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If you travel with a roller suitcase, then you can easily convert it into a tripod for long exposures through the hotel window and for general photography work around the room. And the best part is, this conversion only adds another 6 ounces to your travel load.

All you have to do is position the suitcase where you need your "tripod," extend the handle, then attach the Pedco UltraClamp Assembly ($23.25) and mount your camera. The UltraClamp can support any compact camera, and most light DSLRs such as the Canon Rebel T1i with kit lens. I've used this rig for years, and the UltraClamp works as well today as it did when I first bought it. Plus, you can mount it to chairs, tables, or anywhere else the clamp will tighten. Unlike other rigs of this ilk, the UltraClamp includes a ball head, so chances are you'll be able to position the camera exactly as you need.

When I'm in big cities, I love taking night shots through hotel windows. I'm usually up fairly high and have a good perspective on the hustle and bustle below me. Be sure to turn off room lights if you're shooting through glass, and get the camera lens as close to the window as possible. I also recommend using the self-timer to ensure you don't jar the camera when you press the shutter button.

But wait... there's more! I also make sure I have a few heavy duty rubber bands packed when I travel. They come in handy for all sorts of tasks, including making this portable mic stand from the extended suitcase handle. The one thing I don't want to do is hold the mic when I record TDS podcasts on the road. Those rustling sounds are quite annoying. So I mount the microphone on the suitcase handle and sit on the edge of the bed to record the show. It works great.

Roller suitcases are definitely handy in the airport as you travel from one terminal to the other. But they're also useful once you reach your destination... that is, if you've packed a few key accessories to transform them into creative tools.

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Now that we've been shooting with digital cameras for a while, we're starting to see interest in going back into our archives and digitizing old snapshots too. This process requires some of the same organization as we're already using to keep track of photos on our computer. Plus, there are a few other things to consider that are unique to scanning.

In my Macworld article, Four smart tips for managing scanned photos, I discuss how iPhoto can be an excellent tool for managing recently digitized images. One you add the scan to your library, you can correct the capture date, add location data, and make a few basic image edits too.

You'll also want to think about how you're going to archive this material. One thing that I like to do is organize the original photo in a binder with archival sleeves, and note the file name and location of the digitized version with it. That way, not only can you extend the life of the original print, you always know where the digitized copy is too.

Any of the photo management applications can work for managing scanned photos, Lightroom and Aperture are great examples. But everyone who has a Mac has iPhoto. And even if you're not using it to organize shots from your digital camera, it's a good tool for projects like this.

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While I was in Washington DC, teaching at the Photoshop LIVE conference, the good folks over at We Love DC put together an evening photowalk. And they were kind enough to invite me. We had a great time. So, as you've read in earlier posts, when I go street shooting, I often decide which rig I want to use, then try stick with it the entire time. This outing, I went with the Canon 5D Mark II and my trusty 85mm f/1.8 lens.

An interesting side note about the 85mm f/1.8. One of the photowalk participants noted my glass, then he said with a smile: "As yes, the 85mm f/1.8 -- my favorite lens that I rarely use." If you fall into this category, then I say break it out of storage and get to shooting with it. It's been around for a while, but it's a beautiful lens.

I began the evening while there was still some light in the sky, so I set the ISO to 800. As it became darker, I moved to ISO 1600 and even shot a few frames at 3200. Most of the time, I was in Aperture Priority mode, locking the camera in at f/1.8 and letting it figure out the best shutter speed. I overexpose by a half stop in these conditions, just to keep the blacks from plugging up too much. Another trick to help corral those wild tonal extremes is to shoot in Raw, then process in Aperture. (People keep asking me if I still use Aperture. Well, yes! All of my Canon Raw files are processed with it. By the same token, I use Lightroom and ACR for the Olympus E-P1. I'm just trying to use the best tool for the job at hand.)

I did pack a monopod, but as is often the case, I never pulled it out of my Lowepro Fastpack 250. I love monopods, but they sometimes slow me down while street shooting. So I usually opt for bracing myself against a wall or a poll during capture instead of mounting the camera on a stabilizing device. Plus, I think it's important to experiment with a variety of shooting angles, and I can become trapped into shooting everything at the same level with a monopod.

