Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Batta Bing BETA BOOM!! Lightroom Beta 3 !!

Lightroom 3 Beta with...drum roll please...WATERMARKING ON EXPORT.

After finishing up a few cartwheels around the office and rounding up the last few verses of "Alleluia Alleluia" I could hardly wipe the smile from my face.

A simple little interface that gives us exactly what we have been dreaming about.

You can select standard text or pull in your own logo, scale it up or down, designate location and opacity.

This will go on ALL our image export once we are running L3 fully.

I am also hearing whispers of networkability (the kind that you don’t need to computer hack to get it to work). That will bring on a few more cartwheels for sure!!

Adobe overhauled the import module. It scared me at first as I could quickly tell that I was not in Kansas anymore.

Everything is still there, just arranged differently. There are some advanced capabilities here too.

When you click the for previews in the import window, it starts to look more like you are in Lightroom verses in the Import window.

Another sweet feature is the Custom Picture Package in the Print module….

Are you seeing this? It is no mistake. You can drag and drop different pictures from the lower preview bar and then drop them in and resize, overlap, send forward, send back… It is starting to flirt with the makings of a collage builder right inside Lightroom!

Can not wait until the full version comes out.

Man I am so glad I jumped on the program at Beta 1! It ROCKS.

I have said it before and I will say it again and you can quote me on this one …

“Lightroom is the best thing to happen to photographers since the dawn of digital photography itself!”

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Westcott Spiderlites: A Bright Idea?

These daylight balanced fluorescent constant light sources have been a new movement in Digital Photography and will most likely advance in there capabilities along with digital cameras.

OK, so when we first bought this kit we were undoubtedly less experienced in the realm of studio lighting so we were looking for a newer alternative. These lights did exactly that.

So not really having experience with the use of constant lights (and minimal exposure to standard studio strobes) I may have just had different, perhaps unrealistic and inexperienced expectations.

So getting down to business here, we picked up a Westcott Spiderlite TD5 Trio kit to play around in our studio.

The Kit came with

2- TD5s each with 5 – 30 Watt daylight balanced fluorescent lights each
1- TD3 with 3 – 30 Watt bulbs.
2- 24x32” Soft Boxes for the TD5s
1- 12x16” Soft Box for TD3
2- 10’ Heavy Stands
1- 8’ Light stand
Rolling case (great roller blade style wheels by the way)

After using them for a while I quickly found myself interested in having more power to shoot at lower ISO’s and/or eliminate motion blur. So, I invested in the larger 50 watt daylight balances fluorescent bulbs as soon as they came out. I guess I really did not have a grasp on how much brighter they should be as I was expecting a bigger jump in power. Though they were brighter, it was not that significant in my opinion. Especially when you consider the price tag since we I bought like a dozen of them to replace most of the ones we had. Each TD5 took four of them around the diameter of the base and one smaller wattage bulb in the middle as they can’t fit anything bigger in there. The larger bulbs are pretty bulky. Again the size jump in the bulbs may have also helped in given me false expectations of a bigger jump in power.

1/250 sec at f8, ISO 200                                             1/400 sec at f10, ISO 200
30 watt bulbs on left 50 watt on right                        30 watt bulbs on left 50 watt on right

Just to give you a better idea of what I am talking about here I put them side by side in this shot (these images is completely unmodified and are basically right of the camera.) Using the same soft boxes (no baffles)on the left the standard 30 watt bulbs and on the right the larger 50 watt bulbs. Disregard the look of the exposure itself. My goal here was to show the magnitude of difference between the two at the same camera setting in the same image.

30 watt                                                               50 watt bulbs
                           Both images shot at 1/80 sec at f2.8, ISO 200

Here you can see the targets taken with same exposure settings same distance etc… Not much difference. Again, maybe I just don’t have enough of grasp on it, but in looking at the wattage numbers compared to what we got with the kit originally; I guess I expected a bigger jump.

Each TD5 has three switches on the back which allow for any combination of lights (from 1 bulb to 5) to vary the total output though I never saw a need to run any less than 5 unless you could not move a secondary/fill light back enough so you had to throttle it back. I pretty much always kept them all on all the time and just varied distance to the subject with a secondary light.

1/40 sec at f5.6, ISO 200

Now given the awesome advances in image quality and noise reduction (i.e. Nikons D700 and D3) this system may be more of an option then when these lights first came out.

Here are some images our friend took of use using these lights in Auto mode basically.

We kept one soft box tight to the frame on the left and the other large soft box was on the right further away as a fill. Needless to say due to power limits we always kept them close to our subjects, typically just outside the frame.

