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). 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Pros

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

Cons

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • 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

The Case for Prints: Canon Pixma Pro-10 After One Year

By Ellis Vener

Should you be making your own prints? I think you should.

Printing your work closes the circle of creation.

Holding a print in your hands and being able to show it to others makes you look at your work in ways that don’t happen when you only look at your work flashing by on a monitor, even the best monitor.

The longer you look at a photo, the more you see, and the more you see into your work, the more you learn about it and the way you see, and that makes you a better photographer. I think you should make your own prints even if you have no intention to sell fine art prints or never plan on entering your work in competitions or exhibits, and even if you already work with a trusted lab. By taking full responsibility for what you create you get a solid psychological boost in confidence, which also helps when selling your services. Finally, a print is the photograph. What you see on a screen is just an ephemeral visual event, evanescent images flickering in and out of consciousness one after the other. And one more thing: prints make wonderful, personal thank you gifts.

Printing used to be difficult, but it isn’t anymore, not really. As the equipment has gotten better, paper manufacturers have stepped up their game as well. It used to be that to get a really good print you needed to learn how to make your own ICC-compliant profiles and that required expensive equipment, complex software, and time invested in overcoming an arcane learning curve. To be honest, making profiles was boring and expensive. But over the past two years companies like Canon and Epson working together with media manufacturers like Legion’s Moab division have made great strides in eliminating the entire profiling workflow. It’s far simpler to consistently making great quality prints than in any other time in the photographic history. The intuitive and elegant interface of the print engine in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 has also helped simplify the printing process.

The Canon Pixma Pro-10 is a great example of the progress in making affordable and easy-to-use desktop printers. The Pro-10 is a 10-ink pigment printer capable of printing on media up to 13x19 inches. It cannot be classified as a machine built for high production environments—the width limit and lack of a roll feed option rule that out—but for small editions of portfolio and fine art work it does a great job. It can even print on optical disks to customize image delivery.

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The Pixma Pro-10 uses a 10-color LUCIA pigment ink system and Chroma Optimizer; input resolution is best set to either 300 or 600ppi depending on the size of the print and media surface. On rough-textured canvas media you can get excellent results with even lower input resolution, down to about 200ppi. The ink droplet size is 4 picoliters and the print head is equipped with 7,680 nozzles or 768 per ink. In my experience, because of the inkjet technology and sheer number of nozzles per color Canon printers are less prone to the clogging issues that bedevil competing printers. Like its big sister the Pro-1 and the large-format Canon imagePrograf printers, the Pixma Pro-10 uses Canon Lucia Pigment ink system—cyan, gray, magenta, matte black, photo black, photo cyan, photo magenta, red, yellow, and a Chroma Optimizer—each in individual PGI-72 tanks. It’s no secret that ink isn’t cheap, and with individual replacement ink cartridges costing approximately $15.00 each or about $133.00 for a full 10-ink set, cost is a consideration. As do other Canon printers, however, it sips ink compared to its competitors.

More important than ink cost is quality of color. For a printer in this class and price range, print and color quality is excellent and compares favorably to more expensive printers. This general statement holds true whether the subject is portraiture, landscape, or still life, and whether you are printing in high definition on super glossy media or on lower-resolution matte surfaces. An 8x10-inch image prints in three and a half minutes and a 13x19-inch print takes around six minutes.

The Chroma Optimizer is clear coating that Canon says reduces the difference in ink droplet height to form a flat and smooth ink layer, which is especially important with the glossy print surfaces. You can see this to full effect on metallic papers like the very shiny, high contrast Moab Slickrock Metallic Pearl 260. That’s not an appropriate paper choice for most portraits, but if you are shooting highly saturated landscape or still life work, the dynamic visual effect achieved with Canon’s Lucia Inks is impressive.

To test the capabilities of the Pixma Pro-10 for color portraits I worked with a set of images shot for a local school’s annual fifth grade dance. Mardi Gras in New Orleans was the theme, so the color gamut of the costumes ran from extremely saturated to extremely delicate. I chose this set of images as it represents a full panoply of human skin tones from very dark to very pale along with an equally wide array of hair color. In Lightroom 5.3 I created a custom template for printing nine 4x6-inch images on a single A3 (13 x 19inch) sheet of Moab Lasal Photo Gloss 270, at 600dpi. Rather than use my own custom profile, I first tried Canon’s profile for that paper in the Pixma Pro-10. I used the profile available at http://www.usa.canon.com/cusa/consumer/standard_display/3rd_party_papers and was quite happy with the results.

