Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Resurrecting the #DailySketch

image

Whilst my attempt to create a daily sketch (on Tumblr) quickly dwindled. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t sketching. It was just erratic and on different media. The disappointment of not being able to sketch directly onto my tablet and the new drawing board has inspired me to get back to the routine. Not wanting to be too slack I’ve decided to move the action into Instagram and sketch the same item three ways (or two ways with a deep dream filter of the same subject). I think I can manage a months worth.

Lets see how I go.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A drawing board for my tablet

One goal I had set myself on the last endess summer trip was to create more art directly onto my tablet. I had updated to corel painter 2017 and downloaded few free apps to test, including wacom’s Bamboo Paper, Well they do work but trying to use the tablet outside with just my finger, a stylus or the HP pen proved very difficult. So difficult I gave up.

The first problem was glare, which made the LCD screen almost impossible to see. Any direct sunlight on the screen meant all I could see was the mirror reflection of a very frustrated me. picking up the tablet and tilting it away from the sun worked but it soon got heavy and difficult to hold in one hand as I sketched with the other. Normally when I paint I rest a drawing board on my knee or easel.The tablet proved a little slippery for that or trying to rest on a book of box. It was fine flat on the table but …. I just couldn’t see what I was drawing. Tilting the kickstand up into the normal typing position was better but it was not a good angle for sketching freedom.IMG_2223The draw board idea stayed with me. I got an old board and cut some notches in it to exactly match the width of the ick stand and then I turn turned the kickstand right up so the table “hung” on the drawing board. I could rest the drawing board on my knee and the whole configuration was looking move stable, till I split and push up a little and the table slid off the notches and slipped around again.
IMG_2227

2-IMAG0626

 

It was quite literally back to the drawing board.

I had the brilliant idea of adding a small plastic clip to hold the kickstand from slipping off. Firstly I glued it on but that was no where near strong enough, and soon the tablet broke free and slide off my lap and onto the floor (phew no damage done). So it was both glued and riveted next. I also put a couple of furniture felt wear pad at the position the base of the tablet sat on the drawing board. Magic the whole thing is very stable now.

Time to try it out in a variety of ways.

As a way to keep the tablet steady on my lap or propped against a table, it was perfect. Next I tried to see if it was a way to 1-IMAG0625have a small sketch book open on the drawing board and using the tablet for the reference. It seemed a little cramped at first but it proved wonderful to have the sketch and reference in close proximity. Then I got bold and attached my “portable” wacom bamboo tablet with the pressure sensitive pen underneath the HP screen but paper clipped to the board, except for the usb connector cable hanging down this is a real winner, especially with the touch controls so I don’t need my mouse, I’m sure I will get very productive with this set up. Finally  I tried out just straight photo editing, on my lap (eg while on the couch watching TV). Again pretty comfortable, no extra hands required and no slippy/sliddy tablet behaviour.

 

Directly sketching onto the tablet Using the tablet to show reference with small sketchbook also attached to drawingboardTablet with Wacom Bamboo attached Photo Editing on my lap

Monday, May 22, 2017

Another Photo on #janesweather

Autumn Afternoon :: Jells park

My posting to twitter is falling away, because there seems so little connection with anything. I liken it to shouting into the wind. One very big exception is Jane Bunn's Weather segment on the local TV news.

Thanks Jane

Accidental discoveries in lightroom

I’ve been using lightroom as my primary photo editor again on my travels, because my light HP spectre with its SSD drive have made lightroom fast enough again. There are things about lightroom that still hold me up and things about the way it has to organise everything in her own way that still frustrate me. In particular how to handle working copies.image in my case these are files being past onto third arty plug-ins like Nik Software Efex range, OnOne and Perfect Exposure. What happens is the little PCPlugin windows pop up and I can chose to  edit a copy with lightroom setting (the default and most common response), a copy without lightroom settings (seems to only works with jpeg files) or edit the original (except this doesn’t work with most plug-ins). Then there is a small dialogue area at the bottom which contains the file format you will use in the exchange (jpeg, Tiff or PSD).This is all fine and I’ve done it hundreds of times because I just press ok, but the annoying part is lightroom now takes the copy and the original to the very end of your photo series. If you have more than say 50 photos in you directory this can be a few screen’s scrolling away of forever removed on the film strip. It is a tedious interruption to my thoughts and concentration.imageI have found one work around, just change to a different folder in the library module and back to the folder you working in, and Voila the files are back in their normal order, but these is even more tedium and frustration. Ahhh!!! Then I notice after I had done this at least once (but sometimes twice) the photos where not copied to the end of the folder on the lightroom screen but arrive beside the original in the alphabetical/numerical order or the origin photo.