1/30 sec at f3.5, ISO 500                                                             1/40sec at f2.8, ISO 500

1/30 sec at f3.2, ISO 500

At these settings, obviously, you can see how easy it is to capture that look of implied motion (wanted or unwanted). Not alot of room tom move without jacking the ISO up.

Bottom line is we took some great images with these lights and including these shots of us that we use on our website still to this day. So do they work? Absolutley they do. The question you need to ask yourself is are they right for your applications? I think we just quickly outgrew them as we tend to shoot too wide a variety of subjects and situations.

Some pros and cons
On the Pro side:
We love shooting at large apertures, so these were a no brainier. No light meter required. You can pretty much nail the exposure down with the cameras built in light meter. Lighting set-up is essentially WYSWYG.
It is a lot easier to imply motion in an image (if you like to play with that look) with these lights verses normal studio strobes. Lights run pretty cool for their output. A hobbiest or amature could snag a set of these lights and (with some portrait lighting basics) be shooting nice pics in a couple of hours without a lightmeter.

On the Con side:
Due to the slower speeds you are shooting at, I would forget toddlers for the most part (with a few exceptions). Infants worked out OK. If you don’t have a descent digital chip in your camera, you will have noticeable image quality loss if you are shooting higher ISO which you are almost bound to if you are trying to get your shutter speed up. Not a lot of room to move on the camera settings as you may be ISO and aperture bound trying to stay at or below ISO 400. Had a couple of bulbs burn out quickly (at least so, don’t recall dropping any while they were hot). Also on a couple of the bulbs, the little plastic housing at the base popped open the leaving the bulb and wires hanging from the screw in base (again I don’t recall any major studio accidents that would have caused this. I would say so if I did). This is an issue with the bulb manufacturer not Westcott, though they should be made aware of it.

If you are going in for a new kit, I would opt for the larger bulbs right out of the gate, as you can always throttle down.

Read more on the this product line on the Westcott site here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

An Image that No Digital Photogapher should be without!

Creating an "Drive Image" or a "Clone" as they are often refered to it is a great way to build yourself a system of safety nets. This is esentially an exact copy of your hard drive on a system as well as file level. (software, drivers, Operating system et...)that in some cases, based on the software that was used to create the image, is bootable. Meaning that you can just install the hard drive and start your computer right up again and have EVERYTHING. E-mail desktop settings....EVERYTHING.

After a little research I had gone with Apricorn's EZ Gig. One thing I liked about the program is that you could also use the drive images as a file back-up as well. Instead of just a full system restore, you can also restore just selected file(s).

Up until about a year ago I had never needed this for worst case scenario. Well, due to a couple of misunderstandings when I first spec'd out my workstation with Dell I came head to head with one of those worst case scenarios. You can read about our little adventure here...

(above: me sinking my teeth into a 10,000 RPM Raptor Hard Drive)

At any rate, I can say now that I have had first hand experience with this over the course of about two weeks.

As emotionally draining and completely disastrous as it was, This was a ray of hope in what would have been a completely dark time.

Long story short, I was able to install a new array of hard drives, restore the Drive Image to the Array, and with a little help from my tech get right back up and running again.

Along with EZ Gig we also have other systems in place to help create several safety nets to keep us up and running;

-First line of defense is our Sanho Hpeydrive UDMA (read more here). This portable hard drive speed demon is where all are cards go as soon as they leave the camera. Ranging in size, we have a 250 Gb version. Once it is close to full I knock off the oldest 70 Gbs or so. This gives our or most recent RAW files immediate on-site back up as well as gives us a single point upload from the three camera bodies that we run. By the time we get back to the home office it is now a one connection upload. No card shuffling at 1 AM after a wedding. Instead we get a first look at the wedding before we hit the hay.

-Using Vice Versa Software and the Black X (read more here) we sync the data on our Drobo (containing completed client work, all our documents ect…) with hard drives that I store offsite.

-Using Vice Versa Software and the Black X (read more here) we sync vital files from my work station to the Drobo nightly (Outlook files, current projects…)

So you can see here that we have several safety nets in place that keep us covered from a variety of scenarios. We let our customers know what we do as well. I think it adds value to be able to show that the lengths at which we go through to ensure that the memories we have captured for them our safe. Not to mention your own work and family photos!

Vice Versa and Black X....Wonder Twin Powers, ACTIVATE!

So what the hell am I babbling about?

Vice Versa is a software that allows you to synchronize your files (among other things) between two different drives (source and target) via multiple levels of comparisons. (PC only at this point, but I am sure Macs must have something like this.) It has a lot of other features and capabilities, but I want to keep it clean here so I can show you how we utilize it and how I think it can best be used from a photographer's standpoint.

