in need of some improvement and apply a series of different effects just to see how it would impact the shot. The table below starts off with the original and then shows what it looks like with various effects applied. Hover each image to see the tool tip with the name of the effect and click to see a larger version (highly recommended):

Original - Click for a larger version Pop Photo - Click for a larger version
Dramatic - Click for a larger version Portrait Drama - Click for a larger version
Spicify - Click for a larger version Psychedelic - click for a larger version

As you can see from this batch of effects, with a little masking and tweaking of the settings, you can create some really cool enhancements to your photos (i.e., check out the river water at the bottom of the falls in Psychedelic). While you might not like the entire effect all over your photo, the idea here is to experiment and potentially keep the parts that you like (i.e., clouds, trees, water, etc… effects might be more desirable than the cliff).

For fun, I decided to see what it would do to a portrait, and was surprised to see that it creates an interesting effect that is somewhat similar to shots I’ve seen done by George Fulton and Jill Greenburg (albeit with lots of noise in this particular unmodified example):

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after 

Conclusion

At the end of the day I had a lot of fun playing around with this filter and trying out various photos to see what it would do. A lot of the effects weren’t to my taste, but frequently there was one part of the photo where I thought – oh, that part is cool. I could see myself using part of what it does, or a toned town version of some of its effects. Given the fact it is only $49.99 (or 8.4% of Lucis Pro, yet it does almost the same thing) it is definitely very tempting as an impulse buy.

Special Offer

Purchase your copy of Topaz Labs Adjust at 15% off the normal rate when you use the discount found on my discount coupon code 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!

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Having fun in Photoshop

Here’s a fun animated GIF I created of my son this morning on my computer.

The steps are easier than I expected:

  1. In Photoshop CS4 Extended, change your Workspace to Video (from the Window menu) OR simply show the animation window.
  2. Add the additional image(s) to a new layer by opening them in Photoshop as separate windows, and then using the Move tool to SHIFT+DRAG them on to the primary window where you want to create the video. It works best if you do a Window | Arrange | Tile so you can see the windows side by side.
  3. In the animation palette click on the New Frame button (looks the same as new layer) and set your settings, and play the video.
  4. To Save, just do File | Save for Web & Devices and choose GIF with the default settings (although you may want to boost colors to 256). It also is better to have small image files.

Fun stuff! There’s videos on YouTube too if this isn’t clear enough. Search for Animated GIF.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Mozy gives you 15% off (an extra 5% off from before)

 Click or a larger version that shows where to enter promo codes

I am pleased to announce that Mozy is offering readers of this blog a unique offer of 15% off (versus the more common 10% previously offered) off ANY annual or bi-annual subscription. See the discount coupon code page for more details along with a link to take advantage of the latest offer.

I’m a big fan of Mozy and have been using this year as my primary backup system. You can learn more about my experiences (both good and bad) in my article entitled How do I backup my pictures?.

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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Thursday, August 20, 2009

REVIEW: Sculpting with Light – Techniques for Portrait Photographers

When you pick up a book like this, what is your real intention? Is your goal to work for your local portrait studio? Is your goal to build your own studio and take portraits there? If you answered YES to either of these questions, then I think this is a great book for you to consider reading. If your goal is to take better pictures of your family members using your flash gun, or reach the elite level of fashion photography, then your search for the right book isn’t over yet.

Allison Earnest takes you on a journey into her world of what I would call common private studio photography. This is actually the type of professional photographer that most of interact with at some point in our lives, be it our first family portrait, Senior portraits, or our wedding studio shoot. There’s people like Allison in every city of the country, some of whom work independently and other who work for a large studio which sees hundreds of families daily. The techniques described in this book will teach you how to work in that industry to get results that you once paid what you thought was a lot of money for (your perception changes when you’re the photographer :).

Chapter by Chapter Walkthrough

1. The Physics of Light

This is what I call “the book report chapter” because it feels a lot like the author wanted to establish some credibility up front, so she did a book report on the physics of light and what you see here is the result of that. I say this because I work with lots of engineers every day and it is easy to see which ones are the the hard core scientist types, and which ones are just faking that part (and you can be successful either way). The real hard core types can’t get down from this level, so if the author were truly writing this from her own experiences then this book would be filled with stuff like this. However, it isn’t so I think this is basically a meaningless chapter you can skip. Why? Because if you want to understand these concepts, read a book by those who are true experts on the subject as is the case with Light: Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting: Third Edition. If you want to read a portrait book, then you don’t really want a geeky explanation like this so just skip it.

2. Incident and Reflected Light

This chapter starts to pick up where the author left off on the last chapter, into a technical dissertation that is inadequate and not terribly helpful. However, it’s clear that like most pro photographers, she actually understands the concepts on a practical level, if not a technical level, so she goes on to do a great job of explaining the practical concepts of incident and reflected light. Tip here – look at the images and read the captions, but glance over the geek speak. When the author takes about practical applications, then pay attention as there’s good information there.

