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Rogue FlashBender

I've been working with all three Rogue FlashBenders in the Rogue FlashBender Kit (bounce card, small and large positionable reflectors, $105) with great results. If you haven't read about these modifiers yet, they are extremely handy for the photographer on the go, or for the shooter who has limited space to work.

The FlashBenders attach to practically any flash and allow you to bounce the light off their reflective white surface. You can position them in a variety of ways to get the exact effect you want. And unlike most modifiers, you can easily pack them in your regular camera bag. I'll soon have a video showing me using these for a live group shoot.

One of the questions I'm often asked is, "If I were to get just one FlashBender, which one do you recommend?" I think the Large Positionable Reflector($39) is the most versatile of the set. You have a big surface to work with, yet it still fits in the camera bag. For fast moving assignments, I'll put a FlashBender on one off-camera flash, and use it to supplement the ambient lighting, or in combination with a light from a second flash mounted on the camera.

In terms of "light hardness," the FlashBender is in-between direct flash and an umbrella. It definitely has more edge than a soft modifier but without the harshness of the direct light from a small flash head.

An effective, versatile set up for portraits is to position a large FlashBender off-camera, with a bounce reflector on the fill side. This combination provides, crisp, flattering results, yet doesn't require a large investment in lighting equipment.

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Olympus XZ-1 Review, Part 1

Olympus XZ-1

The first two things that struck me about the new Olympus XZ-1 10 MP Digital Camera with f1.8 Lens was the large diameter of the lens housing and how light the camera feels in the hands, even with the metal exterior. Because of these first impressions, I decided that it's first worth focusing on this camera's look and feel, and the menu system.

When you push the recessed power button on the top of the camera, the lens immediately comes to life. It's responsive. Focusing is fast, even in low light. The 3" LCD monitor that supports 610,000 dots is beautiful. The iZuiko f/1.8-2.5 zoom (28-112mm equivalent) provides lots of light to the 1/1.63-inch, 10-megapixel CCD sensor. Even at the telephoto setting it's a bright f/2.5. That means you're not limited to working at the wide end of the zoom in low light.

I love the big, machined control ring around the lens barrel that adjusts ISO in Program mode, f/stop in Aperture Priority Mode, and shutter speed in Shutter Priority Mode. When you're in Manual exposure mode, the lens ring adjusts aperture while the wheel controller on the back of the camera sets shutter speed. You can monitor everything in real time on the LCD. Manual photography is seldom this much fun.

Speaking of exposure settings, the Mode dial on top of the camera gives the usual PSAM options, plus full Auto, Scene, Art Filters, Low Light, and a Custom mode. The shutter button, next to the Mode dial, is firm and responsive.

The Playback button on the back of the XZ-1 can initiate image review even when the camera is turned off. This is a feature that I like on the Canon S95, and am happy to have it on this Olympus too. Above it, there's the dedicated video recording button. Very handy, and it's also slightly recessed to prevent accidental movie making.

Back on top, there's a pop-up flash that you initiate with a sliding button, and an Accessory Port/hot shoe. I tested the FL-14 accessory flash in the hot shoe, and the TTL-Auto exposures looked good. I'll test other accessories for the upcoming second part.

Olympus cleaned up their Menu system for the XZ-1, much to my appreciation. I've been critical of their menus in the past, and I found the control screens on the XZ-1 the best I've seen on an Olympus camera. Well done, and thanks!

My only nit has to do with recharging the battery. Instead of giving us a dedicated charger, you have to keep the battery in the camera and connect it to a charging adapter. That seems so unprofessional for an otherwise pro spec camera.

In an upcoming post, I'll get into image quality and compare the XZ-1 to a few of its prime competitors. Until then, I'll be enjoying how this camera feels while taking pictures. The Olympus XZ-1 10 MP Digital Camera with f1.8 Lens is currently selling for $499 US.

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Flickr Keyboard Shortcuts

You might not have thought about using keyboard shortcuts with Flickr, but I can tell you, they are fun and efficient. My favorite is the "l" shortcut to switch to Lightbox mode when viewing individual pictures.

