Learning Photoshop

For more than a year, Photoshop was the bane of my photographic world. I wanted to learn it, but each time I tried, I came away feeling frazzled, inept, and not too bright. I just wanted to master the basics. Perhaps I could learn to remove small distractions from an image or brighten a dark spot. For example, I took a picture of a couple with their dog, and an upturned chair in the background made it appear as if the dog had horns.

Picture before PhotoshopPicture before Photoshop
Many of my friends could use this program, so I began with optimism. First, I took a class. The instructor cheerfully zipped though his list of topics, while I watched, listened, took notes, and tried to follow the steps on my laptop. That didn’t work, though, because while I took notes, I missed details, and while I was trying to find a tool or command, he was often moving on the next topic. I finished the class but recognized that I needed to find another way to learn the program.

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Shooting Outdoors in Wet Weather

While the fainthearted may see grey skies and feel trapped inside, the rest of us need not be stopped by wet weather. Taking pictures in mist and rain can be very satisfying, especially when the rain is light and feet stay dry. Often, grey skies intensify certain colors, while changing others.

I really noticed this last week when I went outside to get my morning paper and saw the pumpkin stand across the street from my house. The pumpkins practically glowed. Luckily, I was only steps from my camera and managed to capture the rich orange.

farmstand in mist

The last few days have been damp and grey where I live. While friends and neighbors bemoan the lack of sun, I happily take advantage of the overcast skies and wet surfaces. I put on my waterproof shoes, grab my slicker, and out I go.

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DSLRs, sensor dust, and NASA

If you haven’t seen these photos from a recent Shuttle mission you should definitely check them out. Spectacular. But, me being who I am, I couldn’t help but notice the sensor dust defects in the fifth photo. You can tell it’s dust on the sensor because it shows up again in the same places on the seventh photo which is also shot at a high f-stop (where sensor spots are more likely to appear) (and you can tell it’s a high f-stop because everything in the frame is in sharp focus.).

NASA dust

I should probably get out more.

I can’t wait until it’s feasible for private citizens to go on Earth orbit “safaris.” I’ll definitely make sure my sensor is clean before hand. 😉

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Online Help Choosing a Camera

New digital cameras are being announced at staggering speed, and those of you who might be considering a new purchase may be slightly overwhelmed by the sheer number of options. One way to start is by using the Digital Camera Advisor. This online tool allows you to enter personal preferences about a number of items and attributes, including camera usage, price, brand, and physical and imaging attributes. After you have made your entries, the site offers camera recommendations.

screenshot Digital Camera AdvisorTo start, merely click one of the buttons and then move sliders or click checkboxes to indicate your choices. Unfortunately, the first button–camera usage–is one of the weaker pages, because the choices are so limited. You can choose between action scenes and landscapes, for example, but not nature shots or portraits. Still, take a stab and move forward.

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Digital Photography Podcasts

PodcastsHere’s a roundup of some good photography podcasts I’ve noticed recently. These podcasts cover the gamut from photography lessons, to gear reviews, interviews, Photoshop tutorials, discussions of fine art, and a lot more.

What’s a podcast, you ask? In a nutshell, they’re internet radio programs that you can subscribe to for free and listen to on your computer or mp3 player. Click here for more information about podcasts. You can subscribe to these using iTunes or other podcatching applications (I use Miro) or even just your normal RSS feed reader.

I’m a regular listener of Tips from the Top Floor and The Digital Photography Show. They’re both great shows and are fun to listen to.

Leave a comment if you know of other photography related podcasts that you think are worth listening to.

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Photo enhancement going too far?

Before and afterThe Telegraph UK has an interesting article talking about how everyone from the kid next door to Hollywood celebrities are getting work done on their photographs.

The manipulation of photos is a given in the image-is-everything world of celebrity. Earlier this week, the Duchess of York appeared in Italian Vogue. With a tiny waist, sculptured cheekbones and a wrinkle-free face, she bore no relation to the frumpy Fergie who looked every one of her 47 years when papped out jogging recently.

