Class: Understanding White Balance

Class: Understanding White Balance

Class Description

White Balance is a fundamental photography concept, but it’s often not discussed — or discussed incorrectly — in many fast-paced “Introduction to Photography” classes. Photos are sometimes too “orange” or too “blue”.  This is often caused by selecting the wrong white balance setting, or using Auto mode.  We use the camera’s “White Balance” settings to compensate for the off-color, ambient lighting.  And in some cases, we use “customized” white balance settings.

Your camera, monitor and printer all lie to you!

White Balance (or incorrect White Balance) is one of the biggest things that can make an image look “first-class” or “amateur”. There are too many factors working against you when trying to correct an image’s color. So we often rely on “Auto-White Balance” (AWB). This basically wild-cards your photographs, promising inconsistently incorrect color on a consistent basis. (Like how I did that?) 🙂

White Balance settings, good bad and ugly

Believe it or not, there are white balance settings you should absolutely avoid. We’ll discuss each white-balance type, what they were intended for, what makes them useful, and which ones to completely avoid using.

Using bad White Balance Creatively!

You can get some very interesting and beautiful images by incorrectly using White Balance. We’ll even discuss how your flash impacts creative color photography.

Using Custom White Balance tools

There are several tools for creating color-perfect images in-camera (before you take the photograph). We’ll look at each of these tools and discus what they are used for. Then we will focus on the “White Balance Lens Cap”, and how to use it.

To help you best understand these concepts, you will be provided a FREE WHITE BALANCE LENS CAP, and we will work several exercises to learn how to use it correctly.

Summary: White Balance is a fundamental photography concept, but it’s often not discussed — or discussed incorrectly — in many fast-paced “Introduction to Photography” classes. Photos are sometimes too “orange” or too “blue”. This is often caused by selecting the wrong white balance setting, or using Auto mode. We use the camera’s “White Balance” settings to compensate for the off-color, ambient lighting. And in some cases, we use “customized” white balance settings.

One-on-One: $169.00
Group (20 ppl): $35.00
Instructor: Joe Lippeatt
Bring to Class: Camera, lens(es), paper & pen, enthusiasm!
Provided: Class Notes. “White Balance Lens Cap” so you can start using CUSTOM white balance during class!
Length: 2-3 Hours
Group Classes Available at: HoustonPhotowalks
Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate

Class: Demystifying How to Buy a DSLR Lens

Class: Demystifying How to Buy a DSLR Lens

Class Description

Sometimes people ask me “what lens should I buy”. I joke that picking a new lens is harder than picking a baby name — you don’t ask others to pick your baby name (“Joseph” is quite nice though).  🙂

It can be really confusing for new DSLR owners to buy that next lens.  There are an insane number of choices, an insane array of acronyms and number specifications, and many seemingly identical lenses have a price difference of $1,000 or more.

And some folks (more than once) have bought lenses based on the focal length (MM) and price, and 6 months later realized they made a very bad, and expensive, lens choice.

What this class is *NOT* about:

It’s really easy to “geek-out” on lens specifications.  If you’re a high-end, pro-minded kinda person who likes to read MTF charts and study lens grouping schematics to help you wake up in the morning,this class is NOT for you.

  • NOT a “Joe, what lens should I buy?” Q&A – I’ll show you how to evaluate lenses so YOU can make this decision!
  • NOT a Specifications / Mathematics / Physics / Geek-fest
  • NOT an argument over “Bokeh” quality
  • NOT a debate over “third-party lens options”
  • NOT a tutorial on reading MTF and Adoration charts

What this class *IS* all about:

  • The basics of understanding lens specifications
  • The different classifications of lens types
  • Know which specifications to pay attention to
  • Understand why 3 lenses with the same “mm” are drastically different prices
  • Evaluating lenses based on what you intend to do rather than what you think you need or can afford
  • Why lenses with a smaller focal range is better than those with a larger range.
  • How to evaluate conflicting “Reviews” on Amazon
  • The one lens that everyone should own

