Monthly Archives: January 2010

Some Photography Q&A

I get a fair amount of questions on the post comments and direct contact. I should try to make a habit of highlighting some of those questions and responding to them because I’m sure others could benefit from that.

I dug back into the archives and pulled a few of the more general questions and answers. Hopefully these will help out some of you that may have the same questions. And if you have other questions, definitely ask in the post comments if it is specific to the article, or contact me directly if it’s something we haven’t covered yet. I’ll try to hang on to those from now on so I can share the answers with everybody.

So here we go, 10 Q&A bits from the archive.

Bill on “Quick Tip: Format Your Memory Card

I have a memory card that we have already used. Now the computer is asking us to format the card. Is there a way to format the card without losing the photos on the card?

No, formatting clears all the data from the card. Try downloading the photos from the camera to the computer with a usb cable (most cameras have this). If that doesn’t work, try a card reader (if you have access to one). You might even bring the card to a local computer or camera shop to see if they can access the images with a different card reader/computer.

Julia on “How To Create Photoshop Actions

I’ve done a couple actions, but how on earth do I share them with friends? Can’t find the files on my computer… Do I have to save in some special way?

You have to save them out — you should see an options for loading and saving selected actions in the pull-down menu of the actions panel. This will allow you to save out a .atn file. Just make sure you have the action or group of actions highlighted before you save.

Jim on “Flickr Etiquette Basic Guidelines

One thing I have noticed is that there seem to be many people who have no photos of their own, in fact they do not even have a buddy icon, and of course no real name given. These people tend to have amassed hundreds or thousands of favourites of women, some scantily dressed, some not. Many seem to be cross-dressers, perhaps looking for fashions to favourite. Most of these people never leave comments. Should I be concerned if photos of my wife are made favourites by these people? [...]

I know the type you speak of. I’ll usually block them just because they’re not trying to be part of the community and it’s really creepy when you look at their faves. Obviously, you can do whatever you wish with these followers, but I’m typically not a fan of the “super-creeper” gathering photos of my Wife.

Sangeeta Das on “13 Alternative Flower Photography Tips

[...] I want to know how is the dew drop trick done… is it just a macro shot or some post processing?

The only way I know to do those dew drops is to use a macro or super-macro setup (with reversal rings and whatnot). Otherwise, you just can’t get close enough to get high quality images. http://www.wonderfulphotos.com/articles/macro/dewdrops/

Jim on “7 Reasons To Love Prime Lenses

Are prime lenses really that much cheaper than zoom lenses? when I looked at canon 50mm f/1.8, which was probably the cheapest lens ever, it cost about $99. And the next one 50mm f/1.4 would cost as much as my Rebel XSi body. And neither one is the L series.

For the same quality, they are far cheaper. But they can be expensive too, especially when you want larger maximum apertures. With 50mm lenses, once you go larger than f/1.8, the price goes up exponentially. While the f/1.8 costs $99, the f/1.4 costs $400, and the f/1.2L costs $1600.

But now look at zooms in the 50mm range and you’ll see that you can’t get anything below f/2.8 or f/3.5. That’s a full 2 stops slower than what you can get with a prime, and the price is way higher than $99.

Adam on “60 Second Post-Processing Technique

[...] if this is the first round of processing, wouldn’t further detailed processing potentially be done in something like photoshop? [...]

Photoshop would be one option to finish it off. I typically go back into Adobe Camera Raw (or Lightroom) to finish images with additional tweaks and adjustments. I’ll go into Photoshop if I need to do something extreme, utilize the LAB color mode, clone something more difficult than dust spots, etc.

Jeff W on “Making Fine Art Prints: Signing

[...] If it’s “acceptable” to sign in ink or paint right on the image I would much rather do that in the future. I did try that with a white paint pen I got at Michael’s but even after drying overnight it smudged. Some of these just don’t adhere to photographic paper. Does anyone have a specific brand or type of pen they can recommend?

I’ve used two different pens, they both work great and dry fast.
http://www.sakuraofamerica.com/Marker-metallic-paint
http://www.marvy.com/product_details.aspx?ProductID=39

kevin on “7 Reasons To Love Prime Lenses

Nice article, but what is the focal length we usually need? And what do you suggest for canon when price is not a problem? Is 50mm f/1.8 sharp enough? Or we need 1.2?

