Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Photography On A Shoestring Budget, Part 4: Editing Software

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Photoshop is expensive. The latest edition has a price tag of $700! Even the cheap alternatives that you may find will run you about $100.

But don't fret! There are some wonderful alternatives to Photoshop that are completely free!

Picasa 3
Google's Picasa 3 is a good starting point for post-processing software. It's best known as a photo organizer, but it's also a very user-friendly and surprisingly powerful photo editing tool.

What's good about Picasa is that everything is on slider bars--you choose less or more. Nothing is complicated. If Photoshop intimidates you, or you simply don't have the time to learn it, or you don't have the time to mess with curves and layers and so forth, Picasa is for you!

And don't think Picasa isn't capable just because it's simple. I've been using Picasa more and more because it does some things faster and easier than the more complicated software that I use.

The best part is that this software is free!

What's not-so-good about Picasa is that it does have its limit. It's not nearly as capable as Photoshop. There are no layers, curves, or clone stamp.

If Picasa doesn't do everything you need a photo editing software to do, try Paint.NET!

Paint.NET is a very capable software that does almost as much as Photoshop. It has layers, curves, and a clone stamp, as well as tons of other features. Download some free plug-ins and make it even more powerful. You can do almost anything you want using this software.

What's good about Paint.NET is that it is very powerful yet not too difficult to learn. It will take you less time to learn than Photoshop. It is also completely free!

What's not-so-good is that it is a .NET program, which could be a problem for you (especially for Mac users).


If Paint.NET isn't for you, try GIMP!

Gimp can do 99% of what Photoshop can. There is very, very little that you can't do using this software. Gimp has made spending hundreds of dollars on photo editing software pointless.

What's good about GIMP is that it is as powerful as software that costs hundreds of dollars, yet it is completely free!

What's not-so-good is that there is a steep learning curve and resources to learn it are harder to come by than with Photoshop.

Which One?

So which one should you get? Which one is right for you?

My suggestion is to try all three, since there are advantages and disadvantages to each (and they're free). My favorite is Paint.NET, but I also use Picasa and GIMP for different things.

Cell Phone
Dry Red Rose - Tehachapi, California
Let's not forget about editing those cell phone photographs. There is no need pay for an app when there are some pretty good free ones.

My favorites are Pixlr-O-Matic and Photo Editor. These two apps together will allow you to do almost anything. I used these two apps together to create the above image.

I also use PicsArt and Pudding Camera, although not nearly as much as the other two. I don't use Instagram, but it is another good option.

In Part 5 we'll look at some inexpensive studio ideas.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Thought Of The Day: Why Personal Style Is Important In Photography

There is a very good read over at Luminous Landscape today. Photographer Alain Briot explains that if your photography doesn't have a personal style, your images will look just like those made by everyone else who photographed the same scene. This is especially true if it is an often-visited location--there may be thousands or even tens-of-thousands of photographs just like yours.

I talked about this over a year ago in a post called How To Take Unique Photographs of the Grand Canyon.
Hazy Canyon - Grand Canyon, Arizona
Alain explains, "I believe that in order to make meaningful photographs, learning the art of seeing and vision is as important as learning craft and technique. After over 15 years of major advances in digital photography, there is a need for artistically-inclined photographers to focus on the artistic aspects of photography, to the essence of seeing and personal expression, and to the fundamental aspects of photography as art."

Amen! The only thing in the quote above that I disagree with is that I believe "seeing and vision" are more important than "learning craft and technique" (not equally important). Learning how to use equipment and software will come naturally as you actively use it. Learning vision is difficult.

Unfortunately, Alain wants you to buy his DVD to learn how to have vision. Fortunately, I have a Blog post that explains vision for free!
Steadfast Movement - Mojave, California


Friday, July 27, 2012

Thought Of The Day: Top 5 Most Popular Posts

Almost all of the traffic that comes to this Blog are folks in search of information on equipment (mostly digital cameras). Only a very small percent come here in search of ways to improve their photography. No one seems interested in photographic vision.

I recently had three different people tell me that, without great equipment, one could not do professional photographic work. That, of course, is complete nonsense. I've pointed out many times the professional photographers who use their cell phone for paying work. I've mentioned the great photographs made with cheap or even home-made cameras.

Sometimes equipment helps us more easily create great photographs. Sometimes it's a crutch for those who don't understand how to create great photographs. Get the best camera and lens and hope something good comes out of it from time-to-time.

If you can create great photographs, you can do so with any camera. If you can't create great photographs, you can't no matter the camera.