Bonus 1: Discussing using UV Filters for lens protection – are they worth it?
Bonus 2: Discussing the basics of lens care

Summary: Sometimes people ask me “what lens should I buy”. I joke that picking a new lens is harder than picking a baby name — you don’t ask others to pick your baby name (“Joseph” is quite nice though). 🙂 It can be really confusing for new DSLR owners to buy that next lens. There are an insane number of choices, an insane array of acrynums and number specefications, and many seemingly identical lenses have a price difference of $1,000 or more. And some folks (more than once) have bought lenses based on the focal length (MM) and price, and 6 months later realized they made a very bad, and expensive, lens choice.
One-on-One: $129.00
Group (20 ppl): $25.00
Instructor: Joe Lippeatt
Bring to Class: Camera, lens(es), paper & pen, enthusiasm!
Length: 2 Hours
Group Classes Available at: HoustonPhotowalks
The “Nice Shot” Comment Myth

The “Nice Shot” Comment Myth

Don’t let the Comment Haters slow you down.

Most people appreciate and maybe even crave feedback, especially positive. When it comes to photography, there are those who are very comfortable providing constructive, well crafted critiques. These paragraphs of personal opinions are often (at least hopefully, always) provided with the best intentions in mind, to help the photographer understand what works, and what doesn’t, in a particular photograph.

But there has been a growing trend of fellow photographers withholding their positive encouragement for the most silly of reasons: embarrassment and shame.

How Can Leaving A Comment Be Embarrassing?

Recently I have seen or heard photographers suggest (or outright telling) someone that if they can’t “intelligently” explain why they like someone’s image, they shouldn’t bother posting a comment. In other words, if a photograph catchers your attention, you show your own ignorance by posting “Nice image!” Telling someone they are unqualified to post a comment on photographs is frankly one of the most degrading remarks one photographer can say to another.

I’ve heard HoustonPhotowalks.com members mention mention occasionally that they loved one image or another from their fellow community member, but didn’t comment because Joe Blow Pro Photog told them that “Love it!” Or “great pic!” is amateur. Frankly, telling you that you are not qualified to “like” a photo makes Joe Blow Pro Photog lame and amateur-ish. (Point him to this blog post is he disagrees).

All Feedback is Important

It’s true that learning to read a photograph, how to detect subtle use of intersecting lines, angles, strong color (or not), and other composition techniques is very important. And providing details when commenting on a work is always helpful and informative, even if that feedback may include some “suggestions for improvement”. The end result is that we help each other grow, right?

As we grow as artists, we slowly learn to talk the trade, learn the language, etc. And as we grow, we can spot areas that seem to “not work” both in our own photographs and others. These are important steps for an artist’s maturity. So by no means am I saying that learning how to “Read” a photograph or provide constructive critiques aren’t important skills to grow into.

But someone should never feel intimidated or uncomfortable telling another photographer that their work had an emotional effect … even if the viewer is not prepared to specifically explain why.

It is Rude to Look at a Sketch Without Making a Nice Comment …

We are not required to withhold friendly feedback for other art forms. If someone shows you a quilt, lawn, drawing, or pottery, do you withhold positive feedback because you don’t know specific technical terms?

If someone shows you their drawing with stunning detail, strokes, and perspective … do you just hand the image back with no comment because you haven’t taken a proper sketching class? No, you say “OMG”, because you recognize skill, and its polite and encouraging to our peers!

So if someone creates a composition that affects your perception positively, they have knowingly or unknowingly tapped into the skills of artistic expression. They would like to see your “Like”, “Fav”, or “Amazing” just as much as a three paragraph examination. Don’t let the rules of a staid and inflexible photography critiques keep you from telling a fellow photographer, “I really love your work.”

If you like it, Like it! Don’t be shy, don’t feel judged. The recipient will really appreciate the time you took to comment. Don’t let some cranky old photographer make you to think you are unqualified to like something … or to express your appreciation for someone else’s work!

Feel free to post comments on the subject, I’m interested in hearing your view … or if you find this article helpful.