The next discovery, I’m sure must be documented somewhere, but I just haven’t found where, is that photos in subdirectory/folder get displayed in the parent directory. I came across this by accident. To get my autostitch panoramas I need to export my starter images (they are now often HDR and tiff format) into jpeg because autostitch only works with that format. So I normally export it to a specifically named directory over in my photo scrapbook. Unfortunately it doesn’t take long to forget where an image is in that confused space. imageAt some point while I was travelling, and probably late at night, I accidentally reset the the destination of export from lightroom from a specific location to same folder as original plus sending it to a defined subdirectory. Suddenly the export shows up beside the original? Not only that I could then create my panorama and import that back into lightroom in the sub directory/folder and it to shows up in the parent folder also. I don’t have to have duplicated files over in another scrapbook folder! Then I can stack the whole series behind the panorama (gaining a lot more organizational control of this folder)

Whilst I have been using lightroom for a long time, (I stopped upgrading from version 4.4) have read the manuals in detail and many guides I can not find ant documentation relevant to these discoveries/”features”. Coincidentally I did just watch an Ed Gregory You Tube video (below) that exploits this “feature” of photos in the sub directories/folders showing up in the directory above. 

I’m never a fan of fixed workflows, so you don’t have to follow his approach meticulously just be inspired and know you can use sub folders/directories to house various working and exported versions of the photos but still see all the photos grouped together in the parent folder/directory.

Here is what I adopted on my last trip that seems to work seamlessly for me. I still use picasa to load and do the preliminary culling of my photos and I load the photo into daily folders with the name format YYYY-MM-DD this means that they automatically get sorted into chronological order. Using picasa is way faster still compared to lightroom and because I still shot RAW+jpeg I can cull the RAW/Jpeg pair at the same time (you don’t see the jpeg file in lightroom). I can als “”touch up”, crop, email and post the jpeg to the web immediately is I want (eg email photos to the family). When I’m ready to post process I just point lightoom to import from this gallery. Doesn’t take long and lightroom has happily loaded the requited details into her catalogue and ready to be useful. This is when I rate my photos and I’m trying out the star rating idea present in Jeff Harman’s PhotoTaco podcast (Culling like a Pro) below.

The idea is to only use three stars, set lightroom to auto advance, and then just hit the 1 2 or 3 key on you keyboard. This works in both the library and develop modules but works best on library if you also want to swap between thumbnail and full screen view of just a few images. The important thing is to go through your entire days shots. Each time you rate a photo you will moved onto the next. With a little concentration on the image and one hand over the relevant keys you can become very fast at this.
StarOne Star is for the set up and background shots you want to keep but not process further
StarStarTwo Stars is for any average shot, they maybe nice but are not the best in the days shots
StarStarStarThree Stars are for those shots with great potential that warrant a bit more post processing.
You will undoubtedly find that the two stars make up the majority of your folder but that’s life. Any non stared images should be deleted now (but I normally get rid of those in picasa when I load the photos). If like me you do a daily backup now is the time to do it.

Post ProcessingNext I set the filter in lightroom on rating to plus 3 stars and I only have a few images to consider. Often I will also demote a few NQR (not quiet right) photos to further trim down what I need to do. Suddenly 2 hours post processing drudgery become 20 minutes of fun!

My adopted directory/folder structureThe final piece of magic that these discoveries lead to was using the subfolders to hold working and then exported versions, would allow me to see all the photos from one day in one place. I’m not sure if final should be a sub directory of Work (where I do my post processing) or a folder at the same level, Keeping my Final work separate and easily found is the important aspect here. I definitely need to have the option of separating the image size and finish (ie post processing sharpening) in he exported versions. I just have two sizes (small for the WEB or Full resolution for possible printing. My scrapbook mess is now obsolete! (not sure yet if I will try to back that diversity into this new structure, I suspect that will be too much work). There is some duplication of files, but they are at least stored more logically close to the original images. I also returned to using the colour labels to help understand the type of images within the daily (Parent) Directory/Folder. Yellow for HDR , Green for multi image panorama stitching or collage, Purple for family snaps, Red for images posted on the web.

