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Simple, elegant screenwriting.

Needables
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic
  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM
  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz

Entries in Photography (59)

Monday
Apr072014

Lightroom Mobile

Adobe has released Lightroom mobile, an iPad companion app for Lightroom that syncs with your desktop catalog via Creative Cloud.

Is it the mobile companion app to Lightroom I asked for two years ago? Not exactly. It’s both much more, and a little less.

Lightroom mobile is based on the rather remarkable achievement of running the entire Adobe Camera Raw engine on your mobile device. This, combined with the recent addition of lightly-compressed proxies to the DNG format, means that Lightroom mobile can accurately edit the full range of values in your raw originals, and then sync those adjustments back to your main catalog.

If the editing features are miraculous, the sorting and metadata features are, let’s say, streamlined. The only thing you can sync are Collections. I don’t use Collections as a part of my organization, which means I have to create them just for the purpose of syncing. You choose which Collections sync, up to 60,000 photos.

You can flag and reject shots. That’s it. No star ratings, color labels, no keyword tags. You can move/copy shots from one synced catalog to another though.

I’d suggested syncing the catalog, not the photos. I wanted organizing, not editing. Turns out, I love having the editing control. But it does come at the expense of speed and storage requirements. You can rapidly flip through shots and flag or reject them with a swipe. But as you do, Lightroom will be loading that whole DNG proxy.

Lightroom mobile lets you sit back on your couch and rapidly triage a shoot, flagging and rejecting shots easily. There’s more than enough editing control to make an informed decision of whether a shot is a keeper or not.

If you collaborate, it’s pretty cool to hand off your iPad to a colleague (or spouse) and ask them to pick their favorites. Keep the desktop version up as they do, with a filter for Flagged, and watch your screen fill up with their selects.

I wanted a mobile companion app to help me keep up with the endless task of sorting and organizing my main catalog. We didn’t quite get that. Instead, we got some organization and metadata tools, and impressive, if not as obviously utilitarian, editing capabilities.

I like Lightroom Mobile enough that I bought a new iPad with LTE so I could use it to its fullest. It’s super useful, even if it’s not exactly what I wanted. Which is exactly what a 1.0 should be. With that in mind, here’s what I’d love to see in future updates:

  • Lightweight syncing of my entire catalog. I don’t need DNG Proxies for everything, but a thumbnail would be great.
  • Keyword tags, and the ability to search/sort by them.
  • Reverse geocoding. Show me my photos taken near where I’m standing, or let me tag a photo with my current location.
  • Presets. The ones in Lightroom mobile are Adobe-supplied. I’d like to be able to selectively sync presets from Lightroom Desktop.
  • Collaboration. I’d like to be able to share photos with a collaborator and let them set metadata separately from mine. Let me, the agency, and the client all make our selects, and then allow only me to see how they overlap.

Lightroom mobile is a free download on the App Store, and requires one of several several existing Creative Could plans, including the Photoshop Photography Program at USD $9.99/month. It requires Lightroom 5.4, also released today. An iPhone version is coming soon.

Wednesday
Dec112013

How to Take Good Photos for Under $1,000

Yesterday was a big family Christmas-type day. We picked out our tree, hung the lights, and visited Santa. Usually we wait in line to see Santa, but on this day he was taking a break, helping to run the merry-go-round. My son and his friend were finishing up their ride when they spotted him. He came over to do the Santa thing. And suddenly I realized that Santa was happening right now, whether I was ready or not.

But I was ready.

I posted the photos that evening, and a few friends asked, in a flattering and kind way, how I always get such nice photos. And the answer is not a new one, but as I replied, I realized that it is a valuable one to repeat.

Christmas is coming. Here’s how to take some good photos.

Buy a DSLR

Step one is to put your phone away. Step two is to, for the time being, ignore all the excitement about mirrorless cameras. There are some great ones, but this is my advice, and I use an SLR.

Buy literally any DSLR. The cheapest ones you can get these days are crazy good. There’s the Canon Rebel line, and the Nikon D3200. Heck, buy a used one from a couple of years ago.

Buy the body only. The kit lens that comes with these inexpensive SLRs is not worth the plastic it’s stamped out of. If your inexpensive DSLR is not available without a lens, buy it and literally throw away the lens. Into a landfill. Directly onto endangered waterfowl. I’m serious.

You just spent $400 or so. I’ve bought many pocket cameras that cost more.

