Garden of the Gods

It has recently snowed and was overcast so I was not sure how the conditions would be for taking photos, but sometimes poor weather is the best.  The sun was just peaking through the clouds.   Although I only had captured a single image, I used Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro to enhance the image.

I wanted to see what the image would look like in black and white and used Nik Silver Efex Pro to produce this image.

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Original Photo Details
Location
Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO
Camera
Nikon D800
Lens
Nikon 24-70 f/2.8
Image
RAW
Focal Length
24 mm
Exposure
1/250 sec at f 11
Post Processing
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, Silver Efex Pro 2

I returned two days later when the sun was shining and captured this image.

FJK201401-0005-Edit-Edit

Photo Details
Location
Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO
Camera
Nikon D800
Lens
Nikon 24-70 f/2.8
Image
RAW
Focal Length
24 mm
Exposure
1/500 sec at f/ 11
Post Processing
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

2014 Family Calendar

I enjoying making a new family calendar each year and this time I actually got it finished in time so it will be printed before Christmas. Sometimes I don’t have enough photos, especially of Jeff and his kids, so I have to wait until we get together a couple of weeks before Christmas. But with the family reunion last summer I have plenty to work with. John and Sara also send me photos and Sara, being a fantastic photographer, always gives me left with not enough room to include all the photos.

For the cover I used the above photo I took of the flowers at Thanksgiving point.

There are two months where no one in the family has a birthday. For May, instead of using the typical photos about Mother’s Day I included the family group photo we had taken in August. For December I like to include something Christmas related. This year I came up with an idea of doing a collage of some of the Christmas related photos over the past 40 plus years. I found a Photoshop Action at PanosFX.com that did the trick for me.

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GoPro Hero WiFi Back and Remote Combo Pack

I purchase the GoPro Hero 2 camera over a year agot.  Although I used it a lot initially, putting it on my helmet to take photos and video while riding,  both when using my road bike and mountain bike, I found it difficult to use because I had no way to know if it was pointed in the right direction and I had to reach up to the camera to press the shutter or turn the camera on and off.  I was never quite sure if the shutter press or power button worked because I had to rely on a series of beeps and I can’t always hear those if there is a lot of background noise.  When I made the purchase, GoPro was promising a WiFi back and a remote, with the ability to use an iPhone to control the camera and preview what it was taking a photo or view of.

It seemed like a good way to go but it took a long time for GoPro to fulfill their promised device.  About the time they did, they released a new model, Hero 3, with WiFi built in.  I didn’t want to buy a new camera.  I was reading some mixed reviews of the WiFi back on the GoPro Hero 2 so I waited awhile, figuring they would work out the bugs.  I finally bought the WiFi Back and Remote combo pack and was able to get it for $100 at a local bike shop, which I thought was a good deal since it was priced higher on Amazon.com.

GoProComboPack

I opened up the box and in the usual GoPro fashion they make it hard to get to the contents and seem to put more thought into making it look fancy on the shelf.  They should take a lesson from how Apple packages things, but they probably think they have done that, but they have not.  Inside are all the things you need.  Besides the WiFi back and the remote, you get two new backs for the case, one water proof, since the current back would not fit with the WiFi back being thicker.  You also get a standard USB cable plus a special one for charging the remote.

ComboKitContents

Both the WiFi back and the remote needed to be charged first.  Both charge from a USB port, but as mentioned, the remote has a special USB cable that you don’t want to lose.  Once charged, I then downloaded the CineForm software from GoPro and updated the Hero 2 camera, WiFi Back and Remote with the latest firmware.  Initially I had a problem for CineForm to see the Hero 2 camera, but when I swapped out the 64 Gb SD card for another card, then it worked fine.  Part of the update process includes the need to register the WiFi Back and selected a password that will be used later for the WiFi conection.  That was a good thing because you would not want some stranger using their smart phone with your camera.

