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One of the most useful non-destructive editing tools in Adobe Camera Raw (as part of the Photoshop package) is the Graduated Filter. It helps us cope with contrasty scenes where we often have to choose between not blowing out our highlights or plugging up our shadows. I used the Graduated Filter on this snapshot captured in Raw with a Canon S90 compact camera.

Carmel Beach with Grad Filters Carmel River State Beach, CA. I used the Graduated Filter tool in ACR to balance the blow out highlights in the sky and water with the properly exposed landscape foreground. Click on image for larger version.

Take the above image for example. What you see here is the finished product. But what I recorded originally with the Canon S90 is below. When I took the picture, I exposed for the ice plant foreground knowing that I was going to lose highlight detail in the overcast sky and water.

Knowing this, I shot in Raw and planned on using the Graduated Filter tool in ACR to recover those highlights in post production. I used two filters, pulling one down from the top and another (less intense) filter from the bottom up. My goal was to direct the viewer's eye to the beach, water, and ice plant in the lower 40 percent of the composition. If you want to see the difference, take a look at the original photo below.

Before Grad Filter Original image with blown out highlights.

There's quite a difference.

If you want to use this tool, open your image in ACR (I usually go CMD-R from Bridge), and click on the fourth tool from the right in the upper tool bar. Drag the mouse from top to bottom, and just like that, you have a graduated filter adjustment that you can fine tune. It makes a tremendous difference, even in snapshots such as this. And not only is it good to help recover tones, but you can actually use multiple filters to shape the image in a way that highlights exactly what you want.

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In my latest article for Macworld Magazine, Discover Preview's hidden image editing powers, I demonstrate Preview's prowess for photography. Many Mac users rely on the free application for reading PDFs, but some of those same users don't know they can:

  • Adjust color and luminance
  • Resample images
  • Batch process
  • Select components and drop out background (Smart Lasso)
  • Soft proof before printing

And more. Preview is truly a hidden gem. You might want to check out the article then revisit the application.

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If you've been following the TDS podcasts lately, you know that I've been talking about Blurb books and our newest site feature, Blurb Book Page of the Month. We opened entries in August, and I'm happy to announce our first featured artist, David Bream. You can read all about his project in the article, August 2010 Featured Book Page - David Bream, "Window Seat".

David Bream - Blurb Book Page of the Month - Aug. 2010 From the Blurb book, "Window Seat" by David Bream. (Click on image to see larger version.)

Seasoned TDS members might recognize David's name. He's been a regular participant in our monthly Photo Assignments. At first, David was hesitant to try the book thing:

"I listened to your podcast regarding making a book, dismissed the idea, rethought it, and decided to give it a try. I downloaded the software, and spent the next 3 hours making my first small sampler booklet, which I received about a week ago. I could not believe the high quality of both the color and black-and-white printing, and the speed with which the book was printed and delivered to me," wrote David.

If you're like David, and want to experiment with this medium, we have just the opportunity for you. This is a monthly feature, and we're already receiving submissions for Sept. 2010. If you want to learn how to share your work, visit Win by Entering "Blurb Book Page of the Month" for all the details. Hope to see your work in our inbox soon!

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Preparing for photokina 2010


photokina comes around every two years, and in three weeks it will be here again. Arguably, it's one of the largest photography tradeshows in the world, attracting thousands to Cologne, Germany. This year, I will be among them.

I'm traveling to Europe on assignment for Lowepro, as part of my Photography Evangelist job. I'm packing up a Canon 5D Mark II, Olympus E-P1, lighting, microphones, and lenses in my Pro Trekker 300 AW. I'll be shooting stills, recording video, and publishing on the new Lowepro blog... and here too, of course.

Starting on September 21, I'll post a "photokina shot of the day" here on TDS. I'll definitely be focusing on new gear announcements, but I won't be limiting my coverage to equipment. People and events are also interesting, and at times they may upstage the hardware.

If you have a hot tip for the show, or for Cologne, please send me email. I think this is going to be an interesting week, both for me in Cologne, and hopefully for you too as you read about the activities and announcements there.