I don’t want you to follow my process exactly but be inspired to simplify the way you organize your photos and/or reduce the time taken or tedium to give more time to be creative.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ransomware & other ways to loose your photo collection

The Wanna.cry hullaballoo brings to light the vulnerability of keeping your photo collection on-line, on a computer or phone but in one place. This is running a big risk, do something about it now.

Avoiding most Ransomware, is not difficult, its just needs you to make small changes in normal behavior and regularly be wear of or do a few things. Be careful about clicking on links in unsolicited emails and phone message that have the characteristics of a phishing exploit. Be aware of identity fraud and becoming a little more private, be careful and aware in what you share. Even basic snapshots can hide a lot of useful information to a stalker (eg location) or hacker. A good example is the common trend for people to post their boarding passes from the airport gate on Instagram or Facebook which gave hackers enough personal information to gain free entry into accumulated frequent flyer points which they immediately stole. The most important protection is keeping your security/protection measures up to date. Which means installing rather than ignoring those security updates. The final and most important way to not be caught out with ransom wear is to keep an up to date backup, under your control, then the ransom on on a web site/computer becomes meaningless.

However ransomware, virus or worms are not your only risks, Equipment loss damage of malfunction is a much higher possibility and in some cases approaching a certainty. In the case of mechanical spinning harddisk it is a certainty that they will eventually fail (fortunately generally their life will be about 20 plus years). Equipment particular smaller portable items are also prone to get damaged or lost. Mobile phone really don’t like getting wet or dropped. There contents sometimes survive, particularly if have them on a microSD card but I hear many sad stories  of photos lost this way. Making sure your phones get backed up properly is the guaranteed way to avoid the risk. Sure you can sometimes recover files from damage harddrives and phones but it can be very expensive, its much easily to go get new equipment (your going top have to spend that money anyway and pick up an reload from your backup.

 

So what is proper backup. There is lots of advice on the net but the best approach is the 3-2-1 method (see the basics in the David Bergman Video above). Have three copies (yes three) on two media/devices (eg disk, DVD etc) and one copy off-site (eg on-line, bank vault, a friend house across town). There is a lot of options in how you actual do these steps and set up something you can easily manage. It may involve some extra expense (like buying a second hard drive subscribing to an on-line backup service) but remember you are responsible and the should take control of the steps (ie don’t expect a free social media service to do anything special about “your” photos.)

Go start that 3-2-1 backup today, don’t delay it could be too late!

Backing up the actual photo files is also only part of the issue. There are important aspects like how you rate the images and organize them, and in the case of non-destructive editors how the image has been manipulated. Some of this information can be written back into the header of Jpeg files but most photo processing software today stores this separate to the software. In the case of lightroom it is all stored in database  its calls the catalogue. other software such as picasa store this data in a special ini file in each directory containing photos. The original adobe bridge software stored the information in a readable ascii companion file (.xmp) normally known as a sidecar file. Whilst these are not standard, and adobe itself has muddied the waters by changing some format so you need to know the ,they have been around a long while and many other software packages can at least read the metadata and ratings in these files. Some packages (like Corel’s Aftershot Pro and XnView) can also write the basic .xmp files. You need to look at the help (or manual) for the software you used and work out where these files are and how copies can be included in your normal back up set. While Lightroom does itself keep a separate backup of its catalogue it is likely to be on the same computer as the software and photo library. So it is important to include this in the 3-2-1 steps.

If you’re a regulkar reader of this blog, you will know I keep harping on the issue that backups are different to archives, but while they are also copies they should be organized in such a way that photos can be easily found (that metadata discussed above) and there is also the even bigger issue of what format have the best longevity.

