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April 2011 Archives

April 5, 2011

A look at Lexar's new SDXC Extended Capacity Card

By Ron Dawson

Currently, the two most wide spread “flavors” of SD cards are plain SD and SDHC. SD cards can hold up to 2GB of data, whereas SDHC cards can hold 4GB to 32GB of data. They are based on the FAT32 file system. FAT stands for File Allocation Table and it is a computer architecture structure upon which most computer operating systems and smaller memory devices are based. It is the FAT32 system that limits video clips captured on SD and CF cards to just 4GB each (approximately 12 minutes of time for most cameras).


A couple of years ago, the SDXC (secure digital extended capacity) format was introduced. This new system was based on the SD Association’s 3.0 specification and created an entirely new structure that is based on exFAT file system (also known as FAT64). These cards are NOT backwards compatible with older SD host devices. The benefit of this new format is extended data capacity and transfer buffer speeds.

Lexar has come out with its Professional SDXC card that is 64GB and 128GB with bus transfer speed of 133x, or 20MB/s. (To put this in perspective, the cards I normally shoot my gigs on are 16GB SDHC cards with 30MB/s speeds). The SDXC format is designed to hold up to 2TB of data!

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Book Review: "Skin" by Lee Varis

By Betsy Finn

As portrait and wedding photographers, it's important we understand how to retouch our subjects’ skin in a realistic manner, and that we understand the concepts behind achieving believable skin tone. "Skin: The Complete Guide to Digitally Lighting, Photographing, and Retouching Faces and Bodies," by Lee Varis, is a book that sets out to help photographers achieve this goal.


While Varis covers the techniques he uses to achieve a color balanced workflow (and how to get realistic color), he does note that “accurate color is often boring color … most people say they want ‘accurate’ color, but what they prefer (and what clients buy) is ‘pretty’ color.”

While the writing was somewhat technical, I stayed interested and followed along easily. If you’re the type who learns best by doing rather than just reading about something, you will find Varis’ companion website resources to be invaluable. Varis has graciously made available a number of image files that he uses as examples in the book, so you can experiment with the techniques yourself after reading how Varis achieves a particular look. Varis’ website also offers video and PDF tutorials, which may be helpful if you need further instruction.

The book includes a review of the basics in order to set a good foundation for Varis’ theories on color managing skin tones, but unlike some other books I’ve read, this book was able to do so without losing my interest.

I appreciated Varis’ discussion of the digital zone system, managing skin tones via RGB and CMYK, and how he uses the eyedropper tool to gauge what specific adjustments need to be made to an image. As he notes in the text, the eyes tend to compensate for adjacent colors, so relying on hard numbers in addition to your intuition is the best way to achieve the desired color.

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KeyPad Pro: Turn Your iPad Into a Keyboard of Shortcuts

By Kim Larson

Today there are many items available for you to speed up your workflow. Just look at all the great keyboards that come pre-programmed with shortcuts to your favorite software programs such as Motobodo, X-Keys, and RPG Keys. If you own an iPad, you might already have one of these great time-saving keyboards in your hand. The KeyPad Pro app ($4.99 in the iTunes App Store) allows you to turn your iPad into an extra keyboard with your own customized buttons. It allows you to make your own “keypads” for any software program, with each keypad having its own set of custom shortcut buttons. KeyPad Pro communicates with your computer via your local wi-fi network.


Part of the power of KeyPad Pro is the ability to customize and share your keypads. You’re free to create your own keypads from scratch, and the developers of KeyPad Pro provide some pre-made keypads for $0.99 each. I highly recommend purchasing the Photoshop keypad, not only because it’s a great starting point for customizing your own Photoshop keypad, but it’s also a great way to learn advanced ways to setup keypads for other software programs. I purchased the Photoshop keypad as a starting point and added buttons to run my favorite actions. Any keypads you make can be shared on the KeyPad Pro forum, where you can also download keypads from others. Or e-mail your favorite keypad directly to a friend—it can all be done from within the KeyPad Pro app itself.

There are so many options for creating your own keypad, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The help menus within the app itself are a must-read—they will explain each type of button and how it functions. There are buttons for sliders (great for managing Photoshop brush sizes), buttons that will perform a bunch of steps (great for Photoshop Actions with multiple steps!), and buttons that will display a menu. Each button can have multiple keystrokes assigned to it as well: one for tapping the button once, one for holding down the button, and one for double-tapping the button. The possibilities are endless!

