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September 7, 2010

Businesses get a makeover

Be Stronger contest helped lucky photographers revamp the bottom line

Professional Photographer recently gave away several thousand dollars in products as part of a contest themed “Be Stronger in 2010.” With the goal of helping the readers revamp their businesses, the magazine partnered with GP Albums, LustreColor, Photobiz and Ron Nichols Digital Solutions to offer a variety of prizes specifically designed for pro photographers. The contest’s grand prize winner, Phil Merutka of Memories to Treasure Photography in Chicago, took home $10,000 in products and services—$2,500 from each sponsor. Addressing four different areas of Merutka’s business, the prizes have offered the wedding and portrait photographer a chance at totally renovating his operation.

“There is no doubt that these prizes will help improve my sales and help me grow my business,” says Merutka. “Overall, it’s an amazing gift to be given. This is a job I truly love, and these prizes make my job easier. It’s just a good feeling being able to make people happy doing work that I enjoy. “

Online Optimized

Merutka has a new, search-engine-optimized website from Photobiz. The site offers a combination of graphically pleasing Flash animation with searchable HTML code. It also includes mobile-device-compatible versions so that on-the-go customers can view it.

“For a lot of photographers, especially those who don’t have a studio, their website is their presentation space,” says David Hutnik of Photobiz. “It’s critical that this space represents the photographer well and provides a good connection with clients.”

Hutnik stresses that today’s photographers should take into account all the different ways that their clients get information, including traditional websites, mobile-enabled sites, social networking, blogs and other multimedia communications. The key is to present a cross-platform presence that can engage clients on multiple levels.

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PocketWizard ControlTL Update

By Ellis Vener

Shortly after turning in my review of the PocketWizard ControlTL system, I took delivery of a PocketWizard PowerST4 receiver and had a chance to try it out with an Elinchrom Style RX300 monolight, courtesy of the rental department at Professional Photographic Resources in Atlanta.

Before we proceed, I want to quickly recap the difference is between the two ISO standards for flash duration measurement and why these numbers are important to you, especially if you want to use a high-power flash at settings faster than your camera’s X-Sync limit.

An electronic flash works by releasing stored electrical energy into light and heat during a very brief period of time, but unless it is an IGBT-controlled flash (most hot-shoe-mounted speedlights are IGBT controlled, as is the Paul C. Buff Einstein 640, the Photogenic Solaires, and the Broncolor Grafit and Scoro pack and head systems),  the light intensity varies varies during the time the flash is firing. The rise and dropoff of the energy release resembles the cross section of a powerful wave: there’s a near vertical upward slope rising to the peak output level, followed by a trailing tail of declining force. With IGBT-controlled lights at any setting below full power, the light cuts off sharply, depending on the flash's programming.

When a flash manufacturer advertises or provides specs for its lights, they can use either of two ISO standards for measuring the flash duration. The most commonly used standard is t0.5, which measures the length of time the flash is producing light at or above 50 percent of peak intensity at a given power setting. The other standard is t0.1, and it tells you how long the flash is emitting light at or above 10 percent of peak intensity. Another way to think about this is to think of the t0.1 measurement as being equivalent to a shutter speed setting’s ability to freeze motion. If you want to know how well a flash can freeze motion, unless t0.1 is specified, multiply the advertised F.D. by 3.  In other words if the advertised F.D. is 1/900, the t0.1 will be close to 1/300.

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Review: Digital Anarchy Beauty Box

By Betsy Finn, Cr.Photog., CPP

While I love creating images for my clients, I admit that the retouching phase of my workflow can be a little tedious. The key to turning a profit is minimizing the time you spend behind the computer. But you also want to turn out an amazing final product. We all struggle with finding that a fine line between perfection and “good enough no one else will notice but you.” Fortunately, Digital Anarchy has developed Beauty Box to help you accomplish practical retouching without spending hours fine tuning things for minimal improvement.

After using Beauty Box on a few images, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this Photoshop Plug-in was able to approximate the skin smoothing techniques I desired, while maintaining adequate detail for my taste. Prior to Beauty Box, all the automation techniques I’d tried made my subjects appear to have plastic skin (due to the loss of detail).

The Beauty Box plug-in operates within Photoshop (see interface below): 


I appreciated the simplicity of the interface layout, as well as the easy access to all controls (and any presets you choose to save). The plug-in starts with a default smoothing control, but you can tweak three variables to achieve your personal preference for smoothness: smoothing amount, smoothing radius, and skin detail amount.

