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Jean Liebenberg

For the Feb.'11 Photo Assignment, TDS shooters got personal and assembled an intimate gallery titled Loved One. These will touch your heart. And which one will be the SizzlPix Pick of the Month?

The April 2011 assignment is "Broken." Start working on your contribution now. Details can be found on the Member Participation page. Submit your photo assignment picture 800 pixels in the widest direction. Deadline is April 30, 2011.

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: April 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 Jean Liebenberg. (Click on it to see enlarged version.) You can read more about how Jean captured this shot, plus see all of the other great images on the Feb. 2011 Gallery page.


Good luck with your April assignment, and congratulations to all of the fine contributors for February.


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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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There are very few plug-ins that I'd consider necessay. The editing tools in Aperture 3 and Lightroom 3 are so robust, that I can handle most of the things I need within those applications. But after working with Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro 2 for a few weeks, I've decided that this is my next "must have" enhancement.

Warehouse - Silver Efex Pro 2 Abandoned Warehouse: processed in Aperture 3 and finished with Silver Efex Pro 2 plug-in using global adjustments only. Photo by Derrick Story with an Olympus XZ-1. Click on image for larger version.

Silver EFEX is a tool to convert your images to Black & White. Now you may be saying to yourself, "I know 10 ways to create a B&W photo." So do I. But none of them work as well at this plug-in. The whole reason I even paid attention to this app in the first place was because I saw images that looked great, and I wanted to know how they were created. Many of them with Silver Efex Pro 2.

Abandoned Warehouse - Original Image Original image captured in mid-day lighting. Click on image for larger version.

New Features in Silver Efex 2

This new version adds many important tools:

  • Refined and improved black and white conversion algorithms
  • Highlight, Midtone,and Shadow Brightness control
  • Dynamic Brightness control
  • Amplify Blacks and Amplify Whites controls
  • Soft Contrast control
  • Highlight, Midtone, and Shadow Structure control
  • Fine Structure control
  • Selective Colorization
  • Image Borders
  • History Browser
  • GPU Processing
  • Improved interface and interaction controls

Most of the images I've worked on have only required the global controls. There are selective adjustments available, using control points, if you need them. I was surprised at how often I didn't. The basic workflow I use is relatively simple.

Silver Efex Pro 2 Interface Silver Efex Pro 2 interface. Click on image for full size version.

Basic Silver Efex 2 Workflow

For this example, I'm using Aperture 3 as the host app. But the plug-in works with Aperture, Lightroom, and Photoshop. And you get compatibility for all three in the box.

In Aperture, first I choose a color image, then I go to Photos > Edit with Plug-In > Silver Efex Pro 2. Aperture prepares the image for hand-off. Once the Silver Efex interface appears, make it full screen by pressing the "F" key.

On the left side of the three-paned interface are the presets, with the "000 Neutral" selected at the top of the column. You can preview the other presets by clicking on them. This is helpful to get a feel for the possibilites of your photo. I usually return to Neutral, however, and start working the controls on the right side of the interface. This way, I get the exact look I want.

Typically, the three basic global controls (Brightness, Contrast, and Structure) are collapsed. Click on the triangle next to their names to reveal more sliders. I also open the Loupe & Histogram window at the bottom of the right column, and click on Histogram. This graph is helpful when making tonal adjustments.

Now begin working on the highlights, midtones, and shadows of your picture. Be sure to play with the new Dynamic Brightness slider. It brightens areas of the photo while protecting the darker tones.

Next, I'll use the Amplify Whites and Amplify Blacks sliders to fine tune those areas. But the real killer slider here is the Soft Contrast control that adds mood by selectivly adding contrast in areas of the photo based on an intelligent alograithm.

Then I move to Structure, which is similar to "Definition" in Aperture and "Clarity" in Lightroom. But with Silver Efex 2 you have four Structure sliders, one for each tonal area, plus Fine Structure. Fine Structure can increase detail, as in the building photo. Or, as in this portrait, I decreased Fine Structure to soften the skin tones.

Now, I'll go back to the left column and click on the History Browser Icon. It's at the top of the column, third from the left. Then click on the Compare button. I generally use the Split Screen view to compare the work I've done with the original conversion. You can click anywhere in your "history" to compare that point in your work to the final product.

Once I'm satisfied with my adjustments, I click the Save button, and Silver Efex 2 prepares a Tiff and returns it to Aperture. I "stack" the new Tiff and original image for convenience.

The Bottom Line

Nik Software's Silver Efex 2 runs smoothly on my MacBook Air and keeps me excited about Black & White photography. There are many more features than I've covered here, such as the image borders, film emulators, vignettes, and toners -- plenty to keep you occupied well into the wee hours of the night.

You can see more images processed with this software on the TDS Flickr site.

Update! Hunt's Photo and Video is offering Silver Efex Pro for $129, plus free shipping, and a free upgrade to Silver Efex Pro 2. While supplies last.


