Let me count the ways…

The age old phrase of “let me count the ways” seemed like as good a theme as any to announce the newest contest from the blog here for the Learning Digital Photography podcast.  I just got word from the folks at OnOne software that they really liked the post on Genuine Fractals – so much that they would like to participate in a giveaway!  Can you guess the prize?  Yup, that’s right, the entire OnOne Plug-in Suite:  4.5!   This is an amazing offer, as the package normally retails for $500!  That’s five hundred big ones!  I don’t know about you, but if I had an opportunity to win a software package worth $500, I’d certainly stand up and listen…so, since we’ve got this contest announcement for the month of July that involves software, there will be no software review today.

Oh yeah, so anyway, that’s the prize package.  How do you enter?  Easy – just like the last couple of contests – it just requires a little participation.  A new thread will be set up on Flickr for people to contribute photos.  (It’s already live but entries will not be accepted until midnight Mountain time tonight.)  Here’s the rules:

  1. Since the contest sponsor is onOne – then the theme shall be Numbers.  I am not going to interpret or give any ideas here, but if your photo incorporates something to do with numbers (any number, multiple numbers, use of numbers, whatever), then it will be accepted.
  2. Join the Learning Digital Photography Flickr Group – the images will be shared in there anyway, and this is a great way to see other inspirational images from people that are regularly contributing to the common pool…just make sure you post your images in the thread titled Numbers Contest (easily linked for you right here)
  3. Photos will only be accepted for the month of July (and that are uploaded during that month, so no archived images will be accepted)  Only 31 days to enter so get clicking! 🙂
  4. One photo limit per participant.  Sorry all, but with a prize package this huge, I know there’s going to be a lot of entries, so in order to make judging easier one entry per person.
  5. Photo manipulation is acceptable – after all, it’s for a prize that encourages massaging those pixels, so edit away!  However, you just be the original copyright owner of the photo used – no “borrowing” the work of others.  People found using others images will be removed from consideration.
  6. Images should be no larger than 800 pixels on their longest side, and no shorter than 600 pixels on the longest side.  If you need to upsize a photo, use the onOne Genuine Fractals trial!  🙂  On that note, please also refrain from using digital frames to increase image dimensions – images with frames that advance will be cropped.
  7. By submitting images, you agree to allow your photos to be featured in the web gallery and here on the blog without expectation of compensation.  The three finalists will have an opportunity to have their photos link back to their Flickr Stream, website, or blog if they like as the finalists will be notified of their advancement one day in advance of being featured on the blog.
  8. The product is being offered by the folks from onOne on the basis that it is NFR – not for resale.  The prize cannot be re-sold to someone else.
  9. Judging will be done by myself and I have one representative from onOne who will also assist with making the determination.  Decisions of the judges are final.
  10. There will be three rounds of judging:
    1. As in the past, the initial pool will be whittled down to ten and the images collated into a web gallery for display here on the blog.
    2. Three finalists will then be pulled and featured here on the blog for a final day or two of consideration.
    3. Last, the grand prize winner will be declared after even more careful determination from all participating judges.  OnOne has generously donated their time for judging as well, so we’ll compare notes and come to a mutual consensus to determine the winner.

Good luck to everyone and have a Happy month of Shooting!  Thanks especially go out to the good folks at OnOne for their generous contribution of the Plugin Suite 4.5 Software for some lucky reader/listener/participant.  Happy shooting and we’ll see you back here tomorrow!

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Wacom Bamboo Fun: Hardware Review

The good folks at Wacom were kind enough to donate a Bamboo Fun to me for review on the blog a while back.  In order to really get a full handle on it though, I wanted to use it within the context of my at-home work flow.  You see, I’m not a newcomer to tablets, as at work and through  previous experience, I’ve grown quite accustomed to their usage.  I’ve had to instruct people on how to use, configure the basics, and such on their computers. as well as used them in many of their varying sizes (most recently being the Cintiq).  Having said that, I’ve never really had the need to incorporate a tablet in my home work environment for a number of reasons.  Before I get into the reasons though, let go over some of the basics…and rather than a listing of pros and cons, I am following a slightly different format this time. I should also give fair warning that there are a LOT of pictures coming, so for the graphic avoiders in feeds, you may want to visit the site…

Installation

Installing this product can’t get much easier.  Regardless of whether you are running a Windows or Macintosh environment  (it really doesn’t matter a whole heck of a lot) the system will auto-detect the drivers for your Bamboo fun.  Still, it never hurts to go through the CD installation on their provided media, so I thought I’d share with you the process (and a few bonuses) of installation.  It’s pretty much identical, but I am showing the screen shots from Windows:

