October 24, 2014

Excerpt: "Shoot Macro: Technique for Photography Up Close"

This is an excerpt from "Shoot Macro: Techniques for Photography Up Close" (Amherst Media), $27.95

Acclaimed photographer and Professional Photographer contributor Stan Sholik takes you deep into the lighting and shooting techniques used to produce otherworldly images of tiny subjects. Step-by-step techniques show you how to choose and use the right equipment, solve common problems, and make best use of the specialized equipment designed for this technically demanding genre.



A rose is such an over-photographed subject. A new macro photo must add a little something unique to the way we see it, or it’s not worth doing. This is my take on it from a few years ago when Lensbaby first introduced their macro lens kit.


For those unfamiliar with Lensbabies, it is an optic system that replaces the lens on Canon and Nikon DSLRs, many 4/3 cameras, or PL-mount video cameras. There are several lens bodies that allow you to shift the focus point while blurring other areas of the image, and a range of optics that mount into the bodies and simulate various camera lenses. There are also lens accessories, such as the macro lens kit that I use as well as newer macro converter extension tubes.


For this photo I used a Lensbaby Composer body on my Nikon with the Lensbaby double glass optic, an f/8 aperture disc, and both macro close-up lenses. The double glass optic is a well corrected, multicoated lens that is quite sharp when the Composer is not shifted. But when you manually shift the Composer, the area of sharpness moves and blurred edges appear. The amount of sharpness and blur, as well as the exposure, are determined by the lens aperture. The aperture is adjusted by discs that you place into the Composer.

For close-up and macro photography there is a +4 and a +10 diopter available in a kit. These you can screw onto most of the optics either individually or in combination.

As always, choosing the right subject is important. I found these small roses at a market when I was shopping and bought them to photograph. While I was shooting them with my Nikon macro lens and producing results that I was happy with, I thought of the Lensbaby macro lenses that I had recently acquired.


Using available sunlight, I started playing around with the macro lenses individually and in combination. With the +4 diopter mounted on the double glass optic and the f/8 aperture disc installed, I shifted the Composer quite a way off axis to create an area of sharp focus and streaks of blur around the area. This is my favorite from that day. The shot works because there is enough color contrast in the red to clearly show the blur. With a single color rose, it doesn’t work well at all.

September 24, 2014

Music Licensing for Film and Video

By Ron Dawson

There is perhaps no topic as important and contentious in the industry as the legal use of music in the production of videos, particularly event videos. Even if you or your client buys a song on iTunes, you’re still not freed from the obligation to attain proper licensing. And using copyrighted music in a clients’ personal videos does not constitute fair use.

By law, in order to use a song in a film or video you need two types of licenses: a master use license (controlled by the record label) and a synchronization license (controlled by the publisher). The former is for the rights to the song from the originator. The latter is for the rights of the specific version of the song you want to use. In some cases, the label and the publisher may be the same entity. But in many cases they are not.

Let’s say you want to use the 2010 Haiti Charity remake of R.E.M.’s classic “Everybody Hurts” for some non-profit video you’ve made. You’d need to get a master use license from Warner Bros. music label (from which the original R.E.M. version hails), and a synchronization license from Simon Cowell’s company (which produced the remake).

If a song is older than 70 years, it may be in the public domain, but you still may need a sync license. For instance, if you wanted to use Chris Tomlin’s “Amazing Grace,” as a hymn older than 70 years, the song is in the public domain, so there’s no master use license needed. However, you’d still need to get the sync license from Chris Tomlin’s publisher. However, if you got your 16-year-old daughter to write and sing her own arrangement, you wouldn’t need any license.

For a while the record companies did not seem to mind that there were literally hundreds (if not thousands) of professionally produced wedding videos online, all with illegal use of copyrighted music. But in late 2011 they started taking wedding videographers to court and winning large settlements, so take this very seriously.

Fortunately, there is a growing number of music licensing companies that make licensing quality music easy and affordable. Keep in mind that traditional music licenses can cost many hundreds, even tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the type of film or video, where it’s played, and how it’s distributed.