And if you're not already following me on Twitter, now might be a good time to click the button.

Woz's 60th Birthday Party

Editor's note: A friend from my Lowepro life, Jeff Cable, offered to share the images he captured as the official photographer for Steve Wozniak's 60th birthday party. (Thanks Jeff.)

"Janet Wozniak (Steve's awesome wife) threw a surprise party to celebrate Steve's 60 birthday. The party was located at The Tech Museum in San Jose, CA. The big challenge was to keep it a secret and to surprise Woz. This is not an easy task for such a sharp guy..."

To get the rest of the story, with 19 photos from the party (including Drew Carey who is now 80 pounds lighter), hop over to Jeff's blog. The shots are terrific, with lots of interesting text too.

Photo by Jeff Cable.

Not all photo software has to cost you an arm and a shoulder strap. There are some excellent utilities that will set you back less than $5, or even free. And they are useful for the seasoned pro as well as the casual snapshooter.

This week I look at Preview for Mac OS X, and Photogene for iPad and Filterstorm, also for the iPad. Preview is free (included in Mac OS X), and the two iPad apps cost $3.99 each.

Preview App for Mac OS X Preview for Mac OS X is free, but includes some surprisingly robust editing tools. Click on image for larger size.

What's so amazing is how good all three are. Many Mac users know Preview for PDF reading, but don't realize there is a robust set of image editing tools there also. Meanwhile, on the iPad you have surprising pixel pushing power to create a very portable workflow.

I spend the most time this week on Preview, but do cover the other apps too. I think you'll be surprised by what you learn.

Listen to the Podcast

You can also download the podcast here (30 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

Saturation is the September 2010 Photo Assignment. You can read more about how to submit on our Member Participation page. Deadline for entry is Sept. 30, 2010.

TDS Autumn 2010 Photography Workshop

The next TDS Photography Workshop will be Oct. 16-18, 2010. The event is sold out. But, you can place your name on the reserve list for the next workshop. 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!

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Podcast Sponsors

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

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Blurb believes passionately in the joy of books - reading them, making them, sharing them, and selling them. Learn more by visiting Blurb on The Digital Story.

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Robert Yanal "Torn"

Here's a collection of images to create shear delight. The assignment for July 2010 was "Torn." Check out this edgy set of images from members of the TDS virtual camera club. And which one will be the SizzlPix Pick of the Month?

The September 2010 assignment is "Saturated." 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: Sept. 2010." 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 Robert Yanal. (Click on it to see enlarged version.) You can read more about how Robert captured this shot, plus see all of the other great images on the July 2010 Gallery page.

Good luck with your September assignment, and congratulations to all of the fine contributors for July. Once again, it's a great collection of images.

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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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Lowepro Pro Trekker 300 AW Review

Lowepro Pro Trekker 300 AW

As the photography evangelist for Lowepro, I can try any bag that's available. As you've read in other reviews, I definitely have my favorites: the Fastpack 250 and Pro Runner 300 AW, to mention a couple. After months of testing, I have another favorite to add to the list: the Lowepro Pro Trekker 300 AW backpack. Here's a short list why:

  • Great interior depth allowing me to place my Canon 5D Mark II on its side in the bag.
  • Removable belly band. This is huge for me when flying. A fully padded belly band adds much to the thickness of a bag. I don't need it for urban gigs, so being able to remove it helps for travel.
  • Adjustable harness. So I can get the fit just right.
  • Ample side pockets. Two long side pockets run the height of the bag. Very useful for personal gear.
  • Rugged. Everything about this bag inspires confidence. The material, design, zippers, all weather cover, even the looks.
  • Big enough, but not too big. The Pro Trekker 300 AW is the smallest of the series, yet it accommodates the gear I need for serious assignments. You can see both the interior and exterior specs here. And yes, it is airline compatible for most flights.
  • Top converts to a removable waistpack. It serves in two ways: first as a traditional backpack lid, providing extra security and weather protection; and as a removable/wearable waistpack with a mesh-covered backpad, two roomy pockets and a key clip.
  • Loops, handles, and straps. Three handles for grabbing, straps everywhere to secure tripods, monopods, ski poles, etc. And even compression straps on the bottom for additional outdoor gear. Whatever you have, you can probably lash it to this pack.
  • Built in hydration. Yes, the Pro Trekker is hydration ready.