3. Light Design Tools

This is actually a very good chapter where the author provides a nice overview of a lot of different lighting mechanisms, modifiers, and techniques. Brief, to the point and illustrative makes it a plus for the beginner.

4. Portrait Lighting Basics

Again, this is a nice way to ease into the concept of portrait lighting with some good examples. I think the beginner would have benefited from a better illustration of what exactly the author means when she says "butterfly light pattern” as its a concept that is described differently by other authors and in my opinion looks nothing like a butterfly. That quibble aside, this is a good chapter that beginners will definitely learn a lot from. The authors experience certainly shines here.

5. Lighting Different Facial Shapes

This chapter is where I began to see value in this book over others I’ve read because this is a topic that you don’t see typically covered (or not very well if it is mentioned). However, this is a real challenge for even experienced photographers, so it is great to see some advice and good examples to illustrate the point. The last page of this chapter was a nice too because it finishes up with a series of challenges with tips on how to address them – bravo!

6. Working with Multiple Subjects

By this chapter I was really wishing the author had included some different models as I was tired of seeing the same model over and over again. I was also a bit perplexed because I honestly liked the first take (plate 98) way better than the final take (plate 101). This wasn’t the first time this happened in this book, but this one was the most memorable. There’s still a little useful info in this chapter, but it could have used some more depth. Another chapter on large groups could have been useful in this book as well.

7. Sculpting with Ambient Light

While I think more setup and outdoor light modifier discussions would have been useful, this is actually a fairly detailed and good chapter in this book. While entire books have been written on the subject (some of which have been reviewed on this blog) I think that the author does a reasonably good job of familiarizing the reader with the most important concepts.

8. Post-Production Enhancements

Every so often a chapter comes along in a book that you know was either the victim of the publishers tight schedule or the authors lack of expertise, but honestly I think this chapter is without question the worst in the book. It’s basically an advertisement for Kubota Tools (which btw, you can get his best stuff in onOne PhotoTools). Skip it as you’ll want to cringe when you read it. Go read my What Photoshop Books Should I Read? article for real books on this subject.

Conclusion

When I first skimmed through this book my first thought was “these pictures aren’t that great,” so I admit I went in with a negative attitude when I read this book. I quickly got annoyed with the author seemingly trying to sell me on Hensel lights throughout the book (note to editor – skip brand names if there is a next edition). However, as I read on I appreciated the authors middle chapters that offered some really good advice and tips that aren’t always easy to find. Had I been the editor, I would have cut chapters 1 and 8 from the book and enhanced chapters 2 & 6. That leaves chapters 3, 4, 5, & 7 as being the real useful content in this book. For many that will be enough, especially if you don’t have exposure to those concepts. I appreciated what was there, and suspect you will as well.

Skill Level: Any

Value: At retail, too much – but the going rate on Amazon is fair

Recommendation: If you are new to studio lighting and want to improve your portraiture then chapters 3 through 5 will be useful to you and probably worth the price of the book. If that isn’t your goal then you shouldn’t bother with this one. In the end, I say pick it up on sale and skip to the good stuff.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Canon announces the G11 – my next point & shoot camera

Canon has FINALLY released a point and shoot worth owning – the new G11. Why is this one any different than the other G series? Well because Canon finally gets “it” that it’s now about image quality (and low noise) and not about megapixel count anymore. This camera actually has LESS megapixels (10 instead of 14 in the G10), but the advantage is that the image quality is superior (due to improved pixel density) which is the most important thing. Even better, if you find yourself in a situation where you have to crank up the ISO, this camera will go up to 12,800 – BUT they are brilliant by reducing the megapixel count to 2.5mp in this scenario to use as much sensor data as possible to create a higher quality image than would ever be possible at 10 or 14mp with such a small sensor. They’ve also added the latest version of the Digic IV processor with improved noise reduction.

Personally, I can care less about the flip out display, but I’ll finally be purchasing my first point and shoot since 2004 and this will be it! The G9 was great for my trip to Disneyland and the G10 was almost as good, but this one seems to be “the one” that has the quality needed to be a suitable “pocket DSLR” substitute for family situations that don’t lend themselves to using the big beast.

Check out more at DPReview or on Canon’s website.

You can order one now at Adorama like me, or at Amazon or B&H.

I’ve received mine and love it, and will be posting a detailed review soon. In the meantime, you can look at some of my G11 images here.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Top Photographers Interview: Bryan Peterson

image

Bryan F. Peterson has been shooting great pictures since he put his pencil and paper down in 1979 and discovered the magic of capturing images on film. It’s probably this background in drawing that allows him to see the world differently from the way you or I do. However, the great thing about Bryan is that he’s a great guy who loves to share his knowledge and passion for Photography in ways that the average person can understand in his fantastic books, videos and classes.

In this article you’ll get to understand why I love Bryan’s works and books and why you should learn more about him too as he has done as much for the Photography industry Scott Kelby has for the Photoshop industry. In fact, in a recent email with Joe McNally, Joe said “[Bryan Peterson] has been a real positive force in the industry”. That’s pretty high praise from one of the most talented Photographers on the planet!