Safer Lightroom Catalog Backups

Safer Lightroom Catalog Backups

Backups are crazy important. No matter how “good” hardware gets, nothing is 100% reliable. So everyone should have two backup strategies — a backup medium and an off-line backup (even if its just a USB drive you keep in your desk at work!).

Workflows and Backups

Everyone’s workflow is a little different. For me, everything ends up on the Drobo (everything). I even render and work with live files directly from my Drobo. Frequent backups are made to a USB-attached hard drive, and then there are nightly on-line backups for safety.

My workflow pretty much doesn’t use my iMac or MacBook Pro’s hard drives. Everything is on the Drobo. This way, when my iMac dies for good, its no big deal, I haven’t lost my work, just my shirt (having to buy another iMac).

Exceptions to the Rule

One thing that doesn’t follow this workflow is my Lightroom Catalog. Although its perfectly fine working with my images right from the Drobo, for some reason, Lightroom goes into “Walk Like A Snail” mode unless the catalogue file is on a local drive.

So that’s free tip #1: make sure your Lightroom Catalog is on a “local” drive, not USB, not Firewire.

But that’s a bit of a risk. A suddenly dead drive means bu-bye catalogs. Sure, all my images are safe, but loosing the catalogs would be a serious drag.

Lightroom prompts you to do occasionally do “backups” — but the default directory points to the SAME device as your catalog! Sure, that’s helpful if a catalogue is corrupted, but not much help if your drive goes south.

Moving your Default Backup Directory

The good news is, Lightroom lets you change the location of your backups. You can save them just about anywhere you have drive access, including USB attached 2nd backup devices, dropbox, etc.

One drawback is that this setting is in the “Catalog Settings”, not the “General Settings”. So each time you create a new catalog, you will have to follow the following steps. For those of you that create a new catalogue on January 1st each year, that’s gonna be a little hard to remember; might want to set a reminder. 🙂

The Easy Steps

Here are the steps for moving your default Catalog Directory to a different hard drive:

  1. While Lightroom is open, go to Catalog Settings. (Note, NOT the application preferences, this is a catalog setting!)
  2. Under the “General” tab, look for the “Backup” heading, and “Back up catalog” subheadings.
  3. We want to select the “Every time” option. Depending on which Lightroom you use, it may say “Every time Lightroom starts” or “Every time Lightroom exits“. Regardless of which one you have, pick that one.
  4. Restart Lightroom.
  5. At some point, you will see a “Back Up Catalog” popup window, and the first option displayed is the absolute path to the backup directory location. Click the “Choose…” button. You can now select a location on any other drive to store your Lightroom backup catalogs!

This setting persists for each catalog, so you only have to set it once, which is nice. And I suggest using a very descriptive folder name so you don’t mistaken your “backups” for your “actual catalog” (mine are all in a directory called /LightroomCatalogBackups/, clever enough).

Hope this tip helps!

For the Casual Camping Photographer – A Shopping List

For the Casual Camping Photographer – A Shopping List

Ok, I’ll admit it …

Taking folks to places they would otherwise never visit, or even know about, is a huge kick for me. Its one of the biggest parts of running HoustonPhotowalks that I enjoy the most.

Quite often, people attending these tours are provided a checklist of stuff to bring, or at least a handful of hints. And there’s always that one guy that emails me back with “Did you seriously need to remind me to bring a flashlight to a night shoot?” Or “did you really need to tell me to not wear open toe shoes on a hike?”

Believe it or not, yes. Making sure folks know everything they need to know AHEAD of a tour is a major part of my job. In the end, a participate should be able to get right out of their car and start shooting, confident that everything is in order, and they brought everything they need.

Camping in Texas

For nearly 4 years, we’ve talked about doing a camping trip. Head out way away from Houston’s lights and enjoy some late evening photography and light trails. Its a hard event to plan and every time we were *this* close to pulling it off, something got in the way.