There are many quality resources out there, but a few rise to the top in terms of the variety and quality of songs in their catalogs, and in particular, their connection and understanding of DSLR filmmakers. Pay close attention to the license terms such as how long you can use a song and in how many productions.

Triple Scoop Music (triplescoopmusic.com): Triple Scoop Music’s service is tuned specifically to wedding and event photographers and videographers. Many of their songs are from Grammy-award winning artists, and you can find high-quality songs, both with and without lyrics. As of this writing, their licenses for personal videos such as a fusion wedding presentation is only $60 for an indefinite use, perpetual license. Commercial related licenses range from $99 to $299.


The Music Bed (themusicbed.com): TMB has a particularly strong connection to the filmmaking industry. They have an eclectic mix of high-quality music, including some from well-known bands like Need to Breathe. Their licenses start at $49 for single use, perpetual wedding or portrait licenses. Corporate licenses range from $199 to $399 depending on the size of the organization.


PremiumBeat: (premiumbeat.com): PremiumBeat is a poplar go-to site for small companies and agencies shooting commercial work. All the songs in their curated catalog are just $39.95 for unlimited use in perpetuity. None of their songs have lyrics (aside from a few with background vocals), so they may not be the best choice if you need songs to prime emotion, but for commercial work they’re hard to beat.


Marmoset Music (marmosetmusic.com): Marmoset Music has a tool on their site that allows you to search for songs by pacing, type of project, energy level, etc. Their licenses start at $99 for wedding and portrait perpetual, single use. Corporate rates start at $199 and climb to $999, depending on company size.

marmoset filter.png

Song Freedom (songfreedom.com): Song Freedom made a name for themselves by being one of the first sites to provide pop songs from artists like One Republic and Colbie Collait. Their license rates are $49.99 for wedding and portrait single use, and $199 for commercial. Their licensing is a little confusing in that they also have a corporate licensing rate, which to me seems the same thing as commercial. Be sure to read their FAQs on the difference.


Other popular sites worth checking are AudioJungle.net and Stock20.com.


There’s one music resource on the Internet that allows you to use music for free under Creative Commons 3.0, so long as you put proper credits in the video: incompetech.com by Kevin MacLeod. You may not find the quality of music as high as the sites mentioned above, but it’s a great resource if you need a fun silent movie era song, or a popular classical music piece. If you have a client with a small budget (or no budget), this is a great resource.

Know Your Codecs (and other useful technical information)

By Ron Dawson

Some seemingly minor video technical video details are seldom taught in workshops, but they're definitely worth learning as they can help you decide how to compress for the web, what camera to choose, how to solve that pesky editing problem, and whether or not to get that fancy new HDTV.

Decoding Codecs

Codec stands for compression-decompression and it’s the algorithms used to compress large video files into something more manageable. Some of the most widely used codecs are MPEG-4 (including .M4V and .MP4), H.264, DivX, MPEG-2 (typically used for DVDs) and Apple’s ProRes.

Apple’s ProRes is a favorite among video editors because of its quality and how easily it's handled by various non-linear editing programs (NLEs). There are five popular versions of ProRes (from lowest to highest quality): ProRes Proxy, ProResLT, ProRes 422, ProRes HQ, and ProRes 4444.

QuickTime (.MOV) is not a codec. It’s a video format, also called a wrapper. You could have a .MOV video format compressed with H.264, one compressed with ProRes, or one compressed with MPEG-4. They all would technically be QuickTime files, but would perform very differently in NLEs.

AVCHD is a proprietary video format created by Sony and Panasonic, originally for the consumer video market. A number of years ago professional and prosumer camcorders adopted the format as well. Sony’s FS100, the Panasonic AF100, and Canon’s C100 currently all use this format.

Transcoding is when you convert one form of codec into another. For instance, although most NLEs can manage most codecs, many of them still have a much easier time handling ProRes. So many editors will transcode DSLR files from H.264 into one of the “flavors” of ProRes and spit it out into a .MOV wrapper. MPEG Streamclip is a free transcoding software and one of the most popular used to perform this task.