About Bryan

Bryan's Favorite Picture

Take a quick peek at Bryan’s website (powered by liveBooks) and you’ll quickly notice that his shots are quite different from many of the other “great” photographers of today. He’s not afraid to have a little blur in his images (as shown in his personal favorite shot above), or to make a great shot out of something very ordinary (I love his oil puddle pattern on page 69 of Learning to See Creatively). In short, he can see something great to photograph in just about any situation by skipping the obvious (we are all shooting that) and finding something unique and special. For example, take the image below:

You or I would be taking pictures of the runners trying to get the great action in the race, but we’d have the same picture as those around us. Bryan on the other hand is looking down at the ground and telling a different story that is colorful, interesting and unique. This is EXACTLY why I love Bryan’s work and his books – he challenges me to see beyond the ordinary to make something extraordinary (which I admit is my biggest weakness).

Recently it seems he has decided to write about a little bit of this his new personal blog, and there’s tons of creativity happening at the Picture Perfect School of Photography (PPSOP) and blog which Bryan founded. In fact, I recently wrote an article called How do I learn how to use my DSLR? which is basically a brief blurb telling you to go watch Bryan’s videos (which he promises me more are on the way).

Below is another one of Bryan’s favorite shots from one of the most photogenic places in the world – Santorini, Greece:

Bryan's Favorite Travel Shot 

In this day of sharpness wars, if many of us would capture a shot like this we’d say “ah crap, the cat was blurry – should have bumped up my shutter speed” and just delete the shot. However, what you have here is a very colorful and interesting shot that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen from Santorini. In fact, just search Flickr and you’ll see tons of pictures of the Santorini caldera, but Bryan has captured a shot that I think anyone who knows of Santorini would probably guess that this shot was taken there. However, this shot doesn’t have all of the typical tourist shot images. It’s success by simply looking elsewhere from where the masses focus. This is why there’s much to learn from Bryan, which brings me to my next topic – his books.

Bryan's Books

Thankfully Bryan has decided to share his creativity with the rest of us in the form of some fantastic books. In fact, if you’ve read my Which Books Should I Read? article you’ll notice that his books have always been on the list and they are the first ones I recommend once you’ve tackled that list.

Here's a list of some of Bryan Peterson's books, most of which have been reviewed on this blog:

The Interview

My Favorite Bryan Peterson Shot

Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Bryan and his sweet daughter Sophie (featured in many of his books) as well as his niece for a nice lunch near my home. Afterwards we had a chance to discuss his thoughts on the industry today. I hope you will enjoy what follows as much as I did.

Bryan on the Lessons Learned & the Industry

When I asked Bryan about the lessons he has learned in his quest to create such amazing compositions, he quickly replied, “People don’t see motion opportunities in Photography today.” He really seemed to think that this is the new frontier in photography that remains largely untapped by people’s obsession for the sharp image. His two favorite images (the red car and cat images in the “About Bryan” section) capture the beauty of motion, and he talks about it at length in his great book Understanding Shutter Speed.

When we talked about places to photograph around the world, I thought it was fascinating when he said that “all photographers who are interested in succeeding in this business should live in New York for at least a year.” He was quick to explain how New York is really the hub of the industry. “It’s and more open than other markets like Tokyo where Westerners struggle to get into the system and Paris is really just about fashion. As the old saying goes – if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.

This discussion prompted me to inquire about his thoughts on making it in this industry, which seems to have become oversaturated these days. However, Bryan quickly replied that “…in many ways it is no different than it always has been – there’s always been more than enough great photographers for any given job, but what allowed one photographer to succeed over another is about how well they marketed their product – themselves.” He emphasized the personal touch when dealing with clients and how you should work to establish a relationship that goes beyond just landing the one job – create a connection that will make them think of you first when they are looking for a photographer for that next project. I thought this was great advice and very refreshing as many people, especially in these tough times, have pretty much said to me forget about making it because the market is too crowded and too many amateurs with a lucky shot are giving their work away for that 5 minutes of fame.

Since most pro photographers struggle to do a shot for “them” and instead are frequently doing work for their clients that might not be what they’d shoot if given the choice, I asked Bryan if he had any special projects he’s working on behind the scenes. He lit up and said that he’s working on a series of about 46 shots – all staged – both with and without people that are similar to the image below:

They will show ad agencies his creativity, but also allow him to do the type of shots he’d like to do for some of his more open minded clients. He hopes to launch this project in the not too distant future in a special web gallery, so stay tuned to his blog for more details.

Getting Started

When I think about getting started in this business it seems overwhelming because its tough to know where to begin. Bryan quickly pointed out that “e-mail is a mistake” because you are better off finding out who the key players are, and sending them a card or trying to make a personal visit. This of course, made me ask – how do you do that? His recommendation was Adbase, and not my usual recommendation of The Photographers Market (which he feels is oversaturated). I hadn’t heard of this source before, so I’m planning to look into this and learn more. If readers of this blog have experience with Adbase, I’d love to hear about it.