A great pianist can play an amazing tune on any piano. A terrible pianist can't play anything worthwhile even on a grand piano. It's the same for photographers.

You're equipment is far less important than you think it is. Worry more about how to make a great photograph. Worry more about light. Worry more about what to take out of your composition. Worry more about the story your image tells. Worry about the things that will determine if your photograph is great or terrible.

When people look at your photographs, they don't care what camera and lens was used to capture it. They don't care about f-stop, shutter speed, ISO, focal length, or white balance. They don't care what size the sensor is or how many megapixels it contains. They only care about the image in front of them and what it speaks to them.

Anyway, here are my top five most viewed posts (all of which are about equipment):

#5 Thought Of The Day: Sigma SD1 vs. Nikon D800

#4 Thought Of The Day: Sony NEX-7 or Samsung NX200?

#3 Thought Of The Day: Sony NEX-7 or Nikon D3200?

#2 Thought Of The Day: Sony NEX-7 or Nikon D800?

#1 Review: Samsung NX200

Thursday, July 26, 2012

San Diego In July, Part 6: Around Mission Beach

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

I visited Mission Beach while in San Diego. This is a fun and busy section of sandy shoreline! I wish I could have spent more time there.

I captured a few images using a Samsung NX200.
Ocean Waves - San Diego, California
Feet In The Water - San Diego, California
Hi Tide - San Diego, California
Sun Glass Reflection - San Diego, California
Caution - San Diego, California
Wrong Way Alley - San Diego, California

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Photography On A Shoestring Budget, Part 3: Tripods and Other Accessories

In Part 1 we introduced the series. In Part 2 we discussed camera options. Now in Part 3 we will look at accessories like tripods, filters and such.

NX200 On Tripod With Homemade ND Filter - Tehachapi, California
Tripods are good to have for low-light photography. Eventually, at some point, you'll wish you had one. A time will come when you'll need a tripod.

But tripods can be quite expensive. Some tripods cost several hundred dollars! However, you don't have to spend even one dollar on a tripod.

First, you may find that you don't need one right away. Digital cameras are getting better and better at controlling noise at high-ISO and anti-shake has become standard. Situations that not long ago required a tripod don't require one now--you can get away with bumping the ISO up and hand-holding. Your need for a tripod decreases with each advancement. So perhaps this is an expense that you can push into the future.

Second, you can make-shift a "tripod" very easily. I do this from time-to-time when I don't have a tripod with me but need one. Here's what you do: a) set the camera on a flat and sturdy surface (such as a rock, wood post, non-running car, etc.), b) put the camera in self-timer mode, c) take the picture, moving yourself away from the camera so you don't accidentally touch it during exposure.

It's a bit more time consuming than if you actually had a tripod, and there is not always a good surface to use or the flat and sturdy surface that you find isn't in the most desired spot. In most situations, however, this method works just fine.

Third, cheap tripods work just as well as expensive ones in most situations. As long as you are not in strong winds or a fast moving river, there is not a big advantage to having a $300 tripod instead of a $30 tripod.

I've been very impressed with my Dolica 62-inch Proline. This tripod is sturdy, light-weight and versatile. The MSRP is $66, but you can typically find it for under $50. I found mine on sale for $35 last year.

Heavenly River - Lake Isabella, California
Filters, which screw onto the end of your lens, are a common accessory. Filters can be used for all sorts of things, and most photographers have at least a few of them. There are cheap brands and there are more expensive brands. You can spend a little or you can spend a lot.

You should strongly consider what filters you want to own (if any), so that you don't spend money on filters that you'll never use. Don't be afraid to purchase the cheap brands to start with, and, if there are filters that you find yourself using often, you can then upgrade those particular filters to a better brand.

Purchasing your filters used is a good way to save money.

Another option is to make your own filters. I used a home made neutral-density filter for the photograph above. You can make polarizing filter. You can make your own colored filters. You can make a "filter" for blurring. A little imagination and work can yield any number of filters that cost little or nothing.

And Such

There are other accessories that you may wish to purchase, such as batteries, memory cards, external flash, film, and camera bag. Unfortunately, there are not too many ways to save money other than shopping around, waiting for sales, or purchasing used.

You can, however, turn cheap luggage into a deluxe camera bag for surprisingly little money.

In Part 4 we will take a look at budget ideas for post-processing software. Stay tuned!


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mojave Sunrise

I was photographing something this morning at sunrise. I turned around and saw what is in the photograph below. I had my Samsung NX200 in hand, so I snapped a picture.