When you buy the combo pack the WiFi Back and  the remote are already paired on the WiFi.  For the iPhone I downloaded the GoPro app and then in settings I found the Go Pro camera, selected that, and entered the password I had created early.  I have read numerous reports in the web of people having a hard time to get the devices to pair, but I had no issue at all.

Some items to note before you go this route:

  • The remote is a handy device with a small LCD screen that essentially shows what mode the Hero 2 is in by having the screen be a duplicate of what you would see in the Hero 2.  That means you have the same lame menu system that the Hero 2 uses so you have to go through all the button presses to change things, but at least if they camera is mounted on your helmet you can do that with the remote.  It does larger buttons that are much easier to press than those on the camera itself.
  • The iPhone app allows easier controls than the remote plus a live preview so you can see what the camera is pointed at and recording.  Note that there is a 5 second delay in the live preview but that is much better than shooting blind and not knowing what you get until you download to a computer.
  • The biggest issue I have is that you can only connect the WiFi back to either the remote or the iPhone, not both of them at the same time.  I would like it if I could use the iPhone for preview and still use the remote as a shutter release, but that is not supported.  I am not sure if that is a limitation of the iPhone or GoPro’s issue, but to switch between the two you have to access the camera itself, not a great design feature for a camera that might be on your helmet.  You can use the iPhone to make the switch to the remote so if you want to use the iPhone to get things positioned and select the right options on the camera itself, you can then use the iPhone to switch to the remote, but to switch back to the iPhone you would need to do that on the camera itself (or using the remote to wade through the menu system).
  • The WiFi back has it’s own battery, otherwise you camera battery would drain too quickly.  If the WiFi Back battery get’s low, it will draw power from the camera.
  • There is a distance limit to use the remote or the iPhone and they are not the same.  I have no issue when either are within a few feet of the Hero 2, but for really remote applications, check it out before you go this route.
  • You can use the iPhone to turn the camera off and on, but the WiFi back stays on so make sure you turn it off when you are finished.

I guess I would give GoPro only a C grade on this.  First they took a long time to release a product that they promised upon which many people bought the Hero 2 expecting this ability.  It would be nice to have a Hero 3 with WiFi built in, but they they charge you $79 just for the remote, so the combo pack and a Hero 2 is an okay deal.  If I could use both the remote and the iPhone at the same time, I would raise my score to a B.  Although I think the Hero 2 is a great camera, the form factor and the lame menu system bothers me, but right now GoPro has the video and image quality and all the accessories one could ever want.

 

Continue reading GoPro Hero WiFi Back and Remote Combo Pack

HDR with a Single Image

The concept behind creating a HDR (high dynamic range) photo is to take several photos of the same image using varying exposures.  Then the images are used together with the right software to create a photo that captures more of the dynamic range that you would be able to do with a single photo.  This is best done with a tripod and a still image so the multiple photos are all the same.

Many times this is not possible.  We were driving along a Florida highway when the sun was setting.  There was no time to setup to take a photo and I was in the back seat anyway.  I captured a single image shooting through the windshield.  The picture looked nice, but as most sunset photos, the foreground was almost totally black.

After using Photoshop to remove some of the objects, using the content aware fill feature, I exported the image to Nik Software’s plug in HDR Efects Pro 2, selecting Tone Mapping (single image).  Selecting one of the presets this plug in offers, gave me a photo that was closer to what I recall see.  The effect may be a bit to much and it would be useful to reduce the amount of post processing, but I leave it as is to so you what is possible.

P1000515-Edit-2

The Computer is the Darkroom and Sometimes the Camera

When I was much younger I built a full dark room in the basement of our first home.  I fondly remember buying a Besler enlarger that would work with 33 mm and 120 film.  I would develop my own black and white film.  Although I would do mostly black and white prints where you could magically watch the print develop in the tray of developer chemical, I also would make some color prints using a drum where you poured the chemicals into the end while it rotated.  Any post processing I did was with a filter on the enlarger or using dogging and burning in while making the print.