UPS

He also suggested that all new photographers should consider doing editorial work first as a way to gain experience. With that experience you can try to sit down with the designers or art directors and just get to know each other. When working with them directly and face to face you can establish a rapport with them that can last beyond that one job. This has been the key to Bryan’s success with long-term clients like UPS and American Express.

Since this series is about Top Photographers, I asked Bryan about who his favorites were and he quickly mentioned the names Jay Maisel and Freeman Patterson and when you look at Bryan’s work you can definitely see some parallels in style. Another name he mentioned is  Eric Meola, who coincidentally was mentioned on Joe McNally’s blog today as one of his favorite photographers too. Eric has some great work, and two industry greats admiring his work so I’d say there’s a good place to start looking if you are looking for ideas on how to improve. Despite these names, like all great Photographers Bryan tries to avoid spending too much time looking at others work so as not to be unintentionally influenced by it, so it’s no wonder why it’s fairly easy for me to look at one of his shots and think “yeah, that “feels” like a Bryan Peterson shot” without knowing if he was actually the photographer. I wonder if his favorites recommend him!

Finally, I asked Bryan if he had any favorite books and he was quick to mention Joe McNally’s books (Hot Shoe Diaries & The Moment it Clicks).

Gear Stuff

Another one of my BP Favs

As I do with all my interviews, I had a moment to talk to Bryan about the gear he uses. Like several of the greats I’ve talked to, its always more about how you use it than what you have but I still have yet to find any pros shooting with Rebel XTi’s or D60’s so its fun to take a peek into their bags. Bryan’s kit consists of the following:

An interesting thing Bryan told me is that he doesn’t own a high end color printer, but rather uses AdoramaPix instead.

A Final Word

Is this a cool shot or what?

Whether its the shot above of the cargo ship taken with a fisheye or the pigeons with the flying colored umbrella at the beginning of the interview section, I am frequently in awe of some of the great shots Bryan gets. Sure, there’s lots of great photographers who take killer shots, but these are unique compositions that you just don’t see very often. This to me is what makes Bryan one of the top photographers in the world today. I thank him for all of the time and energy he has spent helping others improve their photography via his great books. As an engineer, I can figure out the technical elements of a camera and take technically excellent photos, but my compositions generally suck. Bryan’s books inspire me and help me to see the world differently as I learn to see creatively, and I know that if I have an ounce of talent in my body that his work will help to bring that out.

Thank you Mr. Peterson for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences with me and my readers! I look forward to checking out your latest books and posting reviews here in the future!

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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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Top Photographers Interview: Scott Kelby

NOTE: To new readers of my blog, I always hyperlink topics that for which I have already written an article. Please enjoy these articles when you have some free time.

What do my Top Photographers list, Which Books Should I Read?, and What Photoshop Books Should I Read? articles all have in common? Yep, you guessed it – Scott Kelby is a key figure in all of them. Not only is he one of my favorite authors, but he’s also has a excellent portfolio.

Scott Kelby the Best-Selling Author

Recently I (RM below) had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Kelby (SK below). What follows in this section are his responses to some of the questions I’ve been wanting to ask him for quite some time. I hope you enjoy the conversational tone and hearing the thoughts of this industry icon.

RM: I’m a huge fan of the 7 Point System and consider it to be the pivotal book that helped me get to the next level in Photoshop. Naturally, I’m very curious to know if a CS4 is in the works and how you might do things differently in this version.

SK:

I don't have one planned for CS4 because Adobe hasn't changed enough of CS4 to make the system that much different , but I am updating (and further simplifying) "The System" for the next version of Photoshop (though still a ways off). I've learned a lot since I wrote that book; in particular on how people implemented the system, and I found ways to make it even easier, and that makes it more powerful, so I'm pretty excited about the changes I have coming for it next time around.

Ron: 7 Point System for CS3 is one of my most recommended Photoshop books, but I’m also a big fan of Lightroom (especially your Lightroom 2 book).  What I’d really love to see is a 7 Point System for Lightroom 2 for those who really are happy with Lightroom and are willing to live without Photoshop. I think it would be a HUGE hit. Have you ever thought about doing anything like that?

SK:

I'll be doing exactly that! :)

RM: You just underwent the pain of building a new portfolio site as I am doing in my Web hosting series where I reviewed liveBooks, FolioSnap, SiteWelder and Smugmug Pro. If you had to do it over again, would you just use a service? If so, which one and why? If not, why?

SK:

I haven't really settled on a service at this point, and I think it's because what I really want is something I can update and maintain myself. The portfolio I have in place is a bit of a nightmare to update (to say the least). I bought a template, and it was WAY over my head, so I had my friend RC Concepcion use Flash to customize the template with my images and text, and it totally kicked his butt, too (and he's great at Flash). So, what I'm using isn't the answer for sure. I'm hoping Adobe will take things up a notch with the next version of Lightroom, because it makes total sense to manage it from there, but right now their Web galleries, while great, are missing two big things:

  1. The ability to have multiple galleries linked from the home page
  2. The ability to have clients check off or choose which proofs they want from you with a simple checkbox.

