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Stephen Johnson at Apple Store, SF

Stephen Johnson

Stephen Johnson, digital landscape photography pioneer, will be speaking at the SF Apple Store on Dec. 27, 7 p.m. Stephen will discuss his groundbreaking digital landscape photography project, "With A New Eye." You'll learn about the concept, tools, inspiration, and means for accomplishing this massive 8-year project.

I've had a chance to visit Stephen at his gallery in Pacifica, CA, which is just south of San Francisco. His work is magnificent. If you're in the Bay Area on Dec. 27, spend an hour with Stephen Johnson. The visit will get your creative juices flowing.

I took this photo of Stephen at his gallery while he was showing me a section of his massive print of the New York City skyline that he captured before the Sept. 11 attack. The image of the twin towers was haunting... for both of us.

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"Sunglasses" Polarizer in a Pinch

Sunglasses Polarizer
Top photo recorded with a compact digicam and no filter. Bottom image captured using sunglasses as a polarizing filter...

Most of us don't carry all of our photo accessories when we're on the go with our compact camera. But, if you have a quality pair of polarizing sunglasses, you can use them as a polarizing filter in a pinch.

The top image was taken without any filter. Good color, for sure, but I really wanted more intensity in the foliage and sky. So I placed one side of my polarizing sunglasses right up against the camera lens and recorded another image. The polarizing effect of the sunglasses deepened the blue sky, gave the clouds a little more "snap," and saturated the colors of the trees.

Keep this tip mind the next time you're out shooting grab shots with your compact camera. You might be surprised by the results.

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Kodak Easyshare Printer
Dye sublimation printers provide us with archival 4"x6" prints from our digital cameras within minutes.

For years now I've wrestled with inkjet printers to produce the lingua franca of amateur photography: the 4x6 print. I've used Epsons, HPs, and Canons, only to meet the same frustrating fate. It just takes too much fiddling around to squeeze out a few borderless snapshots. Don't get me wrong, I've had great results producing colorful business forms and 8"x11" enlargements. I expect to spend a little more time on those types of output. But 4"x6" prints, whether from Photoshop, iPhoto, or directly from the camera, should be fast and simple.

So, I began researching dye sublimation printers (dye sub, for short). Not the big ones that cost lots, but those little portable units that specialize in snapshots. They use dye sublimation thermal transfer printing. After you send the image to the printer, the paper makes four passes across the printing element. The first pass is yellow, and you don't see much image detail at this point. With magenta, the second pass, it begins to look more like a photograph but not a pretty one. After the third pass, cyan, the image snaps to life and looks beautiful. Most printers add one more layer, a coating that protects against UV rays and moisture. A very nice touch! You can actually run water across these prints without damaging them. And the images last for years and years.

Many camera systems, such as Kodak, Olympus, and Canon, have matching printers for their cameras. However, if your digicam has the PictBridge protocol, it should be able to communicate with any PictBridge-compatible printer. So shop around. Here are a few models to get you started:

Canon PowerShot S2 IS
The Canon PowerShot S2 IS is the current favorite choice among those who ask me for camera advice.

As you can imagine, I get lots of inquires this time of year concerning the best camera to buy. For those who are looking for an all-in-one prosumer model, the Canon PowerShot S2 IS has been the model most often selected among the options I present. Why do people like this camera? The 12X optical zoom combined with image stabilizer is appealing in a package that is light to carry around. 5 megapixels is enough resolution for most folks, especially considering that they won't have to do much cropping thanks to the optical zoom range. And the street price of $450 is within reach of most camera-buying budgets.

I do think the S2 is a terrific camera. That's why it's on my short list of consumer recommendations. But the news here is how popular it's been with people who actually plunk down their hard earned dollars.

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Shooting Through Hotel Glass

NYC Times Square

You travel photos aren't limited to locations where the tour bus stops. One of the first things I do, after dropping my suitcase on the bed, is look out the hotel window for a photo opportunity. Bright, colorful lights from a high vantage point often translate into beautiful nighttime images.