How things have changed and the darkroom just doesn’t exist anymore for most all people.  Instead the computer is the darkroom and the tools we have are vastly superior what we could do with film.  It has gone to the extent that using CGI, many product “photos” are not really photos at all since no camera was used.  Instead the image was entirely created using only a computer.  Look at the following image of a Nikon DSLR.  Can you tell that this was created only with a computer?

keyshot1

This image was created using a program called called KeyShot by Luxion.  For more information visitthe KeyShot website gallery that currently has 13 pages full of these renders.  This brings me to my view of photography and the different aspects.  Many aspiring photographers spend most of their attention on the far right of the graphic below and talk mostly about the equipment.

what-make-for-great-photo

Needless to say, the highest quality camera and lens will not, by itself, create a great photograph.  Yes, the photo may be sharp, and well exposed, but could be rather uninteresting.  Needless to say, those who spend their energy talking only about their equipment don’t post may of their photos for the world to see.  They often spend more energy and time arguing why their brand or type of camera is better than they do with actually taking and post processing photos.

At the other end is the artistic aspect where those with the right skills know how to capture a great photograph or video by using the right techniques.  They understand the principles of depth of field and lighting.  The may go out in the early morning or late evening to get the right shot.

Where these two extremes can come together, the meeting of the technical and artistic, is in the area of post processing.  Today that means a good computer and the right software, along with some computer skills and some artistic abilities.

Post Processing Software

In this middle ground, this is what works best for me.

  • Lightroom (Adobe).  This one of the best programs of it’s kind.  It not only handles all the organizing of your photos but now includes many tools for post processing.  I find that 90% of the time, this is all I need from moving the image from the camera, to post processing, to generated an image for the end use.  Although version 4 has improved it’s handling of video images, it still lacks significantly in that area, but when it comes to handle JPEG or RAW images, it excels.
  • Photoshop (Adobe).  Still the kind of image editors.  For those times when I need to go beyond the abilities of Lightroom, from within Lightroom I will choose to edit in Photoshop.  That will create a virtual copy and you still will have the original and the edited version showing in Lightroom.
  • Nik Software (Google).  Google bought this company and recently reduced it’s prices.  It has several modules that provide some fantastic post processing abilities with less effort that would be required using only Photoshop.
  • Final Cut Pro (Apple).  For video editing I find this the best software for myself.  There are both simpler and more sophisticated approaches, but for me this is the program to use.

For some this might be overkill while for others it might not be enough, but for me, this is all I use or feel I need.

 

 

Nik Software Now Affordable

I have long been intrigued by the suite of software that Nik Software offered. They had modules from everything like HDR to stunning Black and White. The problem was that their software was just too pricey for me, with each of there modules costing $100 or more, plus if you wanted the versions that worked with Photoshop rather than Lightroom that cost extra.

The good news is that Google has purchased Nik Software and has dramatically lowered the price. Rather than selling each of the six modules separately, it is all one suite together for $149. And there is one installer so it works with all the supported applications that you own, in my case both Lightroom and Photoshop.  I found a discount code “WBEEM” that saved me an additional $22, although I don’t know how long that code will be valid.  With only a short time experimenting with this software, I have included some examples below.

Sydney Harbor

I took this photo with a Nikon D300.   I really liked the photo but in this area you don’t usually get the breathtaking skies that I might find in some other areas of the world.  These examples show what I was able to do with Nik software.

Nik offers effects that range from very subtle to obviously over done and unrealistic.  I tried to to pick some examples somewhat in the middle.  For each effect you can make adjustments.

 Original

FJK201201-1010153

HDR Efex Pro 2 (using single image)

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Color Efex Pro 4

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Silver Efex Pro 2

FJK201201-1010153-Edit-4

New Zealand Sounds

As we cruised through the Sounds of New Zealand the view was magical.  As is too often the case, when you capture the image with a camera, it doesn’t look quite like what you remember.  This photo was taken with a Nikon D300 and using Nik Software, I was able to get an image with only a few clicks that better represented what I thought I was viewing.