Buy a “Fast 50”

The oldest advice about photography is still the best. A “fast 50” is the cheapest, best lens. On your inexpensive DSLR, 50mm is a portrait lens, which means it’s good for taking pictures of people—which are the only pictures anyone cares about.

  • Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 is little more than $100. It’s made of cheap plastic on the outside, but on the inside it’s made of pure photolookbetterium.
  • Nikon’s 50mm f/1.8 is a little more expensive, but its ancestry traces back to some of the best stills lenses ever made.

Use Aperture Priority Mode and Shoot Wide Open

You just bought a lens with a large maximum aperture. That means that the little diaphragm in your lens can “open up” wider than most other lenses, letting in more light. So use it—shoot in Aperture Priority mode, and set your aperture to the smallest possible number. In the case of the above lenses, that’s 1.8.

Shooting wide-open will result in two things: First, you can shoot in lower light, and even capture fast motion like kids on a carousel. Second, you’ll get that wonderful shallow depth of field that mushes busy backgrounds into pleasing blobs of light.

Use Auto ISO

Today’s DSLRs can produce usable images at very high ISOs. The higher the ISO, the less light you need. High IOS images are more noisy, but noise is preferable to motion blur.

By letting your camera choose your ISO for you, and enforcing a wide-open f-stop using Aperture Priority mode, you’re instructing your camera to choose an ISO that will get you an acceptably fast shutter speed for whatever lighting conditions you face.

Manually Set Your Focus Points

The printed manual for your camera will be confusing and mostly useless, but do flip through it to find the part about controlling what part of the frame the camera will try to focus on. With this new shallow depth of field you’re enjoying, you can no longer allow the camera to guess at what to focus on, nor can you center-focus, half-press the shutter, and re-frame. You’re now like Maverick trying to get missile lock—do not push that button until the little box blinks on your kid’s eyeball.

Shoot Raw

Shooting raw gives you two wonderful gifts: It opens up a world of processing opportunities for your photos, which is great. But it also greatly limits the amount of futzing you can/must do with the camera itself. You can shoot all night with the wrong white balance, and it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to choose noise reduction settings, or “picture modes.” Just capture moments. Do that other stuff later.

Do That Other Stuff Later

Post-process your photos using Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom is about $100, and worth every penny and more.

In Lightroom, you’ll both organize and process your photos. If you don’t do either of these things, your photos won’t be good. Failing to process your photos means they’ll look mediocre. Failing to organize your photos means that no one will ever see them.

Shoot A Ton of Shots Like a Crazy Person

Yesterday I shot 367 photos. When I got home, I immediately deleted 147 of those. I wound up selecting 11 to share with friends.

Being selective like this is the only way to fool your friends into thinking you’re a great photographer. To support your new “spray and pray” method of shooting, you’ll want a couple of big memory cards, which will cost you about $30 each.

Use my Lightroom Presets

When I said that failing to process your shots means they’ll look mediocre, you might have panicked a little. That’s OK, processing raw photos to look their best is a deep subject. Lightroom’s “develop” controls are powerful, but daunting.

So don’t use them. Do this instead:

My Lightroom presets make developing your shots a “see and react” operation, instead of requiring you to be an expert.

You just spent the best $20 of your photographic life. #marketing

Get Backblaze

Now that you’re shooting several gigabytes of data every time you pick up your camera, you’re going to accumulate a frightening amount of data. Frightening, because the drive in your computer will fail someday—one of those things that’s not an if, it’s a when. A Time Machine or other local backup is good. An off-site backup is also necessary, in case of blimp attack.

Backblaze is a good choice for photographers because it backs up connected drives, gives you unlimited storage, and has fast upload speeds. Just install it and forget about it.

You just spent $50 for a year of Backblaze.

Actually do this.

Now that you’ve bought all this stuff, the only thing that remains is the habit of actually doing this stuff. Your iPhone camera is damnably good. Good enough that often you’ll be tempted not to schlep your big, heavy DSLR. If you succumb to this temptation, we’re right back to terrible photos, so here’s how to make sure you bring that big mirror-box with you wherever you go: buy a sling-style camera bag. I like the Slingshot series from Lowepro. You wear it across your back, and when you need to shoot, you flip it around to your chest, where the flap with your camera opens easily. It’s super handy, only a little dorky, and can actually be the difference between getting a shot and not.

You just spent $60.

Share!

