Borkware Photoblog

January 22, 2009

Just Finished Reading: Adobe Lightroom 2 Book for Digital Photographers

Filed under: Books, Buy It, Lightroom, Photoshop — Mark Dalrymple @ 2:22 am

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Rating: Buy It

As I mentioned earlier, my current main projects are portraiture and LightRoom. What better way to kick off the Lightroom 30-day trial then with a book that Explains It All. It took me a weekend to work through it all, although I did skim over the printing and slideshow chapters. I’ll probably be using Photoshop to do all my printing, and I never show slideshows to people.

If there is a Kelby book on a topic, I’ll usually reach for that first. They tend not to have a great deal of reference utility for me, but for a survey of features of a product like Lightroom or Photoshop, they’re hard to beat.

They’re also fun. I’m sure some folks find it annoying, but I enjoy humor in my technical books. (Just read some of the reviews of My Latest Tome for corroboration). Each chapter has a mostly-unrelated stream of consciousness introduction, covering topics from flobotnor to Vince Versace’s hallucinogenic cooking. Individual tutorial steps, in between the “select this” or “use X to toggle this mode” instructions, there live little chunklets of humor too.

His LightRoom 2 book is just like his Seven-Step photoshop book. There are chapters on the different modules and the main features in those modules with step-by-step tutorials on using the features. As he goes along, the different features are used together so you can get a feel for a workflow in using the product. Each chapter ends with a couple of pages of quickies discussing advanced features. If grok the preceding chapter, the quickies are all you need.

You can download sample photos to work through some of the examples, which is about the only real complaint I have with the book. Some of the examples don’t have corresponding photos in the download (due to usage rights). Sometimes a photo was actually placed in a later chapter’s download archive, so you thought it was removed on purpose, but it was just mis-filed. And some of the photos were “after” photos. In particular, the dust spot removal sample of the hotel in Dubai had already been corrected. No Fun!

Of course, he covers all of the Lightroom modules (library, develop, slide show, print, web), but he also includes examples of round-trips to photoshop, including double-processing a file. Unfortunately for that one he seems to have copied and pasted a dozen pages from his seven-point book with all sorts of photoshop stuff which I had already seen before. Also included are two “workflows”, one for on-location portrait photographers shooting tethered, and another for folks on vacation with their laptop, showing how to use libraries on a remote machine, and then migrating stuff back to their Main Machine when they get back. There’s a bonus video at Kelby Training with a wedding workflow. You have to type in a Secret Code from the book to get access to this video.

If you’ve never used LightRoom before, and you’ve just started your 30 day free trial, it’s worth it to get this book to get up to speed quickly on the software so you can decide whether to spend $300 on it.

February 11, 2008

Just Finished Reading: Nikon AF Speedlight Flash System

Filed under: Books, Buy It, flash, Nikon, technique — Mark Dalrymple @ 6:24 pm

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Rating: Buy It

I’m shooting a friend’s wedding in a couple of weeks. After doing some test shots in the church, I decided that I should invest in a flash unit (I ended up getting a Nikon SB-600). The instruction manual that came with the flash is a typical Nikon manual : lots of information, but not in a useful format or presentation.

I had seen the Magic Lantern Nikon AF Speedlight Flash System at the local Barnes N Ignoble, and even flipped through it once or twice. After getting the SB-600 and its manual, I stopped by the store and picked up a copy of this book. I’m glad I did.

Speedlight covers the history of Nikon flash systems, from the early film speedlights up through the modern SB-600/800 models. There is a good introduction to the Nikon nomenclature and how it has evolved, as well as coverage on specific flash and camera models and the specific features that each has.

The only downside to the book are some editing here and there (some “insert three-tree graphic”, and a confusion of ‘principal’ and ‘principle’, plus some poorly edited sentences), and the actual photos in the book. The author apparently was under the impression that the book was to be produced in color. The photographs themselves are a very blocked-up black and white. Luckily for the fill-flash illustrations, it’s still possible to see what’s going on.

February 1, 2008

Just finished reading: Scott Kelby’s 7-Point System for Photoshop

Filed under: Books, Borrow It, Buy It, technique — Mark Dalrymple @ 5:49 pm

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Rating: Buy it (if you’re new to photoshop or are overwhelmed by it, otherwise Borrow It)

For the longest time I’ve avoided Photoshop, generally using it for the occasional tone adjustment or lens distortion fixing. In my mind, Photoshop = highly processed phographic excesses, like what you see on the daily photos at photo.net. Yes, having someone eaten by ivy is cute, but is it “photography”? I don’t think so. Is a collage made by cutting up oil paints an oil painting? No. If that won “Best Photo” at a competition, I would be unhappy. Spending hours and hours in photoshop making something like that would be torture to me.

That being said, I flipped through Scott Kelby’s 7-point Photoshop book at the bookstore, and noticed it was a very extended tutorial on different photo enhancement and manipulation techniques. “Woot!” I thought to myself (saying that too loudly in a quiet bookstore is frowned upon). This kind of presentation is how I learn computery things best, having learned BASIC back in the bronze age by typing in game listings from magazines.

I spent the better part of a weekend working through all of the exercises : Scott provides (via the internets) a set of 21 images, most raw files, some jpegs, and leads you step-by-step through tweaking them. There is a lot of “Click this to add a layer. Change the color to white. Choose a large soft brush and start doing xyz”. For someone who really hasn’t spent a lot of time with Photoshop, this was a godsend. With all of the encyclopedic tomes out there, it’s hard to know where to start. This shows you where to start.