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The Olympus XZ-1 provides most of the features you'd ever want in a compact camera - super bright f/1.8 lens, hot shoe, accessory port, and captures in Raw. But how does it perform in low light at the higher ISO settings? This week, I put the XZ-1 up against my current compact favorite, the Canon S90, to see who survives the ISO smackdown.

You can see the test images for yourself, and read about the results, by checking out Olympus XZ-1 ISO Test 100-3200.

Listen to the Podcast

You can also download the podcast here (31 minutes). Or better yet, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. You can support this podcast by purchasing the TDS iPhone App for only $2.99 from the Apple App Store.

Monthly Photo Assignment

Blue is the March 2011 Photo Assignment. You can read more about how to submit on our Member Participation page. Deadline for entry is March 31, 2011.

TDS Summer 2011 Photography Workshop

We're making plans now for the Summer 2011 TDS Photography Workshop. If you want your name on the reserve list, just drop me a line.

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!

Podcast Sponsors

Red River Paper -- Try the $7.99 Sample Kit.

Make Your Photos Sizzle with Color! -- SizzlPix is like High Definition TV for your photography.

Need a New Photo Bag? Check out the Lowepro Specialty Store on The Digital Story and use discount code LP20 to saven 20% at check out.




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Rogue Grrid

One of the most difficult things to do with off-camera flash is to put the light exactly where you want it, and nowhere else. This task just got a bit easier with the new Rogue 3-in-1 Honeycomb Grid ($49). Like the already popular FlashBenders, the Rogue Grid fits on just about any flash, and looks good in the process. (Guts of the Grid shown here. The kit comes with a very stylish nylon mount and pouch to hold it all.)

There are two honeycomb discs: 25 and 45 degrees. You can use them individually, or put them together to create a 16 degree pattern. I played with the discs today, and was quite pleased at how much control I had over the output.

The entire kit only weighs 3.5 ounces, and it fits easily in most camera bags. Along with a coupe FlashBenders, you suddenly have pro studio power in a very lightweight kit. I'm working on some test shots that I'll post here. Stay tuned.


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Olympus XZ-1 ISO Test 100-3200

The fast, beautiful Olympus XZ-1has one of the most enticing lenses we've seen on a compact camera -- iZuiko f/1.8-f/2.5 4X zoom. With such a bright lens, you can't help to think about this camera for existing light photography under all conditions... that is, if the ISO performance is good. So I put the XZ-1 to the test.

Olympus XZ-1 ISO 400 Olympus XZ-1 at ISO 400. You can see the complete set of unedited test images on the TDS Flickr site. Photos by Derrick Story.

For the test, I tripod-mounted an Olympus XZ-1 and Canon S90 side-by-side. Both cameras were set in program mode with auto white balance. No exposure compensation. Using the self-timer to trip the shutter, frames were recorded at ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, and 3200. Jpeg Fine mode was used for each.

Both the unedited Olympus XZ-1 test images and the Canon S90 test images are posted on the TDS Flickr site.

Bottom Line

The Olympus XZ-1logged in an impressive performance for ISO 100, 200, and 400, surpassing the Canon S90 at those settings. At ISO 800, chroma noise begins to degrade the image, getting worse at ISO 1600. I don't recommend using the camera at ISO 3200.

With terrific image performance at ISO 100-400, combined with a fast f/1.8 lens, means that the XZ-1 is a serious photographic tool. I'm even comfortable shooting at ISO 800, although I probably won't set it to ISO 1600 except in extreme cases.

Add the fact that the XZ-1 includes a hot shoe and has wireless flash trigger capability with Olympus strobes, means that you can easily add supplemental light for those situations where existing light does't provide the desired results.

More Articles about the Olympus XZ-1

Olympus XZ-1 Review, Part 1

TDS Podcast about the ISO test coming on March 29, 2011.


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CF Card Reader for iPad

cf_reader_ipad.jpg

It's about time someone produced one of these: a CF card reader for iPad and iPad 2. It also includes a USB port, although I'm not sure what you can do with that. Maybe connect a second camera?

I just placed an order with the M.I.C. Store (stands for made in China, I believe). The item cost $29.90 plus shipping for a total cost of $36.50 US. It will be a couple weeks before I receive it. I'll let you know how it goes.


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Rogue FlashBender

I've been working with all three Rogue FlashBenders in the Rogue FlashBender Kit (bounce card, small and large positionable reflectors, $105) with great results. If you haven't read about these modifiers yet, they are extremely handy for the photographer on the go, or for the shooter who has limited space to work.

The FlashBenders attach to practically any flash and allow you to bounce the light off their reflective white surface. You can position them in a variety of ways to get the exact effect you want. And unlike most modifiers, you can easily pack them in your regular camera bag. I'll soon have a video showing me using these for a live group shoot.

