Tag Archives: review

Site Review (Plus Giveaway): FotoTV

FotoTV

Photography resources can be found in every corner of the Internet, but not all are created equal. There’s free, expensive, outstanding, terrible, and everything in between when it comes to these websites. Recently, I had the opportunity to explore an outstanding (and moderately priced) subscription website built around education through video.

FotoTV Screenshot

FotoTV was founded on the mission to provide an online learning resource for photographers based on the principle of ‘learn by watching the experts’. They offer instructional and inspirational videos to avid photographers on a very wide range of topics and lessons. Photoshop, digital image editing, photography equipment, photo art, analog photography, black and white, fine art nude, landscape photography, sports photography, photo techniques, exhibitions, history of photography, darkroom, photo technology, physical basics of photography, art work, portfolios of photographers, presentation of images, composition, studio lighting, interviews with leading photographers, and many more videos ready to be released. So… you get the idea!

I was provided with an opportunity to explore the entire FotoTV website (full access to all videos), and I must say that I’m quite impressed with what they have to offer. I spent several consecutive nights watching videos from each of the main categories and each of them taught me something new. The videos are very professional — not something you would expect to run across on YouTube by random chance. And the best part is that every video held the same set of standards, so I was never let down with the quality or depth of knowledge presented.

FotoTV Video Interface

Most of the videos are between 10 and 20 minutes in length — so not too short, but not so long that you lose interest. The video quality is great too, with a size of about 750px wide with the height depending on the aspect ratio (click the image for a full size view). Videos loaded quickly and the buffer never cut out on me (I’m using a cable Internet connection tested at approximately 12 Mbps download rate). The video player also has basic options for viewing full screen, controlling volume, and rating the video. Technically, the site is well prepared to handle most visitor needs.

From what I understand, FotoTV.com was launched off the back of FotoTV.de (hint, hint, for you German-speaking readers) — a German based photography site. The German version launched about 2-3 years ago and it’s very popular with over 500 videos available to subscribers. The English version (FotoTV.com) is basically the same resource with fewer videos available at the moment — I believe they launched with just over 100 videos several months ago, and they’re adding more each month.

Some of the videos on FotoTV.com are strictly English, while others are English voice-overs from the German videos. So I would assume that they have a huge pool of videos in the queue for translation — and thus, I would not expect a shortage of new videos on the English site. And I must say that the voice-over videos are not any less educational/intriguing than the native English videos.

In addition to the video archives, FotoTV has a forum available to registered members. Even if forums aren’t your thing, it’s still another resource available to you. They also have a blog that they use to announce new videos and other topics of interest.

FotoTV News (coming soon)

And one other thing — these guys are planning on launching yet another service that has done well on the German site: FotoTV News. It should be available to all registered users in the very near future (though, I’m not sure if you’ll also have to be a paid subscriber). It’s basically going to be a once-a-month photography show with approximately 1/2 hour of news, tips, artist spotlights, and updates on new videos coming out. Pretty cool!

So here’s the deal…

You can visit the FotoTV website and view 3 of their videos absolutely free of charge and obligation. If you want more, you can register for free and get access to 15 free videos and the forum. I would suggest at least checking out the 3 free videos. If you want more convincing, register and check out the 15 videos. If you want even more, subscribe and get full access!

ABOUT THE FREE STUFF…

You guys know I’m always looking out for you, so I have some goodies for you! The folks at FotoTV are giving away 2 — THAT’S TWO — one year subscriptions to the FotoTV.com website!!! Totally FREE!!! Awesome stuff — I’m sure we won’t have any trouble filling the two spots.

In order to get a free one-year subscription, here’s what you need to do: check out the FotoTV website, sample the free videos (and maybe even register for free to see more free videos), then — LEAVE A COMMENT HERE STATING THAT YOU’D LIKE TO BE ENTERED IN THE RAFFLE (yes, random drawing this time). I’ll be giving away two free one-year subscriptions to FotoTV.com on November 18th, 2009.

Before entering the raffle, be sure to read through the Terms and Conditions and the Privacy Policy. Something I would always suggest you do for any online resource — read the fine print and decide if the terms are acceptable to you.

New Partner: Proud Photography

Online Photography Courses

Please join me in welcoming Proud Photography as a sponsor to Epic Edits. You can see their banner (shown here) filling a sidebar position for the month of November.

Proud Photography is an online photography school currently offering two courses: General Photography and The Expert Wedding Photographer. Additional courses and resources will become available in the near future.