FINALLY we’re going camping! Ok, maybe the accommodations are going to be a little spiffy; we aren’t actually “roughing it” in the deep woods. And some folks would say if there’s a flushing toilet involved, its not really camping. But hey, small steps. 🙂

Massive Budget isn’t Needed

First, a disclaimer. This article is about preparing for short camping trips such as a 1 or 2 days photography trip during mild and dry weather. The advice here won’t be terribly helpful when its 25 degrees or 99 degrees, or during a hurricane. Its also not advice or suggestions for hard-core, long-term, deep woods primitive camping.

Folks that camp often are comfortable purchasing expensive gear that’s going to last forever. There’s a lot of benefit to having good gear, especially waterproofing, thermal protection, light-weight, and lasts. But for the once-a-year camper, a $200 sleeping bag might be a little overkill — and that’s JUST a sleeping bag!

A frugal shopper can get an entire setup for about half that price.

Now granted, it’s not high-end, well made and “pass-down-to-your-kids” quality, but will bring a little comfort to the occasional camp-out and photo trip.

Don’t Skimp on Important Stuff

Its a bad idea to go “cheap” on a few specific items. For example, a good jacket. Even if you only camp once, a good jacket will keep a photographer warm and dry regardless of destination. There are two main features of a shoot/camping jacket that are required before I even try it on: waterproofing and removable liner. Sometimes we shoot in the rain even if its not cold, so the liner has to come out.

[Oh, side note, my most recent “favorite” jacket has a bit of leather edging. That’s nice, makes me feel special, but also means it has to be dry cleaned — which is a pain. Check washing instructions before leaving with a new jacket, especially if you know it’s going to get wet/dirty often.]

Another “you get what you pay for” item is a flashlight. That low-price, budget Wal-Mart flashlight works great in the store. But all it takes is a couple of bounces in your duffle bag on the way up the trail and the bulb or LED is trashed. Aircraft aluminum for high end rugged needs, “unbreakable” ABS/PVC for less rugged yet reliable service. Also, there’s a huge difference in the amount of light you get from a $3 flashlight and one for $30.

Lastly, you’ll burn a cheap tent after first use. Especially if it rains and all your camera gear is trashed. You don’t have to pay a lot to get a decent one- or two-man tent. In fact, waterproof burlap and heavy-duty line threaded across branches will keep you dry. There’s absolutely no value in buying a 7-man cheap tent if you can get a 2-man, quality tent for the same price.

Plus, a 7-man tent is heavier, harder to put up, and collects more dirt for you to clean out. Who wants to clean out dirt while camping?

Shopping List

Here’s a few items I found on Amazon for the casual (or one-time) camper. These are certainly not the highest quality products, but they get the job done without requiring you to mortgage the house so you can camp in the woods. 🙂

Sleeping Bag

This is a decent sleeping bag for about 20 bucks. It’s rated for comfort at 55dF, which isn’t too cold. But remember that worn out old blanket with the torn edges that you keep around “just in case”? This is that case. Stuff the blanket inside the bag and zip back up for additional warmth.

It even comes with its own packing back.

$21

Camp Pad

If you sleep on your side, completely skip this. This pad (and others like it) puts a small layer of foam between you and the bare floor/sticks/rocks/dirt/sand. When I say small, its a very thin layer, just enough to even out those little rocks. It provides very minimal protection for cold ground, and zero protection for wet.

$20

Inflatables

There are a TON of different inflatable options out there. From 1 inch to 10 inches and more. Keep in mind, the thicker it is, the more you have to blow to inflate it.

If you still have last year’s swimming pool floaty, yeah, that works too. The trick here is to stay on the pad, even if you toss at night. If you buy one that has a felt lining, or you use a blanket, you can put the pad inside your sleeping bag so it stays put. But don’t sleep directly on bare plastic, the noise will keep you up and if it’s cold, you’ll wake up with the plastic frozen to your face.

Varies, free if you still have last year’s floaty

Small Lighting

I have a handful of these around the house. The waterproof nipple button is easy to find and the light is fairly bright. at 5 bucks a pop, you can buy one for each bag and one for your pocket without breaking the bank.