One of the questions I'm often asked is, "If I were to get just one FlashBender, which one do you recommend?" I think the Large Positionable Reflector($39) is the most versatile of the set. You have a big surface to work with, yet it still fits in the camera bag. For fast moving assignments, I'll put a FlashBender on one off-camera flash, and use it to supplement the ambient lighting, or in combination with a light from a second flash mounted on the camera.

In terms of "light hardness," the FlashBender is in-between direct flash and an umbrella. It definitely has more edge than a soft modifier but without the harshness of the direct light from a small flash head.

An effective, versatile set up for portraits is to position a large FlashBender off-camera, with a bounce reflector on the fill side. This combination provides, crisp, flattering results, yet doesn't require a large investment in lighting equipment.


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Olympus XZ-1 Review, Part 1

Olympus XZ-1

The first two things that struck me about the new Olympus XZ-1 10 MP Digital Camera with f1.8 Lens was the large diameter of the lens housing and how light the camera feels in the hands, even with the metal exterior. Because of these first impressions, I decided that it's first worth focusing on this camera's look and feel, and the menu system.

When you push the recessed power button on the top of the camera, the lens immediately comes to life. It's responsive. Focusing is fast, even in low light. The 3" LCD monitor that supports 610,000 dots is beautiful. The iZuiko f/1.8-2.5 zoom (28-112mm equivalent) provides lots of light to the 1/1.63-inch, 10-megapixel CCD sensor. Even at the telephoto setting it's a bright f/2.5. That means you're not limited to working at the wide end of the zoom in low light.

I love the big, machined control ring around the lens barrel that adjusts ISO in Program mode, f/stop in Aperture Priority Mode, and shutter speed in Shutter Priority Mode. When you're in Manual exposure mode, the lens ring adjusts aperture while the wheel controller on the back of the camera sets shutter speed. You can monitor everything in real time on the LCD. Manual photography is seldom this much fun.

Speaking of exposure settings, the Mode dial on top of the camera gives the usual PSAM options, plus full Auto, Scene, Art Filters, Low Light, and a Custom mode. The shutter button, next to the Mode dial, is firm and responsive.

The Playback button on the back of the XZ-1 can initiate image review even when the camera is turned off. This is a feature that I like on the Canon S95, and am happy to have it on this Olympus too. Above it, there's the dedicated video recording button. Very handy, and it's also slightly recessed to prevent accidental movie making.

Back on top, there's a pop-up flash that you initiate with a sliding button, and an Accessory Port/hot shoe. I tested the FL-14 accessory flash in the hot shoe, and the TTL-Auto exposures looked good. I'll test other accessories for the upcoming second part.

Olympus cleaned up their Menu system for the XZ-1, much to my appreciation. I've been critical of their menus in the past, and I found the control screens on the XZ-1 the best I've seen on an Olympus camera. Well done, and thanks!

My only nit has to do with recharging the battery. Instead of giving us a dedicated charger, you have to keep the battery in the camera and connect it to a charging adapter. That seems so unprofessional for an otherwise pro spec camera.

In an upcoming post, I'll get into image quality and compare the XZ-1 to a few of its prime competitors. Until then, I'll be enjoying how this camera feels while taking pictures. The Olympus XZ-1 10 MP Digital Camera with f1.8 Lens is currently selling for $499 US.


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Flickr Keyboard Shortcuts

You might not have thought about using keyboard shortcuts with Flickr, but I can tell you, they are fun and efficient. My favorite is the "l" shortcut to switch to Lightbox mode when viewing individual pictures.

To see how this works, plus more tips, take a look at this movie from my Flickr Essential Training title, and see what you think.

More Training Available

We have many more informative movies available in the lynda.com title, Flickr Essential Training. Stop by and learn how to get the most from your favorite photo sharing application.


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Which paper surface will perfectly complement the image you're ready to print? Glossy, luster, matte? And what are the various characteristics that make each paper unique? In this week's podcast, we talk printing paper and explore some of the different surfaces offered by Red River. It's amazing how different the same picture can look on different stocks.

Listen to the Podcast

You can also download the podcast here (33 minutes). Or better yet, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. You can support this podcast by purchasing the TDS iPhone App for only $2.99 from the Apple App Store.

Monthly Photo Assignment

Blue is the March 2011 Photo Assignment. You can read more about how to submit on our Member Participation page. Deadline for entry is March 31, 2011.

TDS Summer 2011 Photography Workshop

We're making plans now for the Summer 2011 TDS Photography Workshop. If you want your name on the reserve list, just drop me a line.

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!

Podcast Sponsors

Red River Paper -- Try the $7.99 Sample Kit.

Make Your Photos Sizzle with Color! -- SizzlPix is like High Definition TV for your photography.

Need a New Photo Bag? Check out the Lowepro Specialty Store on The Digital Story and use discount code LP20 to saven 20% at check out.




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