Original

FJK201202-6115

HDR Efex Pro 2 (using single image)

FJK201202-6115-Edit

For a extensive introduction to all the modules in the Nik software collection and and an overview of how to use them, here is a 60 minute YouTube video.

2013 Family Calendar

It has become a tradition for me to create a family calendar each year, using some of the photos provide by my children of them and the grandkids, along with the photos I have taken.  I am not a user of iPhoto, except for this annual production.  I first collected all the photos using Dropbox and then brought them into iPhoto, where I use their calendar project to create the calendar.  I usually use one of Sara’s photos for the cover.

2013 Calendar_Page_01

For each month I use photos of the family members whose birthday is on that month.  For March, that means only myself.

2013 Calendar_Page_06

For the calendar it is just a matter of including the US holidays and the birthday for each family member.  I like to use iPhoto because I can then have Apple print the calendar.  It makes thew whole process very easy.  I have used other services in the past, but that means using a web interfacet to create the calendar and I find iPhoto much easier and I like the quality and size of the Apple Calendar.

 

Handmade Christmas Cards

For the past few years I have used Shutterfly to make our Christmas cards. It is rather easy, just upload some photos, decide on a layout and drag the photos there, click the buy button and spend a bunch of money. Being a bit late and not sure we would get them before we left for Utah, I decided to go back to my old method and hand design and print our cards. I used Adobe InDesign Software to do the layout. I found these large blank cards, essentially a 8.5×11 inch sheet of cardstock, that folds over, along with the envelopes. Makes kind of a large greeting card. I used these and printed on both sides.

For the front I used four photos, each done in Photoshop with an action to make them look like the edges are lifting off paper. One photo of us and the others of the grandkids. The Front looks like this, with the design grid lines showing in this screen shot.

When you open the card it shows a photo of us biking at the top of Mt. Tam, on the top. On the bottom I put a short update where everyone is now days. I finally have finished printed about 60 of the cards. It took some time, needing to print on both sides. Cost was not much cheaper than using Shutterfly and took a lot more time, but everyone is using a place like Shutterfly now so maybe this is a bit different.

Photo File Naming Convention

We were visiting our son recently for our grandson Logan’s birthday.  Our son was showing us his Sony Playstation 3 where he had inserted a jump drive with his own childhood photos on it.  Years ago I had digitized many of my slide images and had come up with a file naming structure then.  The above image came up on the screen and the viewer showed the file name “1975A025S John, Jeff at Redfish Lake.jpg”.  At that instance I realized how important it was that I had used some type of good file naming structure back then because I would have never remembered when the photo was taken, that it was taken at Red Fish Lake and I might not even have been able to identify which child was in the picture.

In The Days of Film

Years ago it was relatively easy to manage the images I took. I usually would take 35 mm slides in those days and would just buy those bulk trays to store them sequentially. When I got them back from being developed, I would write on the slide cardboard holder the names of the people in the picture.  I created little dividers in my bulk trays to separate the slides by year.   When I used negative film, I would put the negatives in plastic sleeves and then include those in a binder.

Digitizing Film Images

Once I start to digitize some of these slides and negatives, I needed to come up with a naming convention for the file on the computer.  I decided to tie the digital image back to the original, which meant I needed to do some type of naming on the original slide or negative sleeve.  I started out by using two digits for the year, a letter from A to Z for which role it was and two digits of which frame, and a N or S if it was a slide or Negative. So if my image was 96A03N, to find the original I looked for the 3rd frame on the negative sleeve of the first role taken in 1996. It all worked okay back then but the images started to come more from digital cameras and less digitizing film. Still I stuck with this concept. I had to expand the year out to four digits and the sequence out to 3 digits, but I would name a file something like 2002A003D, which was a digital only image taken in 2002. The A was the first group and I would just add a sequence until I decided to go to another letter.