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April 6, 2011

Improve Video Stability and Production Quality with Zacuto Rigs and Z-Finder Pro

By Ron Dawson

If you decide to take up the craft of DSLR filmmaking, one of the things you will quickly realize is that shooting video is very different from shooting photos. One of the key differences is that unless you are extremely experienced, hand-held video shot with a DSLR will look terrible. It’ll be too shaky, resulting in significantly lower production quality than stabilized footage. The other thing you’ll notice is that trying to focus with an LCD screen is extremely difficult, especially at the wider apertures where depth of field is very shallow. These cameras were just not ergonomically designed to shoot video. As usual, Mother Necessity has led the way to a whole sub-industry dedicated to providing gear that helps the DSLR filmmaker shoot proper video.

Zacuto, based in Chicago, Ill., is one of the leaders in that industry. Created by veteran Emmy-award-winning film and video producers Steve Weiss and Jens Bogehegn, one of the reasons their gear has become so well known is because they bring more than 50 combined years of industry experience. I had the opportunity to try out three of their most popular DSLR accessories: the Z-Finder Pro, the Target Shooter, and the Striker.

The Z-Finder Pro: The Z-Finder Pro is perhaps Zacuto’s number-one DSLR accessory. It is an optical viewfinder that connects to the back of the DSLR, magnifiying the LCD live view image. If you’re using manual focus, this allows you to dial-in focus and keep it there as you shoot. It also blocks out glare from additional light sources like the sun. It also serves as an additional point of contact to get steadier shots. The more points of contact you can have, the more stability you have. When you hold a DSLR up to and against your eye with the Z-Finder Pro, you now have three POCs: two hands and your face. 


When the Z-Finder first came out, you had to physically glue it to the back of your DSLR. It could be detached, but it was an awkward setup. Now they’ve designed it with a mounting frame and base plate that screws into to your tripod mount socket. You can adjust the Z-Finder to the left or right depending on the camera, and you can even add plastic extenders to push the Z-Finder farther out from the back of the camera, allowing you to adjust the focus on the Z-Finder itself to match your eyesight.

I found it very easy to use and extremely effective at monitoring focus. Of all the optical viewfinders on the market, it is the one chosen by high-profile DSLR filmmakers such as Vincent Laforet and Philip Bloom. If you’re doing a lot of moving around, it will be a key accessory in your tool kit.

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Pro Review: DxO Optics Pro v6.5 is an Auto Adjustment Hit

By Stan Sholik

There is no “magic bullet” software for post production of raw and JPEG image files. Each program comes with an upside and a downside. The upside with DxO Optics Pro is its automatic adjustment presets; the downside has always been its speed of operation, especially on a Mac. Version 6 showed some speed improvements and now version 6.5 (actually 6.5.5 as of a few days ago) shows greater improvement still, making it worth looking at in detail.


With many advanced and professional photographers comfortably settled into either a Lightroom, Aperture, or Bridge/Photoshop workflow, it may be a tough sell for DxO to convince them to investigate another application. But Optics Pro has much to offer, chiefly its processing automation and camera/lens-specific DxO Optics Modules, although neither of these are new to version 6.5.

Image correction with little or no human intervention lies at the core of Optics Pro’s processing automation. In addition, there is a series of tools that allow you to fine-tune the automatic corrections. 


DxO revised the Optics Pro interface in version 6.0 and has kept the same clean, contemporary look in version 6.5. Four tabs at the top, Select, Customize, Process and View take you to different windows as you move through the workflow. In the Select tab, the browser pane is to the left, a Preview pane where the images in the selected folder appear is to the right, and a Project pane at the bottom hold selected images for processing. In the “First Steps” mode, information to guide you through the process appears onscreen.

The automation is built around workspaces and presets. Three workspaces are found in Optics Pro: First Steps, Essentials and Advanced User. The First Steps workspace includes the basic corrections and a wizard to walk you through the workflow if you are new to the program. Additional tools are added in the Essentials workspace and even more in the Advanced User. Tools with corrections that DxO has made automatically are indicated with an “Auto” in the tools header. These automatic corrections could be based on image content or camera, camera/lens calibration for the parameters that Optics Pro finds in the image EXIF information and the corresponding DxO Optic Module that you have downloaded. 


The Customize tab is the most complex, even in the First Steps workspace shown. Visualization tools are on the left, a preview of the adjusted image is in the center, adjustment palettes are on the right, and the Project pane from the Select tab, is below. The First Steps workspace has minimal adjustments available. 


The Essentials workspace adds a histogram to the Visualization tools and more adjustments are available in the adjustment palette.  