The General Photography course is organized into 13 interactive units developed by professional photographers and prize-winning enthusiasts. But this is more than just a collection of lessons to consume — you’ll have homework and quizzes along the way to supplement your course and gauge your progress. Some of your work will be graded by the tutors, and you have the opportunity to receive photo critiques. And though you can’t move on to the next lesson until you’ve completed each previous lesson, you can work at your own pace.

Here’s a quick overview of the 13 units in the course:

1. Introduction to Photography — Overview of cameras, lenses, and other gadgets, and what you’ll need to achieve certain types of photos.

2. Digital Photography — Film vs digital, technical aspects of digital images, and working with digital files.

3 & 4. Exposure: Shutter Speed & Aperture — Detailed explanations of these two very important exposure controls and how to use them effectively.

5. Composition — Rules of good composition, perspective, and viewpoint.

6. Light — Working with natural, artificial, and mixed lighting in various situations.

7. Shooting Black and White — Comparison of film vs digital, black and white films, and lens filters.

8 & 9. Travel Photography I & II — Sunrise, sunset, filters, landscapes, extreme weather, seascapes, reflections, capturing local people, architecture, still life, and more.

10. Portraits — Formal, informal, backgrounds, viewpoints, makeup, and lighting.

11. People and Their Environment — Utilizing natural light, working in weather, candids, close-ups, young folks, and old folks.

12. Insiders’ Tricks and Techniques — High ISO, fisheyes, macros, filters, flash tricks, panoramas, and lots more.

13. Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them — How to avoid improper exposure, flare, bad framing, poor focus, camera shake, reflections, sensor dust, and more.

While I haven’t been through the course myself, I’ve seen multiple reviews from photographers who have and they’ve all been quite positive. I think the main attraction to a program like this lies in the organization of content in addition to the content itself. Having one-on-one interaction with the tutors, doing homework, and taking quizzes are all icing on the cake.

I would recommend this online photography course from Proud Photography to beginner/intermediate enthusiasts. If you’re still a bit rusty on the technical details of photography, wanting to learn more about the many facets and styles of photography, or if you just don’t know where to start, this course might just be for you. And while it isn’t free, it’s much cheaper than most camera equipment — plus, this is one tool in your camera bag that won’t break or wear out with use.

The Expert Wedding Photographer course is aimed more at those looking to get into the wedding photography business. It covers the topics of setting up and running your business, equipment needed, how to capture formal and informal shots, post production work, and presenting photos to your clients.

If these courses sound at all interesting to you, I encourage you to visit their website to learn more: www.proudphotography.com

Book Review – 44 Days: Iran and the Remaking of the World

For those who don’t already know, a favorite topic of mine is war and conflict photography. I say “favorite”, but I feel somewhat awkward calling it that… favorites are usually associated with happy things (kitties, butterflies, flowers, sunsets, puppies, etc). No, war and conflict don’t make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, but I do feel that photographs of such situations are vitally important.

Why are such photos important? Because they tell the story of things that are happening to fellow human beings around the world. Because the photographers capturing the images are risking their lives to tell that story. And because the photos are history in the making.

This latest book of images and recollections from photographer David Burnett is nothing short of amazing. National Geographic has a tendency to outdo themselves with the materials they publish, and this book is the latest in that trend.

See the end of this post for a chance to win a free copy of the book.

44 Days: Iran and the Remaking of the World (ISBN 978-1426205132) can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

ABOUT THE BOOK

44 Days

44 Days: Iran and the Remaking of the World is a hardcover book containing 224 pages of text and photos (both color and b/w). It’s an average sized book, not too large or too small, measuring approximately 9×10.5″. Needless to say, the quality of the cover, binding, and paper are all outstanding. And the images contained within are equally outstanding.

44 Days

The book covers the history of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 when the Shah was overthrown and the Islamic Republic was born. The major parts of this event took place in a mere 44 days, and David Burnett was there to capture a big part of it. Everything from mass protests, funerals, killings, the fall and rise of power, and everything else associated with the revolution. I found it amazing that one person could capture so many aspects of this event, and I was amazed that he lived through it.

44 Days

Obviously, this is a wonderful piece of photojournalism, but it’s more than that. David’s recollections and thoughts are visible every few pages of the book. This is more than captions on the photos — this is a historic account of what happened day-by-day through the revolution. From start to finish, from city to city, David recounts his steps and recaps the news of things that were happening in Iran at the time.

44 Days

All in all, this is more than just a photo book — it’s a history book. And this is the type of history that isn’t taught in most classrooms.

David Burnett

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Burnett is a seasoned photojournalist with over 40 years of experience in the field. He has worked in over 75 countries and won many awards for his photojournalism. After his college days, he worked for Time and Life magazines on many assignments.