When they fix those two things, it will open a lot of doors for a lot of people. 

RM: Recently you’ve gotten into Motorsports photography, which is my long-term dream. I’ve shot Formula 1 several times and learned a lot the hard way. I know you’ve heard it a million times on the blog, but any recommendations to break through the good old boys club to shoot with the big boys?

SK:

It's tough and getting tougher every day. The problem is; you need experience to have a shot at shooting Pro sports, but it's so tightly controlled that people that don't have a connection or an "in" with somebody are really at a disadvantage. At the end of the day, you're going to either have to have a friend that has connections to get you a media pass (which is one way I've gotten to shoot some pro sporting events) or you have to have enough good shots to convince a racing league, or a team, or a sponsor to let you shoot for them (which I've done as well). I wish I had a secret to share, but it's a battle. A buddy of mine, Mike Olivella, who is a pro sports shooter did a guest spot on my blog (www.scottkelby.com) and he wrote an entire article on the topic, and it was one of the best, most open, most revealing looks at how to snag media passes ever, and people loved it. If you go to my blog, search for Mike Olivella and you'll find the post, and you'll get more insight by a [long shot] than I can give. 

RM: I’m a big fan of your Photoshop Channels book that I picked up at Dave Cross’ Maximum Photoshop Tour in Seattle last November (great value), but like the recently updated Down & Dirty Tricks it’s in need of an update. I know not much has changed, but it’s still a bit on the stale side. Any plans or thoughts?

SK:

Unfortunately, Adobe hasn't changed Channels one lick, so it's hard to make a push with the publisher to update the book. It still sells amazingly well to this date, because you can do everything in the book in Photoshop CS4. That's how little has changed, so all I would do in an update is use different photos, and update the screen captures, so it's probably not going to happen until at least the next version of Photoshop at the earliest.

Scott Kelby Books I’ve Reviewed on this Blog

I’m a huge fan of Scott Kelby the author and have reviewed more of his books than any other author out there. You can find the following books reviewed on this site:

    1. The Digital Photography Book – Volume 1
    2. The Digital Photography Book - Volume 2
    3. The Digital Photography Book – Volume 3
    4. Scott Kelby's 7 Point System
    5. Lightroom 2 for Digital Photographers
    6. The Adobe Photoshop CS4 Book for Digital Photographers
    7. The Photoshop Channels Book
    8. Photoshop CS4 Down & Dirty Tricks
    9. The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers

I consider 1 – 7 as “must own” books, and 9 is a must own instead of 6 if you haven’t upgraded from CS3 to CS4 yet. My least favorite was Down & Dirty Tricks, but only because it is less oriented towards digital photography. It’s still an okay book, but not a must own like the others.

Scott Kelby the Photographer

Up until recently, I think many people thought of Scott Kelby only as the famous Photoshop or Digital Photography book guy, but he’s more than just a best-selling author – he’s a great photographer. Perhaps it is because he’s so well connected in the industry that he’s had the opportunity to learn from the best, or perhaps it is because his Photoshop skills are so good that he can make his pictures that your or I might toss, look great (as he does in the 7 Point System book). I don’t know, but for whatever the reason I’m starting to see more and more great images coming from Scott that make you realize this guy is just getting started to make a new name for himself as one of the great modern day Photographers. That’s why he’s right along side Joe McNally on my Top Photographers list, not for what he’s done (few could compete with guys like Joe on that) but for where I think he’s going with his work. He mastery of light, reflections, and color represent my ideal of what great imagery is all about.

Take, for example, the image of the motorcycle above and the football player below. The lighting is brilliant and the colors are mesmerizing. This is EXACTLY the type of work I’d love to see myself doing if I had the time (remember, I still have a day job that has nothing to do with Photography). What’s more, is Scott actually goes out of his way to have setups on his blog or in his books that show how he gets these great shots so we can try to learn from this modern day imaging master.

 

The Interview

The first interview I did with Scott Kelby focused on him as the famous Photoshop guru, but this time I had a chance to get him to talk about some of the gear he shoots with to make such cool images.

RM: What gear do you shoot with (or recommend)?

SK:

I shoot a Nikon D3 as my main camera, with a Nikon D5000 as my backup/travel body. My main lenses are the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, a 200mm f/2, the 14-24mm f/2.8, the 24-70mm f/2.8, a 200-400mm f/4, an 18-200mm f/3.5 - f/5.6, a 50mm f/1.4, and a 16-85mm. I have two Nikon SB-900 flashes and three SB-800s. 

RM: What Tripod Legs & Head do you prefer?

SK:

I use Gitzo legs (tripods and monopod) and Really Right Stuff ballheads (a BH-40 and a BH-55).

RM: What do you carry your gear in? (Note to readers – A ThinkTankPhoto special offer is available on the Discount Coupon Code page)

SK:

This past year I've turned into a ThinkTankPhoto freak! I use their Airport Security 2 as my main rolling bag now, and their belt system when I'm shooting sports. Their stuff rocks!