The Advanced User workspace adds a small amount of EXIF information to the Visualization tools and all of the available adjustments are listed in the adjustment palette. 

From my experience while testing, this part of the automation works extremely well, particularly so if you have the appropriate Optics Module loaded. While there are more than 3,000 Optics Modules available, I seemed to have the wrong combination of Nikon camera and Nikkor or Sigma lens to make use of them most of the time, but when I did, there was an noticeable, though slight, improvement in image quality. Where I did notice an amazing improvement in image quality was in images from my Nikon P7000, which was recently added to the Optics Modules. For a compact camera, the P7000 is excellent, but with Optics Pro the images are superb. I saw the same high degree of improvement in images from a Canon G12.


If Optics Pro detects EXIF metadata that indicates you are adding images to a project for which an Optics Module is available, it will prompt you to download the module. 

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April 7, 2011

Getting Into Green Screen: Will It Work for You?

By Kurt Robertson 

Backgrounds are a major expense for a photography studio. Over the years, I have worked with countless canvas, muslin, and various other backgrounds. One of the things I always longed for was the ability to change the background to match the theme or subject at will without taking so much time to arrange and light the new background choice.

One of the big developments in the digital imaging world is chroma-key technology. Chroma-key software has the ability to drop out specific colors, usually bright green or sometimes bright blue. Chroma-key in video has been around for many years, but does this technology now have a place in portrait photography as well?


I combined a chroma-key portrait with this background from EZ Backgrounds using PhotoKey4. I retouched blemishes and other minor details in Photoshop CS5 and then processed it with Imagenomic Portraiture, adjusted the contrast, and used Nik Color Efex Pro 3 to warm up the image and darken the corners. I sharpened the image with Nik Sharpener Pro and finally added a cement wall texture in the overlay blending mode of CS5. Overall processing took about 20 minutes.  ©Kurt Robertson

Just as film photographers didn't switch to digital SLR cameras without experiencing workflow consequences, adding digital backgrounds to your studio will create new issues. How will you extract the subject from your images? How will you put the backgrounds into your images, and how good will the quality be? How much time can you afford to prepare your images? Most important, how will you present and sell the images?

With that in mind, let’s take a look at two contenders, Green Screen Wizard Pro 5.0 and PhotoKey 4 Pro.

Green Screen Wizard is a PC-only application with several versions available. Green Screen Wizard Pro 5.0 has many useful features for event photography, but our primary focus for this article is image presentation, green screen removal and image output.

201104we_chroma_figure1.JPGImage courtesy Green Screen Wizard 

Green Screen Wizard Pro 5.0 has a simple workflow for portrait studios. You click Load Foreground to load in your green screen photo and Load Background to preview your image. The Pick button allows you to preview the photo on multiple backgrounds at the same time (below), which will be valuable if you want to let clients choose their favorite background. It’s also useful for studio staff to be able to look at several options. You can also output just the subject with a transparent background as a .png file. Once you combine the subject with a background, the file will output with the background and subject combined (flattened).


Images ©Kurt Robertson

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April 14, 2011

Practical Photoshop Instruction for Nature Photographers Is Applicable for All

By Betsy Finn, Cr.Photog., CPP

Ellen and Josh Anon, a mother-son photographer team, have partnered to write “Photoshop CS5 for Nature Photographers.” The book is written specifically for nature photographers who want to fully utilize features in Adobe Photoshop CS 5. The authors focus mainly on techniques using the standard version of Photoshop, but also include sidebars in each chapter on how to do particular tasks using Photoshop Elements.


“Photoshop CS5 for Nature Photographers” is subtitled “A Workshop in a Book” for good reason. As each chapter progresses, you'll find sections titled Try It. These sections are helpful if you learn by doing, allowing you to download the appropriate image file from the companion website and practice the techniques you've learned. In addition to the working files, there are also video tutorials available to give you a better understanding of certain techniques.  I found the section on how to adjust color temperature without relying on visual techniques particularly interesting. This process would be invaluable for any photographer who suffers from color blindness or who has to work on a non-calibrated or improperly calibrated monitor.

The goal of this book is to provide photographers with an easy and efficient workflow. With that in mind, the Anons discus workflow, exposure, color, adjustments, composites, output techniques, and more. They present two workflow options (traditional and flexible) for you to choose from, as fits best into your working style.

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About April 2011

This page contains all entries posted to Professional Photographer Magazine Web Exclusives in April 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

March 2011 is the previous archive.

May 2011 is the next archive.

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

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