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Watch Your Step While Shooting

Horses in Pasture

I wanted to test the new Canon 24-105mm IS L Zoom Lens, which I'll write about in more detail in a later post. Fortunately for me, there was a break in the rain up here in Northern California, so I mounted the 24-105mm on my Canon 5D and dashed off for a walk. I'm lucky because I have some great walking paths that provide lots of wildlife and vistas. A while into my stroll, I noticed a tempting shot and scampered up this slight grassy rise to capture a scenic with horses feeding in an open field.

After recording a few frames, I pivoted around to step down from the grassy rise and return to the trail. In mid-step, with right foot in the air, I noticed a snake curled up right where I was going to plant my foot. I awkwardly redirected my landing spot to the left of the snake so as not to cause harm to either of us. Because it was cold, he continued to watch me with a wary eye, but not move.

Since I managed to avoid stepping on him, I then took a short series of frames with the new Canon 24-105mm lens. He continued to watch me until I backed away and went about my business.

Snake in the Grass

I pass this tale along because it was a good reminder for me to watch my step while shooting. I tend to get absorbed in what I'm doing, sometimes forgetting about my surroundings. This can be dangerous in nature.

If you have a anecdote along these lines, please share it with others in the comments below. In the meantime, beware of snakes in the grass...

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iPhoto 6 Changes for Raw File Editing

iPhoto 6 Advanced Prefs

iPhoto 6 adds some terrific options to Apple's digital shoebox application, including better handling of Raw files, ColorSync management, and a non-managed library choice. Today I want to give you a brief overview of how Raw file editing has evolved in this latest release.

First, let me describe how Raw file management worked before in iPhoto 5. If you had Photoshop selected as your external editor, double-clicking on a thumbnail from a Raw file in iPhoto 5 would open a Jpeg interpretation of that Raw file in Photoshop. You could edit this Jpeg and send it back to iPhoto by saving in Photoshop. If you wanted to work in Camera Raw, you had to drag a thumbnail from iPhoto 5 on to the Photoshop CS icon on your Dock (this worked only if you haven't edited the file previously in iPhoto 5) or export it as "Original" and open that file in Camera Raw.

After editing in Camera Raw, you would click the open button to move the image to Photoshop where you could save it in any format you wished, or just hit save and choose your format there. You could then add the edited and saved PSD, Tiff, or Jpeg back to your iPhoto 5 library as a new image.

In iPhoto 6, you now have the Use Raw files with external editor option in the Advanced Preferences pane (iPhoto > Preferences > Advanced). Using this option changes your workflow considerably.

When the "external editor" box is checked, your double-click on a Raw thumbnail opens that image in Camera Raw (if you have Photoshop CS selected as your external image editor). Now, as far as I can tell, you can't "roundtrip" the changes back to iPhoto 6 just by hitting the "Done" button. But you can save to another format and import the edited Tiff, PSD, etc. back into iPhoto 6. So even though it doesn't technically "round trip" your Raw edits, this new method does save you a step... and is a welcomed improvement.

What's interesting though, is that iPhoto does remember your Raw adjustments made in Camera Raw. If you double-click the thumbnail again, it opens it in Camera Raw with your previous settings in place. [Update from a reader: it's actually Camera Raw that remembers your settings. Thanks Rafa]

If you want to edit your Raw file in iPhoto using the Adjust palette, you can go back and change the preference. But I prefer to leave the preference setting as it is and simply Option double-click to switch to iPhoto's editor, or CTRL-click on the thumbnail and choose either "Edit in a separate window" or "Edit using full screen." In my testing, I seemed to be working with the original Raw data using these options, opposed to building upon any instructions I've added using Camera Raw.

Now, if I uncheck the Use Raw files with external editor option, iPhoto 6 behaves just as it did in iPhoto 5 -- I'm working with a Jpeg interpretation of the Raw file, and my changes are saved back to iPhoto 6.

There's more to discover here, but I hope this gives you a good start with the editing options for your Raw files. If you would like my overall initial take on this application, take a look at iPhoto 6 First Impressions.

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Morning Light in the City

SF Buildings

One of the great things about travel is taking advantage of the high vantage points that hotel windows provide. Usually I'm enamored with shooting at twilight, capturing the last light in an inky blue sky while building lights begin to illuminate the foreground. But one morning, I left the curtains open and was reminded that dawn light adds new dimensions to cityscapes.

This shot of Glide Memorial Church was recorded at 7:45 am from the 12th floor of the Hilton across the street. A few hours later, everything had flattened out and there wasn't a good shot in sight.

Captured with a Canon Digital Rebel XT through the hotel window, 1/30 @ f-4.5, ISO 100.

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LightZone was demoed at the recent Macworld Expo and caught the attention of many photographers. It is a "designed from the bottom up" image editor that protects your original files and only associates editing instructions to it. This is a popular (and welcomed) approach also embraced by Apple's Aperture and Adobe's Lightroom.

Even though LightZone has an image viewer and file browser, its real appeal is how it analyzes your pictures then displays the shapes and densities of the tonal zones for easy editing. This visual approach should feel very natural to photographers.

LightZone is currently a Mac application that requires OS X 10.3.9 or later. A Windows version is coming soon. You can download a demo and try if for free for 30 days. If you like what you see, LightZone can be purchased for $249.

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Aperture Workshop Notes PDF

Aperture Class Notes

For my recent Inside Aperture Power Tools workshop that I led with Scott Bourne at Macworld SF '06, I compiled class notes to accompany the workbook. I promised the class that I would make those notes available online. I'm also offering them to everyone in The Digital Story community.

