Category: Howto

I am constantly amazed at the power of the photo processing apps on the iOS platform. This original image was shot using the Hipstamatic app. It was dark, the interior of the shop was poorly lit, and I was shooting through glass. As you can see, the image is terribly underexposed and grainy. Not much to look at:

However, after cropping and adjustments in Camera+ and applying noise reduction in PS Express, the image looks like this:

It take some time to learn what each app is best at, and to open and process the image in various apps, but it is time well spent. There are some great results possible. If you want to see more, I suggest you check out this group on Flickr that is dedicated to iPhone before and after shots, and look at the Appsperiments project that Doctor Popular is doing.

Happy shooting!

10 Tips For Shooting Neon

September 16th, 2010 Permalink

Neon signs are a favorite subject of my photography. I have posted nearly 4,000 photos of neon, and have learned a few things about how to shoot it. Here are ten tips for shooting neon.

Two On The Line

  1. Use A Low ISO
  2. Neon lends itself to night shooting, so you may naturally think that you should shoot at a higher ISO to compensate for the dark surroundings. Don’t. Neon is bright! You can easily shoot neon signs at ISO 100-200. I shoot the vast majority of nighttime neon at ISO 200, occasionally bumping up to 400 or 640 if the sign is unusually dim.

  3. Shoot in Manual Mode
  4. Neon is bright! The contrast between the bright neon tubes and the dark background at night can easily confuse your camera’s meter. Switch to manual mode when shooting neon, and you will quickly appreciate the benefit of the extra control. A good place to start is 1/100th of a second, at f/5.6. Take a shot, review it on the screen, and adjust as needed. Usually I will adjust the aperture first, since using fast shutter speeds can result in a “marching ants” effect in the neon tubes.

  5. Shoot in RAW
  6. If your camera supports RAW imaging, use it. RAW will give you the most data. This, in turn, will give you the most flexibility in post-production, allowing you to pull out details that may otherwise be lost.

  7. Learn Your Camera’s LCD Screen
  8. On my camera’s LCD, properly exposed neon looks slightly underexposed. Learn what correctly exposed neon looks like on your particular camera’s LCD screen and you will save yourself a lot of frustration after the shoot.

  9. Shoot Day And Night Versions
  10. Neon often looks best at night. However, don’t discount shooting neon signs during the day. Many signs have painted detail that cannot be seen at night, and the shadows cast by the glass tubes can make for very interesting images.
    Air Devils Inn

  11. Get The Glow
  12. Neon signs often cast a nice glow on the area surrounding the sign. Try adjusting your exposure to capture the glow on the side of the building, as well as the neon tubing.
    That Li Po Glow

  13. Shoot During The Blue Hour
  14. The time between daylight and darkness is an excellent time to shoot neon signs. It is dark enough to allow the neon tubes to show up well, but there is enough light to see the surroundings.
    Cal West Motors

  15. Mix It Up
  16. Try shooting neon in different ways. Shoot the reflection in windows, the reflection in puddles and the color washed streets after the rain. If there is a sign in a window, try shooting the back of the sign. Try standing directly under a sign and shooting up. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
    Meet You In The Light

  17. Look At Other Photos
  18. Looking at how other people have captured images of neon signs is a great way to get inspired. Check out some of these shooters:
    Thomas Hawk
    Clearlight
    Devil Doll
    happyshooter
    loungelistener
    Tom Spaulding

  19. Practice
  20. Above all, get out there and shoot!

Do you have any tips for shooting neon signs? Share them in the comments.

Photo Workflow Using Aperture

November 1st, 2009 Permalink

This is my second Workflow post. Previously, I talked about My Geotagging Workflow. I shoot every day. After a while, all those photos start adding up. Often people ask me how I manage all those images, and what my workflow is for processing them. This post details the current workflow that I’ve developed, using Aperture […]

This is my second Workflow post. Previously, I talked about My Geotagging Workflow.