The next stop for me and the Pro Trekker 300 AW is Cologne, Germany for my assignment at Photokina. I'll be shooting stills, recording video, and interviewing photographers, including Greg Lowe. My bag is packed. I'm ready to go.

The Lowepro Pro Trekker 300 AWis available on Amazon for $240.

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Music and audio add presence to our slideshows and movies. The combination of ambient sound, such as waves lapping up on a beach, and a soundtrack, such as a guitar solo, transforms our pictures into experiences.

Aperture provides two methods for managing these audio tracks, and I want to review them quickly so you can take full advantage of what this application offers for movie making.

Aperture Soundtracks Two types of soundtracks: Top -- "Secondary Audio Track," which is editable, and Bottom -- Main Audio Track, which has other advantages.

There are two types of audio tracks for Aperture multimedia presentations: Main Audio Track, and the Secondary Audio Track. Each has their advantages, and I often use them together in my presentations.

The Main Audio Track is the simplest to use. Click on the "Display Audio Browser" icon in the Aperture interface (music note image) and select a song from your iTunes library. Drag it to the background of your slideshow timeline, and it converts to green (as shown in the bottom image). You can't edit this soundtrack, per se, but you can do two very important things: "Fit Slides to Main Audio Track," and "Align Slides to Beats." Both options are found in the gear popup menu on the toolbar.

I particularly like "Align Slides to Beats." You can see that I used it in the illustration above. The slides range from 3.9 to 4.1 seconds as Aperture keeps your images and music in sync. Try it, I think you'll like the results.

If your show goes longer than the song you chose for it, you can add a Secondary Audio Track. This time, when you drag the audio from the browser, drag it to the bottom of the particular slide where you want the track to begin, as show in the top illustration. Unfortunately you can't use "Align Slides to Beats" with secondary tracks, but you can control their length by clicking on the end of the track and dragging.

You have other options too. Click on the track to highlight it, then choose "Adjust Audio" from the gear menu. You have some useful volume and fade controls available. These are particulary helpful when both soundtracks overlap, and you want to control their respective volumes. (Yes, Adjust Audio is available for the Main track too.)

With just a little fiddling around with these controls, you can raise the level of your presentation to professional heights.

More Aperture Tips and Techniques

To learn more about Aperture 3, check out my Aperture 3 Essential Training on Also, take a look at our Aperture 3 Learning Center. Tons of free content about how to get the most out of Aperture.

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The minute I saw the "swing out" Vari-Angle 3-inch Clear View LCD screen with 1,040,000 dot/VGA resolution (plus anti-reflective and smudge-resistant coatings), I knew the new Canon 60D was built for video recording as much as stills.


Speaking of movie making, the EOS 60D features Full HD video capture at 1920 x 1080 resolution with selectable frame rates of 24p, 25p or 30p. Plus, according to the Canon press release, "The Canon EOS 60D allows for three video recording modes - Full HD and HD in a 16:9 aspect ratio and Standard Definition (SD) in a 4:3 aspect ratio, all at selectable frame rates. The EOS 60D Digital SLR camera will record Full HD at 1920 x 1080 pixels in selectable frame rates of 24p (23.976), 25p, or 30p (29.97); 720p HD recording at 50p or 60p (59.94) and SD video at frame rates of 50p or 60p (59.94). The EOS 60D features a dedicated button to initiate live view for both video and still shooting. Once engaged, the same dedicated button will start and stop video recording."

The feature that I didn't see in the press release, but one that I'm sure is there, is an external mic jack. Without that, the rest really doesn't make a difference.

The 60D has some other cool stuff, such as a built in Speedlite transmitter. But I'll save that for when I can get more details.

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