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Photoshop it Later

During the Thanksgiving weekend I toured 3 Deserts in California (Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Anza Borrego). I am sure I will have the pictures up soon, after writing another part of my Worklfow Tutorial.

While I was in Anza Borrego, I saw a group taking photos of each other. The group members were sitting in the shade, while another member of the group whipped out his digital camera to take a shot. He snapped it quickly and then realized that he had forgotten to enable the flash. The faces of his friends were too dark against the bright sky. With the comment "I will photoshop it later" he stashed the camera away, without considering taking another picture.

Photoshop is a phantastic software, but it cannot do magic. While he may be able to increase the brightness on the faces of his friends, he will most certainly get a choppy histogram if he overdoes it, will defenitely increase the noise and probably loose detail in the highlights if he doesn't blend the original and the "enhanced" pictures.

I had a discussion with one of my collegues, who also believed that you can turn bad photos into good ones by means of digital photo editing. I see this kind of misconception among many hobby photographers, so let me say a couple of words. Digital Photography is so much easier, right? Wrong!

There is no substitute for a good photograph. You can use Photoshop to make Enhancements to the color saturation, increase sharpness and do a whole bunch of useful things (including adjusting brighntess levels), however you will not get the same result as you can get with a photo that is exposed correctly in the first place. You cannot turn a blurry photo into a sharp photo simply by applying sharpening either. It is more a means of increasing the perception of sharpness by increasing the gradients between pixel brightness levels. Please do not try to "fix it in Photoshop" or to "Photoshop it later".

Fortunately while I was discussing this with my collegue I had the September Edition of "Outdoor Photographer" around and as it so happens, the Editor (Rob Sheppard) made exactly this point in his editorial column. He insists that Digital Photography requires the same kind of expertise behind the camera as it did with Film Cameras. I couldn't agree more.

Even if the person I encountered would be able to "photoshop it later", he would need at least 15-30 minutes of work on a difficult exposure, vs. 15-30s of work to recompose the shot and press the shutter one more time. Which one do you prefer? As my physics teacher used to tell me, Power is Work divided by time (this works better in German where Power (Leistung) also means accomplishment.

Next time you set out to accomplish some great photos or to take a powerful shot, try to remember this. Shoot again if the photo is less then perfect.

Bob's car

Today I was driving home from work, minding my own business when I saw the oldest VW Beetle I have ever seen. The car was in such bad shape, that it seemed to be held together only by spit, prayers and good will. It was essentially a big pile of rust. I had to see who was inside.

Gazing to the right, I noticed Bob Pease driving the car. Bob is somewhat of an engineering celebrity. He is known for his no-science hands dirty approach to problems, which he seems to be able to solve remarkably well. His webcasts are hilarious to watch. I had to confirm that it was him, so I opened up his book and yes on page 172 he is rambling about his 1968 Beetle and his wifes '69. It cracks me up to have someone of his caliber driving a car like this.

All out of Air Conditioners

Temperatures in Sunnyvale     Sunnyvale Temperature Fahrenheit

During the last weeks I have been thinking about buying a portable air conditioner. I was anticipating a hot weekend, but I didn't get off my lazy bum early enough. After attending a wedding yesterday and almost dying from heat exhaustion I decided that today should be the day for me to finally get the AC.

I acted foolishly and drove to the local electronics supermarket chain (Fry's). Much to my displeasure I found a long line through the store. People in the line explained to me that they had been waiting for several hours on the slim chance of snatching one of the air conditioners of a new shipment the store had expected. Naturally most were pre-ordered. I drove to a whole bunch of stores and finally decided that the whole bay area was out of air conditioners.

I was back at around 4pm when I took the snapshot above. During the day it has been a couple of degrees hotter or so. After getting home I took things easy, laughed about the whole experience and started mowing the lawn.

Meanwhile the situation for some people became quite desperate. Some guy is begging for an AC online, so his newborn would not suffer permanent damage. Well I do not know if that person is just making up a story, but if he isn't, I can only say shame on him for not planning ahead and being just as lazy as me. With a newborn I would have bought one months ago. Also shame on him for not checking his family into one of the many hotel rooms in the area, which are all air conditioned. But he is not alone. It turns out there are more like him.

If you are a hotel manager you could be a nice person today and give one of those guys a break (discount).

My Autobiography

Going through my search logs, a lot of people are searching for a biography looking for any kind of background information. I have also been getting a whole bunch of emails recently asking for a biography. At first I was convinced that this was just another way to harvest my email (stroke my ego and hope I reply). It turns out, that for some reason a lot of photography students end up on this site looking for a biography for a report or homework. In fact I have been getting quite a few of these requests lately that I decided to write this post to feed their need. I will try to keep this short, I promise.

I was born in 1975 in a small town in East Germany. I am the second child of a family of engineers (everyone in my family is an electrical engineer). With the fall of the iron curtain in 1989 came a lot of change and freedom. It was a really exciting time. I still remember watching the event on TV in disbelief. In 1993 I went to University and studied, well you know it, Electrical Engineering. It was a good time. I never had any trouble learning and I had a really good time.

One year later I was on a vacation with my best friend. We enjoyed being 19 and did whatever we felt like. I came back and boom, there it was. I was drafted into the Army (Bundeswehr). For one year I had to interupt my studies and do my service. I can't really say I regret this experience. It gave me a new perspective and motivated me to study a little more.

I graduated in 2000 with my Masters Degree (got an A). 2000 was a really great time for high tech people. I was offered a job in the Silicon Valley (San Francisco Bay Area) and I took it happily. Since then a lot has changed and I had a couple of other positions until I came to my current company in 2003. I am working as an Analog Design Engineer in a big respectable company.