The focal length you need will of course depend on what you plan to photograph. Landscape photographers may opt for wide angle, portrait photographers for mid-range, sports photographers for telephoto, etc. If you use a zoom, take a look at your photos and see what focal length you typically shoot at — this should give you a good starting point. I can’t really comment on what to buy for Canon if price is not a problem, but I think the “L Series” lenses are the top quality pieces. As for the 50mm, f/1.8 will be fine for most people, and plenty sharp if you stop down one or two stops (as is the case with most lenses). The f/1.2 will give you more light, but I can’t comment on the sharpness gains over a f/1.8 or f/1.4.

C B on “Cross Processing Tips and Suggestions

[...] I have some Ektachrome that I plan to cross process. I was wondering if shooting it through a red filter would make it so the green wasn’t so extreme? [...]

I’m not sure what would happen if you shot with a color filter… it might work, but it might also take some experimentation to get the filter strength and color correct.

C B on “Cross Processing Tips and Suggestions

[...] Will E-1 or E-2 film cross-process with C-41 chemistry? Or should I just sell it to someone who’s a collector and buy E-6? I don’t want to pay the big bucks to have it processed E-2.

I really don’t know about E-2 stuff. I did find a discussion about it at photo.net: http://photo.net/film-and-processing-forum/00DzKU

So next time you have a question on a given topic, feel free to ask in the comments. I usually try to answer right there within a day or two, but I might also bring it back up in another post like this in the future. And if anybody else out there has something to add to the questions above, chime in right here or on the original posts!

Join Me in Welcoming Randy to the Team

It’s official… Epic Edits is now a multi-person effort! Last week, I put out a “now hiring” post for an ad manager position, and that position has been filled.

Randy is our new… Ad Manager… Advertising Salesperson… um… VP of Revenue Generation? Whatever we label him, Randy will be handling all of the advertiser accounts and direct revenue generation for the site. He’s been running his own business for many years and I’m confident that he can hold down the fort on the financial side of things. He’s also a fellow photography enthusiast and regular reader of Epic Edits, so I’m stoked to have a partner who knows the lay of the land.

This new development should give me a little extra free time for writing while providing a higher level of income (aka motivation). I have high hopes, so we’ll see how things pan out in the near future. Who knows, if the site starts doing well enough, I may be able to bring on an additional paid writer so you guys have more stuff to read. In the meantime, Randy needs an official title…

WHAT JOB TITLE SHALL WE GIVE RANDY?

I’m kind of partial to a “VP” designation just because it sounds cool, but let’s hear some ideas from you guys. And be sure to say hi to Randy and welcome him to the team!

PhotoDump 01-24-2010

More great stuff from the Epic Edits Flickr Pool! This selection of photos is from those entered in the pool between 01/10/2010 and 01/24/2010.

Fog Beyond the Horizon by UberJDay 21 by i_shoot_minoltaSway by Alexander S. KunzCircrisis - Series by Sebastian.YEPESrough love by .f_}x{WEARING RED for HAITI by Will Foster PhotographyWinter Pallette by JonathanRobsonPhotography.comThat Tree by dannottihaiti... by sam_samanthaRay of Light by ManniiGoing Nowhere by mathewmCalling all Candles by MissyBrownbike by xgrayWindmill by Steve G. BisigAll I Want To Do Is by Alison FaithOnce in a blue moon by Yury TrofimovSurfscape by keithpytPool Girl by Brian AuerJerran McGee by JeramieLu.comVishwa Taking off. by Susheel ChandradhasClimbing by keithpytStanding on the Precipice by Sean Phillipslight up my life by eizseit by Tomas WebbChimney corner by Yury TrofimovMarcus and Jennifer by Bryan VillarinIce & Snow | WPW.02 by Conny Lundgren

eBook Review: Photo Nuts and Bolts

Photography is just like every other skill — it requires three things: 1) a basic understanding of the fundamentals, 2) lots of practice, and 3) some raw talent (and maybe a little luck). Books won’t help you much with the last two, but they’re perfect for the first one.

Photo Nuts and Bolts: Know Your Camera and Take Better Photos is a book that focuses on the fundamental theories and mechanics of the camera. So this goes way back to the very nature of light and the tools we use to capture it.

Aimed at the beginner to intermediate dSLR user, the book steps through the foundations of modern photography. Understanding your camera and the light it captures is the basis of solid photography and is essential to more advanced topics.

You can purchase Photo Nuts and Bolts from digital Photography School. Links in this post are affiliate links to the product — It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but I get a cut of the sale.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Photo Nuts and Bolts is a 64 page downloadable eBook containing 10 lessons in the fundamental theories and mechanics of photography. The three column layout and minimalistic formatting make this book easy on the eyes and a pleasure to read. Supporting photos and diagrams are scattered throughout as needed, but are not overbearing in their presence. Each lesson is approximately three to four pages long, making them a moderately quick read.