The next test was to see how well it did with black-and-white imagery. Getting monochrome prints to look right can be trickier than color because of its visual simplicity. In a neutral black-and-white print you want to see a large and smooth tonal gradient from deep blacks to pure crisp paper white without unexpected color tints or shifts. Here the Pixma Pro-10 did an excellent job of keeping tones neutral from the highlights down into the blacks. Matte-surface papers are generally a better choice with images where the exciting essence of a well-made print is found in the separation down in the dark tones because matte surfaces absorb more light. Canon thinks enough people will be using the Pixma Pro-10 to print black-and-white that they sell a four-ink package containing only matte black, photo black (gloss), gray and Chroma Optimizer.

Beyond print quality the Pixma Pro-10 has a slew of useful features including Wi-Fi and Apple AirPrint wireless printing options, and the ability to print directly from PictBridge equipped cameras, or print directly onto printable CD-R/DVD and Blu-Ray disks.

What it doesn’t have: Beyond being limited to the 13-inch media width, there is no roll-feed option and wired connections are limited to USB 2.0 and Ethernet. For photography purposes the auto-load is limited to 20 4x6 sheets, 10 8x10 sheets or a single A3 (13 x 19 inch) sheet. The printer is largish—27.2 inches wide, 15.2 inches deep, 8.5 inches tall—and at 43.9 pounds, heavy. You’ll also want to leave a fair amount of room free both behind and in front of the printer. While you could call this a desktop printer, the desk should be pretty sturdy with a fair amount of room around it. 

Over the past year my usage pattern with the Pixma Pro-10 has been spasmodic: intense weeks of daily printing sessions separated by long periods of making no prints at all. Except for a color nozzle that clogged due to user error (I had mistakenly left the printer off for three months), which was quickly resolved, I have had no operating issues with it. Two standard cleaning cycles cleared the clog and I was back in business. To prevent this from happening again I simply leave the printer turned on and in standby mode and make a small print once a week. This keeps the nozzles warm and prevents the ink in them from drying out. 

All in all I’ve been very happy with the Pixma Pro-10. Though I’d like to be able to larger format prints, the print quality easily lives up to the marketing claims and with the one exception noted above, I’ve had no operating issues. This real-world performance explains why it picked up several awards in 2013, including a Professional Photographer Magazine Hot One for Inkjet Printer between $500 and $1,000.

July 23, 2014

Alien Skin Exposure 6

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

If you've been around long enough to appreciate the subtleties of film photographs, you will probably be interested in Alien Skin Exposure 6, which allows you to apply a variety of film exposure effects to your digital images. And if you're looking to convert images to black and white, its capabilities are definitely superior to the defaults in many image editing applications.  

The interface is fairly intuitive. In the middle you’ll find the image you’re editing, as well as thumbnails of the other images simultaneously open in Exposure. To the left are the presets, both color and black-and-white options. You can choose to replicate the look of certain films (e.g. Kodak T-Max 100), enhance the focus (sharpen), add bokeh effects, or cross-process your image. Here’s a view of the Exposure 6 interface.

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There are a variety of views for the preset panel, and you can display by preset name only or show thumbnails of each preset applied to your selected image (two different thumbnail sizes). 

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The presets panel has subtabs to allow easier location of specific presets: all, color, B&W, favorite, user, recent, and search. You can apply presets to multiple images by selecting more than one in the thumbnail scroll. If you find yourself going back to the same presets over and over, there is an option to add your most-used presets to the Favorite tab, and there's a Recent tab as well. You can save presets for later access from the User tab.To save a preset, click the + button and a window will open for saving your preset. 

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The right panel contains a navigator window, overall intensity slider, and all the different aspects of the image that you can tweak (or that the presets adjust for you): basic, color, tone curve, vignette, overlays, focus, grain, IR, bokeh. Each can be turned on or off for a given image (click on the green button) or reset to defaults (the circling arrow icon). 

Basic: Here you can select color or black and white and adjust standard image settings. There are setting sliders for exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, clarity, vibrance, and saturation. You can also type in a positive or negative number value to the right of a given slider.