$5
Headlamps and Hands Free Lighting

Hands Free Lighting

Go ahead, make fun of me now. Call me a geek. When you get home and realized you dropped your remote trigger in the grass in the middle of the night while packing your gear up, you’ll think “wow, if only I had that goofy light that Joe was wearing!”

$1-$20
MagLite Flashlights

Large Lighting

I’m a huge, long-time MagLite fan. Strong beams, well crafted, hard to destroy. You can even use them to fight off the bear. (not really)

$10-$50

Bare-bones Tent

And this is about as bare-bones as it gets. These are called “Tube Tents” because its really one large tube. You stake it down in for places, then run a nylon string across a couple of branches to hold it up. There’s no window, no zipper, and no door. This may keep the rain off of you (if you stake out on high ground), but won’t keep the critters out.

Lots of ventilation though.

$7-$15

Classic Pup Tent

While growing up on Okinawa, I remember seeing massive lines of these out in the fields once or twice a year during military trainings. They aren’t much to look at, and certainly not much room, but gets the job done. Keeping dry, bug free and out of the wind are the major benefits of this style tent. You can find them on Amazon listed as “2-man” tents, but you better know that guy pretty well. Otherwise, its a 1-man tent with room for camera gear.

Hint: just like you check all your camera batteries, you want to check your camping gear before leaving home too. Especially to make sure your tent legs and stakes are all in working order.

$20-$40
Towels

Towels

Just bring some. Something’s going to get wet at some point. You can leave them in your car just in case, or bring a small one while hiking. You can use the old ones in the garage, not fit for the master bath. Or grab some of the cheap ones at Wal-Mart/Target. Don’t even have to match.

$4-$6 each

Other Stuff

Here’s a checklist of a few other possibly-easy-to-forget items. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but should get you going in the right direction:

  • Headrest/old pillow
  • Cooking utensils/pots/pans
  • Way to make fire.
  • Can opener
  • Reliable knife
  • Laundry bag (keeps dirties separate from clean)
  • Personal Hygiene – if you use it in the AM, bring it.
  • Small hand broom for the tent
  • First-aid / daily medication
  • Plastic trash bags
  • Bug Spray
  • Duct tape
  • Sun Block

Conclusion

A photography camping trip can be a blast. But forgetting something or not knowing to bring something can really be a drag. The occasional photography camping trip doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated, just a few items can bring enough creature comfort — and protect you from creatures — so you can wake up fresh in the AM, ready to photograph the wild life hunting for breakfast!

Did you find this helpful?

Leave a comment if you find this helpful, or if there’s another camping gear item you include on your photography trips!

My Drobo is About To Die! (But That’s Ok)

My Drobo is About To Die! (But That’s Ok)

Recently, Scott Kelby posted his angst against with the Drobo Storage Device, concluding that he’s “Done with Drobo”. His post generated a pretty lively group of comments, including some that disagreed with his statements.

Scott is a great guy, he’s done much for both the design and photographic community. His books are excellent tools, well written and full of beautiful photography and illustrations; I own three.

[EDIT and disclaimer: Its been a while since I’ve bought a Kelby book. Scott and Ben sends me one book a year as part of my work with the Worldwide Photowalk. However, I do recommend them when asked about reading material.]

Unlike some public personalities, he is a really nice guy when you meet him outside his branded persona. And let’s be honest, any person that loves P.F. Changs as much as I do HAS to be a great guy, right? I mean, they were among the first to take the Gluten Free menu to a whole new level.

But I digress.

The Fan’s Respond

Scott’s “I’m Done With Drobo” post resulted in a long thread of replies, which is the best possible result. Its a wealth of excellent alternatives to Drobo for anyone considering a backup system purchase.

However, among the Kelby-fans, there are some who disagree with the premise of the post. I was one of them, and that generated “didn’t you read the article?” replies.

I like my Drobo, but …

First, I’m a Drobo owner, but not a fanboy. There are key areas of Drobo ownership that hasn’t met my expectations. For one thing, the fans are loud. Its hard to hear my wife vacuum (ok, maybe not that loud). This wasn’t apparent in videos posted on Drobo’s web site like they are when I make training videos for work. Also, the startup time double’s my boot time.