I shoot every day. After a while, all those photos start adding up. Often people ask me how I manage all those images, and what my workflow is for processing them. This post details the current workflow that I’ve developed, using Aperture and a combination of Projects and Smart Albums to automate the details.

At the beginning of each month, I create a new Project in Aperture. The project is named “yyyy-mm Photos”. So today, since it is the beginning of November, I created “2009-11 Photos”. Inside this new project, I create a Smart Album named “TODO” that shows all Unrated photos:

Aperture - Smart Album

All the photos I take during the month will be imported into the Project for that month. After I import a batch, I click on the TODO Smart Album and take a few minutes and look at them, marking any obviously useless shots as Rejected. Marking them as Rejected automatically removes them from the TODO Smart Album, since it only matches Unrated photos.

When I am ready to process some photos, I select a TODO Smart Album. Usually, I have several to choose from, since I am rarely caught up to the current month. I will look through the photos in the album, processing photos that catch my eye. Sometimes I will just concentrate on a batch of photos, rather than processing photos from different months.

When I am finished with the adjustments for a particular photo, I add keywords using the Keyword Controls window in Aperture. I have some predefined keywords that I use often assigned to buttons in the Keyword Controls window. For keywords that are not assigned to a button I just start typing and Aperture auto-completes them. I normally add geographic keywords (at least city and state), as well as keywords for photo type, objects in the photo, and anything else that will help me find the photo at a later date. Adding keywords in Aperture ensures that the exported photos that get uploaded to various web sites will always contain the keyword metadata.

Aperture - Keyword Control

After adding Keywords, I rate the photo from 3 to 5 stars. Any photo with a rating of three stars or higher will be uploaded to Flickr and Zooomr, and possibly other services. Five stars means the photo is a personal favorite. After adding the rating, the photo disappears from the TODO Smart Album, and I can begin processing the next photo.

When I am ready to upload photos to Flickr and Zooomr, I click on my Ready to Upload Smart Album. This is a Smart Album that matches all photos with a rating of three stars or higher, AND photos that do NOT have the keywords “flickr” and “zooomr”:

Aperture - Ready to Upload

I select photos that I want to upload from this Smart Album, and then export them as JPG’s to a folder on my hard drive. After the export is complete, I add the keywords “flickr” and “zooomr” to the photos that are selected, which automatically removes them from the Ready to Upload Smart Album. I then use JUploadr to upload the exported photos to Flickr and Zooomr. After the batch has been uploaded to both sites, I delete the JPG’s, since I can easily re-export them again as needed.

Once I have finished processing all the photos for a particular month, I delete the TODO smart album for that month.

Using Smart Albums and Keywords in this way allows me to easily determine which photos need to be processed, which photos are ready to be uploaded, and which photos I have already uploaded. It greatly simplifies the details of keeping my photos organized, and allows me to concentrate on processing photos, rather than organizing photos.

My Geotagging Workflow

October 13th, 2008 Permalink

Earlier this year, I blogged about my experiences with the Sony GPS-CS1 GPS datalogger. It was not the device I had hoped for, so I decided to try the Amod AGL3080. The Amod has been a good choice. It works well with my Mac, has good battery life, and is decently accurate. When the device […]

Amod AGL3080

Earlier this year, I blogged about my experiences with the Sony GPS-CS1 GPS datalogger. It was not the device I had hoped for, so I decided to try the Amod AGL3080.

The Amod has been a good choice. It works well with my Mac, has good battery life, and is decently accurate. When the device is connected to the computer via a USB cable, it shows up as a removable drive. To retrieve the GPS logs, simply copy them from the removable drive. This is ideal, because no special drivers are needed to use the device. The logs are written as a plain text file, in a format recognized as “Sony LOG”.

The Amod captures a data point every second and writes the data to a file. When the device is power cycled, it starts a new file. I use this to my advantage by starting a new file when I change the CF card in my camera. That way I know that each GPS log file corresponds to the shots on a card. One thing to be aware of is that the Amod device can take several minutes to acquire a signal, especially if it is in an area with a lot of tall buildings. It’s not a bad idea to power it up and wait for the indicator light to start flashing, indicating that it has acquired a signal, before starting to shoot.

