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Digital Workflow – The Options

I've rarely been in a professional studio that didn't have a copy of Lightroom on hand

Much of your digital workflow is going to be dictated by the software tools you select to do your basic image manipulation and organizing. The tools you select will in part be determined by the type of computer you have and your budget.

Your digital workflow is really composed of two elements: Image organization and image manipulation.

Image Manipulation

Adobe Creative Suite

The gold standard for most commercial photographers is still Adobe Creative Suite, now at version 5.5 with 6 expected soon. The advantage to Adobe products is the fit, finish and integrated workflow. The downside is the price tag. The full version of Design Premium is just short of $2,000, more than many of you paid for your camera! Design Standard is still over $1,200. Recently, Adobe has started sticking it to their user base on upgrade pricing as well and limiting the older versions that qualify for upgrade pricing.

It’s my opinion that Adobe products are over-priced for what you get, but there are certainly compelling arguments to the contrary.

GIMP

Gimp for Windows

GIMP has been around forever but lacks the sophistication and polish of Photoshop. The advantages of GIMP are the price tag and huge user base of support.

GIMP keeps getting better every year, so do check in it from time to time. You might be surprised.

Image Organization

Adobe Lightroom

Lightroom is the application you’ll find in most professional studios using Windows. You’ll find it in some Mac shops as well, but more Mac users are using Aperture.

Digikam

Digikam

Known to users of Linux for a long time, Digikam was recently packaged for Windows users as well. I use Digikam because it runs on both my Linux and Windows boxes and I like it.

Digikam puts professional level image organization and basic corrections in your hands for free. What I can’t live without in Digikam is the automated batch processing.

Hasselblad Phocus

I don’t like Phocus as well as Lightroom or Digikam but I want to give Hasselblad credit for coming up with a very polished application that’s available for the trouble of a free registration. Originally developed to work only with Hasselblad raw images, they have opened it up to other users and image formats.

After some initial issues with DirectX, I found Phocus to be a very nice application for cropping, straightening and color corrections. I’d highly recommend giving it a try.

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The $8.99 Flash Snoot, Lunch Included

One of my friends at Pixel-Mesh took a few household tools and the leftover pizza box from his lunch and fashioned it into a homemade flash snoot that yielded surprisingly good results.  A snoot restricts the light and allows you to direct it at a specific location, helping you to eliminate “light spill”

The Tools

Razor knife, builders square, and dark duct tape (it's not a hack without duct tape)

A razor knife, builders square and a roll of dark colored duct tape (you knew duct tape was going to make an appearance somewhere).

 

 

 

 

 

Using The Top of The Box

Any flat piece of cardboard will do, but will they also be a pizza scented air freshener?

Cut the outline of the snoot shape and cover the cardboard with a layer of duct tape.
 

 

 

 

 

Fold Into the Proper Shape

Tape flat first

Fold into the proper shape and tape it into position.
 

 

 

 

 

Then tape into shape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attach to The Flash

The homemade snoot attached to the flash

If you sized it right it will fit on the flash without taping it.
 

 

 

 

 

The Results

With the flash attached to a Canon 5D MKII the results are not bad, not bad at all.

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Lighting Portraits With Candlelight

lighting by candlelight

Valentine's Day is a good opportunity to experiment with lighting by candlelight - by Chantel Beam Photography via Flickr

Valentine’s Day presents an opportunity to experiment with a really old-fashioned light source; it’s one of those days a lot of people choose candlelight.

There’s something visceral about fire in the human psyche and candles provide a single, pure pinpoint of fire that is both warm and intimate at the same time. You know you’re a real photo geek when a romantic candlelight dinner inspires you to break out the camera and tripod!

One of the really amazing things about new digital DSLRs is their low light performance. Just a few years ago trying to light exclusively by candlelight meant risking a house fire. Today even APS-C sensors like the Nikon D7000 or Canon 7D (compare) can yield decent results in low light and full frame cameras like the Canon 5D MK II and Nikon D700 (compare) can shoot in extremely low light.

Don’t Worry About Noise

This is one time you can forget about the ISO. Most digital cameras start showing low light artifacts anywhere over ISO 800. But candlelight portraits are one instance when the noise can actually add to a photo, so don’t be afraid to experiment with higher ISOs. If the pictures are too noisy you can always add more candles.

candlelight 4

Low light noise can actually add to a candlelight photo - by Miss Baker

Use a Tripod

Trotting out a tripod for some candid shots may not be the most romantic gesture, but it’s still better than hand-holding at slow shutter speeds. Even a gelled fill flash will spoil the effect, so there’s no real option here.

I wouldn’t go any lower than 1/15 of a second with a human subject as it’s hard for anyone to hold that still.

Use Reflectors

A white tablecloth actually works quite well as a natural reflector. A mirror will give you sharper shadows and strong directional lighting. Your standard photographic reflector clamped to a light stand will also come in handy to fill in the deeper shadows.