Fields, Frame Rates & Flavors of HD

Progressive vs. Interlaced: To conserve bandwidth over the airwaves, traditional video was interlaced. Each frame was comprised of two fields with 60 alternating vertical lines (thus the 60i you often see) that when played back at 29.97 frames per second (aka 30 fps) gave you a solid image (and giving you that stark “video” look). Progressive video is when each frame of video is one solid frame and field, like traditional film (thus the more cinematic look).

Frames per second: Also referred to as fps (frames per second), the number you usually see isn’t the actual rate. When you hear people talk about 24 fps (sometimes shown as 23.98), in actuality it’s 23.976. Here are some other values:

25 fps (Pal) = 25

30 fps = 29.97

60 fps = 59.94

Resolution Values:

Standard Definition = 720 x 480
High Definition 720p = 1280 x 720 progressive
HD 1080i = 1920 x 1080 interlaced
HD 1080p = 1920 x 1080 progressive
HD 2K = 2048 x 1080
Ultra High Def, aka UHD, aka “fake 4K” = 3840 x 2160
HD 4K = 4096 x 2160

There is lots of discussion and debate about whether or not it makes sense to shoot in 4K. A lot of factors go into making that decision: your intended audience, how they will view the video, the kind of story you’re telling, etc. As always, make the best decision you can afford given the resources at your disposal. Some of the most powerful and poignant videos I’ve seen on the internet were shot on a Flip Video camera.

Video SEO Myth vs. Reality

By Ron Dawson

You’ve prepped, shot, and edited your video. It’s ready for prime time. But the question is, How do I host it? YouTube? Vimeo? Do I upload it to my website? And what about video SEO? Where does that come into play? This article will answer those questions, and likely challenge you a bit, too. 

Myth #1: Good Video SEO Is Getting As Many Views as Possible

I see a lot of video producers writing blog posts and telling clients that video SEO is about getting as many views as possible for your video and racking them up on YouTube. That’s well and good, but it isn’t SEO. SEO stands for search engine optimization. It’s about optimizing search engine results for the people searching and for the sites being searched. You want the right people to find you and your business via organic search results. Getting lots of views may be a good ego boost, and it definitely can help with brand recognition, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into good SEO. Are those views leading people to your site? Are they converting into business? This is not to minimize the positive effect of lots of views. Just don’t confuse it with SEO.

Myth #2: Putting Your Videos on YouTube Increases Your Search Rankings

The rankings of your page are based on a range of factors like relevance of content, keywords, link backs from other sites, etc. Whereas having a relevant video can help boost search engine results overall since rich content like video is a plus for SEO, all things being equal, a YouTube video won’t rank your page any higher than any other video.

Myth #3: YouTube Is Good for SEO Because It’s the Second Largest Search Engine

This is perhaps the most frustrating myth. You often hear people proclaim that because YouTube is the second largest search engine (second only to Google), that is reason alone to put all your videos on YouTube. The problem with that thinking is that people aren’t searching for promotional videos or show reels on YouTube. They’re looking for education or entertainment. If they need a product or service they’ll start their search on Google (or Bing or Yahoo! or some other popular search engine). The goal of a good video SEO strategy is to get the search engine result to link to your page, not YouTube.

What is Good Video SEO?

The primary objective of an effective video SEO strategy is to maximize the traffic to your website via the effective production and distribution of video. You accomplish this three ways:

  • Host your video on a self-hosted, professional platform (e.g. Wistia, Vimeo Pro, etc.)
  • Use video sitemaps to register your videos with search engines
  • Post the right kind of content to YouTube to drive traffic which is already there back to your site.

Using a service like Vimeo Pro or Wistia, in conjunction with video sitemaps, will allow you to establish the web pages on which you post your videos as the canonical version of the video. Basically, all that means is that when search engines see your video, they consider those web pages as the “owners” and will link people there when those videos show up in search engine results. (How to create a video sitemap is beyond the scope of this article. Wistia will create one automatically for you. If you need to create one manually, just Google it and read Google’s support page on the topic.)

