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I have a small collection of VHS tapes that contain some terrific content. My favorite of the bunch is American Photography, a Century of Images, which is a wonderful resource for students of the medium. I decided to digitize these tapes and put them on my iPhone and iPad so I could watch them whenever I wished. The process is quite simple. All you need is an affordable digitizer, a computer, and a VHS player.

VHS Recording Setup


Here's an old 1.33 GHz PowerPC G4 being used to digitize VHS tapes for my iPhone. Click on image for larger version.

I spent very little money on this project. I dusted off an old PowerPC 1.33 GHz laptop running Tiger that wasn't being used, and connected it to a Sony VHS player using an iGrabber that I bought on sale on Meritline for $21 (normally $36). That was the sum total of my investment.

Basically, I fired up the digitizer, started playing the video, and saved it to my computer as a QuickTime movie in standard definition (640x480). I then added the movie to my iTunes library, including information about the production that I copied off the VHS dust sleeve.

At this point, I can watch the digitized tape on my computer. It plays fine. But if I use a CODEC during the digitizing process that the iPhone doesn't like, such as PhotoJPEG, then I have to have iTunes convert the file to MPEG-4 to make it compatible with my iOS device. To do so, I clicked on the movie, then selected Advanced > Create iPod or iPhone Version. iTunes created a second version of the movie that can now be viewed on a mobile device.

Software Download

For some reason, the Mac version of the software that was on my iGrabber DVD was corrupt. Fortunately, I could use the serial number on the envelope and download a good version of the driver from the MyGica site. Once I did that, everything worked great.

Recording CODECs

I initially tried using H264 as the recording CODEC as I was digitizing the content, but my older G4 just couldn't handle the load and I had sync problems. So I captured using the PhotoJPEG CODEC, then converted the file for iPhone playback in iTunes on an Intel Mac. It's an extra step, but I like being able to dedicate the old computer to this project. As for audio, I've been using "uncompressed." It doesn't add that much size to the file, and it really sounds good, both on the computer and my iPhone.

As we all know, VHS tapes don't last forever. So if you have a few cherished recordings that you would like to save, then this setup will probably serve you well.


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SizzlPix in a Fine Art Gallery

I recently had lunch with Don Sherman of SizzlPix fame, and then we visited the Aurora Art Studios in San Rafael to see the works of photographer Alan Plisskin. Why were we so interested in Alan's work? In part because he's a very good shooter. But we also wanted to see the SizzlPix that Alan had hanging in the gallery.

sizzlpix_gallery.jpg Inside Aurora Art Studios with Alan Plisskin's work on display and the curator talking about Alan's work.

If you have a SizzlPix in your own gallery, you'll understand the next thing I'm going to say... Those images jumped off the wall. They were quite impressive. We chatted with the gallery owner about reactions to these unique photographs. He said that they weren't for everyone, mainly because some people are looking for traditional framed prints to go with their existing decor. But for those who liked the SizzlPix, they really liked what they saw.

I think Alan Plisskin is on to something here. Photographers often look for ways to distinguish their work from others. He's certainly done that at Aurora Art Studios.


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Mark Garbowski "High ISO"

I've talked a lot about daring to push your ISO setting up the dial. This month, TDS shooters proved that great imagery is possible in any light. Check out the High ISO gallery from members of our virtual camera club. And which one will be the SizzlPix Pick of the Month?

The Jan. 2011 assignment is "Ground Level." Start working on your contribution now. Details can be found on the Member Participation page. You can now submit photo assignment pictures up to 800 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: Jan. 2011." 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 Mark Garbowski. (Click on it to see enlarged version; it gets even better.) You can read more about how Mark captured this shot, plus see all of the other great images on the November 2010 Gallery page.


Good luck with your January assignment, and congratulations to all of the fine contributors for November. I love this gallery!


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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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Camtastic Photo Fun for iPhone 4 & 3GS

I've been playing with Camtastic on my iPhone 3GS. It's a fun camera app that provides scene modes, film choices, sequence shooting, and a variety of self-timer options. Once you take a picture, it sends the image to the "lab" for processing (shown below). When the image is finishing processing (it doesn't take long), you can send the picture to your photo library on the iPhone, to Facebook, or via email.

camtastic_film_process.pngTwo different film processes just completed in the virtual darkroom.

This is a real workflow difference with Camtastic; it doesn't send images directly to your iPhone photo library, but holds them in the "darkroom" until you decide to move them along (or not). At first, I wasn't sure how I felt about this. But now I kind of like making the final decision.

The film options are interesting, and unlike what we're used to in the digital world, you have to wait a few seconds for the image to develop in the darkroom before you see the effect. In way, it brings back that bit of anticipation from the chemical days.

I didn't find the scene modes quite as useful, and left the camera in auto mode most of the time. But I did like the self-timer options (2, 5, 10, 15, & 30 seconds) and the sequence shooting choices (1, 2, 4, 6, & 8). The built-in electronic level is also quite handy for lining up your shot.

Camtastic is available in the iTunes App Store for $1.99. I'm keeping it on my iPhone.