Color: There are two sections: color filter and color sensitivity. The color filter has several presets (warming, cooling, etc.), or you can create your own with the option to preserve luminosity or not. Color sensitivity can be adjusted through equal weighted presets (RGB or RYGCBM), or presets weighted toward a specific color range, such as reds. There are also sliders for each color if you want to manually adjust the color sensitivity. Both sections of the color panel have an option to save your adjustments as a user preset.

Tone Curve: You can adjust the tone or apply split toning here. Presets for the tone include brighten highlights, crush blacks, shadow recovery, and more. You can use eyedroppers for white, gray, and black points, or adjust sliders for contrast, shadows, midtones, and highlights. If you want to apply split toning, there is an expansive range of options, including platinum, selenium, and sepia. Again, these sections have options to save your settings as a preset.

Vignette: Apply a preset (subtle, distortion, etc.) to create either a black or white vignette on your image. You can adjust the amount, size, roundness, softness, distortion, and even select the vignette location on the image. Saving presets is an option here, too. 

Overlays: A variety of overlays can be applied to your image, including a border, light effect, or texture. You can also select an area of the image to protect from the overlays. The border effect can be zoomed in, and it can be inverted from black to white. Light effects add sun flare or corner light leakage to the print (zoom and opacity can be adjusted). Finally, you can add dust, paper, or scratch textures to the image (zoom, opacity, and black/white inversion are options).

Focus: Adjust the image’s clarity with sharpen and blur. Sharpen sliders include amount, radius, and threshold; blur sliders include opacity, radius, and lens warp. There are a number of presets to choose from (glamour, sharpen, soften), or save your own.

Grain: Create or use an existing preset, and adjust overall grain strength here.  You can fine tune amount (shadow, midtone, highlight), type (roughness, push processing), and size (automatic, film format, etc.).

IR: Adjust color contrast, halation opacity, and halation spread. You can save presets, or use existing ones (glow, IR, no halation).

Bokeh: Choose a focus region (show mask if you want), then adjust lens settings or use a preset (amount, zoom, twist, creamy, curvature, shape, and rotation). There are creative and traditional apertures, including hearts, plus signs, stars, etc. Highlight adjustment sliders include threshold and boost; grain matching sliders are for strength and size.

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Overall, I’ve enjoyed using Exposure 6 with my client images. I appreciated the black-and-white conversions, which definitely have more oomph than the standard desaturation options. One of my other favorite aspects of Exposure 6 is the batch editing feature. This is essential for any photographer looking to efficiently edit images or apply exposure presets. The only shortcoming, as I see it, is that you have to open the images in Exposure 6 to access all the neat presets. But, if that’s something you’re willing to integrate into your workflow, go for it. 

Pros:
Exposure 6 is a standalone software with many presets, allowing you to quickly create and apply a variety of film effects to your digital images. You can save presets, edit images in batches, and tweak settings to your liking. 

Cons:
You may not need many of the presets, and may not want to use a separate interface when editing. Depending on your workflow and image processing style, it may be difficult to integrate Exposure 6 smoothly.

Exposure 6 is $149. For more information, or to download a free trial, visit http://www.alienskin.com/exposure/.

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

July 21, 2014

Announcing Photoshop CC 2014

by Stan Sholik

With the announcement of Photoshop CC 2014, Adobe has ended speculation about the update cycle of Photoshop. While Creative Cloud members have enjoyed two updates (14.1 and 14.2) since the release of Photoshop CC, Photoshop CC 2014 appears as a new release, equivalent to Photoshop 15.0. But Adobe has abandoned the previous numbering convention and 18-month release cycle. We can now expect yearly releases with the new naming convention, Photoshop CC RELEASE YEAR.

For photographers, the Photoshop CC 2014 release adds some tweaks to the Brush Presets and Color Panel, improved Smart Guides, enhanced Sync Settings, a new Content and Color Aware Fill option, and other changes. But the features of greater interest are additions to the Select and the Filter > Blur Gallery menus.

The Select drop-down menu contains a new Focus Area option. Selecting it opens the Focus Area dialog box while Photoshop automatically makes a selection of the out of focus area in the image. For portraits or other subjects with large differences in sharpness between the in-focus foreground and out of focus background, the selection works extremely well. The dialog box includes brushes for adding or subtracting areas that were not automatically included. Also included in the dialog box is a button that opens the Refine Edges dialog box if you need to more carefully mask a subject’s hair or perform other refinements.