Using sitemaps can also increase the chance of you getting a rich snippet video thumbnail in your search results. People are more likely to click on a rich snippet than a plain link. And if you establish your site as the canonical owner of the video, search results for your video will rank higher than their YouTube counterparts. (see image).


The short film about Jerry Ghionis I produced (see top result) has a rich snippet, links directly to my site, and ranks higher than the YouTube version of the video I uploaded.

So, that’s how you drive traffic using video from search engine results. But you may be wondering: “What about all those people already on YouTube?” Let’s address that.

A More Effective YouTube Strategy

As I mentioned above, people conducting searches on YouTube are looking for educational or entertaining content. So here’s a small list of ideas of how you may use YouTube to improve your SEO:

  • A wedding videographer creates an online video podcast or show interviewing local vendors, giving wedding tips, etc.
  • A family portrait photographer starts a series  giving moms tips on how to use their DSLRs to get great photos of their kids.
  • A senior portrait photographer creates a YouTube channel giving seniors advice about prom fashion, makeup tips for photo sessions, tips for photographing groups of friends.
  • A commercial video producer creates a series of tips on how to effectively use video in your marketing strategy.
  • A creative brand or ad agency creates a series on how to effectively build a brand or use social media

You can spend hours during research on proper video SEO. Save yourself the time, improve your SEO, impress your clients, and just follow the tips in this article. You’ll thank me later.

PrinTao8: Take the Frustration Out of Printing

By Ellis Vener

LaserSoft Imaging is a Germany and Florida-based company best known for their high-end SilverFast scanning software. Recently they expanded their range of products to include printing software that dramatically simplifies the entire printing process. They call it PrintTao 8. Unlike most printing interfaces PrintTao8 is blissfully straightforward to use. Its secret is that it does something really terrific: it completely bypasses a computer’s operating system and the printer’s drivers to communicate directly with the printer. Removing the Operating System as middleman not only simplifies the workflow, but by bypassing the OS you stay away from any issues that changes to an OS might introduce, and at least to my eyes, get purer and more vibrant color in your prints.

How it works is similar to a raster image processor (RIP). A raster graphics image is digital data rendered as a bitmap of pixels so the data is rendered on a display and when making printing from digital files. Almost all applications we use to process images are raster based, including Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter. Adobe Illustrator, on the other hand, is a vector-based program.
Software based RIPs handle color management to the n+1 degree, nesting (printing multiple images on a single sheet of paper), along with resizing (interpolating), rotating, and rearranging images to make the most efficient use of the space on a page, and more. Designed primarily for the mass printing market and not individual photography studios, RIP software licenses are tremendously expensive.

PrinTao 8 does almost all of the things RIP software does as well, but it is not a traditional RIP. Before you read further there are two caveats. The first is that PrinTao 8 is currently only for Apple OS X users. The second is its price. 

Compared to the invisible cost (because it is built into the computer’s OS and image processing software) of an OS + print driver combination, PrinTao isn’t cheap. For a desktop model Epson inkjet printer the price is $99 to $299 (depending on the model), and for various Epson Stylus Pro and Canon iPF wide-format printers it’s $399 to $699. Pricey, yes, but still nowhere near the cost of a ColorByte, Fiery, or Wasatch RIP that runs into the thousands of dollars. 

Why should you consider using it? The simple answer is that it takes the frustration out of printing. The interface could not be easier to understand and navigate. Right now it works with a handful of printers, mostly big machines designed primarily for roll printing. As of mid-July 2014 the list is split equally between Epson and Canon. On the Epson side there are the desktop Stylus Photo R2880 and R3000 and really big desktop Stylus Pro 3880, 4880 and 4900 models, and the wide format Stylus Pro 7890, 7900, 9890, 9900, and 11880 models. No Canon desktop model are supported but virtually the entire big Canon imagePROGRAF printers are. I tested it with a 12-ink 24-inch wide format Canon iPF6300 imagePROGRAF.

Whether you do your own printing, or have someone else in your studio do it for you, even a new intern, you’ll be up and running in a few minutes.