Now it’s time to share your shots. Here are some rules of thumb:

  • Flickr is where you share flower photos with strangers. Period.
  • Facebook is, sadly, where real humans that you know will see, and engage with, your photos. Being humans, they are only interested in pictures of other humans. Never put a picture of the Eiffel Tower on Facebook. Only pictures of people.

Boom.

I’m sure you’ve been tempted to buy a camera that costs around $1,000, but the above items, which total well under a grand, will serve you better—and they comprise a real system for making, organizing, and sharing better photos.

Welcome to the world of people complimenting your photography by asking you what kind of camera you use!

Monday
Nov252013

Thanksgiving Sale at the Prolost Store

I love Thanksgiving, because a) food, and b) my family is the good kind of crazy.

So take advantage of my good spirits and save 30% on everything at the Prolost Store! Even the free stuff.

Just use the coupon code CANBERRY when you check out. The sale lasts through Monday, because it makes me laugh when people say “cyber.”

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday
Nov052013

Nikon Df vs. Canon 5D Mark III vs. Fuji X100S

Recent retro camera fashion has, refreshingly, brought back “real” camera functionality. But covering a camera with knobs and dials isn’t automatically a win.

Nikon has announced the Df, a 16.2 megapixel, full-frame, retro-styled DSLR. And oops, no, that’s not a picture of it above. That’s my trusty Nikkormat that my dad gave me as a high school graduation gift. I have lots of Nikon lenses left over from those days, along with an abiding affection for the company, burned into my muscle memory by the wonderful heft and feel of a solid, manual camera with satisfyingly clickable buttons and dials.

So I, along with the rest of the photography world, watched with interest as Nikon expertly teased the Df with a series of videos. The brief glimpses—and the satisfying clicks in the soundtrack—seemed to promise a return to this tactile, manual photographic experience.

The camera is announced now, and available for preorder at about $3,000 with the matching (fashion!) 50mm lens.

Here’s the actual Df

I like that retro styling is becoming a way for camera makers to demonstrate their commitment to serious photography, because pretty cameras are pretty, but mostly because physical knobs and dials are often better than menus for common camera functions.

But as great as these physical UI elements look, what really matters is how they feel. As I wrote back in 2008, we should not lust after specs or superficial qualities of a camera, but instead seek the most transparent possible liaison between our artistic intent and the images we want to make.

No one who hasn’t touched a Df knows how it fares on that front. So I turned, as I often do, to my buddy Gordon Laing and his amazing Camera Labs site. He spent some time with the Df at a recent Nikon press event.

Retro styling is all about nostalgia, but industries move on for a reason. So in order to be successful with a retro concept, I believe you have to serve it with a generous dollop of the modern too. Trouble is, this is not always an easy balance to get right.

Gordon seems to conclude that Nikon didn’t quite get it right. For myself, I’ve concluded that I already own an expensive, hefty, full-frame DSLR—and while it might not look hipster-retro, it feels great, and using it is second nature to me. Upon closer inspection today, I was reminded that it is, in fact, covered with knobs and dials.

Oh, and it shoots video too, which the Df does not. And it has more megapixels, and a faster shutter, and a dial that adjusts shutter speed in 1/3 stop increments (instead of full-stop), because it’s designed to work well, not just look cool.

The same can be said for Nikon’s D800, which beats out the 5D Mark III in many comparisons.

I love my big old 5D Mark III, but I am not immune to the allure of a retro body. For me, the right choice there is something very different from my interchangeable lens photography experience. Earlier this year, I bought a Fujifilm X100S. It’s a 16MP APC-C camera with a fixed 23mm ƒ2.0 lens that sells for “only” $1,300. It’s small enough that I take it places I wouldn’t take my DSLR (such as a wedding at which I’m the best man), it makes nice pictures, and while it’s nice that it looks great, it’s even better that it feels great. And to me, it nails that retro/innovation balance that Gordon so eloquently described. It has focus peaking for manual focus assist (a feature that requires stills camera makers to step outside their comfort zone and adopt something every video shooter knows is great), and a clever hybrid viewfinder that’s always the first thing I show off when folks are curious about the camera.

I’m not accusing Nikon of stepping over the fashion/functionality line with the Df. That’s a decision that every photographer should make for themselves, preferably by feel. I’m honestly thrilled that companies like Nikon, Fuji, and Sony are competing for turf that used to be owned expensively and complacently by Leica. There are now numerous ways to bring a physical, retro feel to your photography experience, and much to consider before you spend your modern dollars.

I won’t be buying the Df, but if you do, consider using this link to support the site.