Here’s the main splash screen where you can choose what to do, ranging from installation to viewing video tutorials, or browsing the CD contents…

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I opted to do the driver installation first, and got this following message…

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Then the notice that the pen drivers were being installed…

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Then notification that installation was complete…

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After finishing that, I was offered the video tutorials on how to do different things.  For first-time users, a very useful resource…

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And finally the extras that are included on the CD.  I am not sure about files with an extension of x32, but believe this is a carry-over from Macromedia software like Flash.  Since I do not own Flash, I can only guess based on my own research…

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Ad additional CD also gives you a copy of Photoshop Elements 5, Nik Color Efex Pro 2, and Corel Painter Essentials 3.0, which also help to offset the cost the the product.  I didn’t want to open this and negate the serials or licenses of the products contained, but did scan the front side so you can see what you get in the companion CD:

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Configuration

The added buttons at the top of the tablet make for some very intuitive advancements in its usability and properties.  Rather than cover each of these in detail, screen views of each tab (there are four total) should be indicative enough of the control and customization you can get:

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Pop Up Configuration

The pop-up tab is probably the only tab that isn’t completely self-explanatory, so let me delve into a little more detail here. The reason why is because you can program common keyboard combinations (like the ones I referenced in my post last Friday) to be controlled from the tablet (provided you have “Pop-up menu” selected as on option on the tablet tab (seen next)…

Here’s how you do it:

First, click the drop-down to indicate what it is you want to program on the tablet.  For me, the biggest advantage would be in incorporating keyboard keystroke combos so I have to switch less between kb and tablet.

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You’ll get a window now where you can define the keystrokes you want simply by typing that keystroke set in the blank space…

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The tablet will detect your keystrokes and populate the fields

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Then, give your keystroke set a name…

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and Click OK.  You can see the ones I programmed below…

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Last but not least, you can also include special keystroke combinations that are unique to your system (like Printscreen on Windows), as shown next:

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So, you can see how having the pop-up tab configured with your most commonly used keyboard combinations, as you can reduce the swapping between inputs even more!  Very cool!  And here’s what the right-click menu looks like once inside Photoshop:

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But, make sure you have a button set on the tablet to “drop down” (as shown next…)

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Mechanics

Here is where your specific work flow may have an impact.  On my Windows desktop environment, I have a 19″ and a 17″ LCD, so that’s roughly 36″ of real estate that this tablet (which measures roughly 6×4″) has to cover.  What this means is that movements on a scale that size makes everything larger proportionally speaking.  You can adjust the tablet settings under the pen mode details screen to manipulate for just one monitor instead of all screens, but if I am going to use a tablet, Idon’t want to jump between that, a keyboard AND a mouse…two inputs is all I really would want to switch between, but that’s just personal preference.  But, for those that are interested, here’s how you make that adjustment in the pen settings tab of the tablet properties.  Click on the pen tab of the tablet properties, then the details button to get this screen:

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From here, change the button from “All Screens” to “Monitor”.  It will default to the monitor you have set ot #1:

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But you can use the arrows to set it to monitor two if you prefer:

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On my Macbook Pro, since I only had the one monitor, the experience was quite different as I had less real estate for the tablet to cover – with only a 15″  LCD of screen space to cover.  So the pen was much less sensitive to location on the touch pad given that less than half the real estate was needed to cover the range of the screen (and I noticed greater position control even when I did just the 19″ monitor versus the 15″ LCD of the MBP – it’s just a happenstance of the tablet size, and the only way to do that would be to increase the tablet size – at the expense of desk real estate space…pick your poison, ya know?)

Usage

Tablets rock!  Let’s just get that bias out of the way right off.  If you want the ultimate in cursor control (and when I say cursor I mean movement of your tool, whether it be a brush, a pencil, an eraser, clone stamp, whatever, it’s just amazing).  The first major difference between a mouse and a tablet is touch sensitivity.  No matter how you tap a mouse, it delivers the same intensity or strength when it paints in Photoshop.  With a tablet, this is not the case at all.  How hard you press determines the strength of the brush.  This is truly remarkable as now you can apply just a touch, or go full hog on anything you want from painting, to clone stamping, and anything you want.  To demonstrate, I created a blank document and selected some brush settings to illustrate what I am talking about.  Take a look:  from left to right are light touches to hard pressing with the pen…followed by dots of the same strength top to bottom.