To see how this works, plus more tips, take a look at this movie from my Flickr Essential Training title, and see what you think.

More Training Available

We have many more informative movies available in the title, Flickr Essential Training. Stop by and learn how to get the most from your favorite photo sharing application.

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Which paper surface will perfectly complement the image you're ready to print? Glossy, luster, matte? And what are the various characteristics that make each paper unique? In this week's podcast, we talk printing paper and explore some of the different surfaces offered by Red River. It's amazing how different the same picture can look on different stocks.

Listen to the Podcast

You can also download the podcast here (33 minutes). Or better yet, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. You can support this podcast by purchasing the TDS iPhone App for only $2.99 from the Apple App Store.

Monthly Photo Assignment

Blue is the March 2011 Photo Assignment. You can read more about how to submit on our Member Participation page. Deadline for entry is March 31, 2011.

TDS Summer 2011 Photography Workshop

We're making plans now for the Summer 2011 TDS Photography Workshop. If you want your name on the reserve list, just drop me a line.

More Ways to Participate

Want to share photos and talk with other members in our virtual camera club? Check out our Flickr Public Group. It's a blast!

Podcast Sponsors

Red River Paper -- Try the $7.99 Sample Kit.

Make Your Photos Sizzle with Color! -- SizzlPix is like High Definition TV for your photography.

Need a New Photo Bag? Check out the Lowepro Specialty Store on The Digital Story and use discount code LP20 to saven 20% at check out.

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TDS Spring Workshop was a Blast!

TDS Spring 2011 Workshop a Blast

"I can't believe I'm actually taking these pictures!" exclaimed June H. when she looked at the LCD on the back of her camera. She, along with the rest of the workshop crew, was working on assignment all weekend at the TDS studio. We had three models, seven flashes, more modifiers than you could count, and lots of fun.

After each photo session, the group had to cull and image edit their favorite shots, getting them ready for the portfolio review at the end of the day.

"Not that I'd want to to live my life as a pro photographer, but I really liked the experience of working under pressure," said Doug K. "You learn a lot when you're on the edge."

It wasn't all work however. At the Friday night social, we had the Lowepro Bag Grab and got to know one another over snacks and refreshments. The "Made to Order" lunch was brought in every day, giving shooters a chance to swap stories during their well-deserved break. Some even got together for a Saturday night dinner before reuniting at the studio again on Sunday morning.

If you're interested in being on the reserve list for the TDS Workshop Series, just send me a note with the subject line: "TDS Workshop Reserve List." I'll get right back to you.

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Much has changed in the Flickr universe since I released the original training title on in 2009. So I went back into the recording booth to create a brand new, updated, Flickr Essential Training for 2011.

Right now, you can view 8 free movies that cover really useful stuff, such as keyboard shortcuts, editing your personal information, and tips for using Google to search inside of Flickr.

I even have this short welcome movie to give you a feel for the tone and contents of this title.

Personally, I think Flickr is once of the most enjoyable ways to share photos and view great work by others. And if you invest just a little time with this training title, you'll get more out of this online photography site than you ever imagined.

More Training Available

We have many more informative movies available in the title, Flickr Essential Training. Stop by and learn how to get the most from your favorite photo sharing application.

Previously on The Digital Story

Exploring Interesting Places Visually Via Flickr

Become Your Own Museum Curator with "Galleries" on Flickr

Using Google to Search Within Flickr

Flickr Keyboard Shortcuts

Flickr Updates Share Tools for Facebook, Twitter

Introduction to Flickr Essential Training

The Digital Story on Facebook -- discussion, outstanding images from the TDS community, and inside information. Join our celebration of great photography!

Dig In Magazine

So here's something written about me instead of by me. I had fun chatting with Cindy Maram at Dig In Magazine for this interview about my love for photography, passion for technology, and how it all got started. They include a few selected shots from my Flickr gallery, and there's more information in the text that I generally see in this type of article.

If you want to know more about what fuels me for The Digital Story and my other projects, I think you'll enjoy this read.