Following that I would add in text that contained who was in the photo and where it was taken.  So I would end up with something like “1995B009N Sara at Tokyo.jpg”.  When I first wanted to give the kids a CD with images they were in, I would search for all the images with their name in it because I had taken the time to insert the names right into the file name.

Computer Folder Structure

On my computer I would put 10 years of photos in one folder, with a separate sub folder for each year. So I had a folder 1990-99 with a sub folder 1999. That 1999 folder has only 185 images. I took a lot more pictures but have only digitized 185 of them.

Anyone who has a digital camera knows that the number of images taken is orders of magnitude more than with film. Last year I  took about 2,000 images. So I gave up grouping the years in 10 year increments and just have a folder for the year. Inside that I have a folder for each day that I have images. I have Adobe Lightroom setup to import images from my digital cameras and create those sub folders, based on the EXIF information in the file.  After import, inside Lightroom I rename the folder to include some descriptive name.

Others who use this approach name those sub folders with something descriptive such as “Visit to Beach”. But then that folder, might be towards the bottom while “Christmas” would be toward the top. I guess I am too structured for that so I use the month-day for the folder name and then add on that type of description, such as “06-23 Visit to the Beach”. Initially I also included the year in the folder name but thought that was redundant since that folder is inside a folder with the year on it.    Since you can always get the date from the files EXIF, I am not too worried about not putting the year for the folder name, as long as the parent folder has the year in it.

Individual File Naming

That brings me down to the individual file names.   When I was digitizing film, each file was a stand alone.  I could later change the name if I wanted and it would not matter.  Since I am now using Adobe Lightroom, which keeps a database of all the photos, any renaming I do must be done from within Lightoom or it will not know where the photo is located and I will have to manually match up each individual photo file or lose any edits I have done.

Initially I was just using the camera generated name. It seems like a lot of effort to rename every single image.  My thought was that on my computer I have the folder structure that tells me the date and subject, and using Ligthroom, I have entered keywords to identify all family members.  But then I thought about the recent experience with my son viewing his childhood photos on his TV.

In the digital world information about the photo can be located in one of three places:

  • The File Name – that is carried with the photo no matter where it goes and is readable by any device that can view images
  • The EXIF – embeded in each JPEG and RAW image is lots of information about which camera was used, shutter speed, etc.
  • External – Any sidecar file or database such as Adobe Lightroom that can contain such things as keywords

The further you move down the above chain the more likely you are not  able to retain that information many years later.  Obviously putting all you want into the file name is the safest, but that takes a lot of work, maybe too much considering how many digital images we shoot. That was understandable when people would search for a file by something in a file name as I did in the 1990s. But today we search visually, using some time of photo management software.  Using Lightroom, I can select the folder 2008 and see all the photos taken in this year.  Or I can select the folder “07-10 Crater Lake” and see the images taken on our visit to Crater Lake.  I don’t need to change all the file names. Instead, inside Lightroom I will use tags to find the images.

Placing the files for each day into a separate folder gathers together the folders that are usually associated with an event. Inside Adobe Lightroom, I can just click that folder in the navigation and see all the images.  This is a bit like the Events in iPhoto, but not quite as powerful since some events span multiple days and some days have multiple events.

Concerns About This Approach

The more we depend on software library programs such as iPhoto, Lightroom, or Adobe Photoshop Elements, the less likely we are to put into the folder structure and file name any useful information.  I was currently  using the camera generated name but that has very little information.  It only tells me which camera I used and the sequence of the image.  What happens if I want to change what program I use to manage my images.  Will all those tags I carefully entered, which are in the software database, be converted over. Information inside the EXIF should always be there since this is a standard.  Adobe does offer the option in Lightroom to create a side card file, so when you open it in another Adobe program, such as Photoshop, it can read that information.  But that means a bunch of additional files that only Adobe programs can read.