On the start page you choose the printer, paper, print quality, paper source (roll or sheet) and size. Once you have completed these five basic settings clicking on the button labeled “Create” and the main window opens. For custom page sizes, chose a custom page size is on the Preview page. In the Print tab, specify the Paper Source as a Cut Sheet, chose “Custom Size” as Paper Size, and enter the dimensions. After you have done this once, you can skip this process next time by choosing a size from the “Recent Documents Menu” or the “Use Last Settings.”

What about color management and profiling?  Because PrinTao 8 bypasses the OS it doesn’t have access to Apple’s ColorSync profile library. PrinTao profiles reside inside the program. Starting on the Start-Pilot page, after choosing the printer model, in the Print on tab click on the “Add print media” button. For the Canon iPF printers LaserSoft currently has profiles available for papers from Breathing Color, Canon (default), Canson, Hahnemühle, Innova, Red River, and Tecco.  Choose the profile for the paper you want to use and click on the install button.

PrinTao 8 Start page.jpeg

Don’t see the paper you want to use? You’ll need to add a custom profile. Start by specifying an already installed Base Paper material that most closely matches the paper you’ll be using, and in the ICC profiles menu choose one of three quality selections, Fast, Normal, or High Quality. At this point the process gets technical. Under  “Advance Media Control” specify the settings you want for the five options listed. 

One of the delightful things about PrinTao 8 is that you don’t need to resize an image before sending it through the printing cycle. Import a full-resolution image and then it changes the print size to fit your needs. And here is the genius part: PrinTao 8 shows you, using a yellow, green, and red scale what is the optimum size based on the size of the file in pixels and the optimum resolution range for the printer.

All printers interpolate image resolution: Epsons print at 360 dpi and Canons at 300dpi. Printers will interpolate the data to fit any size print you want to make, but they will print at either 300 or 360 dpi. But there is a range around those resolutions where the printer does its best job of interpolating that resolution. PrinTao indicates the optimum range with green. With the Canon iPF printers that range is 200 to 1,200 dpi. Once you get into the red zone—199 dpi and below—you’ll start to see pixelization and in the yellow zone—1,201dpi and above—you might start seeing some unexpected, unwanted artifacts. This one feature is really is genius and for me, along with its general ease of use, and really beautiful color and black and white printing, makes PrinTao worth it.

PrinTao 8 main page window.jpeg

September 2, 2014

September 2014 Issue


August 18, 2014

Alien Skin Snap Art 4: Good Looking, Easily Done

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.,Cr., CPP

If you’re interested in doing simple photo-to-painting or other art media effects to add a fun touch to one of your products, you don’t have to invest in a professional application that’s used to create fine-art pieces and does far more than what you need. You just need an application that creates realistic art effects and that's easy to use. To that end, Snap Art 4 delivers. 

While the early versions of SnapArt were only usable as a plug-in for Photoshop, Snap Art 4 can be launched as a standalone program or from within your image editing software (Photoshop, Aperture, Lightroom, etc). 


The interface is also much improved, with many more customizations.  


You’ll notice that there are a number of different effects in the left panel (click on the image for a large view). I’ve expanded the effects tour section so you can see some of the different styles that can be rendered. The selections are Color Pencil, Comics, Crayon, Impasto, Oil Paint, Pastel, Pen & Ink, Pencil Sketch, Pointillism, Recently Used, Stylize, and Watercolor. Each effect has a submenu of preset settings you can begin with. For example, the watercolor presets are Abstract, Colorful, Detailed, Large Brush, Low Coverage, and Vignette. 

The right panel has six sections: Navigator, Background, Detail Masking, Colors, Canvas, and Lighting. Each of these has sliders and other options that you can adjust to tweak the appearance of your rendereding. You can save your custom settings as presets for later use if you'd like to use a certain formula often.


Detail Masking is an important section for rendering portraits. This section allows you to retain detail in certain areas of your image, such as the faces. You can paint the mask onto the image with an adjustable brush—the masked areas do not need to be adjacent—and partially mask areas, for instance if you want 50 percent of the effect to be applied on the faces so that you maintain the paint effect but retain some of the photo realism. Keep in mind, though, that the effect applied in this manner is obviously a computer-blended effect.


