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3am and the iPhone is ringing. It's not a wrong number, but the alarm clock. What about Fathers' Day? Shouldn't the dads among us be allowed to sleep in just this one day of the year?

Lift Off by Aaron Hockley "Lift Off" by Aaron Hockley. To see the complete set of images, go to the TDS Flickr page.

No such luck. It's day two of Derrick Story's TDS Balloon Festival Workshop in Santa Rosa, California, and that means we're up for Dawn Patrol - the pre-sunrise launch at the Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic. We eight photographers rendezvous at a local parking lot and get to Keiser Park with all our gear just barely in time for Act I, the choreographed inflation, takeoff and departure of the first four balloons.

Heat Wave by Conrado Gonzalez "Heat Wave" by Conrado Gonzalez.To see the complete set of images, go to the TDS Flickr page.

As the sun continued to rise, another dozen balloons were spread onto huge tarps, attached to their baskets, inflated and launched. The crews were remarkably willing to let us get in close to shoot - close enough to feel the heat from the propane burners as the pilots filled the balloons with hot air.

After the first round cleared the launch area, and then another, a third group readied for takeoff. But by then the winds had picked up. It didn't take much for the balloons to become real handfuls and for their crews to finally keep us a bit farther away as they wrestled with their unpredictable behemoths. Finally, around 8am, all of the remaining pilots decided it was too windy, and repacked the balloons and baskets into their trailers. Even the tethered balloon rides for the day were canceled.

Daddy Wake Up by Rohith Thumati "Daddy Wake Up" by Rohith Thumati. To see the complete set of images, go to the TDS Flickr page.

With a few hundred shots apiece, we headed back to Derrick's studio/classroom for post-production, peer review and breakfast pizza. Yet another perfect workshop weekend.

Article by Doug Kaye. To see the complete set of images, go to the TDS Flickr page.

If you'd like to join us for the TDS Fall Photography Workshop (Oct. 15-16), send me email requesting to be placed on the reserved list. I'll get right back to you.

onOne Software announced today the availability of Perfect Layers for Aperture and Lightroom at a special intro price of $99.95. I loaded up this plug-in into Aperture 3 on my MacBook Air to take it for a quick test drive.

Perfect Layers for Aperture

After installation, Perfect Layers is available via Photos > Edit with Plug-in. It takes a few seconds to create the Photoshop file and present it to you in a new window. You can select one file, or multiple images to open in Perfect Layers.

Once there, you have a streamlined, but very capable version of the layers functionality that was originally created by Adobe for Photoshop. If you're working with a single image, the first thing you'll want to do is copy it to create a new layer. Then you can play with blending modes and painting to create the effect you want.

I wanted to add a little punch to this countryside shot from Virginia. So I used the Hard Light blending mode, then "painted out" the effect on the horse. That allowed me to pump up the landscape without overdoing it on the main subject.

side-by-side-aperture.jpg Side by side comparison in my Aperture library. The Perfect Layers version is on the left.

Working in Perfect Layers is fairly intuitive if you've worked in Photoshop. If not, you might want to spend some time in the How To section on the onOne site. That should get you up to speed quickly.

Performance was OK, but the plug-in did seem to tax my MacBook Air, which usually handles my photography apps quite well. I also think onOne needs to add a "Save" and "Cancel" buttons to the interface. Once you're finished with the work, your only options are to go to the menu, or just close the window and wait for the dialog box that asks you if you want to save. Seems like an overlooked detail to me.

Perfect Layers isn't for you're everyday photos. This plug-in is for those special shots that you want to get just right, or for building composite images. You pay the typical round tripping price when you use this app. My original horse shot is 27 MBs in the Aperture library. The Perfect Layers version is 411 MBs. As I always say in my workshops, you want to use the native Aperture tools as much as possible, and save plug-ins for only when you need them.

For photographers who don't want to make the full investment for Photoshop CS5 but wants the ability to work with layers in Lightroom or Aperture, Perfect Layers represents an alternative. Keep in mind that Photoshop Elements also has layers capability, however. You can roundtrip from Aperture to CS5 or Elements, or use a plug-in. It really depends on which tool you like the best. And since there is a 30-day free trial of Perfect Layers, you might want to give it a look.

For the time being, I'm going to continue to test Perfect Layers in Aperture. I like the interface and the convenience. And I'm curious to see how often I choose this tool over the other options. I'll keep you posted.

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Do you know who shot the last spool of Kodachrome that rolled off the production line? Steve McCurry ("Afghan Girl") had the honor, and he shared the images on that final roll of "chrome" at the LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph last week in Charlottesville, Virginia.