So I am changing my approach.  I will continue to use the same folder naming convention I have in the past, but I will use Adobe Lightroom to rename all my  images with a bit more information, but will retain the sequence number that was created by the camera.  This is important since I have uploaded many photos to an online service and I need to be able to find the original in the future.

After importing the recent photos, using Lightroom I selected all the photos in the “FJK 01-07 Logan Birthday Folder” and then issued this renaming command.

This renames each file with my initials (so I know who took the photo), the year/month, a bit of information about the subject and where taken, and the original sequence number.  With this small amount of effort, I ended up with the files named like this.

Yes, it is a longer file name than “_DSC2427.NEF” that was imported originally, but it contains a lot more information.  It seems a good compromise since it takes very little time.  The reason why I want to include the original file name sequence is because I have often uploaded the photos to some photo sharing site before I went back and renamed them.  This allows me to connect what is in the website and the original image.

Conclusion

Currently I am happy with the folder structure I am using.  I can easily find a group of photos as shown in this example that is from one year ago, at Logan’s first birthday.

This seems to be the simplest approach right now, but I have changed before and might well change again.  I am still considering if I am doing enough in terms or renaming individual files but doing more would require renaming individual files.  I believe I should go back and enter at least the names of the people in the file name, but that is a lot of work.  It is just that I have some prints of my ancestors and I don’t know who they are because no one wrote the names on the back of the print.  But for now, I would rather spend the time taking pictures so this subject is not yet closed.

Family Calendar – A Family Affair

I have been creating a family calendar for several years now, giving it to each of our kids at Christmas. Each year I pick some pictures from the past year and include them. I started out with a do it yourself approach where I would have actually printed the pages on my home printer, then take them down to the office supply store to have their wire bound.

Although I am a big user of Adobe Lightroom, and rarely use the iPhoto program that comes with the Mac, I gave it a shot last year in producing the family calendar. That turned out to be a great process and much easier than some of the online services I had tried. Right from within iPhoto, I am not only able to create the calendar but click a button to have it printed and mailed to me. In past years the calendar was only 8.5 x 11 in sheets, but this new one is much larger format and the quality is very professional.

I didn’t have to give it an second thought to use iPhoto once again to create the calendar but since two of my kids have digital SLR cameras and my daughter takes far more and much better photos of her family than I ever was able to do, I added a new approach. I created a photo gallery on Mobile Me for staging of all the photos. I had a title slide for each month, not to be included in the final product, but to help me sort the photos so I would have several candidates for each month. With our children living all around the country, I needed a method for them to easily give me their photos.

Calendar-MobileMe

Then any in the family could use this gallery to upload their photos directly. Then using iPhoto 09, it was easy to drag the photos around inside the web gallery to get them sorted by month.

Calendar-iPhotoSort

Between Anne and I, our four kids and our eight grand kids, we have birthdays on most all of the months of the year. I grouped the images so those who had a birthday in a particular month could see the pictures of themselves on that month.

Next step was to use iPhoto to create the calendar. I just selected the Mobile Me gallery and clicked the create calendar button. I did not even have to download the photos to my local hard drive. I selected the Picture Calendar format to use, which has a photo page on the top sheet and a calendar on the bottom. ON screen I could work which each month and all the images from the Mobile Me Gallery on the left side. I started out with the cover page and picked an image to include and changed the title.

Calendar-Create

Then for each month, I would first enter any birthdays on the calendar portion (I had it insert the US holidays when I first started). Then for the top picture portion, I would first select a layout, from 1 to 7 images. Then it was a simple matter of dragging the photo from the left bar into one of the image placeholders. If I wanted to try some other photo, I just dragged it over and it replaced my first attempt. Once inside the placeholder you can zoom and pan the image if you wish.

Calendar-March

When Anne and I were happy with the final results, I clicked the Buy Calendar button at the bottom. The cost was about $20 per calendar, plus shipping. I will get them in time to hand out to the kids at Christmas time.