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January 2012 Archives

January 4, 2012

Wacom Inkling Adds Flourish and Saves Time

By Betsy Finn

The Wacom Inkling is a real pen that captures your pen strokes on any paper. When you’re done drawing or writing, just plug the receiver into your computer, access the image, and edit as desired in Photoshop or other image-editing application. 


The Wacom Inkling pen and receiver (clipped onto paper).

While it may have more appeal for graphic and illustration artists, I immediately thought of ways the Inkling could be used practically in a photographer's business, too. I could use it to take notes during client consultations, marking areas of a proof the client wants fixed or sketching notes for a wall collage, all of which could be stored digitally with the client's other information and image files. On the client side, I thought the Inkling would be a great tool for personalizing portraits. For instance, I could have my clients sign their name for their wallet-size portraits, or write a note to put into their wedding album. It all sounds good in theory. My next step was to put it into practice and see how well the Inkling would work for my ideas.

To begin, clip the receiver to your paper, and push the power button. Every time you clip/unclip the receiver, it starts a new drawing. There’s also a button on the receiver you can push to start a new layer while you are drawing. These layers are saved into the image and can be exported to Photoshop as layers. When you first turn on the receiver, it displays a red light that switches to green once the pen is active.


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January 9, 2012

Here's Sunshine Up Your Skirt! An excerpt from Joe McNally's "Sketching Light"


Excerpted from “Sketching Light” by Joe McNally. Copyright © 2012. Used with permission of Pearson Education, Inc. and New Riders.

Read the Professional Photographer review of “Sketching Light”

Every once in a while, you try something on a wing and a prayer, and you get a picture that works. You gave it just about zero chance of success when you put the light out there, and then it’s so absurdly first-frame simple, you have one of those “coulda had a V8” moments back at the LCD. Which, of course, you then try to cover up by assuming a knew-it-all-along look, a confident nod, and a quiet, murmured, “Think I’ll just shoot a few more of these.”


I was on the main plaza in pre-dawn Venice, which is the only time of day that beautiful, historic place is not a sea of backpacks and a jumble of accents and languages. The sun was up and light was bounding out on the waterways, but I was struck by the cool, beautiful nature of the ancient arches, where open shade still ruled.

When trying to work simply and influence a scene with just one small flash, open shade can be your best friend. You don’t have to stress the light by fighting the high, hard sun, and the muted tones introduce the possibility of effectively influencing the color palette of the scene without bringing in movie grip trucks.

This setup was, as I indicated above, crazy simple. I used the little plastic floor stand that comes with the SB-900, put a full CTO warming gel on the light, took off the dome diffuser, and zoomed the flash head to 200mm so the light spread would remain pretty tight, and placed it out there on the ancient stones of the plaza. The zoom feature helps in directing the light right to the dancer, and also keeping floor spill to a minimum. As worn as they are, the tiles on the plaza will pick up light and reflect it pretty well, so if your light is zoomed wide and splashes everywhere, you got a problem. Zooming the light tight sends it where it needs to go—to the dancer—and minimizes the telltale photon path on the floor. A hint of light works fine. A big, blown highlight is not okay. Nuking the floor is always a concern, obviously, when you actually place the light down there. I didn’t need to employ this tactic here, but a couple of simple swatches of gaffer tape on the floor side of the flash head, serving as cutters or flags, works really well, as shown here.


I just happened to have a ballerina with me. I’d suggested dancers to the group I was shooting with, and it was a notion they embraced vigorously. Bringing a dancer onto the Plaza Venezia in dawn light is definitely stacking the deck in your favor, kinda like flying in a sure thing, but it’s a good thought when seeking subjects for flash portraits. It’s certainly better than wandering the streets hoping an ancient drunk with an interesting hat stumbles into a beautiful highlight. (Unless, of course, you’re street shooting and looking for happenstance. Different mission altogether.)

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January 12, 2012

Words of Experience, a Review of "Sketching Light" by Joe McNally

By Ellis Vener


“Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash”
By Joe Mc Nally
Part of the series, “Voices That Matter,” published by New Riders Press

Read an excerpt from “Sketching Light"

Every well-known successful photographer you can think of knows how to use light to tell stories. By “well known” and “successful,” I don’t mean someone with thousands of friends and followers on social networking sites, I mean photographers who make their living and reputation by working for real-world clients. You likely have your favorites; mine are Dan Winters, Gregory Heisler, Matthew Jordan Smith, Nick Knight and Joe McNally. Perhaps no one on my list is as broadly influential as Joe McNally, mostly because he has successfully taken on the challenge of using social networks and teaching what he knows through seminars, workshops and books.

Fortune has favored McNally with resilience and a great sense of self-deprecating humor. He seems to approach assignments big and small with equally intense levels of preparation, energy and flexibility. Fortunately for us, he brings these traits to his fourth how-to book, “Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash” (New Riders Press).