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Because of the similar tonality of the hair, skin, and background, this portrait used to be tricky to outline. Using the new Focus Area tool in the Select menu, the job is much easier.

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When you select Focus Area, Photoshop automatically looks for areas in focus and makes a rough selection. Brushes are available to add to or delete from the selection, as well as a slider to adjust the range of in-focus areas.

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The Focus Area tool, even with the parameter adjustments available only does a rough job. But a button is included in the dialog box to open Refine Edges.

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Using Refine Edges you can complete the outline and send the image back to Photoshop.

The updated Blur Gallery includes two new motion blurs: Spin Blur and Path Blur. Spin Blur creates a circular (or elliptical) motion blur, allowing you to spin the wheels of a stationary vehicle, or make a stopped Ferris wheel appear to be turning. The spin blur overlay on the image allows multiple options to adjust the effect and the Blur Angle slider controls the “speed” of the blur. You can also create strobe effects that “stop” the spinning as many as 100 times within the blur.

The Path Blur tool is even more interesting. With it you can create motion blurs along a Bezier path that you create. Path Blur operates on the entire image or a selection, but masks are not implemented for Path or Spin Blur. With only a short time to play with the path blur, I see a multitude of creative possibilities—how about the wedding party jumping in the air with motion streaks? With the right slider settings, you can also use Path Blur to simulate rear-curtain flash synchronization.

Along with the release of Photoshop CC 2014, Adobe announced other new releases of interest to photographers. Lightroom is upgraded to version 5.5, with a few new features, and remains a standalone as well as Creative Cloud program. With Lightroom 5.5 you are able to use Lightroom Mobile on iPhones as well as iPads, synchronize star ratings as well as flag ratings, and view and sort images with a custom sort order.

The new Photoshop Mix app will be of interest to photographers who can’t stand being separated from Photoshop. Adobe Photoshop Mix focuses on transferring Photoshop’s ability to make non-destructive selections, create masks, and perform compositing to the iPhone and iPad. The mobile app includes Photoshop functionality such as upright, shake reduction, and content-aware fill. All actions are done by touch on the mobile device.

Photoshop Mix is a free download from the Apple App Store, but you must have an Adobe ID to use it. You can use the features in Photoshop Mix on any image in your camera roll, including those taken with the mobile device, or on images you upload to the Creative Cloud. When you are finished using Photoshop Mix on images, the app saves them back to Photoshop CC with the changes in layers for further refinement. Adobe is offering true cloud computing with Photoshop Mix, and it will be exciting to see where this leads.

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, California. His latest book, “Shoot Macro: Techniques for Photography Up Close” (Amherst Media), is available this fall.

July 8, 2014

Phase One IQ250 High ISO Milky Way Capture

Find the complete review of the Phase One IQ250 in an upcoming issue of Professional Photographer magazine.

By Stan Sholik

Through the years, Phase One has advanced the technology of charge-coupled device (CCD) sensors, but the needs of some photographers are incompatible with the CCD technology itself. To address those needs, Phase One is introducing the IQ250 back.

The IQ250 sensor is based on complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology rather than CCD, which was abandoned by the makers of professional digital SLR cameras years ago. Phase One is retaining its CCDbased backs and adding to its line with this, and presumably other, CMOS-based backs.

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Although the time of year wasn’t optimum and there were distant city lights glowing over the horizon, I was able to capture the Milky Way using an ISO of 6400 and an exposure of 8 seconds at f/2.8 with the Phase One IQ250 and Schneider Kreuznach 55mm f/2.8 lens. [Click for high-resolution image; use arrow keys to navigate around the image.]

The most welcomed feature of the IQ250 for most photographers is its ability to shoot at high ISOs. While the lowest ISO on the IQ250 is 100, the highest is now 6400. Every ISO setting up to and including ISO 1600 is completely usable for all subjects. ISO 1600 seems to deliver about the same tight luminance noise and lack of chrominance noise as my Nikon D700 at ISO 800. At ISO 3200, noise is visible, but Capture One software can easily remove it with minimal sharpness loss. By ISO 6400 it is still possible to eliminate the chrominance noise, but luminance noise is present unless you really crank up the noise reduction. However, in order to shoot the Milky Way with the Schneider Kreuznach 55mm f/2.8 at 8 seconds (to eliminate star trails), I needed ISO 6400, and the result (above) is totally acceptable to me until I enlarge the 8,200x6,208-pixel image to 1:1 on a high-end monitor.