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Stefan's Photographer's Survival Kit

When I published my original version of the Photographer's Survival Kit, I received lots of mail with terrific variations on that original theme. And in this case, Stefan Rusche sent me a movie detailing his version of the kit that he carries with him. He gave me permission to share his work with you. So, without further ado, from Hamburg Germany, here's Stefan.

"Photographer's Survival Kit" by TDS member and photographer, Stefan Rusche.


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Stylish, Compact Bags for ILC Cameras

The new Lowepro ILC Classic 100($49) and the Lowepro ILC Classic 50($39) are two rugged, stylish camera bags for your Olympus PEN, Sony NEX, and other interchangeable lens cameras (ILC).

Both bags are designed to protect your gear, yet are so light and compact that you can take them anywhere. You can see a quick tour in this short video featuring both bags in use with Olympus PEN cameras.

Another online tool to help you find the perfect bag is the Lowepro ILC Fit Chart that matches the right bag for your particular camera set up.

Video recorded with a Canon EOS 60Dwith a Canon 17-40mm f/4 zoom and an external lapel mic. I used iMovie '11(which is part of iLife '11) for titles, final production, and uploading to YouTube.


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Spend two days learning and practicing Aperture 3 in a comfortable classroom setting that includes WiFi, lots of work space, and even a kitchen. Meals are served to you while you practice what you've just learned. And the best part, class size is limited to 8, yet tuition is very affordable.

If this sounds good to you, then you might want to read on about the TDS Aperture 3 Workshop on Jan. 15 & 16, 2011 in Santa Rosa, CA.

iPhoto 09 and Aperture 3 Libraries after Import to Aperture

Workshop Schedule

SATURDAY, Jan. 15
- 8:30 am - 10:00 am - A tour of the Aperture 3 interface and preferences. The choices we make here affect our entire workflow. Plus stratgies for organizing your library.
- 10:15 am - 10:45 am - Photo shoot at Schulz Museum. We're going to capture as many images as possible to work with in the next session.
- 10:45 am - 12:00 pm - Importing from camera memory card, hard drives, and existing iPhoto libraries. This is one of the most important steps in the Aperture workflow.
- 12:00 am - 12:45 pm - Lunch catered at TDS Headquarters.
- 12:45 pm - 1:30 pm - Rating images with stars and colors.
- 1:30 pm - 2:00 pm - Compare mode and Stacks
- 2:00 pm - 2:30 pm - Tethered shooting (hands on session)
- 2:30 pm - 3:00 pm - Break
- 3:00 pm - 3:30 pm - Smart Albums
- 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm - Image Adjustment Part I
- 5:00 pm - 5:30 pm - Open Q&A
- 5:30 pm - Dinner on your own (I usually coordinate a group dinner for those who want to participate.)

SUNDAY, Jan. 16
- 8:30 am - 10:00 am - Image Adjustment Part II
- 10:00 am - 10:30 am - Photo Shoot (shoot video too if you camera can)
- 10:30 am - 12:00 am - Hands-On Lab where you upload your shoot, organize the images, and image edit your picks.
- 12:00 - 1:00 - Lunch catered at TDS Headquarters.
- 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm - Working with Metadata
- 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm - Creating professional slideshows and movies
- 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm - Printing
- 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm - Hands-On Lab
- 5:30 pm A warm farewell to all!

The $495 workshop fee includes lunch both days.

We still have room for a few more. If you're interested, send email to me with the Subject Line: "Aperture Workshop" and I'll get you a registration form.


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"Lady in Red" - Grab Shot 206

Jimmy Brown Grab Shot "I am a rather shy photographer, and I have difficulty taking photos of people," writes Jimmy Brown. "But I am pleased with this candid photo of my wife. I titled it "Lady in Red."

"We were parked in a small cemetery up in Canada. I was throwing sticks for the dog when a light rain began to fall. I noticed the car window starting to fog up and saw my opportunity to capture an unorthodox portrait. I hope you enjoy this photo."

"Lady in Red" by Jimmy Brown. Click on image for larger version.

This is our 206th 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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I think Smart Albums are still one of the coolest features in iPhoto. And after you watch this movie from my iPhoto '11 Essential Training, I think you might become a fan too.

There's more than four hours of training presented in a series of short movies that you can watch as many times as you want until you feel comfortable with each particular technique. It's truly learning at your own pace. Even if you've never used Lynda.com before, there are free movies that you can view right now: Working in Full Screen Mode, and Hiding Photos.

Your source for software training.

I receive lots of mail about how much people like learning software via my titles on Lynda.com. If you're ready to dig into iPhoto, or want to give a loved one the gift of knowledge, then take a look at iPhoto '11 Essential Training.


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Holiday Cookies

Holiday photos are often the best and the worst entries in our image library. The best because we have pictures of those who mean the most to us. And nothing really tops that. But they can also be our least imaginative shots because we overlook many of the details that contribute to the visual landscape of the holidays.

Alongside the group shots and the present opening, consider taking a moment to enjoy and photograph some of the smaller details that can be memorable images too.

And while I'm on the subject, I want to wish you a safe and happy holiday season. It's ironic that the holidays are often the most stressful times of the year. I think one thing that photography does for me, is that it helps me stop for just a minute, look around, and see more clearly what's in front of me. That's a blessing in itself.

All the best to you and yours
-Derrick