During the same week, legend art photographer, Nan Goldin, emerged from her apartment in Paris to share the stage with Sally Mann, then go to the Second Street Gallery in Charlottesville for a marathon book signing.

These are just a few of the scenes from this short movie shot on location at LOOK3.

If you want to watch the HD version, then click through to the YouTube site where it's available at 720p.

Technically speaking, the video footage was captured with a Canon 60D with the Canon 15-85mm EF-S zoom for most of the scenes, except for the final interview with National Geographic photographer, Alison Wright, where I used the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 to soften the background a bit. Audio with recorded with the Rode VideoMic Pro shotgun mic. I used the Canon 320EX flash/video light for light fill on some of the images.

The movie was edited in Aperture 3. No other post production tools were used, except for QuickTime 7 to extract the audio track from a video interview and use it as the voiceover in this movie. Here's a helpful article about working with audio in Aperture 3.

I hope you enjoy the piece!

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I've come to expect innovation from the brilliant folks over at Nik Software, and their latest creation, Snapseed for iPad easily meets my expectations. At its heart, Snapseed is an image editor, but its real joy is how you accomplish your work.

Snapseed for iPad

Snapseed brings Nik's "control point" technology to a device that's perfectly designed for tapping and dragging. There are two basic sets of tools: Correction (Auto Correct, Selective Adjust, Tune Image, Straighten & Rotate, and Crop) and Effects (Black & White, Vintage Films, Drama, Grunge, Center Focus, and Organic Frames). Each tool works on both the original iPad and the iPad 2. And they are fun to play with. Once you're done working on your photo, be sure to take a look at Organic Frames. You can add a beautiful finishing touch.

You can share your completed pictures via email, Flickr, Facebook, or Print (if you have an iOS compatible printer). Or you can save the image to the Photos library on your iPad. There's also a handy Compare button, that when you tap it, you can see the original image before editing.

Snapseed is available for $4.99 in the App Store. For less than the price of a tuna sandwich and a Coke, you can own an incredible image editor for your mobile device.

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After every major photo assignment, I take a few moments to review how effective my plan was, and try to note any lessons that I should remember for future jobs. I thought you might enjoy sitting-in on my postmortem for the LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph assignment in Charlottesville, Virginia. I talk about my plan going in, share a few anecdotes from the event itself, then review how it all worked. And if you have the TDS Podcast App, you'll be able to view a 3-minute movie that I produced in Aperture 3 from Charlottesville.

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

True Grit is the June 2011 Photo Assignment. You can read more about how to submit on our Member Participation page. Deadline for entry is June 30, 2011.

TDS Oct. Photography Workshop and Nov. Aperture Workshop

We're making plans now for the Fall 2011 TDS Photography Workshop. I'm also considering adding an Aperture Workshop in Nov. or Dec. If you want your name on the reserve list, or just more information, 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. And from those images, I choose the TDS Member Photo of the Day.

Podcast Sponsors

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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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Waiting for Nan Goldin

The rustling in the audience grew louder as we approached 20 minutes beyond the scheduled show time at the Paramount Theater in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. We were waiting for Nan Goldin and Sally Mann to take the stage -- two legendary photographers from an earlier generation.

Nan Goldin at Look3 2011 Sally Mann interviewing Nan Goldin (on the couch) at LOOK3 with Nan's images projected overhead. Photos by Derrick Story.

Finally, a voice bellowed over the PA System. Nan has just arrived from Europe. She was scheduled to land yesterday, but she "took a spill" in her apartment, and we weren't sure if she was going to make it here. She caught a later flight and will join us shortly. She hasn't slept for a long time.

More waiting... then, there they were -- sitting on a sofa with images projected overhead.

"I never get out anymore," complains Nan. "I haven't left my apartment in 6 weeks."

"But you live in Paris for godsakes," counters Sally.

"I hate Paris," Nan shoots back.

Yes, the show had begun.

If you not familiar with Nan Goldin, then you have missed a chapter from modern photography history. She lived the life of sex and drugs in the 1970s and 80s, and documented the culture with her camera along the way.

"I never set up shots," she said. She didn't have to. She was there.

When asked about what a particular photograph meant, Nan indicated that the meaning belonged to the viewer. "I would take the picture, then the critics would say what it means."

Nan Goldin was the only speaker at the festival who received a standing ovation. That's saying something since Mary Ellen Mark, Steve McCurry, and other greats had presented earlier.

