Posts Published in September 2009

Interview with Miklos Bacso of miklos.ca

Miklos Bacso is the photoblogger behind miklos.ca.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Miklos Bacso: I was born and raised in a small town called Apagy, Hungary and moved to Canada in 1992 because my parents figured we (my younger brother, sister and myself) would have a better future here than there… After going back to visit in the summer of 2008 for the first time in 16 years, I would have to say that they were right! I am a programmer / website designer for a company called Bosch Rexroth, I also do product photography for them when they need… I live in Welland Ontario, about 25 minutes from Niagara Falls.

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PP: Did you take a lot of photographs when you visited?

MB: When we visited, I decided only to shoot film, and only in black and white.. I had no particular reason to do so and I kind of regret it because Budapest is beautiful in colour. However I like a lot of the photos that turned out in black and white as well. The photos of Budapest are here: http://miklos.ca/photos/tags/budapest … A couple of photos from my hometown (Apagy) are here: http://miklos.ca/photos/tags/apagy

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PP: How did you first get into photography?

MB: It was back in 2003 or 2004 when photoblogs were starting to be popular and although I had been taking photos with a little Canon S400 beforehand, that’s when I started taking photos more seriously. Since then I’ve done portraits, weddings, abstract work.. Now I mainly focus on documenting life around me.

PP: What was your first camera?

MB: My first camera was the Canon S400 but then I got a Sony F828 and bought my first film camera, a Canon A1. After that when I got more serious, I bought a Nikon D2X.

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PP: What equipment do you use now?

MB: Now I mainly use the Nikon D700 but I try to use film at least monthly. When I do, I mainly use a Nikon F5 or an F55 and a Rolleiflex 35C that I got from Bob at notraces.com.

PP: What’s on your wishlist?

MB: Some nice Nikon glass would be nice. I covet the 14-24mm Nikkor, and a decent telephoto lens.

PP: Where do you get your film developed?

MB: A lot of the black and white film that I shoot I develop at home, unless it is in bigger batches, such as the trip to Hungary, in which case I usually get it developed at a store called The Camera Place located in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I also go there for printing majority of my film shots. The owner lets me use his darkroom at the back of the store to do some black and white prints manually which is kind of nice.

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PP: How would you describe your photography to someone who has never seen it?

MB: Very laid back, documentary style (with minimal postprocessing.) I am simply documenting life around me now so that we can look back years and years down the road. Sometimes I try to take photos that “look nice” but more often times than not, I fail :)

PP: How has photoblogging changed since 2003 or 2004?

MB: I fell out of the photoblogging loop back in 2006 or so and as such, I cannot answer that question in a general sense… For me, however, I know that I’ve redone my site a million times since then and also I’ve shifted focus from “let’s try to see how many visitors I can get” to “let’s take that shot so we can remember it later”. My photoblog changed in terms of the content I publish. 99% of the photos I put up now hold some sort of meaning to me, or the people around me. Of course there are the odd photos that I take just for fun which usually get tagged as “random“. I still visit a few photoblogs from the days when I started and I’m happy to see that they’re still going but I don’t know much about the thousands of new ones that probably surfaced since then. I think people generally just use Flickr now. I have a Flickr account but I prefer to have all my stuff in one spot on a personal site so uploads to my Flickr stream are very rare these days.

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PP: When, where, and how much do you shoot?

MB: Back in the beginning I used to upload one a day, much like most of the other photobloggers out there. These days I tend to upload batches of photos, about 15-30 at a time, only a handful of times per month. I don’t shoot as much as I used to anymore but I don’t have any plans of shutting my site down anytime soon either. Most of my photos are around the Niagara Region (Canada) unless we go up north for vacation.

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PP: Can you briefly describe your workflow?

MB: My workflow for digital photos is very simple. I shoot RAW, I try to get the framing and the exposure right in camera, and do 99% of the processing in the raw converter which usually just includes white balance, contrast and saturation adjustments. Because I work with batches of photos at a time, I don’t tend to spend too much time on individual photos unless I plan to print one or two. For the film shots, my preferred method is getting the photos printed at the lab, then scanning the print with the cheap little flatbed scanner I have which is more than enough for the purposes of posting to web. I hate scanning negatives and dealing with dust etc, so if anyone wants a print of any of my film shots, I take the negative to the lab. Film shots that I post I don’t usually work on at all, other than removing dust spots from scanning.

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PP: What advice do you have for someone just starting out in photography?

MB: I’d have to say that exposure is one of the most valuable things you could learn if you’re just starting out.. Get that under control right off the bat, and you’re laughing.. Learn shutter speeds, apertures, ISO settings… Don’t always on “Aperture priority” or “P” modes… I mean they are handy sometimes for quick snaps but I think it’s important to understand what’s going on… Also if you have a digital SLR, most of the new ones are pretty decent these days so don’t be afraid to use higher ISO settings either… Keep in mind that even if it looks a bit grainy on screen, when you print it, it will probably look fine.

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PP: Who are some photographers you keep up with?

MB: To name a few, I keep in touch with Bob from NoTraces.com, Kathleen from DurhamTownship.com, John from Orbit1.com, Jessyel from Dailysnap.com, my friend Dave from Farmfive.com (although he doesn’t post as often anymore)…

PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

MB: Bob from NoTraces, definitely. He’s quite a character. :)

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PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

MB: In the words of Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod from those old Body Break commercials … Until next time, keep fit and have fun! (And keep taking lots and lots of pictures!)