This is where the Black X (by Thermaltake) comes in. Essentially it is a hard drive docking station for internal hard drives(yes, PC and Mac compatible)that allows you to turn just about any 2.5" or 3.5" internal SATA hard drive (up to 2Tbs) into a plug and play USB Thumb drive! This makes buying Data storage nice and cheap! There are a couple of diffent models including this one (left) that has added USB ports. Currently we just have the standard version.

Gail and I combine the abilities of these two great products together into a great back-up plan for protecting all our files and clients' images!

Here is how we do it...
So on my main workstation I have the Black X set-up. Using Vice Versa, I have it compare all the data on our Drobo (the "source" in Vice Versa terms) to a regular 3.5" internal hard drive (pre-formated, see below side notes) that is docked into the Black X (the "target"). In doing so, Vice Versa will then go through all the files and folders and compare and scan for any additions or file modifications/updates made since the last file syncronization. As far as deletions go, it will also give multiple options on how to handle them from completely deleting them to foldering them in a trash bin.

Another real cool feature of Vice Versa is that you can set limits on how much band width you want it to eat up during this process (so as not to render your computer usless during these times) as well as the speed in which it is doing it. This will eliminate errors created by lag time differences in read/write speeds.

Once you get these options set, you can use the scheduler to have this operation happen every night when you are sleeping.

Take it one step further-you can have two drives (keep one offsite) and rotate them every day, once a week, once a month etc--whatever is best for your business. This way you always have an up to date back-up and an offsite fail-safe in the event of total disaster.

And still go further-use the Black X and EZ Gig Software to protect yourself from a much more likely event--internal hard drive failure (UGH). (Which of course is only a pain in the neck and not a catastrophic event because you are storing your files on a Raided Drobo system...right?) Back to Black X... so, if you've created a drive image of the primary working station, that will have all your software loaded, settings, email, etc, then, in the event the system fails you install your complete system info as it was at the time the drive image was created) saving you hours of locating, reloading and updating programs to get you back in the action! So cool.

Some Side Notes:
The Black X is both USB 2.0 and eSATA capable. (I have not worked with the eSATA connections yet, but they claim 3Gbs per second which is like 6 or 7 times faster then USB 2.0.) Whenever you buy a new internal hard drive, you will have to format the new blank hard drive before you start using it. It's easy and once you do it once you will be all set. Read about it here. It can take a while so don't plan on using the drive right away. You're best off running this the night before you plan to put it into action.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Are you a Lightroom user or a Lightroom ABUSER?

A smarter and safer approach to Adobe Lightroom.

Don’t be afraid of the “Catalog”!

So as long as I have been a Lightroom evangelist (and I have been there since the beta 1 version) I have failed to step back and look at the big picture. I was previously using one large catalog to store all my work. All the while I was noticing that LR was running slower and slower despite all my efforts to speed it up. When you are up in your neck in work it tends to get harder to make better judgements about your workflow. Consider it an investment.

There it is. I have said it. I WAS WRONG!

Deeeeeeep breath......I WAS A LIGHTROOM ABUSER.

As awesome as Lightroom is at high speed/high volume workflows (and it IS AWESOME), clumping large volumes of work into one catalogue can have near fatal consequences.

The other problem here, and I saw this happening first hand on a screamer of a system, is that your system will continue to get slower and slower as the catalogue gets larger and larger. I could see it happening, but without any strategy or a better understanding about the catalogues I had no idea how to remedy the issue.

I have Tim Riley from RRG Keys to thank for making stop for a minute look at what I was doing.

Database files can and do corrupt. In certain cases, even though your original files will always be there, you can loose all the work you have done on them through Lightroom (knock on wood).

In the pursuit of the high speed workflow as well as a sound and safe one, a set group of procedures are needed here.

If you shoot very small volumes, then this may not be so much of an issue for you though you should look very closely at the principals here as you don’t want to find this out the hard way 10 years down the road.

As Gail and I are wading through 50,000+ images per year using this new process is essential to maintain the speed of our workflow as well as the protection of the time we put into it.

In short, create a new catalog file for each job.

If you shoot less volume, then you could consider making a catalogue for each month of the year, one for each type of work you do et… You must still remember to back-up the catalogue files every so often. Yes yes, this is the window that we click “skip” on everytime. It is infact trying to protect you. This will create a back-up of the cat file at that tim to another location. This will give you restore points if you will. It would be a good idea to do this to en external in case of a system failure.