July 3, 2014

Master Class: Tracks Not Worth the Risk

Train track sessions are both dangerous and illegal

By Robert A. Howard, M.Photog.Cr., CPP

Holders of the PPA Master of Photography degree share essays and ideas in service to the industry.

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As a professional photographer with more than 30 years of experience, I can truly say I’ve seen it all and in many cases done it all. Staying on the cutting edge of the photography profession requires dedication, creativity, and the ability push the limits.

I’ve photographed nearly every type of subject during my career, but nothing challenges my creativity more than capturing the personalities of high school seniors. Their outside-the-box ideas, while sometimes frustrating, are always fascinating. I’ve seen many trends come and go and just as many recycled with a unique spin, but one of the most common requests I’ve received in the past five years is for train track sessions.

Teenagers nationwide are fascinated with those parallel lines of steel, which they see as a symbol of transition in their young lives. Some teens pose between the rails, with the vanishing point of perspective representing their journey into the future. Others walk the tracks strumming a guitar, mimicking musicians they admire.

I admit I’ve done dozens of these sessions, never really taking into account the danger or the potential legal consequences associated with my actions. Yes, that’s correct. Train track sessions are illegal. Hard to believe, given that a Google search for “train track session” churns up hundreds of images of children, families, brides, and high school seniors taken all over the United States. It demonstrates the serious lack of knowledge that these extremely popular sessions can actually get you arrested and fined. Nearly every image I took on or near the tracks was not only very dangerous but involved me breaking the law. At a minimum, I could have been cited for trespassing.

KNOW THE DANGERS

These days, when I’m asked to provide this type of session I am quick to say no and here’s why: First and foremost, it’s dangerous. The railroading industry spends a great deal of time and effort teaching employees safety measures when working around the tracks. In spite of all this training, the industry has hundreds of accidents annually. And it’s not just the risk of being hit by an oncoming train; posing in and around the steel rails and wooden ties can cause physical injury from slips and falls.

If you think you’re safe because you never pose in an area with heavy train traffic—or that you’d see or hear a train long before you’re in danger—you’re wrong. The railroad typically builds tracks in as straight a line as possible between points A and B. However, every track has turns or bends that were designed to avoid an object or an area. Add to this the often dense growth of trees and bushes that line the track, and the train crew’s line of sight is dramatically reduced.

The danger is compounded by the fact that trains are large, heavy, fast-moving objects that don’t stop on a dime. The average freight train engine travels 50 mph, weighs over 120 tons, and requires more than a mile to come to a complete stop. Roughly every three hours in the United States, a person or vehicle is hit by a train.

If those statistics alone don’t put an end to your quest for this type of photography, there are several additional reasons to avoid train tracks cited by the Federal Railroad Administration and Operation Lifesaver, a national nonprofit organization devoted to railroad safety education:

• Trains can’t stop quickly to avoid people or vehicles on the tracks.

• An optical illusion makes it hard to determine a train’s distance from you and its speed.

• The average train overhangs the track by at least 3 feet.

• Railroad tracks, trestles, yards, and rights-of-way are private property.

• No tracks should be assumed to be abandoned or inactive.

• People in your community mimic your behavior.

Some photographers argue that these issues don’t apply to them because they conduct train track sessions only on old or abandoned tracks. But the Federal Railroad Administration notes that all tracks, live or dead, whether owned by private freight or public transit, are dangerous. Nearly all of these tracks are private property, and you’re trespassing by doing anything other than legally crossing them via a marked roadway, grade crossing, or other safely posted location. The bottom line is this: If you’re still considering a train tracks session, think again, because in addition to the safety issues, both you and your client could be fined up to $10,000 or even face arrest.

TRACKS ARE POLICED

Yes, enforcement is real. Every time I did one of these sessions I risked that a police officer or railroad employee would see me engaged in this illegal activity. Most modern locomotives are equipped with cameras, so the chance of being caught and identified is more real than ever. And if you’re still thinking It’ll never happen to me, allow me to add one last deterrent: Nationwide there are hundreds of thousands of “rail fans”—train lovers with cameras. They are trackside nearly every hour of every day. While engaging in their hobby, many are also participating in Protect the Line, a program that asks these individuals to keep a watchful eye out for anything that is unsafe around the tracks. Many of these rail fans have photographed pro photographers and their clients as they engage in this illegal activity. Their images along with license plate numbers are shared with authorities on a regular basis.