David’s work has taken him to the Vietnam War, the Iranian Revolution, and countless other historic situations. He has also photographed every American president from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, in addition to reggae legend Bob Marley.

In 1975 David co-founded a new photo agency, Contact Press Images, in New York City. You can see more of his amazing work at his online portfolio.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

44 Days

For me, this book was an eye opening experience. When I first got it, I scanned through the photos and I was fairly impressed at a first glance. But when I started reading the text, the photos went to a whole different level — they had a deep sense of meaning and importance. The book is also written in such a way that your interest in the subject is accelerated as you read through it.

On the flip side of being overwhelmed with amazing photojournalism and story telling, I couldn’t help but feel like a stereotypical “Dumb American”. This is a subject that I knew absolutely nothing about, a subject that is not taught in typical American high schools. The Iranian Revolution was such a huge piece of modern world history, and I’m a bit disappointed that it isn’t as well known as other historic events of the same caliber. And with the level of anti-American feelings during the revolution, I’m quite amazed that David survived the ordeal. He’s a trooper, that’s for sure.

A great book overall. If you enjoy history, photojournalism, and/or conflict photography, I’d say go ahead and buy this book.

WANT A FREE COPY?

The folks at National Geographic provided me with 2 extra copies of the book to give away here on the blog! I like doing contests for the freebies, but I also like the contests to be on topic with the material. This one presents a difficult situation because not many of us have been to Iran or photographed revolutions. So the assignment for this contest is to curate a gallery from other people’s photos.

Flickr recently announced a new feature called “Galleries”. This allows you to create a collection of up to 18 photos from other photographers, while adding your own comments as a curator. This is a perfect feature for us to test out!

Here’s how you can get a free copy of “44 Days”:

Create a Flickr Gallery on the topic of “Iran” and leave a link to your gallery in the comments below. That’s it! You can focus on sub-topics and genres within the boundaries of “Iran” — things like people, places, buildings, religion, food, clothing, etc. Whatever you can come up with! Here’s a quick gallery I put together titled “Faces of Iran“:

Faces of Iran

So that’s it! Get your gallery curated and drop a link before October 12, 2009. I’ll announce and present the winners (my favorites) sometime soon after.

Book Review: What the Duck

What the Duck

I think it’s safe to say that many of us have seen the “What the Duck” comic strips (and if you haven’t, I suggest you go educate yourself right now). The basic theme of the comic strip is about a duck photographer and his journeys in the business. But you don’t have to be a professional photographer to “get it”, since many of the strips are humorous to a wide spectrum of photographers.

In addition to the comic strip, Aaron Johnson (the author and artist), has been putting out a few books. “What the Duck: A W.T. Duck Collection” is the second book released, and it contains 128 pages of comic strips.

What the Duck: A W.T. Duck Collection (ISBN 978-0740780967) can be purchased directly from Andrews McMeel Publishing or through Amazon.com.

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a paid review, nor has it been reviewed or edited by the book’s author or publisher. The book was sent to me by the author free of charge. I am in no way affiliated with the book, the author, or the publisher of the book.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Well… it’s a comic strip book. Don’t expect to find any breathtaking photos or golden nuggets of technical advice. Of course, the theme of the comics are very much photography related and full of wisdom. As I said, the book is 128 pages. It’s soft-bound (which is suitable for a comic strip book) and the size is approximately 8.8 x 8.4 inches. A typical page has three 3-frame strips from top to bottom, but occasionally you’ll find a page layout like the image shown at the top of this post. Everything is also printed in color, and the humor contained within is quick and to the point.

In case you’re not already familiar with the comic strip, I’ll do my best to give an explanation. The main character (the one wearing white) is a photographer who happens to be a duck. In fact, all the photographers are ducks (of various other colors). Clients, editors, models, and pretty much everyone else is not a duck. The comic has a somewhat dark sense of humor — the duck is always getting the short end of the stick, he knows it, and he just keeps dealing with it. The most amusing thing about the comic strip is that the scenarios presented are true to life in one way or another, and as you become more involved with photography you tend to find the comic more amusing.