Backup your software and operating system by creating a recovery disk (eg in Windows 10, you get the opportunity to create some recover media from which you can reboot your computer) in the case of hardware or software problems. Its fairly large so you will probably need a 16 GB USB drive. I made mine (for my three windows 10 computer) in fluro green) so they look different to any other USB memory key I have. Luck I made the effort because my main desktop reported an update error, and after clearing the upload and reloading the security patched it still seemed unhappy and after the next shutdown it refused to start. Rather than panic I got out the recovery key and rebooted from the USB. Five minutes later I had my desktop back. So make that recover media now. Another item you must remember to backup is the software you use to view your photos plus the registration Keys that you got when you purchased the software. Don’t assumed that you will be able to always download older version of the software. I know corel, adobe and microsoft are not making what they consider superseded available for download. So Search out that install package and include it in your photo backup. Digital photos are binary files and need to be interpreted and rendered to suit your output device, by software. The big risk with proprietary RAW photo format (which many on-line photographers encourage you to use) is they may not be supported in future software. Jpeg is an accepted public standard and so ubiquitous that it is unlike to not be viewable but .DNG, .CR2 .Nef etc might be a little like having a beta Max tape but no player.

Regularly make your best/favorite/precious photos in photobooks, or at least 4” by 6” (10 by 15cm) prints. This is really a physical variation on the backup (in another media) but it does work. Think of all those old shoe boxes with photos from your parents, that have survived the years. Unfortunately many get trashed in post death cleanups. They are controlled by you but can still be more directly/privately shared by you to just those you want to see them.

“Privacy is becoming a privilege” … Paul Thurrott (Windows weekly podcast)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

HDR on my Phone

The technologies of addressing High Dynamic Range have come a long way in the past decade. Once the process required a couple of specialist programs with round trips through photoshop or similar photo editors. Today there are camera apps for phones that can easily do the job on the phone. I have been using a great little app called HDR Camera+ for a few years now and onto my third android phone. Of the many apps around today it seems to do the most convincing job of creating a “natural” look but expanding the dynamic range. It does take up to three photos, a normal shot one under exposed and the one overexposed. Even when the images are blown out or almost too dark to make out detail, the clever HDR Camera+ software seems to find a reasonable balance. It also does a great job avoiding ghosting when a subject moves.
20170510_123442_HDR2017-05-10_12-35-00_ 0.0Ev2017-05-10_12-35-00_ 2.0Ev

My new HTC Uplay android phone comes with a built-in camera app that incorporated the HDR feature in the basic camera operations (it clearly takes abit longer that a straight photo but it only takes a second of two to process. There are no tonemapping options (or selection step) but the resulting image is noticeably more balance in high contrast situation. There is even an AutoHDR mode which seems to recognize high contrast situation and switch over to HDR. The image below is an example of AutoHDR.

IMAG0540

This camera app software is different from the many HDR style filters (which strive to create the HDR look, normally poorly, and without really boosting the dynamic range). Once you have the higher dynamic range other art filters (like prisma below) can play wonderful games with colour.

 

IMG_20170510_123916_HDR processed in prisma

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Travelling without free WiFi

Free-o pavment artist

Whilst access to WiFi is becoming pretty ubiquitous in most cities and tourist traps. Even if the hotel still charge too much, a trip to the local coffee shop (ok you have to wait a while for that captive log-in screen to load and then given a throw away email address) or steps of the local library will let you get on-line. Some towns like Freemantle have free WiFi zones. (for example this street artist was photographed on my phone and uploaded to Flickr using the free WiFi, elapsed time not even 2 minutes). Could the on-line life be any simpler?

imageMy travel kit, particularly the computer side, has become very small, light weight and portable (all based around the little HP Spectre 2-in-1) and accessories. This leaves the issue that the only way to communicate is via WiFi. Whilst my android phone can be a WiFi hot spot, I also now carry a neat little 4G WiFi modem, which is fast and has more & cheaper data capacity (data over the mobile phone network is still very expensive in Australia) This is great when the hotel are charging an arm & a leg for net access, or there just isn't WiFi available (such as at the beach or a tranquil picnic spot).

However once you get off the beaten track, there is a lot of Australia with no wifi and little or no mobile phone coverage either. Be warned, intermittent mobile coverage is more frustrating for net access than none at all.

Pepermint Grove Beach, WA

So there is silence, the hustle and bustling modern world and social media will have to wait (or not even bother you at all). Life if simpler and you can wander around and just enjoy living. It’s quiet an experience, definitely worth a try, even if WiFi is available try pushing that WiFi slider to the left and turn it off for a day, an afternoon or even a couple of hours and get back to living.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Blinking in the intense light

Whilst I did live in Perth for just over 5 years in the late 70's early 80's I had forgotten how harsh the normal midday sun could be over in this part of Western Australia. Correction make that anytime from about 15 minutes after sunrise to about 20 minutes before sunset. The full sun is brilliant, hot and anything white is shimmering, brilliantly white, But hang on the sky is also a brilliant blue and the dappled shade is full of colour. Still the intensity strains my eyes and IPrisma Filter rather than over exposed have to reach for my polaroid sunglasses that’s better. White it is still white but the colours are even richer now.