Photos by Derrick Story. Captured with a Canon 5D Mark II and an 85mm f/1.8 lens. Click on picture to zoom to larger size. More images from this collection are available at the Digital Story Flickr page.

For example, the shot of the red scooter was taking shape about 50 yards away. So I had to sprint into position, then get down low on one knee to frame the shot the way I wanted. I probably would have missed it all together with a monopod. And I hate missing shots!

You can see larger versions of these images, plus more frames from this shoot by visiting the Washington DC set on The Digital Story Flickr page. The last seven shots in that set are with the 5D Mark II, and the first five, recorded earlier that day in a different part of town, were with the Olympus E-P1.

And thanks to all the DC folks for their great hospitality during my visit! It's quite a friendly town for such a big city.

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Olympus has announced the E-P2, micro four thirds digital camera. In large part, the basic specs are quite similar to the E-P1, with a few interesting changes:

  • Black metal body more like the original PEN camera
  • Accessory port to accommodate the included detachable VF-2 Electronic View Finder (EVF), or optional external microphone adapter EMA-1
  • New Continuous Autofocus (C-AF) tracking system follows the subject across, or back-and-forward through the frame
  • Two new art filters, Diorama and Cross Process, that can be applied to both still images and HD videos
  • iEnhance to automatically adjust color and contrast for a more dramatic effect
  • Full manual control of shutter speed and aperture setting in movie mode
  • HDMI control of camera's playback functions using the TV Remote when the camera is connected to an HDTV

Electronic Viewfinder VF-2

Of all the new features included with the E-P2, the VF-2 electronic viewfinder was the most interesting to me. Here are a few of my notes from testing it with a pre-production model.

  • Very bright. In fact, when you look at a very low light scene, the VF-2 illuminates it like a night vision scope. This makes it great for composition and focusing, but if you want to judge how the image will be recorded, then switch to the LCD for a quick peek.
  • The VF-2 works in perfect concert with both the 14-42mm and 17mm lenses. On the 14-42, it responds in real time as you rotate the zooming ring and focus. You can see you camera setting icons, and it even responds to changes such as white balance settings, though not as accurate of a rendition as on the LCD.
  • If you switch to Playback mode, you can review your images while looking into the VF-2.
  • It's one or the other when it comes to viewfinders -- either you have the LCD on, or the VF-2. You control this with the button on the back of the VF-2.
  • There's a diopter ring on the VF-2 that allows you to adjust it for your eyesight. It's very sharp.
  • The eyepiece on the VF-2 rotates upward to 90 degrees. I think this is one of the most practical uses of this accessory, allowing you to position the camera at low angles and look down into the eyepiece.
  • The VF-2 slides into the hot shoe, but communicates through the data port on the back side of the hot shoe. Olympus provides a cover for the data port when it is not in use.
  • The VF-2 comes with a protective pouch that can be attached to the camera strap. It is very lightweight.


The black body is quite attractive, in part because it's multi-toned. Olympus designers did a nice job with this design.

Works Great with the 17mm Lens

Not only does the 17mm lens work just as well as always on the E-P2, it looks more dramatic against the black body, and the optical viewfinder looks good as well.

What Hasn't Changed with the E-P2

The LCD is still the 230,000 pixel version that shipped on the E-P1. Image resolution, drive speed, and exposure control remain the same as before, except that you now have manual exposure control in movie mode, which is a big deal.

Bottom Line

All of the new features on the E-P2 are indeed welcomed, but the most interesting to me are the VF-2 electronic viewfinder, audio input module (separate accessory that uses the new data port), and the black body. The new kit should be available in December 2009 for a street price around $1,100, that includes: E-P2 Body with ED 14-42mm f3.5/5.6 Zuiko Digital Zoom Lens, and the Electronic View Finder.

If these new features aren't required for your type of shooting, then the original Olympus E-P1 might be a better choice with its lower price tag (currently around $799 for body and zoom lens).

I'll keep you posted as we learn more.

