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ChronoPhoto 1.4

Even though I use Photoshop CS2, Elements 4, Aperture, Lightroom, and iPhoto 6, I like to play with new digital photography applications that are fun and useful. ChronoPhoto 1.4 is a joy to use and is the latest addition to my photography toolbox.

There are times when I have a folder of images that I simply want to view; they could be working files of mine or something that someone else has shared with me. I don't necessarily want to add them to my Aperture or iPhoto libraries, I just want to enjoy the shots, look at the EXIF data, and maybe play a quick slideshow. This is where ChronoPhoto shines. It lets you work with a batch of pictures and stays out of your way while doing so. No long term commitment here, just a good time.

And get this... it works as well with RAW files as JPEGs. ChronoPhoto uses Dave Coffin's dcraw engine to provide RAW support for over 200 cameras. Basically ChronoPhoto decodes the images on the fly and lets you view their thumbnails and enlargements. The rendering of the images is absolutely gorgeous. You'll feel like a better photographer just by using this application. Plus you get loads of EXIF data for reference, and can add comments and mark your images too.

ChronoPhoto keeps track of the originals on your hard drive. So you store your pictures where you want to store them. It has a "comparison" window called the Panorama that lets you look at specific photos together, then note your favorites with the marking pen. Simple, but effective.

There are a couple of gotchas. I couldn't get the transitions option to work for the slideshows, so only basic cuts were available. Plus the slideshow doesn't automatically take you back to your thumbnails page after it runs; you have to hit the ESC key to do that. Other than those two minor nits, everything else ran smoothly.

You can download ChronoPhoto 1.4 and try it free for 30 days. If you like it, you can buy it for $20 online. The company, Trois Bambous, is based in France, as is their distributor. My U.S. Visa card worked for purchase, but the Mastercard would not. Something to keep in mind when you're ready to buy. ChronoPhoto is for Mac OS X only.

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Sunrise and High Dynamic Range

SF Morning HDR

We've been talking a lot about night shooting recently, but morning light can be just as exciting. During a recent stay in San Francisco, I left my curtains open just in case there was a notable sunrise. Sure enough, early in the morning, someone slammed their door in the room next to me and I was awake. I looked out the window and saw this scene. Even though I wasn't really ready to get out of bed yet, I grabbed my camera and went to work.

The picture, as it is displayed above, is how my eyes saw the scene. As we all know, how our eyes take in the world and how our camera captures it can be two different things. In order to record the image as I saw it, I used a technique called HDR -- High Dynamic Range. I'll be talking more about it in future posts and podcasts. But to give you and idea about how the camera saw the world, here's a "straight" shot without using HDR magic.

SF Morning Straight

Needless to say, there's quite a difference. More to come...

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Section of Panorama

Here's a section of a full panorama that Seth Grad photographed on the roof of his office in downtown Atlanta. He stitched the shots together using Pixtra. His lens was set to 18mm (1.5x sensor), and he used a tripod.

"Another useful tip for shooting panoramics (especially at night)," says Seth, "is to use exposure lock or manual settings for exposure. If you have the time, you can spot meter a few areas of the scene and pick one exposure. Be careful not to use a very bright or dark area. Then, using exposure lock or manual settings, make sure the same exposure is used throughout the scene."

To get a feel for the breadth of his panorama, here's the full length of the image:

Full Pano

Great work Seth!

If you have an interesting candid you'd like to share, take a look at our Submissions page, then send us your Grab Shot. If we publish it, you'll receive an ultra cool custom carabineer keychain.

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New Pano, Broken Comments

SF Bay Panorama

In my latest podcast, I discuss how much fun panoramas are with digital cameras and great stitching software... stuff you probably have at your fingertips right now.

I've posted a new panorama of the San Francisco Bay that I took yesterday on my way back from a business meeting in Silicon Valley. I was attracted to the giant cloud mass that positioned itself right over downtown San Francisco. This panorama was composed with a Canon Digital Rebel XT, lens at 18mm, polarizer, and only three frames handheld (no tripod).