If I try taking a photo the results are strikingly different, everything is bleached and washed out. The sky is usually blown out to total white and the shadows are thin and inciped. What's going on, well my eyes have a much wider dynamic range (It can auto tune itself to a broad range of light intensities) whereas a modern digital camera has a smaller range and it my try to expose to get the best "average" intensity and strong light makes this a challenge. Also I'm wearing sunglasses.

So is there a way to get decent photos in this intense light? Well apart for only getting your camera out for the 15 minutes of golden hour light at the beginning and end of each day. Or wait for a cloudy day!

Yes there are many ways

  1. Use a very low ISO (making the camera less sensitive to light, means it can tolerate more light)
  2. Move to a higher f-stop (make the aperture smaller and thus less light)
  3. Use a neutral density filter (it screens out a lot of light)
  4. Use a polarizing filter (cuts glare and works like the sunglasses)
  5. Use a Negative EV setting (many phones won't have ISO or f-stop setting, but they probably have an EV slider on the camera app)
  6. Use an bracketed set of exposures, and post process using a HDR technique

Three Photo Stitched Panorama

C: Pentax K20D Tamron DX 18-200mm Lens 40mm
E: ISO 200 F/11 1/2000 sec (-1.0 EV)
F: RAW .pef
WB: Auto
Polarizing Filter

PP: Autostitched 3 Photos

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Leaving a Backup Behind

I am very diligent carrying two portable USB (backpack style) hard disks for ensuring I have good backup while I’m on the road. One disk, I’ll call the “son” is used just after I’ve loaded and culled my photos. Once the backup is complete I then have two copies, one on my computer and the other on the backup disk so this is the time I also reformat the SD cards on my camera. I used to let picasa delete photos it loaded, and never had any problem with that process, but occasionally later I get a card not recognized in both of my camera and reformatting in the camera fixed that.

Then after a few days, occasionally up to a week, or if I have taken a lot of photos I may do it daily. I use the other backup, which I called the “father”, to get copies of all new photos (ie an incremental backup since the previous backup). Then put it back in my luggage.

This process has served me well.

I’ve now got a slightly different processes for “archiving” my lightroom work. At the end of the month, or close to it I backup my lightoom catalogue and setting files onto the “son” backup disk, in a directory called lightroom_back. I also move all the previous months photos (ie at the moment that was march) off my HP spectre which only has a 250 GB SSD drive, also onto the son drive. I do this move outside lightroom, despite all the warnings not to more files outside lightroom, 1-Fullscreen capture 8052017 112922 PMbecause it is a lot simpler. Inside lightoom all the photos removed now have the little box and question mark in the top right (hovering the mouse over this shows the warning “Photos is missing”. Now providing I have preserved the directory structure I can relink all the photos in a given day in one process by right clicking on the directory containing the now missing files. Selecting the find missing folder and using the normal browse process to find the location of the directory containing that 1-Fullscreen capture 8052017 113243 PMdays photos on the external drive. The process needs to be repeated for each day but that doesn’t take long.

The final step is this “son” drive retires and become a new “father” and goes back in the luggage. The old “father” gets reborn as the new “son”. I also normally delete the previous lightroom catalogue backup from this disk to avoid confusion and possibility of loading the old catalogue.

This has worked wonderfully for three months now. However when undertaking the reconnection of the files it lightroom I was obviously distracted and didn’t finish. Worst I had unplugged the USB disk but left it on the table in the hotel (it would normally have gone into my luggage) A day or so later and many miles away I realise it was missing and a checked with the hotel confirmed they had found my disk, phew!…. and I can pick it up in a couple weeks as I pass through town again. That’s ok this is off-site backup.

Yesterday morning while having breakfast on the terrace of the apartment I’m staying in now, suddenly fire alarms where going off everywhere. I didn’t panic, I had off-site backup! It was a false alarm anyway, someone might have burnt their toast. Lucky I was carry two backup external drives.