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Washington DC Panorama in Penn Quarter

When I stepped outside for a bite of lunch after teaching my photography class at Photoshop LIVE, I noticed that it was a beautiful day here in Washington DC. The event was in the The Penn Quarter Conference Center that's right off of Pennsylvania Ave. Directly across the way was the National Archives, which you can see in this photo on the right side of the frame in the distance.

Photo by Derrick Story captured with an Olympus E-P1 and 17mm prime lens. Click on image to enlarge.

I was seated outside eating my sandwich, and I thought to myself, "this is a lovely scene before me." So I pulled out my Olympus E-P1 with the 17mm lens attached, turned the camera vertically, and shot 12 frames moving left to right. I like to shoot these panoramas vertically because I get more height in the image. I also tend to overlap each frame quite a bit so the merging software has lots of information to work with.

When I got back to my hotel room, I uploaded the images and browsed them in Adobe Bridge. They looked pretty good as is, so I selected the entire dozen, then went to Tools > Photoshop > Photomerge. That's right, you can initiate the panorama stitching right there in Bridge. After the images had been processed and opened as a merged, layered document in Photoshop, I played with the composition a bit more using the lens correction filter and Free Transform. The final version is huge -- 14,000 x 4,600 pixels. And it is tack sharp.

I reduced the size and made copies for web publishing, which you see here. The upshot is: I had a lovely meal outside, and made a pretty photo too. That's what I call a great lunch break.

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Here are a few of my favorite tips for ACR, one of the most versatile non-destructive image editors available. Techniques include sharpening, snapshots, and how to master the Basic tab. In this podcast, I share the highlights from my recent talk at Photoshop LIVE in Washington DC.

As a bonus, I've added a couple free screencasts that also show you ACR techniques:

Snapshots and the Targeted Adjustment Tool

Batch Processing

The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers

Learn what photographers need to know to organize and edit their images with Photoshop CS4. Take a look at The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers. It fits in your laptop bag and is very easy on your wallet.

Listen to the Podcast

You can also download the podcast here (28 minutes). Or better yet, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

Monthly Photo Assignment

Wrinkles is the Nov. 2009 Photo Assignment. Keep in mind that side lighting increases texture and front lighting hides it. So you should be thinking angled lighting for this one. You can read more about how to submit on our Member Participation page. Deadline for entry is Nov. 30, 2009.

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!

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One of the advantages to being the Photography Evangelist for Lowepro, is that I can test any bag that I want. I've had my eye on the Fastpack 250, so I loaded one up for recent trips to New York City and Washington DC. Since I'm traveling from California (and spend a lot of time walking around these cities once I arrive), this has been an excellent introduction to this backpack-styled bag.

As Time Magazine recently pointed out when they named the Fastpack one of the best 25 travel gadgets of 2009, this bag holds a lot of gear, but fits nicely under airline seats and in overhead compartments. Its wide shoulder straps, padded mesh back, and comfy waistband have enabled me to carry all of my gear, all day, without fatigue. The top handle makes it easy to pick up the bag or pull it out of a storage compartment. In fact, I won't use a bag that doesn't have this feature.

For my urban road trips, I carry a MacBook in laptop pocket (that holds up the 15.4" computer), Canon 5D Mark II body with 24-105mm L lens attached, 70-200mm f/4 L zoom, Speedlite 270EX flash, Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens, Olympus E-P1 with both 14-42mm and 17mm lenses, two external hard drives, M-Audio digital recorder, Audio Technica external mic, cables, accessories, and personal items such as toothbrush, etc. The laptop has its own protected area behind the backpad that's easily accessible via a long zipper that runs the length of the bag. This is particularly nice when going through airport security and I need to remove the computer in a hurry. The Canon 5D Mark II can be quickly reached through a side opening. I found that I can slide the Fastpack off my right shoulder, open the side access, and pull out the Canon in just a few seconds -- terrific for street shooting.

I organize the bag by keeping the camera gear in the bottom compartment with the side access, and stowing my personal gear in the top compartments. Speaking of the bottom compartment, if you unbuckel the security flap that covers the bottom of the bag, you can unzip the entire front area for easy access and organization, as shown in this illustration (click on photo to enlarge it). This also reveals another zippered pocket that's handy for documents. On the other side of the bag is a mesh pocket that's perfect for water bottles, or anything else that you want to grab quickly.