RM: What studio light gear & mods (barn door, ringlight, grid, etc…) do you recommend?

SK:

For strobes I use all Elinchrom gear, including a Ranger, the new Ranger Quadra system, three RX 600 strobes and two BXRI 500s. I have three grids, and about every softbox Elinchrom makes, but my favorites are their 72" Octa, the 53" Midiocta, and their 39" square softbox. I also have two strip banks, and it's all triggered with Skyport triggers.

For continuous light I have three Westcott TD-5 Spiderlites.

RM: What are your favorite Photoshop plug-ins?

SK:

I love Nik's Silver Efex Pro, and Color Efex. I love OnOne's PhotoFrame 4. I also use Topaz Adjust.

RM: Do you use Lightroom? (if not, what is your Digital Asset Management tool?)

SK:

Absolutely----it's changed everything!

RM: What type of computer do you used to edit your photos?

SK:

I use a Mac Pro desktop and a MacBook Pro laptop. 

RM: Do you own a printer (if so, what kind) to print your own photos, or do you use a print service (which one)?

SK:

I use Epson printers---always have. I have a 3800, a 2880, and a 7880. Couldn't live without 'em.

RM: What are your Favorite Online Photography Sites (Websites, Blogs, etc…)?

SK:

Everyday I visit PhotoWalkPro.com, Terry's Tech Blog, Joe McNally's Blog, John Nack on Adobe, 1001 Noisy Cameras, Digital Protalk, and The AppleInsider among others. You can see my full list at http://my.alltop.com/scottkelby.

RM: Any gear, book, etc… recommendations for the gear heads?

SK:

If you shoot outdoors, get a Hoodman Loupe [RM. I agree! Click the link for my review]. Everybody that sees one in person out in the field, buys one.

Scott’s a super busy guy so unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to talk to him over the phone or in person as I have done with other Top Photographers, so there’s not as much here as I would have hoped for this article. However, the good news is that this guy never sleeps and he shares pretty much everything on his blog. If you want to learn more about him, his books or pretty much the industry then read his fantastic (and my favorite) blog.

To see more of Scott’s great images, visit his online portfolio.

A Big Thanks

Thank you Mr. Kelby for sharing a nugget of your precious time with me and my readers! Thank you for all you have done for the industry as well as my Photography education. Keep up the great work and enjoy the successes from it that you so richly deserve! I hope I can continue in your tradition of helping others via this blog as I travel on my voyage to becoming a better Photoshop professional and Photographer.

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Westcott Green Screen Kit

Westcott401

I was talking to a friend today and we was telling me that Westcott offers affordable “educational kits” as part of their Photo Basics collection. Specifically, he was saying that the Photo Basics 401 uLite Digital Lighting Kit which includes the background, lights and more was only $200 bucks!  It’s available on sale at B&H, Adorama, and Amazon. Amazon also has a nice video of this kit. If you want to make masking people in Photoshop easier to use them on different backgrounds , then this is a good cost effective start for the beginner.

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.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

REVIEW: The Digital Photography Book - Volume 3

When you’re hot, you’re hot and right now there’s nobody in the Photography education world hotter than Scott Kelby. He’s releasing books faster than I can read them, but the good news is that they are almost all fantastic books! The best part is that his books will save you a ton of time by “getting to the point” so you aren’t buried in theory or bored by looking at someone’s photo album disguised as a reference book. The latest in his series of successful books is the all new Digital Photography Book – Volume 3, that picks up where Volume 2 left off. In fact, I’d go so far to say that this book rivals the first volume for its importance to the Photography newcomer as it is simply a fantastic (and thankfully short) read!

Background on this series

In case you aren’t familiar with this series (in which case you should pause from reading this and order your copies now), this series contains a TON of information in roughly 225 pages per edition. However, Scott is a master at making the most complex concepts trivial to understand, so each topic is one short page with a nice image and a brief paragraph that just tells it like it is. If you want to know how to do X, he’ll answer it in a paragraph that will work for 90% of the scenarios the average newcomer to intermediate photographer will encounter. As Scott says in Volume 1, “I’ll tell you like I’d tell a friend who was out in the field shooting with me (i.e., set your camera to x and take the picture).” He won’t bore you with theory or background, he’ll just tell you (or show you) how to get killer results. He’ll tell you what tripod to get, what lens you should get for a given scenario (Canon and Nikon), etc… When you buy these books, it’s as if you are buying Scott Kelby as a friend and asking him all every question you can imagine!