Digital Photographs for a Lifetime

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One of the things I was struck by a couple weeks ago in my graduate systems course is how fragile data is. It’s interesting how a lot of people seem to think that digital is a safer or more durable format than film, when it’s most often the other way around. Once you shoot and develop a roll of film, the physical degradation your film strip will experience over the years (if stored properly) is nothing compared to the digital degradation of your digital files.

The general, technical term for this is bit rot.

Floppy disk and magnetic tape storage may experience bit rot as bits lose magnetic orientation, and in warm, humid conditions these media are prone to literally rot. In optical discs such as CDs and DVDs the breakdown of the material onto which the data is stored may cause bit rot. This can be mitigated by storing disks in a dark, cool location with low humidity. Archival quality disks are also available. Old punch cards and punched tape may also experience literal rotting.

Here’s what it can do to your digital photographs:

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Personally, I backup each of my photographs twice – one on an external hard drive and one on a DVD-R. This definitely isn’t enough for long term data backup, so I’m going to have to rethink how I backup my data very soon.

In general, preserving digital data is a very difficult issue, even for companies with large amounts of money and resources. The fact is that nothing lasts forever (except souls, of course. Email me for more on that), and the challenge is mainly how to extend the life of our data as long as possible.

So what options do we ordinary folk have for backing up digital work? What steps can we take to make it more likely that our photos will be around in 10, 50, or 100 years?

Optical Disks

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Manufacturers claim that their high quality CD-Rs and DVD-Rs can last between 50 and 100 years, but this is assuming you buy the most expensive disks and store them flawlessly. Most experts estimate that your CD-Rs have a conservative lifespan of 6+ years and DVD-Rs 15+ years. Even then you’ll need a bit of luck.

The truth is, most of our discs won’t last very long due to a plethora of factors. First off, most of us are probably more cost-conscious than “data-longevity conscious”. We don’t always buy the highest quality disks to burn on.

Second, we don’t always store data properly. Improper storage or handling leads to disc rot.

Third, we’re generally time-conscious as well, so we don’t always burn our disks on the slowest, and safest, speed.

Here are some steps you can take to extend the life of your optical disks:

  1. Quality: Purchase the highest quality disks you can
  2. Burning: Burn your disks on the slowest burn speed for optimal data integrity
  3. Storing: Store your disks in jewel cases in a dark place at room temperature away from light and heat sources
  4. Handling: Be sure to take good care of your disks. Avoid touching the bottom or trying to clean them if possible. If text printed on a piece of paper is ripped or fades, you can still read it. If your disk gets a bad scratch, it could be rendered completely unreadable.
  5. Labeling: Don’t label your disks with adhesive labels or permanent markers
  6. Maintaining: If you’re seriously paranoid, you might want to transfer the data to new disks periodically, accepting the potential data degradation introduced in the transfer in order to avoid the physical degradation of the disks.

Hard Drives

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It’s not uncommon for hard drives to fail after a few years. Most manufacturer warranties are around 3-5 years.

First, let’s talk about the hard drives in your computer. Generally, drives last long when they’re constantly running at a steady pace. A computer that is always on will likely last longer than a computer that is turned on and off multiple times a day.

Also, in addition to the mechanical parts of a hard drive failing, the magnetic bit strength of a hard drive slowly fades over time, leading to data loss.

A possible way to play it safer when it comes to hard drives is to store the same data on different drives (increasing redundancy), since it’s unlikely that both will fail at the same time. Thus, if one fails, you can quickly get a new one and copy it over.

This is the general idea behind RAID, a popular technology developed by another professor here at Cal. There’s different levels of RAID, but the duplication strategy I just described (RAID 1) is probably the most applicable for consumers. The other RAID levels are more applicable for companies who want redundancy but don’t want double of every bit of data (no pun intended). You can buy external hard drives with RAID technology now, or you can just purchase multiple hard drives and do the mirroring yourself.

Some hard drive tips:

  1. Purchasing: Buy high quality hard drives. Saving money by buying large cheap disks isn’t a good idea, since you’re most likely trading more space for less reliability. What’s the point of storing more data if you’re much more likely to lose it?
  2. Handling: Sudden movements or shocks to hard drives can mean death to your data, especially when the hard drive is starting up. Keep the drive safe and stable.
  3. Maintaining: As I said earlier, the data on hard drives slowly “rots” over time. To prevent this rot you should periodically read everything on the

Prints

If you want to ensure that your grandchildren will see a certain photograph, the best option might be to make prints of it. While a print at your local drug store might only last 10 or 15 years before it starts to break down, a high quality print could last your lifetime. Here are some tips:

  1. Ink and Paper: The physical components that go into making a print are of utmost importance. Do some research and make sure you choose materials that last.
  2. Archival Materials: What you choose to display or store your photographs in has a big impact on the longevity of your prints. They need to be “chemically inert”, meaning they won’t cause the material in your print to break down.
  3. Location: Store your photographs in a cool, dry, and dark place. Heat, humidity, and light all cause the materials in prints to break down. If you hang your photos somewhere, avoid direct sunlight, since it will fade your photographs.
  4. Handling: Avoid touching the surface of your prints, since your fingers obviously aren’t chemically inert.