There are several lessons that can be learned:

1) It's a good idea to be out photographing around sunrise or sunset. You can almost always find great light when the sun is low to the horizon.

2) You can't create a photograph without a camera, so be sure to have one close by at all times.

3) When you are photographing something, be sure to look beside and behind you for other things worthy of your camera's attention.
Mojave Sunrise - Mojave, California

San Diego In July, Part 5: Sights Around Mission Bay

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

I recently returned from a family trip to San Diego, California. I captured over 500 images and have been slowly posting the photographs to this Blog as I've post-processed them.

These images were captured using a Samsung NX200 while walking along Mission Bay.
Pink Sail - San Diego, California
Ducks In A Row - San Diego, California
Orange Boat - San Diego, California
Endless Summer Dream - San Diego, California
Large Leaf - San Diego, California
Three Palm Trees - San Diego, California
Morning Hibiscus - San Diego, California
Bold Beauty - San Diego, California

Wet White Pedals - San Diego, California

Monday, July 23, 2012

News: Canon EOS M Digital Compact Interchangeable-Lens Camera

The EOS M is a compact interchangeable-lens (mirrorless) camera from Canon due to be released in October. It's actually a Rebel T4i in a much, much smaller body that weighs much less. It might be (but I'm not 100% sure about this) the smallest compact interchangeable-lens camera with an APS-C sized sensor.

What's good about this camera is that it is very small and weighs very little, which means it will be much more fun to carry around than a DSLR. It packs a big punch with an 18 megapixel APS-C sized sensor. While it won't quite match the image quality of the Fuji X-Pro1, the Sony NEX-7 (although Canon lenses are better than Sony's lenses) or the Samsung NX200, it is better for video than those three cameras.

If you're planning to use a camera more for video and less for photographs, then the EOS M is the camera for you (or the T4i if you want a larger camera). It's also smaller than the three cameras mentioned above, so that might also be a reason to choose it.

The EOS M has its own type of lens mount, which means if you own a Canon DSLR, your other Canon lenses won't work with this camera (although I'm sure an adaptor will be available at some point). Canon announced just two lenses for this camera, so pickings are slim.

The MSRP for the Canon EOS M is listed at $800 with a lens, which is a fairly reasonable price. However, the NX200 and Pentax K-01 both have an MSRP of $900, but you can get them for as low as $750 (with a lens) if you shop around. The Sony NEX-5n, which has an MSRP of $700, is another good alternative . If you're not going to use the camera much for video, those might be better (and slightly cheaper) choices.

The bottom line is that if you're in the market for a small and light-weight digital camera that packs a DSLR punch and is great for video, while at the same time doesn't break the bank, the Canon EOS M is for you. If you are primarily interested in a camera for photography and not video, there are good alternatives to consider.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

San Diego In July, Part 4: Seven Photographs

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and San Diego Model Railroad Museum Review

Up to this point, I've tried to group the photographs by themes. For example, the last post in this series was night images of Mission Bay. Typically when I do travel posts, I keep the photographs in chronological order. This time I was trying something different. This post, however, does not have a theme (other than it's in chronological order). 

All of these photographs except for the last one were captured using a Samsung NX200. I can't stop singing the praises of this overlooked gem--most photography magazines and blogs completely passed over the camera in favor of the overpriced Sony NEX-7. The NX200 is my camera of choice. The only camera I'd recommend above it for someone on a budget (and who isn't these days?) is the Nikon D3200.

The last image was captured and post-processed using my cell phone. Smart phones are also overlooked as serious photographic tools, but they're very much capable, always with you, and it's super easy to edit and share the photographs.
Building Summer Storm - Adelanto, California
The above photograph was captured on the way to San Diego.
Bougainvillea -San Diego, California
Mission Bay Morning - San Diego, California
One Palm Tree - San Diego, California
Two Sails - San Diego, California
Colorful Tires - San Diego, California
Tunnel Of Time - San Diego, California
The above image was from my cell phone camera.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

War Photographs: The Untold Story Of Plastic Army Men, Part 1

This series of photographs were inspired by a recent trip to San Diego, California. I found three plastic army men on the beach and began photographing them. After returning home, I purchased a bucket of little plastic soldiers, so that I could continue this photographic project.

I've always been intrigued by war photographs, but I've never had the guts to be in the thick of it myself. I've got a lot of respect for those brave (stupid? It's a fine line...) artists that risk their lives to get the shot.