On an unrelated note, I've noticed that the Comments field on The Digital Story posts has been sending everything to the Junk folder. If you've posted a comment recently, and had it not show up, that's what's going on. (My apologies because reader comments are very important to this community.) I should have it fixed by the end of today. Will let you know once everything is working again.

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Ben Long's Aperture Library Spanner

Aperture Library Spanner

"By default, Aperture's library is confined to a single volume. Consequently, when that volume fills up, you can't add any more images to your library," writes Ben Long on his Complete Digital Photography site. "However, using a little Unix trickery, it's possible to span the Aperture library across multiple volumes to extend your storage. The Aperture Library Spanner is a simple app that will automatically span your library across multiple volumes."

Here's a little background on this nifty tool that Ben is offering for free. We were hanging out in San Francisco on St. Patrick's Day talking about photography over beers. In passing, and quite innocently, Ben mentioned how to span Aperture volumes by setting up a few commands in the Terminal app. I said that a lot of people would use this if it had a nice user interface. Ben replied, "I could do that!" And he did. This is one of the reasons I'm such a strong advocate of photo buddies. By having someone to kick around ideas with, you'll explore things that you might not have considered otherwise.

Thanks to Ben putting together the Aperture Library Spanner, we have two techniques for coping with large libraries. I posted a piece on How to Manage a Large Aperture Library on a PowerBook and Ben's Aperture Library Spanner. In other words... shoot as many pictures as you want!

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Stunning City Night Scenes

SF Night Scene

Cityscapes at night are one of my favorite subjects. It's difficult, however, to get a good angle without having to shoot through glass. Most hotels in San Francisco only let you open your window or sliding glass door part way for ventilation. On my last trip, however, I had a sliding glass door on the 22nd floor that opened all the way. A venerable night-shooting pot of gold.

I pulled my UltraPod II out of my backpack and strapped it to the floor lamp that I had positioned in front of the open sliding glass door. I set my Canon Rebel XT to ISO 200, turned on the self-timer, put the Exposure Compensation to +1, composed, and pressed the shutter. I captured quite a few compelling nightscapes in that session.

If you enjoy night shooting too, always pack your portable tripod and test the windows in your hotel room. Use great caution to ensure that your shirt pocket is empty so you don't accidently drop anything to the ground below. Work quickly and safely, and you can get some great shots.

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Aperture Preferences

I've been using Aperture on a 17" PowerBook, and my biggest challenge hasn't been performance, but disk space. Storing hundreds and hundreds of RAW files on a measly 80GB internal hard drive is insane. Even if I cleaned off my iTunes music, video clips, applications, documents, and the OS itself, I'd still run out of room. I had to find a solution, and fast. So, I did.

My approach was to carry with me a 80GB LaCie 80GB Portable External Hard Drive that was slim enough to fit unobtrusively in my laptop case. I then copied my Aperture Library on to the mobile drive and removed it from my PowerBook's internal disk (I recommend that you back up your Aperture Library to at least one other drive before deleting from your laptop). You can instruct Aperture to read the library on the mobile drive by going to its Preferences (Aperture > Preferences) and pointing the application to the new library location. You'll have to relaunch Aperture for the change to take effect.

OK, so now you've relieved the pressure off your internal drive, but you've also created an 80GB ball and chain that's necessary to run Aperture. Or is it? One of the lesser-know features of Aperture is the ability to drag and drop entire projects out of the master library. You can use this to your advantage while working on a big assignment. Drag a project out of your master library (from the mobile drive) to your laptop's internal drive. If it's a large project, this will take a minute or two to copy.

Drag Project

Now quit Aperture, disconnect the mobile drive, and relaunch Aperture. Since the designated Aperture library isn't available (it's on the disconnected mobile drive), Aperture will create a brand new library on your PowerBook internal drive. Simply drag your project into Projects column in Aperture, and you can continue working on it just as if it were in your master library. Once you've finished with the project, you can copy it back into your Master library on your mobile drive (replacing the older version of it).

There are variations of this technique, but this should get you headed in the right direction.