Some (maybe all?) of the strips in the book have been published on the website, but I want to say that some of them are unseen prior to the book. I’ve been following the comic strip on a daily basis basically since it started and I came across quite a few that didn’t ring any bells. I could be totally wrong on this point though, since my memory is less than stellar.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aaron Johnson is the creator and artist of the “What the Duck” comic strip, a fellow photographer, Photoshopper, and in a band. Other than that, I don’t know a whole lot about him. Obviously he’s very creative, has a great sense of humor, and the ability to create a cult following via comics. If anybody knows more than this about Aaron, please start a Wikipedia page about him.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re a fan of the comic strip — definitely get the book. It’s going for about $10 on Amazon, which is ridiculously affordable. As is the case with photos looking 10-20x better on paper rather than a computer screen, the same is true with comic strips. In print, the strips are bigger (unless you sport the 800×600 res), cleaner, and less pixelated than what you’ll find on the website or rss feed.

If you haven’t been following the comic: go check out the website, laugh, become obsessed, THEN buy the book.

Either way, the book is scheduled to release on September 15, but Amazon has started shipping orders early for some folks — so go ahead and place your order now!

BUY THE BOOK AT AMAZON.COM
VISIT “WHAT THE DUCK” ON THE WEB

ABOUT THE FREE BOOKS!

Oh yeah! You guys didn’t think I’d leave you hanging, did you? Aaron told me he’s sending a few extra copies my way so I can hand them out to a few lucky winners. Not sure how many or if they’re signed copies, but I’ll let you know as soon as I know.

So how do you get a free copy? Let’s make this a little bit of a photo contest. Post a link or an image in the comments below to a photo (of yours) that is somehow related to ducks or the What the Duck comic. So it could be a photo of a real duck, a fake duck, a drawing of the comic character on the beach, a light painting of the letters “WTD”, or whatever else you can think of (and it’s possible that photos of other birds will be accepted for consideration, but I’d prefer ducks). If you don’t have any photos like this in your archives, get out there and shot something! Just keep it to a single photo or link to a photo.

I’ll finalize the deadline when I get the books, but I’d say it will be in about 1-2 weeks from now. After the deadline, I’ll pick out my faves and ship out the books to the winners.

[UPDATE] I just got the books in the mail today, and we’ve got 2 copies to hand out! I’ll pick out two of my favorite duck photos on Monday, September 21 — so get your duck photo in the comments before the end of the weekend!

Link Roundup 04-11-2009

Wow… it’s been almost a month since I’ve posted a link roundup. Not sure if I’m just getting tired of the content out there, or if things have actually been slow on the web due to the changing seasons. In any case, here are a few articles to chew on this weekend.

And if you’re a Delicious user, you can tag any interesting photography articles you encounter with “for:auer1816″ and I’ll be sure to check them out each week as I search for new content.

Film Review: 120-Format Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak Professional Ektar 100

I managed to get my hands on some 120-format Kodak Ektar 100 before it was available to the general public, and I was given the opportunity to conduct an informal review of the film. Based on the hype surrounding this film, I was quite happy to test it out. After shooting 5 rolls through a few different cameras, I was not at all disappointed with the results as I scanned them in.

I found the colors to be extremely natural and pleasing under daylight conditions. And the sharpness and grain are absolutely to die for. In general, the film has the best characteristics from both slide film and color negative film. Read on for my informal review.

ABOUT THE FILM

The Umbrella Perched on a Sink

Kodak Professional Ektar 100 is a color-negative film (using the C-41 process) available in 35mm and 120-formats. It is claimed to have extremely fine grain (the world’s finest for color-neg) and high color saturation, making it ideal for nature, landscape, and travel photographers.

In September, 2008 the Ektar 100 became available in 35mm format. Due to popular demand, Kodak has made the film available in 120-format in April, 2009 (I believe it’s available for purchase through a few vendors right now).

MY NON-TECHNICAL REVIEW

La Jolla Coastline San Clemente Pier

Equipped with a pro-pack of the Ektar 100, I loaded up my two medium format cameras and headed out on a few photowalks along the coast. One camera was my old 1956 Minolta Autocord MXS (twin lens reflex) and the other was my Diana+ (toy camera). I must admit, putting this film into a plastic toy camera felt a bit like ripping the engine from an F-1 car and strapping it to a tricycle.

The first day I shot this film, the weather turned heavy overcast quite rapidly, but I managed to finish off three rolls. I went out a few days later and shot the last two rolls in full sunshine. The film can certainly be used in either condition, but its white balance is intended for daylight use. The overcast photos just scanned in a bit cold — and I could have adjusted it, but it seemed fitting to leave them as is.

The Family in La Jolla Splish-Splash

Up to this point, I’ve been shooting mostly Kodak Portra VC color-neg films on medium format (and a little bit of Velvia slide). The Ektar 100 seems quite comparable to the color saturation of these films, but the colors on the Ektar 100 seem more “realistic” to me. The color saturation and contrast isn’t so overbearing that it looks unnatural, and the colors seems to closely represent the actual colors of the scene. One thing I did notice, though, is that the greens tend to be more saturated than the other colors — sometimes a bit too much.