Online

logo_awsCloud computing is becoming a pretty big deal, and many people have already entrusted other forms of data to big players such as Amazon or Google. In fact, services like SmugMug and Twitter trust Amazon’s S3 storage service so much that their images are all stored there. The question is, should you?

In generally, it’s probably safer to entrust your images to Amazon than it is to back them up yourself. I’m not exactly sure how services like Amazon deal with data corruption, but they have professionals dealing with the integrity of their data, while you’re most likely not one. The most common reason for data loss is human error, so in this regard, you’re much safer with Amazon than handing external hard drives yourself. In terms of price, it’s not so bad either.

Conclusion

The most durable way to store information is physically, not digitally. Here’s an interesting quote that I came across in this New York Times article about data rot:

Making lots of backups is good advice, and on different formats, different places; consider paper as an archival medium. Some paper we have has lasted thousands of years. If Moses had gotten the Ten Commandments on a floppy disk, it would never have made it to today.

Personally, I think the safest ways to preserve photos are with companies like Amazon for all your data, and by making prints for individual photos.


Have other tips? Leave a comment sharing them with us and I might add them to this post!


Image credits: Camouflage by friskypics, VCDHD / DVHD by jepoirrier, Hard drive array by shanghaidaddy

Photoshop CS4 is a Worthy Upgrade

I just purchased Adobe Photoshop CS4 last week for my Macbook after being unable to transfer my CS3 student serial for PCs to a Mac version. Adobe’s phone customer support leaves something to be desired. Spent an hour’s worth of cell phone minutes listening to their elevator music, and finally hung up without talking to anyone. It’s pretty absurd that they put you on hold for so long even when you’re calling to make a purchase. They could learn a thing or two from Zappos.

While I was in the student store, I was thinking about also purchasing Lightroom 2. A lot of my buddies use it for their photography, but I always used Photoshop since I needed Photoshop for web development and thought Lightroom’s functionality with be redundant. However, Lightroom definitely had some features that I wish CS3 had, but was pleasantly surprised to find included in CS4.

One such feature is the new adjustment brush in Adobe Camera Raw:

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I actually didn’t know they added this to CS4 before I purchased it. Prior to CS4, Adobe Camera Raw only allowed you to make changes to the image as a whole, while Lightroom had tools that allowed you to do local adjustments just like you would be able to in Photoshop. Now you can do local adjustments right in ACR.

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Those of you who got CS4 a while ago have probably been using the adjustment brush for a long time already, but for those of you with a previous version of Photoshop and who shoot Raw, this is a pretty darn good reason to upgrade.

Now, if only Adobe would include better methods for comparing the before and after images in ACR…

Just Hit Another Milestone

Was looking at PetaPixel’s Feedburner statistics last night and noticed that we just hit 1337 subscribers! Behold:

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Thanks to everyone who helped us get to this point!


Sorry for the sudden onslaught of nerd jokes. Here’s the other one that we just tweeted.

Announcing the SmugMug Winners!

smugmug_logoThis past week we had a giveaway in which we asked for your favorite photography related websites. The four prizes are memberships of various levels to SmugMug. We received 94 responses through comments on the post and 72 responses through Twitter for a total of 166 entries.

If you’re looking for new photography websites to visit or blogs to follow, you’ll find a lot of good ones in the comments we received.

Here are the four winners, picked randomly using random.org:

Standard Membership Winners ($40)

#4: Yael Talleyrand (@yatalley)

http://photocritic.org/ s more lika a blog … but since i find his stuff veeery cool :)… i guess thats it.

#53: Gil_margey

I like http://beruphoto.com — they pick photos from livejournal

Power Membership Winner ($60)

#32: sneuweger

That is difficult there are so many great sites in my feedreader… so i will choose Scott Kelby’s Photoshop Insider: http://www.scottkelby.com/blog/ not only for his original posts but also for the numerous links to interesting people of “the industry”…

Pro Membership Winner ($150)

#7: Frances Parker (@simplybetrue)

my fave photography-related website? j*’s blog. i heart Jasmine Star http://www.jasminestarblog.com and read her blog everyday.


Congratulations! Please email me at [email protected] to claim your prize.

Thanks for participating everyone!

Interview with Miles Storey of MUTE

Miles Storey is the photographer behind MUTE, an award-winning photoblog.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Miles Storey: I was born in England and spent a few years growing up abroad which was an eye opening experience for a kid. After leaving school I spent the next decade or so avoiding 9-5 and traveling as much as possible. At the time I was running a backpackers’ hostel in Brighton, England which allowed me to take months off work at a time, and even when I wasn’t traveling I was surrounded by travelers. Towards the end of the 90s I started doing some design work and a few years later I made an attempt to settle down and focus on work. Now I do web development and miss traveling.

PP: How did you first get into photography?

MS: I’ve always loved photography. Some of my earliest memories are of gathering on the beach every night with my family to watch the sun set over the ocean. My dad had a Praktica SLR and captured lots of beautiful sunsets on slide film. I remember the magic of sitting around a projector watching a slide show, enhanced no doubt by living in a country where the only media entertainment was the BBC World Service! But for whatever reasons I didn’t pick up a camera with any intent until after I started designing in earnest, about six years ago, and then only to build a digital library of everyday elements (like phone boxes, sign posts) I could use in graphic design. It was only when I discovered photoblogs that the light above my head clicked on and I realised I could do something creative that I knew I loved.

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PP: What was your first camera?