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Airplane Window Sunset

A great way to pass the time while flying is to take pictures. That's why I always get a window seat if one is available. Here are a few tips to get the best shots possible.

Start by cleaning off the glass to remove smudges and hand prints left by the child that had your seat on the previous flight. Then turn off the flash; these are existing light shots only. I usually leave the white balance setting on "auto" and correct the color, if necessary, later on the computer. (BTW: one trick I've learned with daytime airplane window shots is that Photoshop's auto color correction works great on these types of images. Try it.) On digicams, I then set the focus on "infinity" or "landscape" so the sensor isn't fooled by the glass, and to prevent it from spending too much time trying to focus on clouds that don't have distinct edges.

Put the camera lens barrel right up against the glass (make sure, however, you don't have glass-to-glass contact with the front element of your lens). If you have a lens hood, use it. The idea is not to get reflections from the window in your shots. Now fire away.

I captured this image with a Contax SL 300R compact while flying from Florida to California. ISO was set to 200. Exposure was 1/4 of a second at f-2.8. I was able to get away with this long shutter speed by steadying the camera against the glass. I chose not to up the ISO to 400 because this camera gets a little noisy at that setting.

This shot is in celebration of Julianne Kost's new book, Window Seat. It's a beautiful work filled with lots of great Photoshop technique. I'll be attending a reception in Julianne's honor tonight at Adobe. Will let you know if I glean any further insights.

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First 2006 Wedding Posted

Wedding

I just posted the first wedding gallery of the season. I used Apple's Aperture to manage the RAW files that I shot with my Canon 5D. For most of the wedding, I used the Canon EF 24-105mm f-4 IS lens, with and without flash. My assistant, Paige Green used a Canon 20 D with 85mm f-1.8 or 28-70mm f-2.8 L lens. She shot mostly existing light.

The online gallery was generated right out of Aperture using its Web Gallery tool, then uploaded to a .Mac server from Aperture. Only minor photo edits, mostly cropping, were applied to the images.

I talk about wedding photography in this week's podcast if you'd like to learn more about the process.

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iPhoto 6

Building web pages to share photos isn't always convenient, and email attachments have varying effectiveness depending on the photo size, email client, and recipient. A new method for easily sharing your pictures is to syndicate them via RSS using the new Photocasting feature in iPhoto 6.0.2 or later.

This technique enables you to share images in one of four resolutions by simply dragging them into an iPhoto 6 album that has Photocasting enabled. You will need a .Mac account to syndicate the pictures, but anyone with an Internet connection and an RSS reader can receive your pictures automatically. And if a recipient has iPhoto 6, he or she will automatically see your images in iPhoto itself.

To enable Photocasting, all you have to do is select an album in iPhoto by clicking on it once, then choose Share > Photocasting. iPhoto will ask you what size of image you'd like to syndicate: small, medium, large, or original. You can learn more about the details of those options in my recent post, Photocasting: Serve the Right Picture Size on Mac DevCenter. For onscreen viewing, "small" seems adequate, serving up 640x480 versions of your pictures.

Once you publish, you have the option of iPhoto generating an email with subscribing instructions that you can send to everyone you want to share your pictures with. If a recipient doesn't have iPhoto 6, then you might want to recommend a free RSS reader, such as NetNewsWire Lite.

I recommend that you make this a more full-bodied experience by adding informative titles to your pictures and writing some caption material in iPhoto's comment field. Both title and comments are served with the picture. The entire package looks great in all of the RSS readers I tested.

David Pogue and I cover Photocasting in great detail in our new book, iPhoto 6: The Missing Manual. It's available on Amazon.com now as preorder.

Overall, I think Photocasting is a great way to share photos. All you have to do is drop a new image in your enabled album, and it is immediately sent out via RSS. Your fans will automatically receive the pictures when they open iPhoto 6 or their RSS reader. Very nifty!

If you'd like to see a sample Photocast, subscribe to this URL: http://photocast.mac.com/dstory/iPhoto/dex's-photocast/index.rss.

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