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"Alcatraz" - Grab Shot 211

"Here's a black-and-white version of a photo I took of Alcatraz while playing tourist with my son during our recent visit to San Francisco for MacWorld," writes Darryl Esakof. "As the harbor cruise circled Alcatraz in the late afternoon with the sun low in the west, some very interesting silhouettes appeared."

Alcatraz by Darryl Esakof "Alcatraz by Darryl Esakof" Click on image for larger version.

Darryl captured the shot with a Canon S95 , ISO 80, 22mm, f4.9, 1/800 sec., then processed it in Aperture 3.

This is our 211th Grab Shot! Wow. If you want to review the collection that began back in 2006, go to our Grab Shots page.

If you have a candid you'd like to share, take a look at our Submissions page, then send us your Grab Shot. We'll try to get it published for you on The Digital Story.

And you can view more images from our virtual camera club in the Member Photo Gallery.

The Digital Story Podcast App is the best way to stream or download weekly TDS podcast episodes. No more syncing your iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, or even your Android phone just to get a podcast. And the best part is, The Digital Story Podcast App is your way to help support this show. Download it today!

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Adjust Tab Before

A challenging aspect of image adjustment for many photographers is figuring out what needs to be done, then choosing the right controls to do it. The good news is, in iPhoto '11, you can let the application analyze the photo for you, have it make an initial set of corrections, then you can fine tune the picture's appearance to your taste. I call this the 3-Step Image Adjustment Technique.

Step 1 - Choose your image in iPhoto, then click on the Edit button in the lower right corner of the application. Then click on the Adjust tab in the upper right corner. Take a look at the Histogram and get a feel for your image. For example, this image is lacking a bit in contrast. We can tell that by seeing that most of the data in the histogram is bunched up in the middle. You don't have to spend a lot of time on this, just a few seconds. We'll return to this view in a minute.

Step 2 - Quick Fix

Step 2 - Click on the Quick Fixes tab, then click on the Enhance button. iPhoto will make a number of adjustments for you, based on its analysis of the image. You'll probably like most of what it does, but you may want to make a tweak or two. No problem. This is just a starting point that you can now fine tune.

Step 3 - Return to the Adjustment tab. You'll notice that iPhoto has made a number of adjustments here. This is where you can fine tune.

Step 3 - Adjust After

If you feel it made the photo too bright, move the Exposure slider to the left. If the blacks in the image look too dark, move the Shadows slider to the right. If the colors in the image are now too intense, check the box beneath the Saturation slider (labeled Avoid saturating skin tones) and play with the Saturation slider until you get the look you want. And finally, if you want to make the overall appearance of the image "cooler," move the Temperature slider to the left, and to make it warmer, move the slider to the right.

Once I have the basic tones and colors the way I like, I usually add a little Definition (about 20-25) and a bit of Sharpness (15-25). Don't forget to crop if your image needs it. This entire workflow should only take a minute or two. And with practice, you'll get even faster. To see how much you've improved the picture, hold down the Shift key to see the original version. There will be quite a difference!

Learn More Tips!

There are more ways to learn and have more fun with iPhoto '11: my iPhoto '11 Essential Training ONLINE at, and the new iPhoto '11 Essential Training DVD that you can purchase from the Store for $49.95 US. You can get a feel for how this works by watching Creating Smart Albums in iPhoto '11.

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Want to learn Lightroom, Aperture, Photoshop, or practically any other major software title? The folks I teach for,, offer a 7 Day Trial Period if you sign up. If, after the 7 days of mind-bending training, you decide that isn't for you, then just cancel your membership with no obligation.

My training titles on include Aperture 3, iPhoto '11, Off-Camera Flash, Portraiture, Getting Pro Results from a Compact Camera, and more.

Each title is presented to you in a series of short, digestible movies that you can watch over and over again until you master that particular technique. I organize the movies in a clear table of contents format, so you can go directly to the technique you're most interested in at the moment. If you want to watch the training from start to finish, then we keep the pace fast and informative helping you absorb as much information as possible.

I have new titles coming out this year, including a revised Flickr training and a live-action training on how to improve your Group Shots. Stay tuned for those debuts.

In the meantime, take a look at what has to offer via the 7 Day Trial Period. It's really quite impressive.

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