MS: The first camera I really tried to figure out how to use was my Dad’s Pentax Super ME. I had borrowed it on a few occasions and could never get my head around how exposures worked, so ended up shooting in auto all the time. At that point I was taking photos as reference for a school art class and thought of the photographs as nothing more than a step between reality and painted canvas. Years later I bought an SLR of my own before a trip to Italy with friends. It was a Canon EOS, the 500 model I think. I was in full auto mode then too but started trying to take pictures that actually looked nice.

It was the ease and accessibility of digital photography that eventually got me thinking about photography in a different way, that I could take pictures just for the sake of taking pictures. I bought a Canon G1 compact digital when I moved on from my hostel job and into design. The idea, as I mentioned above, was to use it to snap away at everyday elements and build up a digital directory of things, cut out from their background, that I could use in graphic design. That was the camera that really got me into photography. I wish it had been an old rangefinder or TLR that I found in the garage but there’s nothing so romantic about my story!

PP: What equipment do you use now?

MS: Now I have a Canon 5d and a 40d along with a variety of lenses, all primes except for a wide angle zoom. I do have some film cameras, a Yashica rangefinder, a Rolleicord TLR, a broken lomo LCA, a Holga, and that Canon 500. I wish I could say I used them more.

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PP: What’s on your wishlist in terms of gear?

MS: I’m pretty happy with the gear I have. My 50mm lens just broke so I need to replace that. I absolutely love fast primes and would love to try Canon’s top of the range 35mm, 50mm and 85mm. I would also like to get my hands on a medium format SLR, a Bronica Sqi for example.

One camera I would love to see is a rangefinder style DSLR-quality digital camera. Several companies have tried, notably Sigma with the DP1 and DP2, but there have always been serious drawbacks. Leica’s M8 is supposed to be a good effort, but at $4,500 I can’t even bring myself to think about it.

PP: How would you describe your photography to someone who has never seen it?

MS: Hmm, that’s pretty tricky. I have yet to settle on a particular style and more than once someone has mistaken my photoblog for the output of several different people. A photography agent once told me that I was “all over the place.” I shoot just about anything, people, landscapes, urban, country, event, etc and, although I’ve gotten better recently, there’s not a lot of consistency on view. 

I do know what I want to shoot and how I want to shoot it, I’m just not there yet.

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PP: Where are some of the places you’ve traveled to?

MS: I’ve traveled through Europe and North America, spent quite a bit of time in New York and San Francisco over the years, and visited Australia several times, once living for almost a year in Sydney, which is a great city. But the places that really interest me are ones that provide a big contrast from my normal life. When I was 18 years old I headed to Africa, traveling down from Egypt to east Africa. My original idea was that I could get down to Mombasa in Kenya and find a ship heading to the Seychelles, which is where I spent several years as a kid. That didn’t happen of course, and I ran into more than one dangerous situation, but I was hooked. Throughout my 20s I was lucky enough to be able to travel pretty widely but India has to be my favourite place, I’ve spent almost a year there over three different trips. It’s an amazing country of contrasts and colour, never the same twice. 

Almost all of this traveling was done before I picked up a camera in earnest and there are so many places I would love to visit again with camera in hand. India is top of that list of course, every time I think about being there with a camera I get giddy!

PP: What kind of dangerous situations did you run into during your trip to Africa?

MS: Hmm, well, some things I’d rather not talk about! Let’s just say that the docks in Mombasa might not be the best place to walk around looking for a “ride”. And, if your friend gets ill make sure the doctor you take him to is not the one that services the local prostitutes. And, if the manager of a game park tells you there’s a killer buffalo on the loose it’s best to listen and not keep hiking only to end up running for your life through thorn trees. And, if you’re camping in a game reserve you shouldn’t placate the Maasai warriors, who are keeping elephants and lions at bay during the night, by giving them a crate of beer after bursting their football during a friendly game, only for them to fall asleep after consuming said beverages, leaving you and your friends to rather uselessly stand around all night peering into the pitch darkness for things that might eat you. And so on.

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PP: How did you finance your travels?

MS: After leaving school I took a year off and worked in a factory that produced picture frames. After working many overtime shifts and saving up money for several months I drove a car under the back of a truck, slicing half the roof off and forcing the gearbox upwards and the engine backwards into the passenger compartment. After several weeks spent recuperating and feeling sorry for myself I found that I was back at square one. Desperate not to waste my year off I ended up putting a classified ad in the back of the London magazine Time Out asking for someone to fund my travels. Surprisingly someone, who wanted to remain anonymous, did. So off I went.

PP: What advice do you have for someone who is just starting to post their photos online? 

MS: Don’t be discouraged if people aren’t visiting, the internet is nothing if not fickle and it has nothing to do with how good your photographs are. Keep at it, focus on what you want to do with your images, and embrace the on- and off- line community. I’ve seen so many photoblogs where the images seem to take second place to how popular the photographer wants to be.

I think I was lucky to start when I did, in 2004. There was already an established photoblogging community.  photoblogs.org had been around for a couple of years, but it was friendly and relatively small. My first posts were my first attempts at ‘serious’ photography but I was getting visitors from day one. These days, with so many photoblogs out there and Flickr and the like dominating the online photo world, I’m not sure I would be noticed.

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PP: What would you do differently if you could start your photoblog over?