The 10 lessons in this book are very concise and to the point (I’m particularly impressed because I’m a rambler). The material is presented as introductory reading for the given topic. While it does go into details, it will leave the reader with a basic understanding and a thirst for more. The last page of each lesson helps quench that thirst with homework challenges, additional resources to various websites and web articles, and questions/answers and comments from fellow photographers on the given topic.

The flow of the book is fairly important, and I would suggest reading the lessons in order since they build on each other. We start off with a few lessons in light and optics, followed by exposure controls, and finishing up with additional camera controls. The end of the book also has a glossary of the basic terms used throughout the book.

As a bonus for the launch of the book (1 week only), you’ll receive a one page pocket guide intended to print out, fold up, and… stick in your pocket. This little guide gives you some general camera settings that may be useful for 10 different situations (outdoor sunshine, outdoor dusk, indoor action, indoor low-light, etc.).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Neil Creek is a fellow photography enthusiast that decided to take a shot at the professional side of things a few years ago. He’s been doing well photographing, teaching courses, and writing for the digital Photography School. I’ve known Neil for some years now, and his enthusiasm for the art of photography has only grown each day. The writing in this eBook reflects his high level of understanding in the technical and mechanical/optical aspects of photography.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

This is a good solid book that teaches the foundations of photography in a concise and meaningful fashion. And even if you’re somewhat familiar with the topics, there are a lot of background and theory details presented that you don’t typically see outside of textbooks.

Readers of the digital Photography School blog will notice that many of the lessons in the book have been published in the past months. So why buy the book? A lot of stuff has been reworked and touched up in these articles. Plus, the last two chapters are completely new. It’s also handy to have everything in consecutive order and in one package so you can quickly reference the topics at any time.

I would suggest this book for beginner/intermediate photographers wanting to gain a better understanding of their equipment (the dSLR in particular). If you’re struggling with concepts like exposure controls, lens controls, light metering, white balance, and other fundamentals, this book should straighten you out.

You can purchase Photo Nuts and Bolts for $19.97 just for this first week for an undetermined time period, after which point it will return to the regular price of $29. Plus, the pocket guide is only available for the first week purchases, so grab it soon!

Full Feeds FTW!

Last week, I had posted a little something about switching the RSS feed over to a partial. But you guys are so hardcore about your feed preferences, I figure I shouldn’t mess with you. Nearly 50% of the votes were for a very strong dislike of the idea, and the comments backed that up 100%.

Truthfully, it was something I wanted to experiment with, but I now know it’s not worth losing followers over. Not only that, doing a partial feed the way I wanted to (where I decide on the cutoff point) is just not a simple task and I don’t have time to spend on screwing that sort of stuff.

So… full feeds we shall keep! Thanks to everyone who chimed in on the conversation.

Photo Editing With Histograms: 6 Basic Settings

The image histogram is often viewed as a thing of “extra information” and treated as a “good way to check for clipping”. While it’s true that the histogram provides a good check for highlight and shadow clipping, it also serves a greater purpose in post processing. Our mortal eyes are no match for the mighty histogram when it comes to tricky photos. Understanding the histogram and how your image editing software interacts with it can greatly improve your productivity and quality output.

In a recent article, I went over “How to Read Image Histograms” while providing some visual examples in the realm of brightness and contrast — two very basic concepts when it comes to photography. Now, we explore how the histogram and image are affected by other basic post-processing adjustments. For the purpose of this article, we’ll be looking at the tools available in the “Basic” panel of Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw (other packages should have similar tools available).

These tools have unique and specific effects on the image and the image histogram. With the basic tools presented here, you should be able to manipulate your image within 90% of its final stage — further adjustments will come from more advanced tools (which we’ll look at in the next article).

In all of the examples below, I’ve added +50 to the base contrast setting so the effects of the adjustments can be visualized more clearly.

1. EXPOSURE

This adjustment acts much in the same way camera exposure does, by basically shifting the entire histogram to the left or right. This has the effect of brightening or darkening your overall image. The shadows tend to be more anchored than the highlights, and you’ll notice some distortion of the histogram as you move the adjustment to either extreme.

Notice that as you increase the exposure, the contrast tends to increase slightly due to the anchoring of the shadows. And as you lower the exposure, the contrast tends to decrease. This can be seen by the change in the width of the histogram.