The shots (especially those from the TLR) appear to be very sharp and free from grain. I might even go so far as to say that the Ektar 100 is comparable to Ilford’s PanF Plus black and white film (which is the primary film I use with my Autocord). Though I’ve only scanned the film (which tends to present softer grain versus an optical enlarger), I was hard-pressed to find any signs of grain even at 100% zoom on a 3200 ppi scan.

GRAIN? WHAT GRAIN?

If you don’t believe me, see for yourself. Here’s an image with a decent exposure — the little box is the spot I’ve taken the 100% crop for the image immediately below it. The full image is approximately 50MP, or 7000 x 7000 pixels.

Kayakers

Kayakers at 100% Crop

The softness of the 100% crop probably comes from scanning the film since I don’t use any sharpening while scanning. Even so, I can usually make out the grain easily on most films — it’s just not as sharp as with an optical enlargement. The Ektar 100 scans don’t show much sign of grain.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

I Stand Alone La Jolla Pier

I like it — a lot. When I decide to shoot color on my TLR, I’ll probably use the Ektar 100 exclusively. The colors look great and the shots appear to be very sharp and fine-grained. I’m still undecided with the Diana+… I might try a few more rolls and see how it goes, but I’m still leaning toward the Portra VC films just because I have a history of good results with it.

The Ektar 100 film seems to have similar features of slide film (high saturation and fine grain), but with a more forgiving dynamic range of a color negative.

But the thing that gets me most about this film is how natural the colors appear. Color film often has a “film-like” appearance to it because of shifted colors or grain. The Ektar 100 (to me) looks more like a well-processed digital than it does a typical film.

Would I recommend this film for color enthusiasts? Certainly! It seems well-suited for landscape and nature photography, but even skin tones in portraits aren’t completely unnatural.

SWEEPSTAKES OFFER

As a promo for the new Ektar 100 films, Kodak is running a bit of a sweepstakes giveaway along with a rebate offer on the film. You can get a $5 mail-in rebate for certain film purchases, and that rebate automatically enters you into a drawing for a prize package. The prize is a nature photography experience at Disney’s Animal Kingdon Park, including a 4-night stay and a full itinerary of activities. You can also enter the prize drawing without buying the film or mailing in the rebate. Visit the official sweepstakes web page for more information.

Book Review: Mothers and Children

Mothers and Children

Mom… probably one of the most important and meaningful relationships in many of our lives. And the bond that they share with their children is universally unbreakable. A new book from National Geographic, Mothers and Children, explores the various roles that mothers take on for the sake of their children. It also shows the numerous emotions and moments encountered between mother and child.

Read on for a brief description of the book, its contributors, and my own take on this captivating and uplifting publication.

Also, read on for a chance to win a free copy of the book.

Mothers and Children (ISBN 978-1426204258) can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a paid review, nor has it been reviewed or edited by the book’s author or publisher. The book was sent to me by the publisher free of charge. I am in no way affiliated with the book or the publisher of the book.

Siberia, Russia -- Maria Stenzel

ABOUT THE BOOK

Mothers and Children is a hard cover 6″x8″ publication with 120 pages containing 100 photos in both color and black & white. There are 8 chapters divided into two main categories: the facets of moms and kids, and geographic location. The facets category consists of chapters covering mothers and children at home, at work, and at play. The geographic chapters cover the north (Inuit & Northern European), south (Mexico, South America, & Australia), east (India, Japan, & China), and west (United States & Western Europe).

The photos in the book take us on a trip around the world while showing the many expressions and emotions of mothers and their children. The photos are divided amongst the chapters in a logical manner, making the book easy to follow. Most pages contain only a photo, a location, and the photographer’s name — making the book very visual and quick to digest. A few famous quotes are scattered about, and a couple of short stories can also be found in the book.

Rostock, Germany -- Gordon Gahan

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

Many of the photos in Mothers and Children are from National Geographic photographers in addition to other professional photographers. You’ll see images from the likes of Annie Griffiths Belt, Sam Abell, Jodi Cobb, Joel Sartore, and more.

The author of the book, Lynne Perri, is journalist-in-residence and a teacher on presidential election and visual strategies at American University. She brought the concept of the book together and she wrote the book’s introduction to set the mood. Writer Craig Wilson also shares a few stories and insights at the start of several chapters.