MS: Nothing, as a personal site I’ve always done just what I wanted with it. It’s a blog, not a portfolio, it’s meant to be somewhat messy and contradictory.

PP: How does one get involved in the online and offline photoblogging communities? How did you?

MS: There’s no barrier to entry, if you want to be a part of the community you simply step in, start commenting on other photoblogs (not spamming and self-promoting!), join the available communities on sites like photoblogs.org and photos.vfxy.com, and take part in the various challenges and memes out there. Flickr provides you with numerous opportunities to join local groups where you can get to know like-minded people and attend the meetups, whether it’s for a photo-walk or a few drinks. Photographers are such a varied group that  anyone fits in. I was lucky enough to get to know the founding father of photoblogs.org, Brandon Stone, who made it very easy to become a part of the community that he did so much to build up. In Toronto there are more photobloggers and Flickrites than you can shake a stick at. It’s rare that I walk through downtown or the lakeside without bumping into one and many of the cool and interesting special events that go on in the city are marked by a surfeit of photographers, sometimes outnumbering participants! Events like these are a great place to meet photogs.

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PP: Is there any one thing you learned that caused the biggest improvement in your work?

MS: I think the one thing that helped me more than anything was realising that it wasn’t enough to simply take a photograph, that there has to be more to an image than the sum of a photograph’s parts. In practical terms that means always being aware of what you’re looking at. Not just thinking in terms of the mechanics of taking using the camera to capture a scene, but also understanding why you’re taking that photograph, realising that you had a reaction to what you saw through the viewfinder that made you want to click the shutter.

With regard to post-processing an image, I think the biggest improvement came when I realised that I can create adjustment layers and use layer masks to build up changes and selectively apply them, all without effecting the original image layer. As an example, I use the channel mixer adjustment layer for converting an image to black and white. I used to spend ages playing with the sliders to get the best tones. I’m sure film purists will hate me for saying this but It was always a little frustrating only having one pass at a conversion. So I started stacking up different channel mixer adjustment layers, each with a layer mask applying that particular balance of tones to a selected area of the original image. This means that if you have people in your image you can retain skin detail by using a blue/green bias on one layer targeting the skin tones while having another layer with a red bias that brings out the contrast in your blue sky in the background. Once you start doing this the possible variations are endless. Combining various adjustment layers with layer masks, opacity variation and blending modes allows you to do almost anything. Another quick example; a lot of people use the levels or curves adjustment layer with an “auto” adjustment. This adjusts the contrast and colour in your image. However, I find that while the auto contrast adjustment can be quite useful the resulting colour shift rarely is. To fix that use a “luminosity” blend on the adjustment layer, this will remove any effect the layer has on the colour of the underlying layers while retaining the tonal changes. This is why I think it’s important to always have an image in your head of how you want the finished image to look, without that as a guide you will be stumbling around in the dark.

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PP: What is your goal with photography?

MS: Shortly after starting my photoblog I realised what it was I was missing in my photographs, they were dishonest. I was playing at being a photographer; thinking that because I knew how to take a photograph, the basics of exposure and composition, because I was making decisions about the process, picking an aperture, kneeling down to change the angle, that I knew what I was doing. But I didn’t. I was just going through the motions. It’s all too easy to convince yourself things are going swimmingly, especially when other people are being positive about what you’re putting up. But you have to take photographs for yourself, photographing scenes that you have a genuine reaction to, even if you don’t understand that reaction, you just have to be able to feel it, there’s a purity to this that I think is what elevates a photograph to something so much more.

What brought me to this realisation was a late night of lazily browsing photoblogs. I was looking at several popular sites and trying to think about what made them different. What hit me instead was one particular site where the images were just… different. Perhaps it was the late hour, or perhaps because I had been looking at so many sites that night, but suddenly I saw it, the connection between these images and the photographer. Not literally of course, I didn’t even know the person, but there it was, honest and pure photography, day after day. I was so taken aback with this revelation that I wrote the photographer an anonymous email trying to explain what I had realised, thanking them for making clear the real task I had ahead of me if I wanted to be a photographer. I won’t mention what that site was, partly because I don’t think it matters but also because it was my reaction, something about those images spoke to me in a whole new way and I’m not sure that’s something that can be passed on.

Of course, I have only rarely come close to seeing that same honesty and clarity of purpose in my own images, having a genuine connection with them. But just being aware that this is what is required to be a photographer helps me think more clearly about what I’m doing, allows me to see the image in front of me before I click the shutter. With enough practice I think I will be able to truly connect with the images I create but it will be a lifetime’s work. That’s the goal. Right now 99% of the images I post on my site are disposable. That’s not to say I don’t like them, I do for the most part, and at least they’re not deceiving me into thinking I know what I’m doing anymore.

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PP: Can you briefly describe your workflow?

MS: I’m not the most organised person in the world to be honest. I have a two drives, one for RAW files and the other for finished files, plus backups of course.  Beyond that I don’t really have much of a structure to my filing. When I saw Sam’s video demonstrating his workflow I almost cried it was so organised.

The one thing my process has going for it is simplicity I suppose. I upload photos to my RAW drive and label the folder appropriately, with subject and date. Then I use Irfanview, which is a superb free image viewer, to browse through the images and make quick keep-or-delete decisions. Once I’ve pared the folder down I open a selected shot in Adobe Camera Raw. Now that CS4 has introduced selective tools in ACR I can usually do about 80% of the tweaks before opening an image in Photoshop itself. I’m not a big fan of batch processes using presets and filters. It seems to me that each image is pretty much a unique blend of colour and tone and deserves more than a generic process.