Lastly, when swapping drives, it takes nearly a full day for the device to become stable. That’s a full day of work that’s not being backed up (yikes). Good thing is, that’s only been about 4 times a year over the past 3 years.

So far I haven’t had a bricking, but I figure it’s right around the corner (more on that in a minute).

Some Folks Disagree with Kelby

Drobo ownership isn’t why myself and several others disagreed with Scott Kelby’s article. In fact, every one of those who disagreed didn’t take issue with Kelby’s beef with Drobo, rather his assertions about his photographs being “held hostage”.

One of the primary concerns about a Drobo (or similar) device is the proprietary nature of the software. That’s a valid concern. Its important to know that in the event of a failure, you still have access to your data. Since you can’t take your drives out of a Drobo and put them into some other device, this can be an issue. For this reason, some will opt for RAID configurations that are standardized and well-understood.

In fact, that was my 2nd reason for not wanting to buy a Drobo (the first being, they didn’t originally have FW800). When discussing the purchasing options with a Drobo Representative, that was a very specific question I asked.

Backups are Supremely Critical

Honestly, I was not worried that the machine would die; all things that consume electricity have a finite lifespan. But what if it died and the company had gone out of business, how do I get my data back?

The person on the phone was pleasant even though I just suggested the new company she worked for could possibly be doomed. But her reply was stunningly obvious: “Drobo wouldn’t be the only place you store the data.”

… oh. Ever ask a question and then feel really embarrassed when you hear the answer?

Some would say, if it doesn’t exist in 3 places, it doesn’t exist at all. Probably sound advice.

Be Honest about Why You Dislike Drobo Devices

If Scott feels the product no longer fits with his backup strategy, then its important he migrate to something different. If he wants to share the reasoning with his followers, his review of the product may be helpful to others considering a purchase.

However, there were some omissions and areas of the article that could lead people to the wrong conclusions. Its not clear if these omissions were intentional, or would have been corrected if he hadn’t accidentally prematurely posted.

His readers have a high expectation of transparency and honesty, regardless of what product he is reviewing. This posting didn’t reflect Scott’s typical, well-prepared blog post.

The Required Clarifications

So to provide context to my original comment on his blog, here’s my beef with Kelby’s post:

  • He’s been using Drobo for about four years. Four years is probably a bit premature, but all electronic devices fail over time.
  • He own(s/ed) multiple Drobo’s. If each died after 4 years of continuous daily use, it significantly changes the impression left by the article. The article could be interpreted to say he’s had to replace the same Drobo 4 times. Clarification is needed.
  • He insists his award-winning photography collection is being held hostage by Drobo. In fact, he suggests the evil Tech Support people want to extort $100. This is probably the most inflammatory (and unnecessary) portion of his post. The Drobo device should not (and I sincerely hope, is not) the only location he is storing his collection.
  • If Brad is only stored the collection on a single Drobo device, Brad needs to be fired.
  • Drobo’s software is a closed, proprietary system. This may be a perfectly reasonable concern for someone making purchasing decisions. However a company that protects their long-term business health by locking their software in Intellectual Property does not make them evil.
  • Photographers complain that Chinese companies are knocking-off hardware and running American companies out of business — and then complain that companies don’t publish their software’s code. Can’t have it both ways.

Hearing and reading the experiences of actual product users is very helpful when making purchasing decisions. And when well-known, well-trusted individuals endorse (or not) specific products, there is an expectation of transparency and honesty.

The lack of specifics on the previously failed Drobos and the assertion that his images are “held hostage” by the Extortionist Drobo Tech Staff can lead trusting followers to conclusions that are quite likely not true.

*MY* (Honest) Conclusion

My Drobo is pushing 4 years old. When it fails (not if), the time to replace it (possibly with something different) and re-copy everything from my backups would be very disruptive. But I have my backups and in some cases, my original source media.

Backups ensure I will not be held hostage by a bricked, proprietary Drobo system, and neither is Scott Kelby.