Valemount, British Columbia, Canada -- Chris Johns

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

Mothers and Children is a good little coffee table book. I like the fact that it’s hard bound — you know it will last and it sort of has that “photo album” feel in your hands. It’s fairly small compared to other books from National Geographic, but it can make for a short or a long read depending on how far you wish to immerse yourself in the photos. I found that a flip-through was enjoyable, and a deeper study of the photos was captivating and worthwhile.

This is a good one to have on the bookshelf or the coffee table, especially for those surrounded by a family. I think that mothers would appreciate the intent and gesture of the book, fathers will appreciate the mothers and wives, and kids always like to see photos of other kids. It might also make a good gift for an occassion such as Mother’s Day! At $15 or $16, the price is definitely right.

Mothers and Children (ISBN 978-1426204258) can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

WIN A FREE COPY!

We’re going to run a little competition here in the comments, and 2 winners will receive a free copy of the book. To enter the contest, all you have to do is leave a comment with a link to a photo or leave the actual photo (or photos) using html — and please try to remember to keep them at around 240 pixels on the long edge.

The theme of the photo must be “Mothers and Children” — or just mothers… or just children… whatever you do, try to keep it somewhat on-topic. More than one is fine, but don’t flood the comments with a bajillion photos — pick a few good ones.

I’ll choose the winners in about one week from the publication of this review — so around April 2 or 3.

Make Light Real ONE Action

Those who have used Photoshop probably know the power of actions. Some also know the power of LAB color mode. The problem is that LAB can sound like a scary thing, and most actions are “one hit wonders.”

Neil Cowley has created something that will blow you away — The ONE Action. It’s an action set that guides you through the LAB colorspace workflow. I’ve worked in LAB for a few little things in the past, but I hadn’t realized the full potential until I started working with the ONE Action.

Neil is sponsoring our most recent project, the “Action and Preset Extravaganza“, and the top 3 prizes include the ONE Action. I’ve been toying around with it for a couple weeks, and this is my introductory take on it. I should also state that I have much to learn about using this action and working in the LAB color space, so this is by no means a comprehensive review.

WHAT’S INCLUDED

The ONE Action package includes several handy items. Obviously, the Photoshop Action is at the heart of it all. You also get an ACR and Lightroom preset, an HDR action, LAB curve presets, an instruction manual, a really great walkthrough video, and some sample photos.

The video is a great place to start after you’ve loaded up the actions and/or presets. Neil goes through the capabilities of the action, how to use it, and the thought process behind the actions. He explains rather quickly that the ONE Action is more than just a “push and go” type of action — it’s a workflow process.

Here’s another video from Neil that shows an example of how the action can be used. This is not the video included with the action.

HOW IT WORKS

The action “forces” you to work in the LAB color space (which really isn’t a bad thing at all). This gives you the freedom to manipulate the luminosity and color of the image separate from each other. It also gives you the ability to pinpoint specific tonal ranges and apply adjustments only where you desire.

There are a lot of individual actions contained in the set, and each one is intended to target a very specific region of the image. The main idea, though, is to understand the adjustments produced by the actions and apply them in small steps as you work through the image. Masking and tone-mapping are important parts of the ONE Action workflow.

Honestly, once you start working with this action set you’ll really start to understand the power of working in LAB color space. As I went though several of my own photos, I was surprised and amazed at the results that could be achieved with just a few little adjustments.

EXAMPLE PHOTOS

Each of the images below show the unprocessed raw file, the processed raw file, and the final photo after processing with the “ONE Action.” I chose to use the action on a few particular photos from a recent photowalk that turned out less than optimal but had potential. I used the action with the intent of reproducing the scene I saw with my eyes (and in some cases introduce a bit more “life”), and in most cases the ONE Action saved my butt. Click on the photos for a larger view.

You can purchase the ONE Action from Make Light Real, or participate in the Action and Preset Extravaganza for your chance at one of the prize packages.

Book Review: Sony Alpha DSLR A300/A350 Digital Field Guide

Typically, the manual that comes with your new camera is less than satisfactory. Sure they tell you how to push all the buttons, but that’s about it. Third party camera manuals or field guides can be a great resource for specific camera model owners.

Tom Bonner recently published a Digital Field Guide for the Sony Alpha DSLR A300/A350. Since the two cameras are nearly identical, Tom wrapped up both cameras in a single book. Myself being a Sony Alpha user, Tom thought I might like to check it out.

The book is a combination of extended camera manual, general photography guide, and hands-on assignments. The flow is very logical and easy to follow. This is one book that A300/A350 owners will certainly benefit from.