My favorite color combination is the arctic blue and black available at Amazon for $89.95. I was telling a friend today who also has a Fastpack, that I really should be testing other bags too. Problem is, I like this one so much that I don't want to leave it behind.

"Simple" is harder than you think, especially when composing a compelling photograph. But the Sept. 09 Photo Assignment participants created a stunning gallery of images that show how beautiful simple can be.

The November 2009 assignment is "Wrinkled." Start working on your contribution now. Details can be found on the Member Participation page. You can submit photo assignment pictures up to 600 pixels in the widest direction.

Please follow the instructions carefully for labeling the subject line of the email for your submission. It's easy to lose these in the pile of mail if not labeled correctly. For example, the subject line for next month's assignment should be: "Photo Assignment: November 2009." Also, if you can, please don't strip out the metadata. And feel free to add any IPTC data you wish (These fields in particular: Caption, Credit, Copyright, Byline), I use that for the caption info.

Photo by Gary Stiles. You can read more about how Gary captured this shot, plus see all of the other great images on the Sept. 09 Gallery page.

Good luck with your November assignment, and congratulations to all of the fine contributors for September. It's a great collection of images.

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Now Available! The Digital Photography Companion. The official guide for The Digital Story Virtual Camera Club.

  • 25 handy and informative tables for quick reference.
  • Metadata listings for every photo in the book
  • Dedicated chapter on making printing easy.
  • Photo management software guide.
  • Many, many inside tips gleaned from years of experience.
  • Comprehensive (214 pages), yet fits easily in camera bag.

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Is the Canon S90 the New G11?

Canon PowerShot G11

When Canon brought back the Raw file format to the PowerShot G9 in 2007, I thought it ruled the roost of pro-capable compacts. Now, 2 years later, much has changed with the competition thanks to the Olympus E-P1, Panasonic GF1, and upcoming beauties from the likes of Leica and others. It's a whole different world that the new Canon PowerShot G11 must compete in. Is it still to "go-to" compact for serious shooters that it once was?

The folks over at Luminous Landscape were wondering the same thing. In their review of the G11, they noted improvements such as the 2.8-inch Vari-Angle LCD and the ISO 3200 capability. Their bottom line, however, at least as I read it, is that the G11 is a good value for $490, but it doesn't compete image quality wise with the more expensive micro four thirds systems.

The nice thing about the G11, and what I still like about my G9, is that you have everything in one compact package that fits in your coat pocket. Plus, for another $150 you can get a great underwater housing (I have one for the G9), that allows you to shoot Raw in just about any environment with a zoom lens... $650 for the whole set up.

From my perspective, I don't feel the need to upgrade my Canon G9 to the G11. I'm having too much fun shooting high quality images with the Olympus E-P1. My friend, James Duncan Davidson is having the same positive experience with his Panasonic GF1. But I'm happy that I have a camera such as the G9 available to me.


But here's what occurred to me. I'm thinking that this high-end compact evolution will go more in the direction of Canon's new PowerShot S90. It's a little more affordable at $430, has a fast f/2.0 lens, shoots Raw, includes great features such as the control ring, and is very compact. The S90 could be the camera that you grab on your way out the door when even the micro four thirds systems are too big. In fact, the S90 might be Canon's high quality compact answer to the competition. I'm certainly more attracted to it than the G11.

Yes, a lot has changed in the last 2 years. The Canon PowerShot S90 is available on Amazon for $429. Very tempting.

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"Bloomers and Thongs" - Grab Shot 189

"Driving thru a small town in Oklahoma, my wife yells 'there's where you took the photo of the bloomers,'" writes John Badgerow. "I made a quick loop around the block, and shot the scene again with my Nikon D300. Times have changed. Now you can buy bloomers and thongs!

As John mentioned, he used a Nikon D300 with a 16-85mm Nikon lens. ISO was set to 400 in Aperture priority mode: 1/160th at f/10.

Photo by John Badgerow. Click on image to zoom to larger size.

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.

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