Below the smoothing controls you'll find the masking controls. When you have “auto mask” selected, Beauty Box will automatically mask every image you open. I found it did a decent job of isolating the skin tonal ranges, but you can easily select “show mask” to confirm whether it has rendered the mask properly for a given image. Everything masked in white will have the Beauty Box filter applied to it; shades of gray will have the filter partially applied, and anything masked in black will remain untouched by the filter.

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Five Great Things About Adobe Photoshop CS5

By Ellis Vener

1. The Content Aware Spot Healing Brush. It works great on faces and makes many of the retouching techniques I used prior to PsCS5 obsolete. On the down side, while it’s a marked improvement over the Spot Healing Brush in  Photoshop CS4, it doesn’t always do a perfect job, especially if your output is going to be large in size and high resolution. You still sometimes need to do some basic area selection or masking to limit the active area and prevent edge explosions when the spot you're retouching is up against a well defined area of different tone and color. And you still need to do a little cleanup work for a more invisible blend of the area you’ve spot healed with its surroundings. 

2. Content Aware Fill. I do a lot of stitched panoramic work where the edges of the composite are an irregular shape. For the foreground, I generally just crop, but boy, oh, boy does this work like magic for filling in the missing areas at the top and sometimes along the sides. Here’s how you do it: Shoot your over lapping frames (50-60% overlap works best, but sometimes 25-30% works, depending on the subject content) and then stitch them using your favorite stitching program. You may notice that some areas around the edges are empty. Rather than crop into the composite, try this: Select the Wand tool, click on an empty area to select it, and hit Delete. A dialog box (see below) will pop up and ask if you want to fill in the area using Content Aware Fill (yes). As with Content Aware Spot Healing, it’s not perfect yet  but it's getting there.







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September 15, 2010

Shot in the Dark: Night Photography

By Kevin Adams

Someone once asked me what you can photograph at night. I was dumbfounded. That’s like asking what is there to shoot during the day. The answer is everything! If you can see it, you can photograph it. But the really cool thing about night photography is that you can also shoot things you can’t see.

Night photography is unique in that many subjects look totally different in the photo than they do when you shoot them. The long exposures typically used at night cause any moving lights to record as abstract streaks. The key to making the best images is to pre-visualize the effect for any given subject. In fact, with many night subjects, planning ahead is the only way to get the shot.

I enjoy all types of night photography, but light streaking is my favorite. If an object emits light and it moves, it’s a candidate. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

Vehicle Lights

Recording lights from moving vehicles is the easiest type of streaking you can do. Like most nighttime lights, vehicle streaks do not normally make good photo subjects by themselves, but they can make a strong compositional element in any scene. Cars are the obvious sources, but think about other possibilities. Set up near an airport and catch the lights from arriving and departing planes (though be careful of the potential for a “photographer = terrorist” security situation). Shoot boats in a busy harbor. Catch a train crossing a trestle or coming out of a tunnel. Get the neighborhood kids to ride around on their bikes with a headlight attached.


In this nighttime snow scene, the light path from hiker's headlamps is traced along switchbacks on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail north of Asheville, North Carolina. This section of the MST is located within the boundaries of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Exposure: 1,122 seconds at f/22, ISO 200.

Optimum exposure varies according to the brightness and number of the lights. Typically, you will choose aperture first, based on depth of field requirements, then balance the ISO and shutter speed. In some situations, even with the smallest aperture and lowest ISO, you can’t set a shutter speed long enough to record the light streaks without overexposing the overall scene. Try using a polarizing or neutral density filter to cut the light and allow longer shutter speeds. Also, shoot at twilight, when light from the sky is balanced with vehicle lights.

Star Trails

Back in the film days, we could load ISO 100 film in a camera and open the shutter for hours, never worrying about noise. Try that with digital and you’ll hit the delete button afterwards. However, pro digital cameras are fully capable of producing noise-free images at shutter speeds of several minutes. By shooting a lot of exposures and stacking them, we can achieve an even better result than we could with film.


Star trails streak across the night sky sky above the telescope known as 26-East. The radio telescope is on the grounds of Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) in the mountains of western North Carolina. Exposure: 41 exposures stacked, each 180 seconds at f/4, ISO 400.

A photo of nothing but star trails might look cool at first glance, but the novelty wears off fast. You need something interesting in the foreground. Try campsite scenes, lighthouses, bridges, and striking buildings. I typically shoot star trails at ISO 200 and f/4. Shutter speed is based on the sky-fog limit, the point at which light pollution or skylight causes overexposure. At very dark sites, you might get by with 30 minutes or more, which would allow you to shoot a star trail scene in one exposure if noise weren’t an issue. In a heavily light-polluted region, you might not get a minute before it blows out. At reasonably dark sites, I’ve found that an exposure of 4 to 6 minutes works pretty well.