With these cheap toys, I'm able to make my own "war photographs" without ever putting myself in harm's way. And there is commentary in the plastic and toy aspects of these images. I have so much respect for the men and woman that serve in the armed forces. I question the leadership and decisions of those that sit in their comfortable Washington D.C. chairs. It's a tough position that they find themselves in sometimes.

All of these were captured with a Pentax K-x yesterday at a local park and around the house.
Cleared Hot! - Tehachapi, California
Aim High Shadow - Tehachapi, California
Against The Wall - Tehachapi, California
Shadow Mortar - Tehachapi, California
Guard Duty - Tehachapi, California
Men Of Ashes - Tehachapi, California
Morning Light Fight - Tehachapi, California
Gunman Shadow - Tehachapi, California

Friday, July 20, 2012

San Diego In July, Part 3: Mission Bay At Night

Part 1 Part 2

I took my family camping in San Diego, California this last week. I captured over 500 photographs, and I've been working hard to get them post-processed and uploaded to this Blog.

I took my kids to the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, and those photographs can be seen here.

I spent a little time after dark along Mission Bay. I didn't forget my camera (in the case of these photographs, a Samsung NX200), and only forgot my tripod once. I'm fascinated by how colors are so much different after sunset. I also find long exposures of moving water to be interesting. So by photographing the bay at night, I was able to capture both. In some ways, it's nature's abstract.
Sleeping Sailboat - San Diego, California
Sleeping Ducks At Mission Bay - San Diego, California

Lights, Reflected - San Diego, California
Mission Bay Boats - San Diego, California
San Diego At Night - San Diego, California
Sea World From Across The Water - San Diego, California
Fireworks Over The Bay - San Diego, California
Sail Boat At Dusk - San Diego, California
The Beach After Sunset - San Diego, California

Review: San Diego Model Railroad Museum

Train In Tehachapi Pass - San Diego, California
The San Diego Model Railroad Museum has been open to the public since 1982, but its history goes back all the way to when Milton Cronkhite built a large model railroad for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition in Balboa Park. The museum is in the basement of a building constructed for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. With ties to two different World Fairs, the museum is interesting from a historical perspective.
Santa Fe At Bealville - San Diego, California
There are five large model railroad layouts in the museum--two HO, two O and one N scale. Each one is constructed and operated by a non-profit club. There is also a railroad reference library that is open on most days and a small gift shop. The museum is the largest model railroad exhibit in North America!
Cab Forward Steam In Tehachapi Pass - San Diego, California
The largest model railroad in the museum is a reproduction of the Tehachapi Pass, which includes the famous Tehachapi Loop. They've done an amazing job of recreating each scene, not overlooking even the fine details. The Caliente scene is especially impressive! The layout is not completely finished (I don't think any of the five are 100% finished), but it is 85% or so complete. 
Freight Train At Caliente - San Diego, California
My two-year-old son could spend all day in the museum. He loves to stare at the long trains as they pass through a scene. My four-year-old daughter was not bored even after two hours. Besides the model trains, they also have a wooden Thomas train and some other train toys for the young kids to play with. This is a child's dream land!
Santa Fe In The Mountains - San Diego, California
If your kids are like mine, they'll be fascinated for hours. Thankfully, there is a small (but good) breakfast and lunch cafe right upstairs from the museum. They make a pretty good latte, too! So you don't need to leave the building for lunch or snacks. (There's also a photography museum in the building that you may want to check out...).
Union Pacific On Three Rails - San Diego, California
The hardest part is getting the kids to leave, because they don't want to! My son, especially, could spend all day there. Even after two hours, I felt like I had rushed through the place. It's not just impressive to children, but it's impressive to adults, too. The details and workmanship are amazing!
Southern Pacific Through The Crossing - San Diego, California
I suggest giving yourself two hours to visit. If your kids love trains like mine do, you could spend three or four hours in the museum. If you arrived at opening, you could visit for an hour, go upstairs to the cafe for lunch, and then go back downstairs and spend two more hours in the museum.
Burlington Northern Highway - San Diego, California
The San Diego Model Railroad Museum is located in the basement of the historic Casa De Balboa building in Balboa Park (near the science center and natural history museum). It's open Tuesday through Friday 11 am to 4 pm, and Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 5 pm. The museum is closed on Mondays. Admission is $8 for adults and children 14 and under are free with an adult. There are discounts for seniors, students and military. If you live in San Diego county, you can get in for free on the first Tuesday of every month.
Tractor And Fast Train - San Diego, California
If you have young children and you're in the San Diego area, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is a must-see! This is one of those places that they'll talk about for a long time to come.
Boy Watching Trains - San Diego, California