The Sony Alpha DSLR A300/A350 Digital Field Guide (ISBN 978-0470386279) can be purchased directly from Wiley or through Amazon.com.

ABOUT THE BOOK

The Sony Alpha DSLR A300/A350 Digital Field Guide, by Tom Bonner, is 272 pages with a soft cover. The book is small enough to fit in your camera bag, but large enough to fit in your hands. It’s broken up into three parts and seven chapters, plus two very handy appendices.

Part 1 focuses on the two cameras and their various controls and menus. The A300 and A350 are so similar in construction that Tom covers both cameras simultaneously while pointing out the differences. This section of the book by itself could potentially replace the user manual that comes with the camera.

Part 2 starts with the basics of photography, including camera control, exposure, and composition. Then it goes into the specifics of lenses and other accessories, including various types of lenses available for the Alpha cameras. This section ends with a chapter on lighting — theory, application, and equipment.

Part 3 is more general in nature, covering subjects, types of photography, and digital workflow. Though this section is applicable to any camera, Tom constantly gives specific examples and tips for the Alpha photographer. I liked this section the best because it gives a lot of great examples and the content is structured in an academic manner with miniature assignments designed to explore and learn the A300 and A350.

The appendices are a good resource for Sony shooters. The first appendix is a listing of businesses and websites dedicated to Sony cameras. The second appendix is a troubleshooting guide specific to these cameras.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Bonner is a 30-year Minolta/Sony camera enthusiast and photographer (my kind of guy!). He’s spent many years as a freelance photographer and writer. Some of his photographic experience includes automotive and motorsports subjects.

I’ve been following Tom for many months because of his blog, Alphatracks — a website dedicated to the fledgling Sony Alpha DSLR line. Being a Sony/Minolta user myself, the subject of his blog caught my attention. But Tom’s ability to write and teach is what keeps me going back for more.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

This is a great resource book for the Sony A300 and A350 photographer. It covers just about everything you can find in your user manual, plus a whole lot of practical stuff. New users will benefit the most from this book, as the assignments in Part 3 will familiarize them with the camera in-use.

For those who aren’t A300/A350 users, it’s probably not a book you’d buy. The entire book is sprinkled with Alpha details and it would be frustrating trying to translate the features and functions. But, I’m sure that Tom wasn’t targeting Canon or Nikon photographers when he wrote it.

But regardless of which brand you use, I’d still go check out Tom’s blog. A lot of the stuff he publishes isn’t completely specific to Sony or Minolta.

The Sony Alpha DSLR A300/A350 Digital Field Guide (ISBN 978-0470386279) can be purchased directly from Wiley or through Amazon.com.

Book Review: Reza War and Peace

I’ll never get tired of saying how awesome National Geographic book publications are. They work with some of the most talented people around the world to produce amazing books and other publications. This book is no exception to the standard they’ve set.

Reza War and Peace is a book about many things, very deep and emotional. As the title suggests, the book is about war and peace. But it’s so much more than that too. This book is a testimony of humanity — at its worst, and at its best. It is comprised of 30 years of Reza’s work from across the world, and it contains some of the most incredible stories I never knew.

And just as the book is more than a collection of photos, Reza is more than a photographer or photojournalist. He’s a humanitarian, a story-teller, and a witness to the world. His conviction runs deep and this is his reality… his whole life.

Also, read on for a chance to win a free copy of the book.

Reza War and Peace can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Reza Deghati was born and raised in Iran in the year 1952. In a short conversation I had with him he indicated that even at the young age of 6 or 7, he was captivated by pictures and paintings depicting people in need and he saw the power of such imagery. Once a teenager, he began using the camera to document the world around him — particularly those in need.

One particular instance he wrote about was in a local marketplace. An old woman was selling fish of poor quality. He was compelled to take her photo and learn her story. She told him that she would find fish left behind or on the ground from other vendors and try to sell them to people who had less money than she. The local law enforcement always had their eye out for her and she was forced to hand over part of her meager earnings. Reza told the story in his school paper, and thus began his journey into professional photojournalism.

Once out of high school, Reza studied architecture at the University of Teheran. All the while, he captured the growing turmoil in his homeland (through the late 1970′s) and the uprising against the Shah and the revolution that surrounded it. His photography caused him to spend much time in jail, but he kept going. In 1981, Reza was forced to leave his country in exile.

Since that time, Reza has been a nomad traveling from one troubled culture to the next across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. He has spent much time in Afghanistan and Egypt, not to mention dozens of other countries.