My photography career.

2003 was about the time I got more serious about photography. I have always liked to take photos, but I wouldn't have considered my earlier photos to be noteworthy. I have tried other forms of art first, looking for a way to balance my technical job. For a while I have rendered computer generated images and it was a lot of fun, but I started to realize that I would never be able to compete on a professional level and it took to long to generate just one image.

I bought my first digital SLR in 2003 and started to "snap" photos. Basically the older pictures in my Mexico Gallery are among the early attempts (older pictures have a black border). Since then I have been on a wonderful journey exploring my creative side. Due to my rewarding and paying job as an engineer, I don't have as much time to devote to photography as I would like, but I still get to spend a lot of time on it. So I guess you can say my career as a photographer is just beginning. I have taken maybe 20,000 photos since 2003.

Due to my strong technical background I understand most facettes of optics and sensors. I can use this knowledge to get the most out of any situation. This gives me the advantage to focus more on the creative side of photography, which I have been trying to improve during the last year or so.

Comparing myself to top notch photographers such as Art Wolfe I know that I still have long ways to go. His work has been a great inspiration for me and kept me going. My ultimate goal is to somehow come close to his proficiency.

Processing

Definitely one of my strengths is my proficiency with photo processing in Photoshop. Making a photo consists of two parts. Taking the shot and developing it. In the digital world this means processing the image. You can rely on the built in processor of your camera (that converts the sensor data into a digital image) or you can take matters into your own hands and process RAW data (the data as it comes from the sensor) in the computer. You can compare the RAW data with a photo negative. There are a lot of choices available (paper, chemicals, lab equipment, processing steps) that determine how your picture will look like and there are even more options available on processing a RAW file. It is also a form of art that is often overlooked or not credited enough. I do not alter images in Photoshop and you cannot make a good photo from a bad shot in Photoshop either, but you can tune tonal resonse curves, bring out some detail in the shadow or highlights that determine how your photo will look like.

Currently I am writing a series of Digital Workflow Tutorials. In these tutorials I will take the reader through the whole process of developing a RAW image. This is just the way I do it. Every photographer has their own personal Workflow and some guard their secrets very well. It took me quite some time to figure all this out, so make sure to check it out.

In San Francisco again

San Francisco Skyline at Night

I have been in San Francisco last weekend again. The city never fails to amaze me. Although the weather started out foggy and cold, it cleared up towards the night. I have been able to snap some really good shots that I will put into my San Francisco Gallery soon. I have neglected this gallery a lot, since I have a lot of good photos on my harddrive that need to be uploaded while most photos there are older shots.

Above you can see a quick crop of the skyline shot from this weekend. To the left you see the Bay Bridge. I am also working on a large stitched photo of this skyline shot.

Fun with Hotlinkers - June edition

Sometimes I like to do a little webdesign for others. Completely free of charge. I usually improve the appearance of their website dramatically by swapping an image. You are probably aware of hotlinking. It refers to the practice that some people have to link the images of others directly from their webserver without asking, thus generating tremendous bandwidth usage while the site that provides the picture doesn't even see a visitor. But fortunately, you have control over your webserver and can play some games.

I decided to start this new series where I will post some examples about once a month on hotlinkers. Dani says I am having way too much fun doing this ;)

Lets start with an example that lies a little back. This guy used one of my wallpapers for his background. Wallpapers are large and cause a lot of bandwidth. A case for redesign:

Addicted

Getting Gasoline

We are all a bunch of addicts. Today I got my next fix. As you can see in the picture I am on the needle again, getting all pumped up.

Of course I am talking about gas and oil. Our economies have become so dependent on oil, that short supply disruptions could have catastrophic consequences. I have recently written an Article on Gas prices. There I speculated that it would be beneficial for future development if the high gas prices are here to stay, in order to develop alternative fuel sources. Currently the prices have dropped 10 cents again, but that doesn't mean much, considering how high they still are. We have become too dependent on foreign oil imports. We can only hope that we will be successful in significantly reducing our hunger for oil in the near future. Currently we are addicts willing to pay any price and willing to commit every crime to get our precious oil.

The other thing I can learn from the picture is that I should clean inside my gas tank cover.

Stupid Yahoo

When I started with this website a while ago, it was hosted with Yahoo.
I still keep a bunch of domains at yahoo, even this one.
I simply point the dns to the new servers of my current webhost.
So this domain came up for renewal and Yahoo sent me an email in advance, to check my credit card settings on my account. Obviously they didn't have my new information, so I decided to log in and just change them. After being asked 3 times for my password, I finally arrived at the right place.
I click on Payment Information and it asks for my password again. Now the system gets stuck in an infinite loop.

So I decided to send Yahoo an email. After about a week, they responded back to me with a phone number. Upon calling the number, I found out that it is the wrong one. Oh well. Fortunately AT&T webhosting connected me to Yahoo Billing.

I explained to the guy (who judging by accent was sitting on the other side of the world) that the website didn't work, and I asked him to take down my credit card information. He explained that this wasn't possible and that I need to go to their website and do it there (duh!).
The guy insisted to walk me through the process (as if I didn't know how to click the right buttons). Oh well, since I have so much time, why not. Obviously I got stuck at the same place.
So back to square one. He escalted the problem to technical support (as if they could change my credit card information). I guess I will have to wait another week. I am now getting awfully close to expiration of the domain and I am seriously thinking about just transfering it somewhere else too.

Yahoo is the first company that I know, that doesn't let you pay them and that actively encourages you to go somewhere else because they are not capable to write down your credit card number. It's impossible to find someone at this company to enter your credit card information into their computers. I am stunned.