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Posing young clients on train tracks is dangerous,
illegal, and not very creative. Steer them toward
more interesting and original settings.
©Robert A. Howard

Up to this point, most of us have been lucky. In many cases, if caught, you may receive a warning, but sooner or later you will have to pay the piper, and that could be a huge check to write. We need to ask ourselves whether taking such a big risk for such an unoriginal style of portrait is really worth jeopardizing the safety of all the people involved.

Safety needs to be a top priority for professional photographers; we need to set the best example. We all need to educate fellow professionals, amateur image-makers, and clients about the real risks associated with train track sessions.

Robert Howard has been a PPA member since 1987. He is the owner of Howard Studios in Lebanon, Pa. howardstudios.com

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June 25, 2014

Domke Chronicle Is A Rugged Descendent

By Joan Sherwood

The Domke Chronicle, part the Next Generation Journalist series, has to be one of my favorites of the many camera bags I’ve tried in recent years. I’ll admit, though, that my love for the bag is based largely on aesthetics and my partiality for rugged canvas material that will age and soften over the years. There’s a romance to its texture that ripstop nylon just doesn’t deliver.

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Domke bills the Chronicle as the grandchild of the F-2, the bag that Jim Domke had custom made for his own use in 1976 and which is still one of Domke’s most popular bags. The Next Generation Chronicle inherits the side pockets, non-slip Gripper Strap made of durable cotton webbing, and the steel snap hooks from the F-2.

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The current Domke F-2

Modern modifications include double-zipper top access, expandable zippered side pockets, expandable snap front pockets, a web strap across the back for mounting on a rolling cart handle, a padded zippered tablet sleeve that fits devices up to 11x8 inches, side rain hoods, and the removable padded shell and three dividers from the Domke GearProtex Insert System.

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The GearProtex shell is actually five separate rectangles of padding that attach to each other and to the interior of the canvas, so you can use the whole thing or just the panels you want or remove it entirely. It also comes with a .5-inch-thick bottom-stiffening foam pad that adds a layer of impact protection for your gear.

I’m very impressed with the divider system. Even though the attachment surface is only along the edge of the divider instead of the half-inch flap most bags use, it’s extremely secure. It’s so grippy, in fact, that it can be difficult to place the divider exactly where you want it. Try folding a piece of paper around it until you get it in the right spot and then remove the paper barrier between the hook-faced edge and the padded wall.

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Each of the pocket flap hook and loop fasteners come with a Quiet tab that you can fold back, which eliminates the fastening element, but also does away with the riiiiipp noise also associated with hook and loop closure systems. The side pocket flaps can also easily tuck into the pockets for easier access to those compartments. I use one of them with the flap tucked in and the zipper expansion unzipped to hold a large 24-ounce water bottle, but it could just as easily hold a lens that you wanted fast access to during a shoot.

I can’t say I think the side rain flaps would be impervious to foul weather, but they are definitely better than not having them.  The non-slip Gripper shoulder strap is my favorite so far of the non-slip strap designs I’ve tried. It’s grippy enough to stay on one shoulder, but not so grippy that it rips the hair off the back of my neck if I decide to wear it in a cross-body configuration. However, the plastic attachments for the shoulder and grip straps are substandard in comparison with the rest of the bag’s materials, construction, and design. I would happily pay more to have these swapped out with metal hardware. Twice when I’ve used the grab strap, the plastic clip has come undone on one side, and this without even a moderately full load of gear in the bag. That could be disastrous if you weren’t paying attention right in that moment of lifting. The problem is that the thinner plastic of the clip can easily move to the side and slip off the attachment ring. The shoulder strap clip is more beefy and doesn’t have this problem, but I’d still rather have metal than plastic.

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This is a rugged, functional bag that has just enough compartments and features to make it cool but not overly complex. Granted, at a $349.95 street price, I believe you’re paying a little more for some status and style on top of that functionality. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth the investment for you. The Chronicle comes in Canvas Khaki/Black, Cordura Black, RuggedWear black, and RuggedWear military.


 
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