Stacking star trails can be extremely simple. If you have a compatible Windows system, you can download the free Startrails application from the startrails.de website. Just load your images and let it do all the work. Or you can stack in Photoshop by loading the files into layers and setting the blend mode to Lighten.

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September 16, 2010

Marketing Yourself as a Greener Wedding Photographer

By Thea Dodds, Authentic Eye Photography 

Four years ago, I said to some wedding colleagues, “I want to shoot only green weddings.” Everyone laughed as if I were making a joke. My friendly colleagues told me, “There aren’t enough green weddings.” And I agreed they were probably right … at least for now.

The thing is that eco-aware brides are my kind of people. So by marketing myself to a subset of the wedding market who are more likely to book me, I am able to maximize my advertising dollars. Green brides are college or post-graduate educated; they are working professionals; they are smart and savvy shoppers; they will spend more for a product that is of superior quality and has a minimal impact on the environment.

Today, 50 percent of the weddings I photograph are “green” weddings. In just a few years the industry has gone from a single green wedding magazine to many websites and books dedicated to green weddings sites, even a green wedding section in The Knot’s Real Weddings. I’ve met wedding planners who exclusively plan green weddings, so why can’t I exclusively shoot green weddings? I’m not there yet, but like most things in business, I put a plan in place and am following the steps to success in marketing myself as a greener wedding photographer and photographing more green weddings. Here are a few simple ideas that you can use to help you market yourself to the eco-aware bride.




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September 17, 2010

Apps for Photographers

Android and Apple are expanding how we work and play on the go. Check out 11 nifty tools for your mobile device. 

By Betsy Finn, Cr.Photog., CPP

Apps have become an integral part of life for many of us. There are apps that organize, apps that amuse, apps that manage your social networking. No matter what you need to do, as Apple’s ad campaign proclaims, “there’s an app for that.” But what about apps for photographers? There is a plethora of chintzy photo filters and other fluff apps that don’t really perform up to the developers’ claims. Where are those apps that are actually useful? We’ve found eleven apps for both Android and iPhone that every photographer should consider adding to their arsenal.

bubble.jpg ihandy level.jpg

If you offer installation services for your wall portraits, then these bubble level apps make it easy to quickly check that the piece is hanging properly. The ’droid version, Bubble, is free and comes with bubble levels for both vertical and flat surfaces. The iPhone app I prefer is iHandy Level. It’s free, but only has the vertical surface bubble. If you want the flat surface bubble, upgrade to iHandy Carpenter ($1.99).






This application is the newest version of the recently rebranded Photoshop.com Mobile. You probably already have this app on your phone, but if not, it might be worth checking out. From Photoshop Express, you can crop, rotate, or flip your pictures, as well as enhance the image by adjusting exposure, saturation, tint, contrast, brightness, or by adding effects and borders. The interface is pretty intuitive, and allows you to share to social networking sites once you’ve saved your revised photograph. This app is free for both iPhone and Android devices; you will need a Photoshop.com account to make the app fully functional.





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September 20, 2010

Reader Discount for Vimeo Festival, Oct. 8-9, NYC

Vimeo offers Professional Photographer magazine readers a discount for the Vimeo Festival, Oct. 8-9, NYC

Online video sharing site Vimeo is offering Professional Photographer magazine readers a special discount for tickets to the Vimeo Festival in New York City, Oct. 8-9. Use the promo code "PPA" (without quotes) at checkout to purchase passes for only $90 each (a $120 value, valid through Oct. 7, pass does not include access to Awards Presentation event, but does include After Party).

The Vimeo Festival is a two-day event for anyone interested in creative video featuring talks, workshops, screenings, and special events. See the full schedule

The two-day Festival is split into themes—Innovation and Inspiration. The first day will offer individual creators an opportunity to learn about innovation across all stages and types of production. Documentary filmmakers Morgan Spurlock and Lucy Walker will discuss the changing landscape of documentary in the digital world. Attendees can sign up for workshops on HD Digital SLR shooting led by Phillip Bloom. Transmedia guru Lance Weiler will lead a talk about storytelling beyond the confines of the 16 by 9 frame.

The second day will start with a series of inspiring micro-talks from Vimeo Awards judges Neville Brody and Pulitzer prize winner Vincent Laforet. The Vimeo Film School course will teach beginner creators the basics of filmmaking, from working with a crew to the fundamentals of editing and distribution. Ted Hope and Brian Newman will discuss how the art and film business is changing. The talks will close with award-winning author and Wired blogger Bruce Sterling envisioning the future of creative digital culture.