You can use aluminum foil over a piece of cardboard if you want a more irregular effect. If there’s a whiff of breeze, a flickering candle with an aluminum foil reflector can look like a campfire.

candle 3

Candles can function equally well as foreground or background lighting - by Walt Stoneburner via Flickr

Experiment

There are two ways you can go with candlelight photos: You can expose for the subject and overexpose the candle flame or you can expose for the candle flames and deliberately under-light the subject.

Try it both ways and try different combinations. You can sometimes use LED or incandescent bulbs as background light if you need more depth.

Do remember that a couple pictures of a special occasion is one thing, but a good photographer also knows when it’s time to hang up the camera and enjoy the moment.

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Take Better Travel Photos Today

Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster in London, Photo by Brenden Sherratt

One of the biggest mistakes most people make in the pursuit of travel and holiday pictures is overlooking the fabulous in a quest for the trite and cliche. Every photographer in the business has made that mistake at one point in their career, so make a pledge that the pictures you take on holiday this year will be different.

Everyone knows what the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument look like. Any photos you could take will probably look just like hundreds of others of the same exact thing. Yes, take one or two, just for the scrapbook value, but don’t stop there. Find a unique angle, a different way of looking at something familiar.

Reflection of the Washington Monument in an eye. Photo by Jennuine Captures

When I used to work on a military base the building we were in had a peculiar paint job around the front door. Otherwise, it was just another nondescript government building designed and built by the low bidder. But the front door was distinct. So when I took a picture to remember my time there, I took a picture of the door handle. The handle that I reached for every morning for years and years and eventually came to dread touching. So many emotions all tied to an object that I looked at every day and almost failed to notice.

When you’re on vacation, get a shot of the touristy things, then try to find little details that define your experience. Maybe it’s a unique cab driver, or a street vendor, or some other details that normally get lost in the background clutter.

Faces in Temple Bar, Dublin, Photo by Brenden Sherratt

I have a friend with a large family who recently was able to get four generations of daughters together for a photo. He took the predictable group photo, then took one of everyone putting just their hands in a circle over a black background. Guess which picture was the most popular?

It’s the details that seem inconsequential today that spark the most vivid memories tomorrow. There was a stand of trees where we used to live, nothing particularly special about them, just trees. One day I fired off a shot just to check exposure levels of that stand of trees and forgot to delete it. It got mixed in with the assignment that day and I ran across it days later processing the pictures for the customer.

tree photo

A photo of a stand of trees that I almost deleted ended up meaning more to me than I would have thought at the time

To this day that’s one of my favorite shots. Just some trees, but I saw them every time I went outside and, even today, that shot can bring memories of that place flooding back.

So this year, don’t just take the obvious shots. Take pictures of hands, feet, dog toys, crumpled wrapping paper, and the millions of other little details you see but don’t always notice. Instead of just looking at the tourist attraction, look to the left and right, look behind it. Find a unique angle and tell a different story the next time you are on a trip.

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The Charles W Cushman Collection

Collecting salvage on the Lower East Side, October 4, 1941

Charles Weever Cushman was an amateur photographer who took the time to document the U.S. and other countries through photographs spanning over three decades from 1938 to 1969.

A portable soft drink stand at Bowling Green on October 1, 1942

Mr. Cushman took pictures of everything and I mean, literally, everything that was around him. People, places, animals, buildings and fields, nothing escaped his attention. Everywhere he traveled he shot roll after roll of Kodachrome color slides and kept good records about the location of each picture. Not just taking pictures, but documenting the world around him.

He bequeathed approximately 14,500 Kodachrome slides to the University of Indiana, which then made them available as a web archive.

Warning: If you like looking at old photos, don’t follow this link until you have a lot of time on your hands!

miami 1939

Miami Beach in 1939 echoed shades of old Havana - courtesy Indiana University

The Cushman Collection makes a point that all photographers should emulate: Take pictures of everything around you. Not just “artistic” photographs, everything. The trees out in front of your house, the street you live on, your city, the people in your life beyond your family. The local store owner, the pizza delivery guy, friends with new cars, as many experiences as you can capture. And keep notes about times, dates and places. Take a cue from this guy about adding metadata to photos for future reference.

I’m sure a few people found Charles Cushman’s photos interesting while he was alive, but nothing like today. Today they’re a rich glimpse into life as it was for three decades, how the world looked and worked.

street corner in Chicago

A Chicago street corner circa 1944 is one of thousands of such photos - via Indiana University

Today the world is flooded in digital images of everything imaginable and yet there are relatively few people actually documenting the world around them for future generations.

Charles Cushman dragged his camera gear around with him for 32 years and left behind a legacy of history that is, in many ways, priceless.

Corner of Pearl Street, October 7, 1942

Three homeless people from South Ferry doss houses are in Battery Park on June 6, 1941

Some photos via DialyMail

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