The author theorizes that social networking services like Facebook are partially responsible. That users of those services want to look as attractive as possible to other members and that they are willing to pay to do so.

Personally I have retouched portraits of clients, friends and family. I think it’s possible to make flattering alterations without being false. Technique, camera angle, lighting, 12 megapixel clarity and a dozen other factors all contribute to images that may be technically “true” but neglect the fact that our eyes and brain don’t work that way. That human vision is colored by memory and attention and feeling. In a real sense,

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PhotoWorks Offers Retail Outlet for Photographers

PhotoWorks, which began life as Seattle Film Works, started out decades ago using movie film to make prints and slides. Today, many know them as an online photo sharing site, which offers prints and custom photo items, such as books, calendars, cards, and other gift items. I’ve often used this company. I buy prints from them, and last year, I made a book from old scanned family pictures.

Photoworks StorefrontNow this company offer Storefronts, a retail outlet for photographers, where the photographers can create and sell their own photo-related gifts. Right now, you can sell only books from this site. Soon you’ll be able to sell all sorts of products, including images and items that use images, such as coffee mugs, calendars, and so forth. In addition, PhotoWorks plans to offer widgets that will allow users to display their products on their personal websites.

You choose a user name, which gets incorporated into the URL. Choose carefully, since you cannot change this name later. PhotoWorks will take care of hosting your images, payments, and shipping. You can then have the proceeds either deposited into a Paypal account, or credited to your PhotoWorks account.

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Patches for Pictures

Recently I read an article about two new tools that are being developed to help digital photographers remove items from their images. Suppose you had taken picture of a great small town main street, but when saw the image you realized that three parked cars obscured the view and just looked messy. If only you could remove them! However, if you did, you would be left with a void.

Apparently, you are not alone. At least two teams are trying to solve this problem. One is developing a scene-completion algorithm that searches for a patch for your picture. It quickly scans thought a database of millions of images on Flickr, looking for images of the same subject, taken from the same position, with the light falling from the same direction. The algorithm narrows down all the choices first to 200 and finally to 20 or so. Ultimately, user are given a choice and select the one that looks best to them.

Another team is trying to create a library of clip art, taken from the Label Me library of images. This library could supply patches for missing picture parts.

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Photos Help You Sell

Many photographers started using digital photography only when they needed pictures for online auctions and sales. In fact, sales pictures are still a major reason why people use digital cameras. Luckily, shooting pictures to help you sell items is not difficult, but you should keep a few things in mind.

First, your picture should clearly show the item. Although this sounds too obvious to mention, it’s not. Many people upload blurry, dark images that make viewers squint at their screens and scratch their heads. Maybe the photographer thought, “Close enough!” However, potential buyers are likely to move on to something that they can see and don’t have to imagine.

For example, if a bookshelf has drawers, open one slightly so people will realize that they are not mere decorations. If you’re shooting a porcelain sugar bowl, be sure that the shape, pattern, and lid are clearly visible. If you’re selling a cup, show the handle and shape; if your product is a book, slant it so that buyers can see both spine and cover.

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Online Manuals for Secondhand Cameras

Not everyone buys new cameras from a store. Those of you who buy used cameras may be happy to learn that you can easily get manuals for them. There are plenty of online sites that let you download manuals in some form. Finding manuals for digital cameras is relatively simple at sites like this.

In these types of sites, you just select a manufacturer and then download a file. Different manufacturers supply different types of files. On the Cameratown site, for example, Canon supplies html files, while Pentax uses pdf.

But maybe you have some weird camera you picked up at a yard sale, or a vintage film camera. Anyone with an older or more unusual camera should go to Michael Butkus Jr.’s site. This is a treasure trove for certain camera owners. Here you will find manuals for not only for older film cameras but also for their flashes and light meters.

One of the most fascinating resources on the Butkus site is the information about “orphan cameras,” or non-brand name cameras. I’ve never even heard of some of these,

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