If your hotel window doesn't open, and they usually don't, just apply the standard "shooting through glass" technique. I like to first put a rubber lens hood on the camera to protect the front of the lens, but it isn't necessary if you're careful. Dim the room lights, or turn them off all together (so you don't get reflections in the window), then position the front of the lens barrel as close to the glass as possible. Make sure you turn your flash off. Then hold the camera very steady and shoot a couple frames. If you get camera shake because of the low light, then increase the ISO to 400 or 800 and try again. You can use a tripod if one is handy.

These types of images are particular good for "establishing shots" at the beginning of slideshows. And they often capture the interest of your viewers from the get-go.

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Getting to Know Aperture

Aperture

I've just spent my first full day with Apple's new pro photo application, Aperture. Unlike most users, I'll be using this program strictly on a 17" PowerBook. (If you're curious about how it performs on a laptop, read my Mac DevCenter post, Aperture on a PowerBook, Pt. 1.) Since I've just splashed my feet wet, I have a suggestion to help you get off to a good start with this new tool.

After you install the application, but before you import any photos, insert the Introducing Aperture DVD and watch the "Acquiring Images" segment. Then import a batch of pictures. Next, watch the "Aperture Interface" and "Browsing & Organizing" segments, then apply what you've learned to your images. Work back and forth between the instructional segments and your own library of photos until you've finished the training. Then read the help section about how to set up a "Vault" so you can back up your work on an external hard drive.

You'll be ready for a good night's sleep after this. But you will have made tremendous headway toward learning the application. I'll post more tips soon.

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Nikon D200

In a recent poll of The Digital Story podcast listeners, the Nikon D200 topped the list of "most desired" DSLRs. Listeners to Podcast #8 were asked to post the DSLR they most wanted to buy in Show Notes section of that show. The top 5 cameras were as follows:

  1. Nikon D200
  2. Canon 5D
  3. Canon Rebel XT (350D)
  4. Nikon D50
  5. Nikon D70

Even though it was a small sampling (39 votes) the audience consists of avid photographers who are interested the latest cameras.

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Fast Shutter Speed to Freeze Action

Soccer Action

Outdoor action photography requires two elements -- optical magnification and fast shutter speed. This shot was captured with a 300mm telephoto lens on a Canon 5D at 1/500th of a second. In order to get the shutter speed I needed to freeze the action, I increased the ISO setting to 800. As extra insurance, I shot in Raw mode so I would have more options in post production.

If you like action photography, look for a camera/lens combination that provides lots of optical reach and can provide good image results at ISO 400 or higher.

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Low Horizon Line for Dramatic Skies

Low Horizon Line
By placing your horizon line low in the frame, you can emphasize a dramatic sky...

One habit that I see many photographers fall into is placing the horizon line in the center of the composition. Sometimes this is appropriate, but often it creates a static image that doesn't "move" the viewer.

Try instead, to consciously lower the horizon line, especially when you have a dramatic sky to work with. At first this may feel awkward. But when you review those shots later at home, I think many of them will be among your favorites. And don't forget to use a polarizer if you have blue skies with billowy clouds.

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Flash Tip
Try using a slower shutter speed for your holiday flash shots to capture more ambiance...

When shooting flash shots indoors, most cameras default to 1/60th of a second for the shutter speed. This is a reasonable setting in most situations. The problem is, your background -- outside of flash range -- often goes dark providing stark contrast to the flash-illuminated subjects.

By slowing down the shutter speed to 1/30th or a second, or even 1/15th, you can capture more of the background information, providing some "atmosphere" for your shots. The easiest way to do this (if your camera has a "Manual" mode) is to set the shutter to 1/30th of a second and the aperture to f-5.6. The flash will automatically emit the correct amount of light for your main subjects (usually within range of 8 feet or less). If it doesn't fire, change the flash mode to "Flash On."

Compact camera shooters can try the "Nighttime Flash," "Party," or "Slow Synchro" modes. These work great if you have a decent amount of ambient light, such as in my example shot here. If the room light is too dark, however, the shutter speed will slow down too much causing motion blur.

But don't be afraid to experiment. Try a few shots using one of these settings, then go back to your normal automatic mode. Afterward, evaluate your shots and experiment some more at your next holiday event.

You might also want to review the Show Notes for Podcast #1 that cover flash photography.

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