These notes are in PDF format (5.8 MB download -- 30 pages). Topics include importing images into Aperture, comparing and rating, editing tools, vaults and backup, exporting images, and printing. In part, I'm releasing these notes because there are many misconceptions about Aperture, such as limits on export configurations (based on the presets Apple provides that are totally editable). I think that publishing good information is the best way to help photographers understand the potential this application presents.

My copresenter, Scott Bourne, also has lots of great tips on his site, He has, for example, a goodie I submitted about using the DigitalColor Meter utility to read RGB values in Aperture (thanks Joe for this one!).

If you're using Aperture, or want to learn more about how it works, please download the "Inside Aperture" PDF (5.8 MB). Feel free to share it in its entirety, but please don't take out excerpts. If you have questions, post a comment here or write me directly. And most importantly: enjoy this wonderful application!

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Grab Shot 12 - Chess Players

Chess Players

"I was walking in the little Sardinian town of San Sperate, well known for its "murales" or wall paintings and came across this scene outside a coffee shop," said Nina Contini Melis. "Several people playng chess at a table in the courtyard, who seemed to be perfectly in proportion to the painted scene on the side of the coffee shop. I decided to turn it into BW because I liked it better that way."

Nina used a Nikon 70S to capture this interesting juxtaposition shot.

If you have an interesting candid you'd like to share, take a look at our Submissions page, then send us your Grab Shot. If we publish it, you'll receive an ultra cool custom carabineer keychain.

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iPhoto 6 Editing

Looks like the iPhoto engineers have been having coffee with the Aperture guys. iPhoto 6 has not only adopted Aperture's full screen editing mode, but you can "compare" up to eight images onscreen at once while doing so. Clearly, iPhoto is becoming one of the premier consumer apps on the Mac platform.

In full screen mode, you can view your images without the distractions of the user interface, enabling you to concentrate on the image itself. If you want to edit the picture, activate the Adjust palette (Apple did not rename it the Heads Up Display as in Aperture) and tweak brightness, contrast, temperature, etc. And if you're not sure which image in a series is the best, put it along side your initial favorite in full screen mode and compare it. Once you figure out which one is the best, mark it as a favorite.

When you consider that you also get One-Click Effects, Photocasting, greeting cards, calendars, RSS publishing via iWeb, and a performance boost, iPhoto 6 seems like the deal of the year. How much does it cost? Only $79. Oh, did I mention that you also get iMovie HD, iDVD, GarageBand, and iWeb? Yup, still $79 for the whole collection. Apple calls the package iLife '06.

You can buy iLife '06 right now at the Apple Store. Shipping is free.

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Get Ready for New Version of iPhoto


Most likely we'll have a new version of iPhoto in the iLife 06 suite that Steve Jobs will probably announce during his Tuesday morning keynote address at Macworld SF. The question is, what will the new iPhoto have? Since Apple has made a big splash in the pro photo market with Aperture, we might see some of those features included in the next version of iPhoto.

No matter what happens, just like the release of the public beta of Adobe's Lightroom, photographers are bound to win. After tomorrow's keynote, Mac users will have not one (Aperture), not two (Lightroom), but three (iPhoto 06) excellent photo editors to choose from.

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Best Way to Convert to B&W

Black & White Train

I've read many articles about converting color digital images to black & white. This is something I have to do on a regular basis for my personal and wedding photography. The question is, "is there any single right way to do this?" My answer, "no."

Black and white conversion is like black and white photography itself. It's a fertile environment for experimentation. Some photographers feel that they get better results when they set their digital cameras to record in B&W from the get-go. This makes some sense, but also eliminates the opportunity to have a color version of the image too.

Lately, I've been leaning toward shooting in color, then converting to B&W by either using desaturation or the channel mixer in Photoshop. To desaturate in Photoshop CS, go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation... Then I drag the Saturation slider all the way to the left.

To use the Channel Mixer, I go to Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer, then click the Monochrome box. You can then play with the sliders to get the effect you want.

For the shot of the train I've run with this post, I used the Monochrome Mixer adjustment in Aperture. It's similar to the Channel Mixer in Photoshop, with monochrome already selected for you.

If you have a favorite method for converting color to B&W, please post a comment and share it with others. This is one of the joys of digital photography.

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Photography Mayhem at Macworld SF

Macworld SF

I thought I'd pull my head out of my Aperture for a few minutes to share a few things that will be happening at Macworld SF next week.

There's going to be some truly exciting photography news. Apple and its (partners/competitors... depending on what day of the week it is) are going to be firing some heavy artillery. The upshot for those of us who love photography: good times! Be sure to check The Digital Story on Monday for the latest news.

Speaking of Monday, I'll be leading my Inside Aperture Power Tools workshop. Scott Bourne from will be joining me on stage. Plus, I'm meeting with the Apple product manager today, and I think he'll also be there to handle some Q&A sessions. This is going to be the Aperture event next week. There's still room if you want to join in.

I'm also leading a User session on How To Use Your Digital Camera, which will be more fun tricks than boring How To.

There's some really cool stuff going on with Digital Photography Day(s) on Tuesday and Wednesday. Macworld Magazine is conducting their own cool photography event at 1pm on Wednesday. I'll be joining them on stage showing off some photo techniques.

And if you're a User Group member, I'll be hanging out in the User Group Lounge at 4pm on Thursday. Finally, the O'Reilly Booth is going to be teeming with activity, including talks by David Pogue and the rest of us. Be sure to check out the schedule.

So, stay tuned for all the announcements early in the week. It's going to be a good time for photography enthusiasts.

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