Once I have finished a shoot, I tag all the shots prior to processing. Tagging the RAW files first ensures that the geotag metadata will follow the files around no matter what I do with them later. So before importing the photos to Aperture, I do the following:

  1. Connect the Amod via USB and copy the logs to a GPS folder on my Desktop
  2. Delete the logs from the Amod unit, and eject the device
  3. Copy the photos from my CF cards to folders on my Desktop, divided so that each folder is a batch of photos that has a single GPS log file associated with it
  4. Convert each GPS log to GPX format using HoudaGPS. Here are the settings to convert from the logs the AGL3080 creates to GPX format:
  5. HoudaGPS

    HoudaGPS Ready To Convert

  6. Tag each batch of photos using GPSPhotoLinker:
  7. GPSPhotoLinker

    Batch Tagging with GPSPhotoLinker

Now all the photos have the geographic data associated with them. I can import them into Aperture, process them, export them, and upload them. The geotags stay with the photos just like any other EXIF data, and I don’t have to worry about doing anything else.

If you’re looking for a way to capture GPS data to tag your photos, the Amod AGL3080 is tough to beat.

Update: I have finally written my next Workflow post, Photo Workflow Using Aperture

Simple, Fast, iTunes Backup

January 10th, 2008 Permalink

Our iTunes library at home is on the large side (250 GB) and I am always looking for a better way to back it up. The main library lives on an external hard drive hanging off of a G5 iMac, and the backup drive is an external drive that gets a copy of the data […]

Our iTunes library at home is on the large side (250 GB) and I am always looking for a better way to back it up. The main library lives on an external hard drive hanging off of a G5 iMac, and the backup drive is an external drive that gets a copy of the data and stays at work most of the time.

I recently upgraded the G5 to Leopard and replaced the main external drive with a 750GB Seagate drive. As part of this swap, I wanted to find a better backup solution. I was using software that came with the LaCie drive, SilverKeeper. This worked alright, but it was quite ugly, and seemed a little bit clunky. I use SuperDuper to do full backups of my computers, but it didn’t seem to be able to backup just a single folder. I spent some time searching for a simple, free backup program, but couldn’t find anything that did what I wanted.

Then I remembered that under all that pretty GUI is the muscle of Unix. Why not just write a simple shell script and use rsync to do the backup?

Here is the script:


#!/bin/bash # Back up files from SRC to DEST # The hidden .DS_Store files will be excluded # The iTunes library will also be backed up #SRC should point to the folder you want to back up SRC="/Volumes/Media/iTunes Music" # DEST should point to the location you want to put the files DEST="/Volumes/My Book" # LIBRARY is the location of your iTunes music library file. # In most cases, this does not need to be changed LIBRARY="$HOME/Music/iTunes" # This line backs up the media drive rsync -av --exclude '.DS_Store' "$SRC" "$DEST" # This line backs up the iTunes Library files rsync -av --exclude '.DS_Store' "$LIBRARY" "$DEST/iTunes Library"

To use the script, copy and paste into any text editor. You will need to modify the SRC and DEST variables to reflect the source and destination for your backup. Once you have modified the script, save it with a .command extension. Then, when you want to back up your music, just double click the file. The Terminal program will launch, and the backup commands will run.

If you store your music in the default location in your home directory, you will only need one rsync command. Just make the value of SRC “$HOME/Music/iTunes”, and comment out the second rsync command by putting a # at the beginning of the line.

This technique can be used to back up any directory. I have found that rsync is reliable and fast. If you have any questions about this script, leave a comment or send me an email, and I’ll try to help.

Handling Multiple Versions of Video for Apple TV & iPhone

July 18th, 2007 Permalink

How’s that for a verbose title? Lately I have been encoding my DVD’s for viewing on Apple TV and the iPhone. A video encoded for the iPhone (or iPod video) will play on the Apple TV, but it does not look ideal when it is scaled up to fill a large TV. A video encoded […]

How’s that for a verbose title?