Here’s a before and after comparison of a flower photograph-to-painting conversion. I used the thick paint oil paint effect with the thick, textured brush stroke look.


Overall, I was quite happy with Snap Art 4 and how it performed. I’d previously used Snap Art 2, and there have been vast improvements in the interface and customization options have increased. I love that you can use it with batches of images to help speed up workflow—after all, most of us probably have a few go-to presets we rely on for our photographs, so batching painted renditions makes sense once you have your customizations figured out. I can easily see choosing a set of background accent photos in a certain color palette to render for an album in the same painting style.

Obviously this software isn’t meant to be a manual painting program, so if you’re aiming for a fine-art market, Snap Art 4 won’t fit your needs. But if you want to quickly render paintings with consistent results, then Snap Art 4 is definitely worth trying.


Fully automated rendering of paintings
Customization panels
Batch editing
Masking options
Standalone software can also be launched from Photoshop, Lightroom
Realistic brush and media looks


No option for manual strokes
Some effects are not geared to photographers (Comics)


Snap Art 4 is currently available for $64.35 (normally $99), a free trial is available.

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.,Cr., CPP, is a portrait artist in Michigan. 

August 12, 2014

Photodex ProShow App Update Adds Control, Capability

By Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr., CPP

Photodex ProShow has released a new version of their iOS app, which provides a stylish new user interface, more custom controls and effects, text and caption options, better downloading and sharing tools, and more. The original app was nice, but I have to say I like all the improvements.

When you open the ProShow App, you’ll see all of your shows—you can create new ones from here, or open existing shows to edit or view them.

When making a new show, select a theme, then add music, either from your device library or from the extensive online directory. You can view by genre, length, frequently used tracks, etc.


The next step is to import your images. You can import images from a local directory or from online locations such as Facebook or Instagram. For this example, I imported from Instagram. The app then went through an authentication process where I allowed ProShow to access my Instagram account, and I was able to select the images I wanted to add to the slideshow.


Once images have been imported, you can edit the slideshow.  Here is the edit show view with the side panel expanded and the show settings that you can edit.


Now, onto some of the new improvements for the app—text effects. If you want, you can edit the effects for individual images, overriding the automatic effects. You can also change the slide transitions, and add captions to the image slide.


You can create and apply themes to text slides. The effects for your text slides can be customized just like the image slides (no transition effect customization though), or you can choose to simply have a main heading or a heading and sub-heading.


Back in the edit show view, now with captions and text slides included, you can add captions to any image slide or add title slides. The images with text captions have a “T” icon in the lower right corner of the thumbnail. You can render the videos from the app as well. A variety of resolutions and formats are available. There are also options to share the slideshow online, via social media, or just a link to copy and paste. 


I’ve shared a show to YouTube for you to view https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmZSx3bs-94

Overall, I really enjoyed the updates to the ProShow App. The interface is even easier to use than their web application. As for the new ability to customize text slides on the app? Even though I regularly use ProShow to create slideshows for my portrait clients, I rarely add text slides. However, I think these title slides and captioning features would be useful for wedding photography slideshows. I can see using them to make kind of a digital wedding album, complete with captions to designate the details of the day, or for personal scrapbook-style slideshows such as the Instagram show I imported.


  • easy-to-use interface
  • lots of effects for slides
  • automatic effects can be overriden
  • cloud storage allows updating/editing from any device
  • integrated with social media
  • extensive library of music, effects
  • ability to save finished videos to camera roll for offline viewing
  • expanded effects and text options


  • only on iOS appstore
  • title slides may be unnecessary feature

As before, the ProShow app remains an extension of the ProShow Web service. The ProShow Web App is available for iOS devices, including the iPhone and iPad (an Android app may be developed in the future). While the app itself is downloaded from the iTunes store at no charge, you do need to register an account with ProShow Web (free, $30/year, or $150/year). There are a number of upgrade options (HD video creation, unbranded videos) that can be purchased from within the app, starting at $4.95. For more information about the ProShow Web App, visit ProShow Web or the Apple App Store.

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.,Cr., CPP is a portrait photographer in Michigan.  http://bphotoart.com

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