For “normal” exposures, you’ll just want to make sure the histogram is somewhere between the edges. If you’re going for a low-key or high-key image, you’ll want to push the exposure accordingly. If you have a well exposed capture, you shouldn’t need to adjust this setting very much.

2. RECOVERY

This adjustment is intended to recover highlights by pulling them back down a bit. Here, the shadows are completely anchored and the increased recovery lowers the tone value of the highlights and upper midtones.

In this example series, I’ve started with an intentionally overexposed image to show the effect. In practice, I rarely need to adjust above a value of 25 or 50. Go much further than that, and you end up pulling your highlights into a gray area, making the image look flat due to lower contrast.

3. FILL LIGHT

This adjustment is the exact opposite of the recovery tool. Here, we pin down the highlights and increase the tonal value of the blacks and lower midtones.

In this example series, I’ve started with an intentionally underexposed image to show the effect. In practice, I rarely need to adjust above 25 or 50. Go much further than that, and you start pushing your blacks into a gray area and losing contrast and tonal depth.

4. BLACKS

This adjustment is sort of an anti-fill light… it brings your shadows down further into the dark region while having less effect on the highlights. This is good to use when you have less than perfect blacks and you need to tug that histogram just a little to the left.

In this example series, I’ve started with an image of slightly higher brightness to better show the effects of this adjustment.

5. BRIGHTNESS

We went over the brightness adjustment in the last article, but I’ll add a few notes here. You’ll notice that it acts very much like the exposure adjustment, pushing the image brighter or darker (and moving the histogram to the right or left). But it does this in a slightly different manner. The exposure control is more directed toward the extremes of the histogram, while the brightness control is more directed toward the center of the histogram (midtones). It still moves your highlights and shadows, but it moves more of your midtones than exposure does.

In this example series, I’ve started with the default image of +50 on the contrast and no further adjustments.

6. CONTRAST

We also went over contrast in the previous article, noting that the wider histogram equates to more contrast. This is a handy adjustment tool to use when your histogram doesn’t quite reach the edges at the blacks and whites, or if your image looks flat due to a heavy midtone concentration.

And again, you can see that the brightness and contrast adjustments are tied together and not completely independent.

HOW IS THIS USEFUL?

Understanding your histogram allows you to process the photo on a technical front rather than on pure aesthetics. Understanding how these basic adjustments affect the image and the histogram will allow you to manipulate it with more confidence.

But don’t get too caught up in watching your histogram — in the end, the only thing that matters is a photo that appeals to your eyes.

Now Hiring: Ad Manager

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, and I’m hoping some of you will be interested in helping out with the blog while earning some extra cash for yourself.

I’ve been running direct ad banners here on the site for a while, but all the spots have never been filled at the same time. I don’t have the time or energy to keep on top of things, so I’m looking for somebody else to manage advertisers and ad banners. I’m hoping this will make the site more profitable while freeing up some time for me to focus more on creating content.

JOB DESCRIPTION

Here are the basics of what I’m looking for and what I’m offering in return.

  • Manage direct advertising accounts for banner placement on Epic Edits. This includes communicating with advertisers and placing their banner orders and line items in Google Ad Manager. I will take care of invoicing and approving orders.
  • Seek out new advertising partners relevant to photographers.
  • Announce new partnerships with a short blog post.
  • “Thank the Sponsors” once per month with a short blog post.
  • Pay will be 30% commission via PayPal upon receipt of funds from advertiser. Willing to negotiate commission if justified with experience. You will also be free to price banners as you see fit.

APPLICANT REQUIREMENTS

  • Must be able to communicate with prospective and current partners (epicedits.com email address will be provided to do so).
  • Some experience required — applicant should understand how direct advertising works and have a grasp of common terms used in communicating.
  • Must know how to use Google Analytics.

BONUS POINTS

  • Working knowledge of Google Ad Manager will be a big plus. It’s pretty simple, but it takes some time to learn it well.
  • Basic knowledge of using WordPress to post short announcements, but I’ll be proofing the posts before publishing them.
  • Photography background, either as a personal hobby or as an ad manager for a photography website.

HERE’S HOW THIS WILL WORK

Upon hire, you’ll be given an email address to work from, access to my Google Analytics stats, and access to my Google Ad Manager as a “salesperson”. I’ll also give you the run down on how I’ve been pricing banners, the terms and conditions for advertisers, how the ads are sold, and previous advertiser contacts.

Once you get an advertiser that wants to partner with us, you can load up the orders, line items, and creatives. You’ll notify me of the pending order, I’ll send the invoice, approve the order once the invoice has been paid, and transfer you the commission. If this is a new partner, you’ll need to run a quick post that welcomes them and describes their company/product/service.