His “7 point” system is actually quite amorphous once you start working through the tutorials. Officially the system boils down to:

  • Process your image in Adobe Camera Raw, set white balance, tweak settings
  • Adjust curves
  • Bring down highlights and fill in shadows.
  • Painting With Light – using a bright layer behind the photo to paint in brightness. You too can be as cheesy as Kinkaid.
  • Channels adjustment, includng the “Lab move”, which changes pixel representations to do some adjustments
  • Layer blend modes and masks – tweak stuff in a layer, and pull them selectively via masks
  • Sharpening

The actual step-by-steps flow in and out of these, without real demarcation between them, like sometimes heavy sharpening happening during the Camera Raw stage. Most of the time there’s not a clear description about why one technique happens at one stage of a pipeline, and then is performed at another stage on another photo. Sometimes there is.

Many of the tweaks he shows I think I can find use for. Some others, such as pasting in an extra rowboat, or faking a lake reflection, are not in my realm of manipulations I’m going to do. (“if I do this and it wins Best Photo in a competition, would I feel like a fraud?”) Some of the end results (such as the ocean liner in front of storm clouds) look very processed and quite fake, even in the book.
I don’t like that look, but it was good to go through the steps to see what’s involved. If nothing else, to know what to avoid.

The writing style is Kelby’s usual. I find his stuff fun to read. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but doesn’t go over the top in “see how funny I can force this material to be” as I’ve seen in some other books. *cough* .

So, if you’ve been afraid to touch photoshop, or haven’t done more than some very simple things, this book could be good for you. If you know what you’re doing, though, you’ll be bored.

January 29, 2008

Just finished reading: Photos That Inspire

Filed under: Books, Burn It — Mark Dalrymple @ 4:37 pm

Cover of Photos That Inspire

Rating: Borrow It Burn It

(edit: After having read other books since this one, the less well Photos that Inspires wears. Spend your money on something else, like Joe McNally’s book instead)

So far I’ve been pretty pleased with the PhotoWorkshop books I have read – they’re the ones with the orange stripe along the cover and along the spine, and are easy to spot in the bookstore. They have interesting, useful content, and also have sets of exercises for you to do after each chapter.

Photos That Inspire has been a disappointment in comparison to the other PW books. Perhaps that’s why it was the only PW book left on the shelf at the local Border’s. The book itself is a photo per page, sometimes straddling two pages, with a paragraph or two of light intro, and a paragraph or two of photographer’s statement. The editor’s intros are generally vague, but occasionally offering a nugget of useful information. The photographer’s statements are mostly of the “I was doing something, then happened upon this shot” variety, with the occasional over-the-top I Am An Artist self-indulgence. There are also no exercises, even though the word from the publisher and the PhotoWorkshop blurb on the back cover mentions them.

The quality of the photos are hit and miss. Many aren’t better than what you’ll find by randomly trawling through Flikr. This is not surprising since these are taken from the user community of photoworkshop.com. There are a few really nice ones (I loved “Beggar”, the cat), but most are just “eh”. Many have technical problems that are waved away with “I intentionally made this blurry to give it an impressionistic feel!” explanations. Even the front-cover photograph is highly processed and out of focus.

The editing is also careless. The inclusion of technical details are fine (camera, lens, f/stop, shutter speed, iso, film type), but much of the same kind of data is inconsistently presented, such as “Camera 20D digital SLR”, “Canon EOS 20D digital SLR”, and “Canon 20D digital SLR”. These are all within 10 pages of each other. Some is also incorrect, such as calling a Canon SD-800 IS a “digital SLR” (which it isn’t – it’s a very nice point and shoot). Saying “that’s how the users input the data” isn’t an excuse – that’s what editing is for.

In the action and sports chapter, the term “panning” is used easily a half dozen times in the editor intros, and then the next to last photo in the chapter has “you need to follow the subject with your camera in one smooth movement during the exposure. This technique is known as panning.” Better editing would have had this statement before all of the other uses. One orchid picture utilizes “an aperture of 1/60 because he was using flash” (ok, it’s a think-o). Also, the “grasshopper” is actually a praying mantis.

One final oddity is that well over 70% of the photos are on Canon equipment. Most of the Nikon photos are film SLRs, and there’s a smattering of exotic brands all sharing the other 30%. The proportions definitely don’t jive with things like Flickr’s camera finder.

I had not visited photoworkshop.com before writing this, and on the site I noticed they have an “alliance” with Canon, which kind of makes me suspect of the criteria used to choose the photos. Actually, this seems like a good plan – get money from customers so they can be considered for publication (Showcase level), and also get money from Canon from their alliance, and so feature their products in the books. There’s probably nothing nefarious going on (and it’s just capitalism if it were) – I bet the community there has a higher proportion of Canon hardware users than others given the Alliance. Knowing that, though, I know what filter to read PW materials through.

With all that negativity aside, it was a diverting couple of hours flipping through the book. If a library or a friend has it, it’s worth borrowing for an evening or two, or flip through it at a bookstore. But I wouldn’t buy it again.

January 28, 2008

Book Rating Scale

Filed under: Books, Borrow It, Burn It, Buy It — Mark Dalrymple @ 5:23 pm

I love books. I really love books. I love throwing tons of data at my brain and seeing what sticks. Generally books fall in one of three categories:

  • Buy It : it’s great, something I either got a lot of useful information out of quickly, it was a lot of fun to read, or I think I can go back later and get more out of it
  • Borrow It : It’s pretty good. Not something I want to sacrifice shelf space for. If you can get it from a friend or a library, try that first.
  • Burn It : Awful. Best put to use supplying heat.

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