Software

Computer Crash

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Finally my big Desktop Machine gave up. What a horrible scenario. I have about 600GB of data in that machine (not all are images) and a ton of programs running on it. So far, I have always been able to save it, even when it mysteriously erased some dll files. This time the problem seems to be more severe. As soon as windows starts the monitor goes completely dark and I am unable to access the Windows boot menu.

I went in through the remote desktop and I have been trying to fix the problem without much luck. So I have started to clean up some external drives and backed up the main Hard Drive (about 300GB).

I found a pretty cool tool to build a CD containing all Windows updates, that I will be using before even connecting to the Internet (see picture, it is pulling all Windows updates).

So I spent all weekend with this instead of working on my pictures or website. I had my eye on a small IPAQ server on Ebay but I even missed to buy before the auction was over. I need to set it up to run a couple of cron scripts and automatically backup some databases across the internet (incuding the database for this website) as well as data feed creation and a bunch of other useful things.

Looks like my main machine is going to keep me busy for a while until I have everything up and running again.

Digital Workflow - Part 4 - Editing in Photoshop

Image opened in Photoshop
Today we are finally going to take the RAW images that we converted during the last 3 tutorials and do some Photoshop work on them. I know this is probably starting to get more interesting then RAW conversion for most of you, but I urge you to read my last blog entry with the title Photoshop it Later.
The digital workflow is just as important as taking the photos. I have refined my workflow over and over again. Each photographer uses his/her own techniques and I urge you to develop your own. This tutorial will help you to get started on this. In this tutorial I will introduce you to some basic techniques to digitally enhance your photos. Until I write the next tutorial, I recommend you download the Photoshop Action (below) that combines everything in this tutorial into one clickable action (for automation) and modify it to your liking. It is just a rough framework.
One of the most important things is automation. Photos shown on this website area all run through automation scripts. I simply convert all RAW files to tiff (automatically) and then run an action on those to generate JPG files (no need to spend all this time on each image).
Often forgotten but one of the most crucial and important steps in this process is color proofing. Many people are not even aware of the process. It is a way to guarantee that the output from the photo lab really matches what you see on your screen. I will end this tutorial with an introduction to color proofing. (The picture is from my resent deserts trip that I will upload tomorrow).

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.

Digital Workflow - Part 3 - Adobe Camera RAW

Adobe Camera RAW 3.0
In my last tutorial I gave a quick overview over the user interface of Adobe Camera RAW and I mentioned a couple of the really nice things you can do with it. Today I am going a little deeper. I will be explaining some of the more important functions of Camera RAW, without going into too much detail. I will use the same example of a rather difficult image that requires some curve tweaking to demonstrate some of the capabilities of Camera RAW.
The picture I will be tweaking is not exactly my most glorious photographic example but it serves the purpose nicely.
Often the question arises why I make these adjustments during the RAW conversion process when they are often easier in Photoshop. As I said I don't want to bore the hell out of you with technical details. In short: RAW files represent the data in linear form while a bitmap is a nonlinear processed image that matches our perception of reality better (light levels as seen by the eye). The during the nonlinear processing dynamic range and color information is lost (another reason why I use 16-bit and ProPhoto RGB as indicated in the last tutorial).

Digital Workflow - Part 2 - Adobe Camera Raw

Adobe Bridge Open File

In last weeks tutorial I have shown you how to use Adobe Bridge. Today we will check out how to process RAW files with Adobe Camera RAW. This is the second step in processing your images. If you are only dealing with JPG images, you may skip this tutorial. If your camera has the option to record raw images, I highly recommend using them. You can always just batch process them later into JPG if you fear that you will not have enough time for advanced image processing, but you still have the option to process one or two images manually and get much more bang for your buck. Think about it this way, storage is cheap, but going back to a place since you didn't get that shot right is expensive. I have reviewed Image Tanks which is also a good option for longer vacations, to store all those digital RAW files without having to bring along a computer. If you still have doubts, read this tutorial or some of the mentioned benefits of RAW photography on last weeks tutorial.

This tutorial will deal with Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) version 3.0 that ships with Adobe Photoshop CS2. Most of the functionality is also available in earlier versions of the software that came with Photoshop CS or was available as a plugin for PS 7. 

Assuming you have Adobe Bridge already open, simply select the image you want to process and right click on it. The context menu (see picture) will open, where you can choose "Open in Camera Raw...". You can also select multiple images in ACR, which will be very useful for equalizing white balance across multiple images (especially helpful in stitching panoramic images). Right now we will open up the image of Portland with Mount Hood in the Background.

Colorvision - Spyder2 - CRT and LCD calibration

Colorvision Spyder2

Have you ever edited a digital picture on your home computer, possibly with a discount LCD display, sent it off for printing just to realize all the colors were somehow differnt then they were on your screen? While most people may blame the results on the photo processing lab, here is a surprise for you. It may actually be your wrong doing that made the image look all wrong.

I have found that most commercially available LCD screens have a greenish or blueish cast and pictures usually look somewhat "cooler" than they should. Most of us are not used to the idea that what we see may not be a good representation of our picture. We tend to trust our LCD screens. Some of us may have spent a lot of money on expensive equipment and we have bought a software like photoshop to "get the most out of our pictures". Adjusting a picture with such a screen "to look better" may actually lead to a deterioration of image quality as we unknowingly make things worse. Welcome to the wonderful world of color calibration and color profiles.

Digital Workflow - Part 1

Adobe Bridge
 This is the first tutorial in a series that will show you how to apply the proper techniques to convert RAW images to JPG images and enhancing them properly. If your camera supports RAW images, it is highly recommended to use them, but you can use most of the techniques described here with JPG images as well. Below is a list of most obvious advantages of RAW photography:
  • Higher Dynamic Range - The Canon 20D records images with 12-bit Dynamic Range while the JPG file format only supports 8-bit. This means you get 4-bit more information, which is 16 times more levels. This will come in handy for those images that have a high dynamic range (shadows and highlights) or if you are trying to boost local contrast (more about this in the next part of the tutorial.
  • The sensor of most digital cameras does not record color information (the exception is the Sensor from Foveon that is being  used in the SLR by Sigma. Most sensors have a matrix of color filters that filter out certain wavelengths. The color information for each pixel is then interpolated from this matix. In order to prevent aliasing, an anti aliasing filter is being used, which impacts the sharpness. To make a long story short, the images always require sharpening and if you do the processing on your computer instead of relying on the camera default settings you can do a better job.
  • White Balance can be adjusted later (remember, no color information is recorded in the RAW file)
  • You can use curves for local contrast enhancement during the raw conversion process

Finding Photo Opps with Google Earth and a GPS Device

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In this tutorial I am giving away one of my secrets to finding good places for photos. It is actually quite easy to figure out. However this tutorial goes way beyond and shows you how to create Wayponts and even complete Routing Information to upload it to your GPS receiver.

While I planning trips to any large city in the United States, I find Google Earth a very valuable tool. Since I recently bought a Garmin eTrex Legend GPS receiver from Amazon, I quickly figured out a way to use the free Google Earth Client to create Waypoints for Navigation. The first part of this tutorial will be usufull for everyone, while the second part is particulary useful to people with GPS devices.