It’s all pretty basic, and if you have ideas on how to do things differently, I’m open to discussing it. Just remember, this is for direct ad sales — no ad networks, no AdSense, no affiliate programs, etc. I’m looking for one person to manage this whole thing and I would expect that it requires approximately 15 to 20 hours of your time per month.

APPLY NOW

If you’re interested in this position, contact me with your experience and qualifications. I’ll review the applicants as they come in, and I’ll make a decision in about a week from now.

[UPDATE 01/25/2010] The spot has been filled — check it out.

Link Roundup 01-17-2010

Sponsors for January 2010

Since a lot of the regular Epic Edits readers utilize the RSS feed, I think it would be handy to give a shout out to the sponsors each month and say “thank you” for partnering with us. These folks provide the funds to keep the site running, and they provide services and products that are useful to photographers. So here’s the line-up this month:

Online Photography Courses

Proud Photography

Proud Photography hosts an online photography school, currently with two offered courses: Interactive Online Photography Course and The Expert Wedding Photographer. You can also read my brief review of Proud Photography here.

Epic Edits also pulls in some residual from Google Adsense, Amazon affiliates, and various other affiliate programs. Those are helpful to fill in the empty spaces and I appreciate it when any of you pitch in through those avenues.

Also… stay tuned for an announcement in the next few days that should help fill out the remaining ad spots — but I’m going to need some help on this one.

How to Read Image Histograms

Reading histograms is an important skill to acquire in the world of digital photography. Most images from digital cameras will require some amount of post processing, particularly if you shoot raw format. And most of the processing can be done by viewing the aesthetics of the image as you go, but having the ability to read and manipulate a histogram will increase your productivity and output quality.

So what exactly is a histogram? And how the heck do you “read” one? Take this, for example:

At a glance, it doesn’t tell you much. But there are certain things that you can take from the histogram. No, it doesn’t tell you that it belongs to a photo of a deserted trailer half buried in the middle of the desert. It doesn’t tell you if the image is in focus or if your composition is good. It only tells you the tonal values of the pixels contained in the image — blacks on the left, whites on the right.

For this article, I’ll be looking at a black and white image and histogram in order to simplify things. Color histograms work on the same concepts, but with 3 channels rather than one.

MID CONTRAST AND BRIGHTNESS

This is pretty much a straight b/w conversion with no contrast or brightness adjustments. It doesn’t look too bad, but it isn’t terribly dynamic either. And if you look at the histogram, you’ll see that the pixels fall into a centered group with a little breathing room on the shadows and highlights. We’ll use this one as our baseline to compare against. The other histograms will show this in a transparent green.

LOW CONTRAST

You can visually recognize the lower contrast in this image, and that correlates to a change in the histogram distribution. The pixels near the black and white points have moved in toward a neutral gray, which gives the appearance of lower contrast. The whole thing has basically been squeezed to the center.

HIGH CONTRAST

Again, you can visually recognize the higher contrast in this image, and the histogram changed too. The pixels near center have basically migrated outward toward the blacks and whites, thus giving us more contrast. This time we’re squashing pixels from the middle outward.

LOW BRIGHTNESS

Lower brightness is just a shift of tones toward the black region. You can see that the entire histogram has been pushed to the left. Also notice that the tonal range has been decreased, as shown by a narrower histogram.

HIGH BRIGHTNESS

Higher brightness is a shift in tones toward the white region. Here you can see that the entire histogram has been pushed to the right. Also notice that the tonal range has been increased, as shown by a wider histogram.

THE FINAL IMAGE

You can see that I went with a high contrast, high brightness image for my final path. The histogram shows this with the wide tonal range and a heavy concentration of pixels in the highlights.

CAN YOU SEE IT NOW?

This chart shows a combination of contrast and brightness adjustments on the example photo. As you move from left to right (low brightness to high brightness), you can see the histograms shift to the right. As you move from bottom to top (low contrast to high contrast), you can see the histograms widen.

Click the image for a larger version

The reason I’ve posted this article is because I want to get into the topic of manipulating the histogram during post processing — using it to guide you in what adjustments to apply. So the next article will look at how some of the basic adjustments affect the histogram and the image. We’ve already covered contrast and brightness adjustments here, but there are a few others we’ll need to utilize.

In the meantime, here’s some additional reading on the topic of histograms:

Working With Image Histograms
Photoshop Tip: Understanding Histograms
Camera Histograms: Tones and Contrast
A Practical Guide to Interpreting RGB Histograms