Lately I have been encoding my DVD’s for viewing on Apple TV and the iPhone. A video encoded for the iPhone (or iPod video) will play on the Apple TV, but it does not look ideal when it is scaled up to fill a large TV. A video encoded for the Apple TV looks great on the TV, but will not play on the iPhone/iPod. So I have been encoding each DVD twice: once with Apple TV parameters, and once with iPhone/iPod parameters. The iPhone/iPod version contains “(iPod)” in the title to help me tell them apart.

This is great, except that by default iTunes syncs all new movies to the Apple TV, which means I have a large, high quality version, and a lower resolution version on the Apple TV. What’s the point? I am never going to watch the smaller version on the Apple TV anyway. There must be a better way.

Here’s the solution I came up with. Maybe there’s a better way to do it, there are definitely other ways to do it, but this works well for me.

First, I created a new Smart Playlist named Apple TV Movies which matched Video Kind is Movie and Name does not contain (iPod), limited to the 10 most recent additions, with live updates:

Smart Playlist

Then, I selected the Apple TV in the Devices list in iTunes, and told it to sync only my Apple TV Movies playlist:

iTunes Apple TV Movies Sync Settings

Voilá! My Apple TV now only syncs the 10 most recent movies added, and only the movies encoded with the correct format for playback on my TV. I probably could have used the bitrate of the videos to determine which movies to sync as well, but I am going to have different versions with different names anyway, so I just used the name.

Nighttime Photography: A Brief Howto

February 26th, 2007 Permalink

I’ve gotten some decent feedback on Flickr for some of my night shots, so I thought I would do a quick post on how these shots were taken. Currently I am shooting with a small Panasonic point-and-shoot, the DMC-FX3. It is a simple camera, and offers very little in the way of manual controls. Normally, […]

I’ve gotten some decent feedback on Flickr for some of my night shots, so I thought I would do a quick post on how these shots were taken.
Currently I am shooting with a small Panasonic point-and-shoot, the DMC-FX3. It is a simple camera, and offers very little in the way of manual controls. Normally, to get a good exposure at night, you would want to have more control over the shutter speed, and perhaps take 20, 30, and 60 second exposures — or even longer — to get the correct exposure. Since the shutter is open for so long, you would also need a way to keep the camera steady, and a way to trigger the shutter without touching the camera. Any movement would result in a blurry photo.
Most point-and-shoot cameras do not have shutter speed controls. But they do have a Night mode that tells the camera to keep the shutter open until it thinks it has enough light. On the FX3, you do this by selecting SCN (Scene Mode) on the control dial, and then selecting NIGHT SCENERY as the Scene.
To get the best picture quality, check your ISO setting. Set it to the lowest setting for your camera. On the FX3, this is 100 ISO. This will make the sensor less sensitive to light, but will reduce the amount of noise in the final photo. And since the shutter will stay open as long as necessary, the reduction in sensitivity is ok.
Now, to keep the camera steady. You can either use a tripod, or you can set the camera on a surface where it will not move around, such as a tabletop or even on the ground. I normally have a small tripod, such as the Gorilla Pod, to keep the camera where I want it. To trigger the shutter without moving the camera, I use the self-timer set for a 2-second delay. That way, I can hit the shutter release and be sure that the camera is not being touched when the shutter opens. In a few seconds — or more than a few seconds, depending on how much light there is — I will most likely have a pretty decent shot.
Not Quite Christmas

I always take several exposures of a scene, just to increase the chances of a decent shot. Even when I do not move the camera, it is common for each one to come out exposed a little differently. Depending on how good the camera sorted out the exposure, the photo may need slight adjustments in your photo editor of choice, but usually not much.
So get your little point-and-shoot out, and prowl throught the night. You’ll be surprised at the images you can capture with a simple camera and a little experimentation!