I love these books because I’ve seen first hand how much they’ve helped me as well as thousands of my friends, blog readers, etc… improve their photography drastically in a very short period of time! In fact, one of my friends (Rafael Goodman) was with me on a business trip and we started talking about Photography. Upon my recommendation, he ordered some gear (which he bought based on my Which DSLR should I buy? review) and picked up the V1 & V2 books for the flight home from his trip (where he proceeded to read them – twice!!!!). It what couldn’t have been more than a couple weeks, he shows me his first photo from his new DSLR :

WOW! That’s a great shot and killer processing for a guy that had been a point and shoot photographer with no significant photo editing skills just a couple weeks before! When I asked him how he did it – he said “I read Kelby’s books twice and got the camera you recommended, and I just did what Kelby said to do”. Of course, I felt a bit inferior at that point because this guy just blew away most of what I had taken up to that point – in his first shoot! He’s still taking awesome images like these today! Rafael obviously natural talent, but I think anyone can improve their photography drastically by reading these books which is why they are at the top of my list for my recommended books. Volume 3 is phenomenal, so despite your skill level I highly recommend you read it because you are guaranteed to walk away with a ton of useful tips and gadgets you’ll want to buy!

Chapter-by-Chapter Walkthrough

In this section I’ll do a quick review of each chapter to help you understand why I like this book so much. One note is that you’ll notice most chapters end with “Like A Pro”. Don’t confuse this as meaning this book is for pros – it’s not – it’s for beginners, but it just a series of topics that will help elevate the results you can achieve from your own camera.

A Word about the Introductions to each Chapter

If you are new to Scott Kelby books (then you should be reading other books first), you might be surprised at some of his introduction chapters. The important thing to remember here is that they are all intended to be comic relief and it isn’t necessary to read them. I read them because some are quite comical, like Chapter 2’s intro that reads:

Back in Volume 2, I showed you how, using just a simple, thin piece of plastic that fits easily into your wallet, you can complete and fully outfit a one-light-studio from scratch.

For the serious types, that’s a joke and that piece of plastic is your credit card. It’s subtle humor, but many will have you laughing out loud! However, if you’re the type who find that annoying, then I’ll warn you now to just skip the intros and get to the good stuff that happens later in each chapter. The only exception to this rule is at the begining of the book you shouldn’t miss the  “9 Things You’ll Wish You Had Known Before Reading This Book!”. It is like a book orientation and has important info like the book web site and more.

Chapter 1 – Using a Flash Like a Pro, Part 2

While it is kind of odd for a book to start off with a Part 2 chapter, it makes total sense here as this book is really like day 3 of hanging out with Scott and asking him questions. Most of the topics presented here are things you should eventually learn about, but it might have been too much to absorb in Volume 2. These books are great, but they do bombard you with a lot of info so it’s usually a good idea to read and experiment as you complete a chapter.

The cool thing about this chapter is that most of the advice Scott gives here are low cost solutions to help you improve your flash photography (which let’s face it, most of us need as much help as we can get!).

Chapter 2 – Using Your Studio Like a Pro

Okay, so the beginner isn’t going to have a studio and this might not be something you are even interested in. However, take the 10 minutes it takes to read this chapter because there are some concepts (i.e., gray card, flash sync black bar, etc…) that you’ll face even if you never own a studio. If you do have a studio, then there’s some really good stuff in here that you’ll appreciate – especially if you are just getting started (and there’s credit left on your credit card <g>).

Chapter 3 – The Truth About Lenses

This is probably a topic which should have been in Volume 1, because my highly popular Which lens should I buy? article has proven that people are still very confused about lenses. This chapter is way better than my article because it does dive a little into the “why” and “how”, but it also shows pictures and makes recommendations. I’d consider it a good intro for my article and a solid piece of advice for any newcomer (despite “Pro” being in the title").

I was a little disappointed with some of his recommendations in the “Scott’s Gear Finder” sections because sometimes they didn’t make a lot of sense. For example, for the wide angle recommendation, a 24mm prime lens is a fine lens, but users with a cropped sensor aren’t going to get very wide results with that lens. In fact, Scott even alludes to the fact that zooms are better, so why he didn’t recommend them is very odd to me. A Canon shooter with a cropped sensor is going to be much better off with a 10-22mm and a Nikon cropped sensor shooter will want the 12-24mm.

That quibble aside, this is a great chapter with lots of great advice that you shouldn’t miss (and will likely find yourself referencing again in the future).

Chapter 4 – Shooting Products Like a Pro

This chapter is a series of tricks of the trade that you’ll read and say “yeah, that makes total sense”. Of course, you probably weren’t doing it before, so that’s why this chapter is so useful. Now you may say that “product” photography isn’t important to you, but you’ll inevitably find this chapter useful when you are taking picture of the Thanksgiving table or your kids first trophy. Add these concepts to your mental rolodex because you’ll find yourself using them one day!

Chapter 5 – Shooting Outdoors Like a Pro

This chapter could also be named “How to Shoot Travel Pictures That Don’t Suck”, because the tips in here are rock solid to help you accomplish just that. Seriously, how many times have you seen your pictures after a great vacation to a Photographers paradise (Hawaii, Dublin, Paris, etc…) where you thought the shots didn’t look as good as it did in real life. The tips here will help you help you to get results that make your images look BETTER than it did in real life, so study this chapter carefully!