Since I started taking photos for a Toronto news and culture website, Torontoist, I’ve been trying to keep post-processing to a minimum. When you’re dealing with 30-40 images spending even 5 minutes a shot in Photoshop really adds up. Given more time I do have the tendency to fiddle too much, especially with landscapes, but I find that the more experience I have the less manipulation I do. It also depends on the subject of the shot. If it’s a portrait I really want the subject to speak for itself, but sometimes I want the image to reflect my vision of the scene, and then I will do whatever it takes to reach that point.

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PP: Who are some of your favorite photographers?

MS: I’m a big fan of photojournalism and documentary photography, modern photographers like James Nachtwey, David Burnett – who shot the 2004 US election with a Speed Graphic, John Moore, and Bruce Haley; as well as the greats of the past like Robert Capa and Margaret Bourke-White. I love exploring and discovering interesting photographers and photographs, this series, shots by George Caddy on Beachobatics in Sydney, is a fantastic example of the kind of thing that’s out there. The New York Times series One in 8 Million contains some excellent work.

Early images that capture a time and a place when capturing a time and a place was still a rare thing, are fascinating. The Library of Congress has an amazing collection of early images online, many of which can be accessed through their Flickr account. Check out their set of Photochrom travel images. Paris has always been well served by photographers, have a look for photographers like like Brassai and Eugene Atget. There’s an amazing amount of beautiful old photography out there to discover.

My favourite ‘fine art’ photographer at the moment is Gregory Crewdson, who creates these meticulous Hopperesque images of American life using a team of people as extensive as you would find on a film set. I’m also fascinated by Alexey Titarenko’s long exposures and Greg Miller’s wonderful series, like Primo Amore.

There are so many photobloggers and Flickrers I follow it’s hard to keep up with them all. Toronto alone is bursting at the seams with talent, people like Matt O’Sullivan and Sam Javanrouh have helped define this city for me. Other highlights on my blogroll include the stunning abstracts of Andy Bell, Andy Newson‘s immaculate urban compositions, Shannon Richardson‘s wonderful b&w squares, Kathleen Connally‘s beautiful journey through her home, and of course Bob Smith‘s absolute love of cameras and all things created on film. Too many of my favourites have called it quits though, sites like Outafocus, Making Happy and Out of Contxt.

PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

MS: I think it would be interesting to read what Matt of The Narrative has to say.

PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

MS: Please don’t judge me, I can’t help myself.

MIOPS: Smartphone Controllable High Speed Camera Trigger

MIOPS is a new smartphone-controlled camera trigger that combines all of the features photographers want in a high-speed camera trigger into one convenient device.

Read more…

Why You Should Probably Use sRGB

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When I first started using Adobe Camera Raw, one of the options I experimented with was which color space the resulting JPEG should be in. Not thinking it mattered, I selected “Adobe RGB (1998)”. However, a few days later I suddenly realized that the images looked different in a browser than when I had saved them in Photoshop. The once rich and vibrant colors were gone, and what I saw were images that were washed out and desaturated. After looking into why this happened, I found out that the problem had to do with color space.

Color Spaces

So what is a color space anyway? Basically, it’s a specific range of colors that can be represented. JPEG images offer the same number colors no matter what color space you use, with the difference being the range of the colors that can be represented. In other words, sRGB can represent the same number of colors as Adobe RGB, but the range of colors that it represents is narrower. Adobe RGB has a wider range of possible colors, but the difference between individual colors is bigger than in sRGB.

To illustrate this, I’ll use a simplified example. Suppose my color space consisted only of blue, and I could have a total of 3 possible colors. Lets say I chose to use the following “color space”:

srgbrange

Now, maybe I would like a wider range of colors to work with for one reason or another. Though I can’t increase the number of colors I can represent, I can increase the range by spreading the colors farther apart. The resulting color space might look something like this:

adobergbrange

Notice how I was able to capture a wider range (or gamut) of possible colors without increasing the number of colors. In both “color spaces”, I’m limited to 3 colors.

In the same way, Adobe RGB captures the same number of colors as sRGB but offers a wider range of colors by spreading the colors out more.

sRGB

sRGB is pretty much the default color space everywhere you look. This means that most browsers, applications, and devices are designed to work with sRGB, and assume that images are in the sRGB color space. In fact, most browser simply ignore the embedded color space information in images and render them as sRGB images.

Pros

  • Displayed consistently across all programs
  • Simplifies workflow
  • Suitable for normal prints
  • Most people can’t tell the difference anyway

Cons

  • Narrower range of colors than Adobe RGB
  • Can’t obtain benefits of Adobe RGB later down the road

Adobe RGB (1998)

As I explained earlier, Adobe RGB represents a wider range of possible colors using the same amount of information as sRGB by making the colors more spaced out. Since sRGB has a narrower range of colors than Adobe RGB, it cannot display certain highly saturated colors that could still be useful in certain applications, such as professional-grade printing. Thus, photographers and graphic artists that need this extra color range for specific purposes would choose Adobe RGB over sRGB.