September 30, 2010

Supplement: Mamiya RZ33 Kit

This post shows additional product illustrations for Stan Sholik's review of the Mamiya RZ33 Kit, published in the October issue of Professional Photographer magazine.

By Stan Sholik

All images ©Stan Sholik

Professional photographers want reliable equipment they can count on long-term, that won’t be rendered obsolete by the next new thing. PhaseOne (through its Mamiya and Leaf operations) has stepped in to help provide that for owners of Mamiya RB67 and RZ67, as well as newcomers to mediumformat digital photography.

The RZ33 digital camera kit upgrades those cameras for cordless digital operation. RZ67 users can still use all their existing accessories, including the film backs and power winder, on the upgraded body. RB67 owners can use the kit to upgrade to a digital system that will feel totally familiar, although they’ll need to get RZ lenses. And the newcomers get yet another digital camera option that includes a broad range of superb leaf-shutter-equipped lenses.

The RZ33 kit comprises an updated Mamiya RZ67 Pro IID body and Mamiya DM33 digital back. All you need do is attach a lens, load a CF card, charge the DM33 battery, and start shooting. The RZ33 body looks identical to the RZ67, but the body in the RZ33 kit has updated communications boards and a new digital integration plate between the body and the back. These enable the body and back to communicate without external cables, thus making setup simpler and operation more reliable. 


The RZ33 kit with the bellows slightly extended.

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Review: Kubota Lightroom Presets Vintage Delish

By Betsy Finn, Cr.Photog., CPP


Photographers often turn to presets and actions to help them save time during the editing phase of their workflow, but sticking to the same effects job after job can be stifling.  Vintage Delish is the latest Lightroom preset bundle from Kubota Imaging Tools. This set of 42 presets provides you with a variety of options to enhance your images, ranging from subtle aged image effects and warming tones to cross-processing and strong vignettes.

If you are tired of ordinary image effects, then look into these Vintage Delish effects as a way to spice things up. I tested these presets out on some of my portraits and discovered that, while I’m not a fan of every last preset in the set, there are definitely some that I enjoy, and they add a subtle enhancement to the image. Some of the more dramatic and drastic preset effects may be useful for particular types of images, so I understand the necessity for a range of presets.

It would be impractical to show you examples of all 42 presets, so I’ve chosen four effects that I think work well. Take a peek at the before and after versions I created using Lightroom 3 and the Kubota Vintage Delish presets.

The first preset is called “Zero it Out.” It adds contrast, pop, and color saturation to help an average image transform into something with a little more oomph.


©Betsy Finn

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Review: Unified Color 32 Float Photoshop Plug-in

By Stan Sholik


Interest in high dynamic range (HDR) imaging has spawned a number of new and innovative software products for photographers, including Unified Color’s HDR Expose software, reviewed here earlier this summer. But these HDR solutions are all standalone programs, and many photographers are so comfortable with the available tools in Adobe Photoshop that they are reluctant to purchase software that requires them to leave Photoshop and open another program. For casual HDR users this may be especially true now that Merge to HDR PRO is included as part of Photoshop CS5.

For these photographers, Unified Color’s introduction of the 32 Float plug-in for Photoshop offers a solution. 32 Float expands the limited Photoshop 32-bit toolset and allows the user to perform advanced image editing in the 32-bit workspace. While the tools in 32 Float are identical to those in HDR Expose, 32 Float lacks the ability to merge captures into a 32-bit HDR image—Photoshop Merge to HDR or another HDR program must be used for this task.


Once you open a 32-bit file in Photoshop, you open 32 Float from the Filter>Unified Color drop-down menu (above). Your image reopens in a separate window. The interface is virtually identical to that of HDR Expose but with a smaller toolset since it does not need to handle the image merging functions.


The Preferences dialog box allows you to select the option of saving your result as a separate layer in your original image. This is useful for many HDR images.


The HDR Brightness Histogram show the full range of values in the 32-bit image. The lighter gray section of the histogram shows the range of values that would be present in the lower bit image with the current settings. For this image, some shadow values at the tail of the curve and lots of highlight values at the right of the curve will be clipped. Note the valley where midtones should be that make this a particularly difficult image to correct.

The top of the tool panel on the right is dominated by the interactive HDR histogram (above). This visual aid shows the full range of values in the 32-bit image with a lighter gray area representing the subset of these values that would be present in an 8-bit or 16-bit (lower bit range) image. 32 Float gives you the tools to adjust your image so that the values you want to reproduce in a lower bit value image lie within the lighter gray range of the histogram. The zoomable preview image that dominates the center of the interface allows you to preview the visual effect of your adjustments.

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About September 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Professional Photographer Magazine Web Exclusives in September 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

August 2010 is the previous archive.

October 2010 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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