Chapter 6 – Shooting People Like a Pro

This is all basic advice which is useful, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’ll be posting some reviews that go in depth on this subject which might be more useful, and Bryan Peterson’s Beyond Portraiture is always a good place to start. Consider this chapter a basic essentials to go with the great advice in the previous two books on a subject for which millions of trees have died as Photographers try to explain their tricks of the trade.

Chapter 7 – Shooting Sports Like a Pro

While most of us will never get a chance to shoot beyond the stands for pro sports, most parents will find themselves at the sidelines of their kids soccer, football, basketball, etc… game where the tips here will come in useful. In addition, when you do get to go to those cool sports events, its nice to get great images to add to your sports photo collection. There’s sound advice in this chapter that is like chapter 6 where it just touches the tip of the iceberg. However, it can be exciting to capture the energy of a sport shoot so that when you go through those 500 shots you took during little Johnny’s soccer championship game, there’s something worth framing on the wall.

Chapter 8 – Pro Tips or Getting Better Photos

I’d call these basic tips for scenarios where you’ve probably tried and failed to get a good shot (i.e., concerts, nightscapes, home interiors, etc…). There’s lots of good stuff here both for your photography as well as your post processing. The most important tip is on page 188 though, as most beginners are very hard on themselves. The reality is that all pros (who aren’t lying to you) shoot a lot of shots during a shoot, but may only come away with a handful of keepers. You (the public) don’t see those shots with his camera strap in the frame, or the wrong exposure – instead, you just see the masterpiece shot and think – why don’t my shots look like that. The reality is that nobodies perfect, so it takes a ton of practice to get great shots. Since conditions always change, lessons learned on Shoot A may not apply to Shoot B, so it’s good to see Scott put in writing what everyone knows – 10 keepers out of 240 isn’t a bad day!

Chapter 9 – Avoiding Problems Like a Pro

This chapter is choc full of VERY good advice – especially on page 204 where he mentions “Don’t let the Small Screen Fool You!” as I’ve noticed this has become a bigger problem with today’s higher megapixel cameras and their super high-res displays. With so many pixels packed into such a small space, every shot looks good – but when you get it home on your huge display you see that it was super blurry! Don’t forget to zoom in and check your images before walking away from memorable locations (i.e., The Eiffel Tower, Graduation, Baptism etc…) to make sure that your intended subject isn’t super blurry!

For every book, I like to point out the one chapter that is the must read if you do nothing else (or for you cheapos – the chapter to read when you are in Barnes and Noble), and this is definitely that chapter for this book. There’s tons of great info throughout this book, but this is the one that you’ll thank yourself for reading at some point.

Chapter 10 – Yet Even More Photo Recipes to Help You Get “The Shot”

Each of the Digital Photography Book’s contains a chapter like this at the end, but this book has probably the most depth and volume of information of any of the 3 books. Even still, I find myself frustrated wanting to know more, and thankfully in this book Scott had the foresight to think of that by offering additional images and setup information elsewhere in the book or on the web for the shots presented in this chapter. In fact, I like this chapter so much I’d love to see Scott and Peachtree Press take on the challenge of doing an entire book like this where shots are given a chapter instead of a page and they are covered from pre-capture through post processing (think 7-Point-System style). I think it would be a great hit and a great addition to the Kelby book franchise!

Gear Summary

Scott mentions a lot of gear in this book and I can’t say there’s anything he mentions that I’d disagree with. In fact, I already have the Bogen/Manfrotto Justin Spring Clamp with Flash Shoe and two Canon 580EX II flashes (or Nikon Speedlight SB-900 for Nikon shooters) which have served me well.

Here’s a quick list of some of my favorite gadgets mentioned in the book that immediately went on my wish list:

Canon Compact Battery Pack CP-E4 (or Nikon SD-9 Battery Pack for the SB-900 Speedlight for Nikon Shooters)

Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens (or Nikkor AF 10.5mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens for Nikon Shooters)

Elinchrom BXRi 500/500 To-Go 2 Monolight Kit with 17" Elinchrom beauty dish

Epson P-7000 Multimedia Photo Viewer

ExpoImaging ExpoDisc

Gitzo G-065 monitor platform

Kata KT E-702 Elements Cover

Lastolite 24x24 inch Ezybox

Lastolite HiLite Illuminated Background

Lastolite Studio Cubelite (product shooting tent)

Lastolite Trilite triflector

Lensbaby Composer

Manfrotto by Bogen Imaging 131DD Tripod Accessory Arm for Four Heads

Manfrotto Lightweight 6'2" Nano stand

PocketWizard MiniTT1 Radio Slave Transmitter

Ray Flash

Westcott TD5 Spiderlite kit

I won’t be running out and grabbing these right away, but I definitely hope to get a few here and there as my finances (and wife <g>) will allow.

Get All Three Digital Photography Books

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

Conclusion

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I love this book just as much as the first two editions. It is a short and simple read, but with lots of great recommendations that will make an immediate impact on your photography if you follow the easy to understand advice.

Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Value: Excellent (worth 10 times as much for what you learn)
Recommendation: After you read Volumes 1 & 2, you should read this book. Read the others first though.

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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