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So now you can control things like jitter, hardness, and a whole myriad of options that you didn’t have before (well, at least not to the same degree anyway) with just a mouse.  I know what you’re thinking now – “Great, for graphic design that’s super cool, but how can I use this as a photographer?”  Excellent question!   Ever catch a picture where the eyes are darker and you want to brighten them up?  Well, now you can with greater ease and control both of area, intensity of the lightening (or darkening) by using the pen tool for the Bamboo Fun.  Take a look at the sample below, where I took an underexposed picture of the dog and selectively lightened the eyes and teeth, here’s the before:

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and after:

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One of the best parts is that this functionality is there in whatever application you use that incorporates brushes.  I tried it in Photoshop, Lightroom, and Corel Painter Pro (I installed a demo version of the last one for this review).  The Bamboo Fun can also expand your ability to clone things out, say a stray light pole or some telephone wires, or even the nasty -ex that you want out of that super cool shot of you in Hawaii!  The possibilities are limitless both for graphic designers and photographers.

So, this now begets the question of why I don’t have one in my home environment.  The main reason is because I’ve never had the need at home.  Most of the time I am at work, and if I need to work that requires that level of control, the work hardware has always been there for me.  Granted I’ve also gotten used to the Wacom Cintiq which has a much larger surface area, so I have even a greater degree of control over the desktop, cross-hairs, and all brushes, so it’s also a matter of being spoiled – I just can’t afford a Cintiq at home, or justify its need – I am just not that much of a re-toucher either with photos or in graphics design creation.

Additionally, for me, the use is only really there in graphic design, because I am also of the mentality of “getting it right in camera”, so I don’t like to do a lot of edits in photos.  Of course no one is perfect so I do occasionally need to do some fine tuning that requires a tablet.  In cases when I do, I just take the photo in to work and do the retouching there as the tablet does give a much greater amount of control than any mouse or trackball will.

When I’ve not been successful in camera, it’s not that my home work flow is good enough, it’s just that the tools are already there for me if needed at work, so the financial justification really hasn’t been there.   As my personal usage has been increasing lately though, I must admit that I am thinking more and more about adding a tablet to my home work flow.   So, would I would recommend this?

Yes!  This would make a great tablet for anyone who does not have access to a tablet elsewhere, or if you are looking to enter the tablet market – the Bamboo Fun is a great entry level tablet, that takes up minimal desk space while offering a maximum range of precision and control.  I think for my own personal usage, I would probably prefer a larger tablet because I do have the desk space, and have been accustomed (as I said) to the Cintiq, so perhaps the Intuous 4 would be more easily incorporated…but only time will tell!)

Finally, as prone as we are to repetitive motions, and with conditions like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome becoming much more common, the tablet does offer a much less repeated motion tendency than a mouse or a tablet.  So, if you make the move to a tablet, you are only decreasing your chances of things like Carpal Tunnel and repetitive motion problems in your wrists.

Two thumbs up (in Siskel and Ebert style) for the Bamboo Fun from the good folks at Wacom.  Many thanks for the demo product, and I am sure the listening/reading audience appreicates their generosity as well.  Happy shooting everyone, and we’ll see you back here tomorrow for an exciting software review that includes the announcement of our latest contest, which is starting in July!).

Painting with Light

About a year ago, Joe McNally gave a talk at Google where he referenced the roots of the word photography.  The two roots are photo and graphos, and the meanings are light and write.  We so often hear of people “painting with light”, and after seeing a few people demonstrating how they use flashlights to paint and write with light, I thought it might be fun to give it a whirl.  So, I set up in my den/basement room/office/man cave with the camera on a tripod and went about the goal of writing with light.

To set the scene, I put the camera on it’s lowest aperture for the lens (f3.5), and this way everything around would get thrown out of focus.  I set the shutter to 5 seconds, and the ISO to 100.  That way I would have enough time to draw each letter, and produce little noise as possible.

Next was to set a point of focus – enter my light stand as a model.  I set the focus on that (about 6 feet away), and then switched to manual focus on the lens so the point wouldn’t change.  Next step – mark the floor so I know where to stand (anything works – for me it was a USB flash drive).  Finally, I moved the light stand out of the way and started to eliminate other sources of light, as  I also wanted the surroundings to be completely dark.  So I turned off the computer (monitors give off an amazing amount of light, closed the blinds (even at night, street lights can push stray light into your image), and shut the door to the room.  Working off the handheld flashlight now, I changed the camera to start on a 10 second delay to give me time to get into position.

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The rest is in the post processing.  Since I was in the middle of re-installing Windows and freshening things up last night, I’ve not had time to composite these together, but you get the idea of where I am heading!  Give it a try yourself – painting with light can be fun!  Have a great weekend everyone, happy shooting and we’ll see you back here Monday morning!