In this lighting cookbook, McNally provides abundant recipes and results, complete with copious notes, diagrams and “war stories.” These are not the kind of lighting formulas that mandate placing Light A with Modifier X at a 32-degree angle to the left, slightly above and 6 feet from the subject, and placing Light B with Modifier Y here or there with specific key-to-fill-to-accent ratios—you get the point. Instead, McNally gets you to thinking about how to generate and use light to help the story you want the photograph to tell, and to make that story engage with the viewer’s imagination. Even if you think you already know a lot about lighting, I bet you’ll pick up more than a few good ideas from “Sketching Light.”

And really, the book really isn’t so much about how to make nice with light, but how to live. In the first lines in the introduction, he writes:

The key word on the cover of this book is not “flash,” or even “light.” It’s the word “possibilities.” Because that is, at its core, what this book is about. It isn’t about pictures that already exist. It’s about what might be possible to create, in terms of pictures, if you experiment with light.

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Two Bags to Gear Up and Go: Chrome Niko and Lowepro Pro Messenger 180 AW

By Joan Sherwood

I prefer camera bags designed for a moderate amount gear that you can carry and maneuver around with without knocking lamps off the furniture every time you turn around. The Lowepro Pro Messenger 180 AW and the Chrome Niko fit that bill, and provide a lot of features that are important when you want to travel or explore a city while carrying lean, and when you have a shoot that doesn't require a suitcase full of gear. My big requirements are comfort, security and light weight.


At first glance, I thought the Chrome Niko was going to be one of those bags that only guys and chicly flat-chested women could wear comfortably, and that it would never even look right on me, but I was wrong. I found out that by lengthening the seat-belt style sling strap, it hangs rather nicely. Much better than other sling bag styles I’ve tried. It sits comfortably, low on my back, with the padded section of the strap hanging across my shoulder where it should, and the metal buckle components falling just below my clavicle. It weighs 2.3 pounds, compared to the Lowepro’s 3.4 pounds, and it feels like half of that is in the buckle. For security, the Niko has buckles that cross over the main zipper to foil theft while you’re wearing it in crowded spaces, and a waterproof main zipper to keep out rain, though it also makes it a little more difficult to unzip.

The Niko has the smaller capacity of the two. By my own measurement, the main compartment is 11x8x5. You could carry a DSLR with lens, an extra lens and a speedlight flash comfortably with no problem. The top compartment could hold an extra flash, water bottle, or modern necessities like a phone or backup drive. The top compartment is the only easy-access exterior pocket. There is a flat, water-protected pocket on the main interior for memory cards. The Velcro placement on the side straps makes them suitable for only the slimmest of tripods, better for holding a light rain jacket really.

The Niko construction is a bit stiff and the shell padding is formidable. It comes with the standard, Velcro-attach padded dividers that most camera bags have.

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Wrap Your Mind Around Warp: Adobe After Effects CS5.5 Warp Stabilization

By Jack Reznicki

Mid-number software upgrades rarely impress me. When Adobe’s Creative Suite had an inter-number upgrade, from 5.0 to 5.5, I was expecting just the usual bug fixes and minor adjustments. But buried in After Effects is a real “WOW!!” feature I would expect in a whole-point release. This new feature should really amaze and wow video shooters and the vast army of still shooters venturing into the video realm. The name for this feature, Warp Stabilization sounds like a feature you’d hear in an old Star Trek episode. “Captain, the Wrap Stabilization has seized up! She can't hold on much longer!”

Warp Stabilization is just Adobe’s name for a feature that takes shaky video footage and, well, stabilizes it to look like you used a Steadicam or shot the scene with your camera mounted on a dolly. It really doesn’t sound like much until you see it in action. Then your jaw drops. To me this feature alone is worth the total price of After Effects. The first video here is the raw footage, and the video embedded below it is the stabilized version.

What really blows my mind is not just what it does, which is amazing and magical, but the fact that it’s so automatic and simple. It’s drag and drop. There have been ways to stabilize shaky sequences before, but you had to know what you were doing, you had to find a fixed point, play with the parameters, input numbers. It took a lot of time, skill and praying. With CS 5.5, you drag and drop Warp Stabilization adjustment into the video sequence and After Effects does it all in a shockingly easy and fast way. No entering numbers, moving sliders, or looking up complex steps in the manual. It analyzes the footage on its own, and then processes the clip in the computer’s background, so you can continue working on something else, like more photo editing, web surfing, or solitaire. No waiting for spinning beach balls or slow status bars.

While it’s at it, fixing your shaky take behind the curtain, it also fixes another inherent problem prevalent with DSLR footage—the cursed rolling shutter artifacts. 

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About January 2012

This page contains all entries posted to Professional Photographer Magazine Web Exclusives in January 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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