Reza is more than a photographer — he’s a true humanitarian. He doesn’t just photograph his subjects, he feels their pain and he gets involved. When I asked him if he considers himself more of a humanitarian or a photographer, he replied that the two labels are one in the same for him. This man is a true giver, dedicating his life and all of his material belongings to causes across the world. Reza honestly sees all the people of the world as only human beings — with no boundaries or segregations.

His hope is that people will react to his work. See his photos, read his stories, and be compelled to do something about it. Reza has been featured in many publications (including National Geographic) and received numerous awards and recognitions. All of which is well deserved.

When Reza is not out doing his work, he resides in his adopted country of France with his wife and two children.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Reza War and Peace is a hardcover with 296 pages containing 200 images. The first thing you’ll notice about it is the sheer size of the book — it’s 11×14 inches! And you’ll notice that there are more pages than photos, which means some photos are sprawled across two pages at nearly 22″ wide. All of the images are accompanied by in-depth personal accounts and explanations from Reza.

When I first recieved the book, I flipped through the images to get an idea of what was in store for me. The photos were powerful to say the least, but I had no clue what that book would present to me once I read it.

Reza takes us on a journey through his life, sharing his encounters and adventures. The book not only covers the topic of war and conflict, but also the peace and awesome nature of the human soul (often in the wake or midst of terrible events).

The major strength of the book is that stories are told to the point of evoking an emotional response from the reader. Photos sit alongside paragraphs of background information and inner thoughts from the photographer. Reza constantly reminds us that the people in his photos are human beings no different than you and I — the only difference is the situation they’ve been thrown into.

This little section is one account of my emotional response to the book: While reading the book, I’ll remember one moment for a very long time (maybe for the rest of my life). I happened to be upon the photo of the young girl from Sarajevo in 1993. Dressed in pink among a war torn environment, this little girl was selling her toys because of her situation. My 4 year old daughter came near me and saw the photo — she said “What is that girl doing with her toys?” To which I instinctively replied “She’s selling them.” — “Oh, she doesn’t want them anymore?” — I found myself unable to continue the conversation, realizing what I had gotten myself into. I finally found the voice to say “She wants them… but she has to sell them.” — “How come?” — Again, I couldn’t find the words. I closed the book, answered with a short “I don’t know”, and started to cry.

How could I possibly explain to my innocent and care-free little girl that not all kids are awarded the luxuries she has known all her life? How could I tell her that other kids are forced to sell their most prized possessions, hide from the violence of war, and arm themselves with guns to fight for their country and their lives? I couldn’t do it.

These types of emotions and inner thoughts are brought out through the entire book. As you peer upon the faces of the people in the photos, you realize that they are (or were) living in a reality so very different from your own, and yet, they are so very much the same as the rest of us. But Reza doesn’t just show us the sad moments — he also reminds us that people around the world are compassionate, giving, and full of life. He also shows us the beauty of these foreign cultures including their various traditions and ways of life.

ABOUT GETTING INVOLVED

Reza goes above and beyond the call of duty — he puts his money where his mouth is. In 2001, Reza founded Aïna, an NGO whose name in Farsi means “mirror.” The name references a metaphorical mirror in which people searching for an identity destroyed by war can rediscover their culture. Aïna contributes to the emergence of civil society through actions in the area of education (particularly focusing on women and children), information and communication. Aïna promotes independent media development and cultural expression as a foundation of democracy.

This effort is a major focus for Reza, and he feels very strongly about promoting and teaching free and independent press as part of rebuilding a severely damaged civil society. If you would like to learn more about this humanitarian society, I urge you to visit their website and learn about how you can help others in need.

ABOUT THE GIVEAWAY

One lucky winner will receive a free copy of Reza War and Peace courtesy of National Geographic. All you have to do is leave a comment below and tell me so. If you want to be sure your comment doesn’t hit the spam bucket, be sure to use the word “Reza” in your comment. We’ll draw a random winner 5 days from now — December 8, 2008.

[UPDATE] The book winner has been announced.

MY FINAL THOUGTHS

If you’re looking for a fun little coffee table book with lots of pretty pictures, this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re interested in experiencing the brutal and beautiful truths of our world, I would highly recommend this book. It’s an amazing book filled with amazing photos and stories, and it demands to be digested slowly and thoughtfully.

Reza gives not only a physical account of his travels, but an emotional one too. Be prepared to spend a lot of time studying this work, and be prepared to be emotionally torn.

I found this book very difficult to review because my write-up turned out 4 times longer than expected and I conveyed 1/4 of what I wanted to. My best advice is to pick up a copy for yourself and experience it firsthand.

Reza War and Peace can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.