Creating a catalogue file for each job has advantages. Safer, faster, multi-user access (though, simultaneous access, not yet)and pack and go capability (drop the folder into your laptop and finish the job on the road).

One hang up that I had a hard time dealing with was the losing the ability to look at all your best work from one Catalogue. Well, there are a couple of answers to that issue. One approach is to export your favorites from each job to specific folder. You then create a new "Favorites Catalouge" and set that folder up to be “watched” by that catalogue and then enable the auto-import setting. As long as you Export the favorites from each job to that watched folder, everytime you open the catalouge, those images will then be pulled in.

You can further enhance this by creating smart collection within this favorites catalogue and you can have Lightroom do most/all the work for you.

We will discuss more about good foldering systems later.

Bye for now, fel free to comment.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hyperdrive UDMA - Fasten your Seatbelts!

So we were using an older Epson P-2000’s to fill the roll of onsite card backup and this was working well for us …..until we started buying the UDMA versions of our compact flash cards. Our Epson would not read them (in all fairness, I think the new versions take them). This put a crunch on our wedding workflow as typically all our cards are copied to this one drive on location so that when we get back to the office, it’s only a matter of transferring all the images from one location and not 6 different cards. Who wants to get home at 1 AM and start shuffling cards in the reader?
So, when I was ready to upgrade, I quickly came to realize again how much the “gig per dollar” factor was with the Epson units. The problem here is that with the Epson units you are not only buying a card back-up system, but an all around media play with all kinds of bells and whistles. Nice, if that is how you use it. For us, we only needed a portable means of on site back-up and a place to pool all the images for a single point upload for when we returned to the office. After doing some searching, I came across the Sanho Hyperdrive site. My eyes where quickly focused on the newest badest ass version (as I am popular for) called the Hyperdrive UDMA. Boasting blazing transfer speed on both the UDMA and non-UDMA card versions it also had a great “gig per dollar” factor. I knew this would work for us. I put an order in for the unit and was told they had not even started distributing in the US yet. So I waited…and waited…and waited. Eventually it showed up.

Just and FYI, I got the 250 gig version and they have a few sizes to choose from. Our approach again is that this also serves as a job by job back-up. Once the drive is full, we will start wiping 50-75 gig of the oldest jobs off at a time. Can never have enough back-up!

My first impression, though the body look was very clean, was that it felt a little cheap. The power on switch almost felt too loose as if it was going to come off. When you tip the unit from side to side you can here something inside clicking back and forth in there. So right away I was apprehensive. What was cool is it that it came with a car charging USB power adapter too. So I powered it up barely reading through the quick start guide (yes, just like a man) and started looking around. Again coming from the Epson units the navigation also did not seem that intuitive or friendly. Another plus was the neoprene case that will add some protection for the unit.
So, I held down my opinions and off to it’s first wedding it went with us. Remember, we use it as a back-up and not primary storage device. Please don’t gamble with images until you proven the process first = ) We had stopped using the Epsons at this point all together anyway as it would only take some of our cards so I had we had nothing to lose. Time came to copy the first card. I loaded it in an initiated the back-up and ………HOLY &*$@ FAST !!! Right there in the middle of a wedding, a devilish grin came over me as I was ready to start cart wheeling across the dance floor. Maybe I was just coming from to old a technology, but there was no mistake in there claims. Previously we would still be copying images on the ride home from a wedding hoping that batteries would not run out mid-copy (yup again, I was too cheap to by the car charger). Never again though! This beast was eating data from both of our cameras in stride.

So here is the Tic Tac Time Trial:
7.6 Gig from a SanDisk Extreme III NON-UDMA card
6 Minutes and 58 Seconds.

The battery life is awesome too. I have not put a dent in it yet and I think I have charged it maybe once or twice.

It likes to shut itself down when it is not in use which can be a little freaky at times. Still not being used to the speed, I can never tell if it finished the back-up when I come back and it is off already, though it has. I will have to look at the setting preferences more and see if that can be changed. Again, like a guy, the manual receives minimal attention.

I will update you on these items as I find this stuff out.

In short, nothing bad has happened and it is the fastest that I have come across. I would not recommend banging it around at this point. I will let you all know when I have an accident and I’ll tell you how it does.

What is also cool is that it displays the data transfer rate as well as the expected finish time. This proved to be accurate within a couple of seconds.

Update 5/14/09
I am reading that shutting down the "create thumnail" option increases the speed. I wil have to try this an report back.

Here is another review on the Hyperdrive that I came across at Luminous Landscapes. Check it out

Update 11/21/10
Read the latest in field update!