Pros

  • Wider range of colors than sRGB
  • Better for professional prints
  • Can always obtain benefits of sRGB later down the road

Cons

  • Will be displayed incorrectly by most browsers
  • Complicates workflow

Which to Use

First of all, if you publish your images on the web, you should always save and publish them as sRGB. This is because most browsers will render images as sRGB regardless of what you save it as, causing Adobe RGB images to appear desaturated and washed out (the problem I was experiencing). Thus, if you want your images to look the same regardless of where it’s being displayed, you should always publish them as sRGB. This makes it so what you see when you save is what you get when it’s displayed.

Thus, the question becomes, “what color space should I work with and save images as?”. This is more tricky, and generally depends on your workflow and what you use your images for.

If you work with 16-bit images and need the extra color range (or gamut) for professional-grade printing, then you should save your images in Adobe RGB. This preserves the extra color information that would be lost if you saved as sRGB, just like the extra information in RAW files is lost if you save them as JPEGs. In this case, it’s not the amount of data that’s lost, but the range of colors.

If you might need the wider range offered by Adobe RGB anytime in the future, then you should work with and save your images in Adobe RGB. If you save your images as sRGB, you cannot convert it to Adobe RGB in the future to obtain the wider range of colors.

However, the advantage of working in sRGB is that it simplifies your workflow. You don’t need to worry about color spaces at all if you’re only going to publish your images to your Flickr or personal photoblog. All you need to do is save the sRGB images and upload them to the web, and they will look fine.

Conclusion

Unless you know specifically you want to work in Adobe RGB, make sure all your devices and programs are set to work in sRGB. Otherwise, you might find out one day that your images look horrible on other people’s browsers! I found this out the hard way.


Image credit: Clock Study #4 by David H-W (Extrajection).

We’re Open to Submissions and Ideas

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As some of you probably know, I’m currently doing graduate studies in computer science at UC Berkeley, and run Photoblog.com and PetaPixel.com as side projects. In addition to classes and research, I also serve as a staff member for the youth group at my home church.

Thus, I don’t always have the time to personally write the kinds of articles I hope to see published here on PetaPixel, which is why I’ve occasionally invited guest authors to publish their tutorials and walkthroughs. I personally contacted the guest authors that have written here, mainly from looking for eye-catching work by members of our Flickr group.

However, I’m also definitely open to submissions, tips, suggestions, and requests. The email address to get in touch with me is [email protected].

Guest Posting

I would like to maintain a high level of quality in the posts published on this blog. If you would like to guest post anything, feel free to drop me a line with your article idea, and we can see if it’s a fit. Images in guest posts can be linked back to their original source, and you’ll have an “About the author” section at the bottom of the post.

Twitter Links

If you have a link to any news article, image(s), tutorial, or website that you think our Twitter followers (13,600 and counting) would find interesting, informative, or helpful, feel free to email it to me along with your own twitter screenname. If we use the link, we’ll credit you in the tweet. Emailing is generally the best way to reach me, as I don’t always see every @petapixel (though I try my best to).


Image credit: Bee Breakfast by BobMc

Interview with Ben Cooper of NASA

Ben Cooper is a freelance photographer who works with the NASA imaging team. In addition to having his work published by NASA, he has been featured by publications such as Yahoo! News, Time magazine online, and the New York Times online. You can visit his website here.


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PetaPixel: Can you tell me a little about yourself, your background, and what you do?

Ben Cooper: Well, I’m from NYC and have been taking pictures since I was a kid. My taught dad me, he was a photographer. I started getting interested in the space program and following shuttle and rocket missions sometime around 1998 and decided I had to go see one in person. So naturally, combining photography and space became my thing and I haven’t looked back. Finally, after three tries, saw my first shuttle launch in 2001 and then decided to attend school in Florida at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University studying engineering. Since August 2003 I have shot almost every launch out of Florida, and soon enough began garnering interest from some media organizations.
 
I love shooting what I do also because there is only one shot at it, no do overs with launches and other one-time space events that we have. A lot of pre-planning has to go into it, as opposed to less often spur of the moment type captures though we certainly have them.

Shooting launches in particular requires skill – and access, as media or otherwise – that not everyone can attain, and the main different is how you shoot launches up close when no one is allowed closer than several miles from the shuttle or rocket that’s launching. You have to keep in mind we are talking about sticks of dynamite as tall as 15-20 story buildings packing a tremendous amount of power, sound and heat with them when they lift off. So, we set up cameras 12-24 hours beforehand at the launch pads and leave them there, protected from weather and, hopefully, from the launch. And while you’re setting up you deal with alligators, snakes, spiders and swampland. Not to mention the mosquitoes.

Although we cannot get too close on the space shuttle, we can on rockets and I’ve lost a couple of lenses getting shots that are seemingly “right under” the rocket.

The remote cameras I use are mostly sound activated, though not everyone uses that method but it is the most common. They are homemade, not something you can buy in the store. Some are active all the time waiting, while others are on timers so they come on and listen at specific times around the launch window. Occasionally I may use a timer instead of a sound device, if there is a shot worth capturing where sound cannot come soon enough.

As people we get to watch from wherever the press site is or, sometimes, a public site further away depending on what shot we want.

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PP: How did you get a job as a NASA photographer?

BC: Soon after graduating in 2008, even though my major was engineering, I really wanted to do something that at least combined photography, and with a lot of experience already shooting for media and myself (especially the remote cameras) I was hired to help shoot with the NASA imaging team.

PP: What was your first camera?