After the interview, Nan sat at a table surrounded by her Cibachrome prints in the Second Street Gallery and signed copies of The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1986). Not for 15 minutes or an hour, but she stayed until the last admiring fan had spent time with her. Oh, and the prints looked amazing.

Waiting for Nan Goldin Two copies of "The Ballad of Sexual Dependency" waiting to be signed by a fan waiting in line at the Second Street Gallery.

"She's been here the whole time?" I asked.

"Yeah, except for a cigarette break."

"Only one cigarette?"

Many of us have been yearning to meet Nan Goldin for a long time. On June 11, 2011 in Charlottesville, Virginia, she made sure it was worth the wait.

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Antonin Kratochvil at LOOK3

Antonin Kratochvil Portrait

I had my best conversation with Antonin Kratochvil in New York last year after he had been mildly reprimanded for swearing during his presentation in the Canon booth at PhotoPlus Expo. I thought to myself at the time, "Well, then, why the hell did they put Antonin up there in the first place?" Anyone who knows this gritty photographer is aware that he is going to say what he thinks.

Antonin has a gallery here at the LOOK3 Festival, and was the featured speaker last night at the Paramount Theater. If you haven't seen his work, or know the story of this tough, emotional photographer, then you owe it to yourself to find out more.

Couple interacts with an Antonin Kratochvil portrait at the LOOK3 Festival in Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo by Derrick Story.

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As part of my coverage of the LOOK3 Festival for Lowepro, I attended a presentation by George Steinmetz last night at the Paramount Theater in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia.


To see these amazing images on a theater screen, captured from a motorized paraglider that Steinmetz navigates while managing the camera, was impressive. If you're not familiar with the work of George Steinmetz, I recommend that you visit his web site.

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One of the joys of looking through the optical viewfinder on your DSLR is seeing the world with crystal clarity. Thanks to the diopter adjustment for the camera's eyepiece, most of us can enjoy this experience even though our eyesight varies in strength.

The diopter wheel is usually located near the optical viewfinder eyepiece. You can see it in this image just above the optic and to the right.

I check this setting regularly by having the camera focus on a scene at infinity, then rotating the diopter dial until the image looks as sharp and clear as possible. I talked about this during a recent episode of This Week in Photo, which prompted this follow up information from a listener, Kevin Miller, who is an ophthalmologist.

I thought you might enjoy Kevin's observations, so I've included them here.

"You mentioned that setting the diopter adjustment on our cameras by looking at infinity and making the adjustment. Just my input as an ophthalmologist. I think that seems right as well.

One other nuance that should help give the best endpoint on the diopter adjustment is to not only view at infinity, but start with the diopter setting all the way toward the "+" side. Then slowly move toward the "-" side of the adjustment until the focus just becomes clear.

As you click past that first clear setting, you may still see clear options for another few clicks especially for those who are younger with some accommodative muscle strength left (not needing bifocals yet). Yet, the cleanest endpoint should be the first click that shows a clear image coming from the most "+" side of the dial. (Hope that is not too confusing.)

One other point that I know you understand. The built-in diopter adjustment has limitations. Those with higher powers of near sightedness of far sightedness can order dioptric adjustment lenses that fit into the eyepiece of the camera that extend the adjustment options beyond that of the standard dioptric adjustment in the camera. Here is a link to some eyepieces from Canon.

I don't know if there are any commercially available options for adding a dioptric adjustment lens for those with significant astigmatism in their correction. Those with significant astigmatism may not find a clear option among the various options mentioned above. In these cases, the photographer would need to wear his/her own glasses or contacts, and then the above diopter adjustment technique can be used to further fine tune the view through the viewfinder."

Thanks Kevin for adding clarity to using the diopter setting on our cameras. As you may have guessed, this is for your consideration only, and it does not constitute medical advice. I think it's interesting.

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"Classic Cameras" - Cool Mac App

If the words "Zeiss Ikon Contarex" or "Minolta SR-1" bring a smile to your face, then I think you'll enjoy "Classic Cameras," a treasure that I found in the Mac App Store for $2.99. It catalogs over 500 images of classic cameras from 1905 to 1985, plus includes magazine ads, brochures, and reviews.

Classic Cameras

The application is actually an interface for content that Marc Rochkind has organized online. So you need an Internet connection to access the information. So all of the joys and delays that come with the Internet come with this app too. But what a wealth of information it is. I spent an hour last night learning about the original Olympus PEN, Nikon F, Canon III and more.

I hope Marc Rochkind improves that backend of this application to ensure a smooth user experience. It would be a shame to let all of this wonderful research go to waste.

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