BC: A plastic Olympus point and shoot; I still have it but it’s at my family’s house so I don’t remember the model!

STS-116_2

PP: What equipment do you use now?

BC: Today I have a couple of Nikon D200s personally, as well as sharing a few Canon digitals with friends of mine (we share equipment a lot and help each other out). I’ve gotten to use a wide range of cameras in both Nikon and Canon, anywhere from Nikon D70 (my first digital) and Canon 10D up to D3x.

PP: Do you use your own gear or NASA’s when shooting launches?

BC: On the job I use NASA’s gear, but shooting for myself or media outlets I use my own. I have used anything from Canon 10D and Nikon D70s, to Kodak Pros, to Nikon D3Xs.

Delta_4-Heavy_DSP-23

PP: How close do you actually get to the launch site?

BC: For launch itself, you the person are several miles away at the closest (for the space shuttle, three miles is the closest anyone gets and this is limited to press, employees and VIPs. For the public, it’s 6.5 miles). Setting up cameras at the pad, the “remotes”, for the shuttle it’s about 1500 feet closest; and for unmanned rockets we can place them as close as say 100 feet away, much more in the danger zone.

PP: What’s the process of photographing for NASA like?

BC: All I do is take the raw images and hand them to the photo editors, whether for public display after a launch or event, or for documentation records on other things. I don’t think they do much post processing for public images at least because I never see corrections made. Which is probably a good thing to an extent. No, I don’t do anything from home.

New_Horizons_Launch_7

PP: Do you travel to different launch sites, or do you mainly photograph at the site closest to you?

BC: The United States has two main launch sites, Cape Canaveral, FL and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Obviously, the shuttle is here in Florida, as are the majority of US launches (Cape Canaveral and Baikonur in Russia are the big, busiest ones).

I have not gotten to Vandenberg yet, however I did have the opportunity of shooting the launch of a smaller rocket out of Walops Island, Virginia, on the Delmarva Peninsula. They decided to revive this NASA facility as a small-rocket launch site in 2006 after a 21 year absence. I shot the first one they had in 2006, and there have been two more since.

WGS-1

PP: What advice do you have for someone who dreams of doing what you do?

BC: Start off by trying to see a launch! There are only six shuttle launches left as of now and an uncertain future in manned spaceflight until a decision is made later this year. Advice for coming to see one.

Garnering some experience shooting launches or aerospace events, say airshows and such, would probably be a plus. It’s hard to anyone to get close enough to shoot things other than launches, though.

STS114launch

PP: What are some mistakes you see photographers commonly making?

BC: Assuming what they are going to get and what it’s going to look like. Until you see one for the first time, you might not have an idea of what you are about to shoot. And with no second chance on any particular launch (or if you aren’t coming back) could lead to a disappointment. With astrophotography, except in cases where it’s a one-time event, you can always try again because objects stay where they are and you can practice. With a launch I would advise doing a little research or asking around to make sure you get the shot right. I did that my first time ten years ago, and still do it today sometimes despite all I know and can teach. The learning never stops.

Most common mistake, though? Not enjoying the launch. “Watch with your eyes and not in the viewfinder” is my usual advice to people who email for information. I do that myself any chance I get.

STS-120_RSS_xenons

PP: Who are some of your favorite photographers?

BC: Boy I don’t know, I haven’t thought about that too much. I might have to think about it.

PP: Who is one person you would choose to be interviewed by PetaPixel?

BC: That’s a tough one, especially in another field.

I have a friend who I have known a while who has also focused on a specific photo type and become quite good, and that’s shooting trains.

I have other friends who do what I do who I have learned from over the years, and we exchange ideas regularly. Bill Hartenstein is one; James Brown is another.

STS-115_VAB

PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

BC: I try to encourage everyone to come see a launch, especially the space shuttle, before it’s too late. Everyone should see one once and soon it will be too late. It’s an experience you’ll never forget, especially at night. And I’m happy to help with any advice people may seek!

Your Favorite Photography Websites? A SmugMug Giveaway!

Update: This giveaway has ended. Winners were randomly selected and announced here. Thanks for participating!


smugmug_logoThings were kind of hectic this week. My bike and laptop decided to both die on the same day, and two days later I became a Mac user for the first time by purchasing a 13-inch Macbook Pro. Might still switch back to Windows next time, but I didn’t want to upgrade to Vista.

Anyhoo, how about another giveaway?

This week I’m giving away four annual subscriptions to the popular photo sharing service SmugMug. The four prizes are:

  • 2 standard memberships worth $40 each
  • 1 power membership worth $60
  • 1 pro membership worth $150

There will be four different randomly selected winners this week. All you have to do to enter this week’s giveaway is to answer the following question:

What is your favorite photography related website?

This could be a photo service, a blog, a forum, or whatever else, as long as it’s related somehow to your passion for photography.

There are two ways to share your answer and enter the contest, and you can use both methods to double your chances:

  1. Leave your response as a comment on this PetaPixel.com post
  2. Tweet your response, and include the following link to this post anywhere in the tweet: http://j.mp/ppsmgmg

    As long as the link appears in a tweet, you will be entered in this giveaway. You don’t even need to include @petapixel.

The deadline for this giveaway is Saturday, September 19th, 2009. The winners will be randomly selected using random.org.

Good luck!


Update: Forgot to mention this in the original post: existing SmugMug members can still participate in this contest. if you win, the membership will be added to your existing membership.