Friday, April 29, 2011

Stone Valley Trails

I did a return trip to Stone Valley Trails this morning. The river was running very high and downstream it has flooded the trail in places. At this location there would normally be only a small side stream flowing amongst the trees, but with the river in flood stage it has overwhelmed the woods. I was struck by the wave patterns from water crashing around trees as well as the fact that the trees are able to stand up to such a force. 'Rooted' indeed.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Blood Root Time Again

My friend Ron told me that the Blood Root were blooming on the Stone Valley Trail. There was some wild weather forecast for today, rain (possibly downpours) and strong winds up to 40-50 mph. It didn't seem too bad this morning though so I set out. It was good that I went today. They are already starting to fade a bit. Another day or so, especially with some heavy weather passing through, and I don't know if there will be much there to photograph. I originally shot this view with my cell phone to post to Facebook but liked it so I re-shot it with the 7D at a point when there was partial sun.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Perfect Layers Review

OnOne has released a trial version of their Perfect Layers plugin for Lightroom. When I first heard that this product was in the works I was excited. A plugin program that allowed the use of layers within Lightroom would be an exciting bit of software. Alas, I have watched all their tutorials, downloaded the trial version and run it through its paces only to find that does not describe Perfect Layers.

Let me start with some definitions. "Non-destructive" is the first, a term that is used to describe this plugin and that is true enough. In photo editing terms non-destructive simply means that you aren't altering any of the information in the original file. When using layers you do that by making all your edits to duplicate layers and/or adjustment layers. The difference is that a duplicate layer consists of pixels (an actual copy of the background layer /original image) and the adjustment layers are merely sets of instructions that alter how the layer(s) below are seen.

When you edit and save changes to an original file, that is destructive editing. You have then changed data in the file which cannot be retrieved.  You can actually edit "non-destructively" by simply making copy of a file and editing that. As long as you never do any edits to the original file, only to copies, you are editing non-destructively because you can always go back to the original file. Layers have an advantage in that you can do masking to limit where and/or how intensely the edits done on layers above the background image will affect the image. You can also change the "Blend Mode" and global transparency of the layers.  In short they give you phenomenal control over the appearance of your image. Lightroom is non-destructive by using only sets of instructions to modify the original file, instructions that are reapplied to the file each time it is opened but never by writing the edits over the original data.

The next definition is "within". To me that means you don't leave the Lightroom interface or methodology for editing. Perfect Layers does not work within Lightroom. It does not create a set of instructions to be applied to the original file whenever it is opened. What it does is create a PSD copy of the file (I found that it creates a copy even if the original is already a PSD file)  and pop you out of Lightroom into a different interface in the same way that you would if you had the full version of Photoshop and chose to edit the file in Photoshop. Once your Perfect Layers edits are complete, it pops you back into Lightroom. You can go to Perfect Layers from Lightroom but you can go to Photoshop or any number of programs from Lightroom. You can also go back to Lightroom from any of them but when working in any of them you are not within Lightroom. There are OnOne presets that work within Lightroom. Perfect Layers isn't one of them.

Once in the Perfect Layers environment you don't even have Lightroom style controls. I.E. The brush tool changes size by using the right and left bracket keys, not the wheel on your mouse. The blending modes are limited to the lighten/darken/multiply/screen/overlay/hard light/soft light options with an added "color" option which appears to reverse the colors. The OnOne site says that the trial version does not have all the options that the full release version will have. Maybe they will add more blending modes. You can alter the opacity of layers. You can brush in masking but it doesn't have automatic masking based on luminosity, something you can do in Photoshop and that is useful in controlling local contrast.

You can import multiple images or versions of an image for such things as changing heads in group portraits, having the same person appear in multiple places or blending exposures for an HDR effect although it isn't true HDR with tone mapping. As a last observation I have noted that whenever the Perfect Layers trial software is running on my Vista machine it slows everything down significantly with delays between commands/keystrokes and execution. That applies not just to Perfect layers but to all other open programs/windows as well. That may be just my machine but it is significant enough that I felt compelled to mention it.

I started by saying what would have excited me and now I have to say that Perfect Layers isn't it. There's no hint of a price yet but their other offerings run from $50 to $260 with most at the $160 price point (I'm rounding from $xxx.95).  If this comes in at the average you could buy Photoshop Elements, Paint Shop Pro or one of several other full fledged photo editor packages that have layers for less and have much greater capabilities. That would be my recommendation.

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the products mentioned in this review other than being a user. I received nothing for free that could not also be had by anyone in Internetland. I have no axe to grind. I do own an older version of OnOne's Photo Suite and find both Genuine Fractals (Perfect Resize in its latest incarnation) and the Photo Frame software to be excellent products. I undertook this trial and review with high anticipation but concluded in the end that it will add nothing to my workflow.

Addendum 6/9/11: I see that On-one has come out with the final version at $129.95 (there is a $99.95 pre-order price listed on their site this morning). I have not checked out the final version and don't plan to. It still only does layers while the other programs I mentioned above do layers and much more for less money. Perfect Layers may arguably be easier to use and/or have a shorter learning curve. If that's what you are looking for it may be the right investment for you.

BTW the Reverse Grisaille technique that I described in the post on June 6 could probably be done using Perfect layers. You could create a virtual copy in Lightroom, convert it to B&W, adjust the B&W as you want then combine the two using Perfect layers in the same manner I did in Photoshop. But again you could also do it in Photoshop Elements, Paint Shop Pro, etc.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"The Show"

My B&W show is up at Art Central in Potsdam. If you are in the area drop by and check it out. Above is the main wall with a bit under half the photos. The photo below is another view from the opposite direction. the photos included in the show are in my B&W gallery on Zenfolio and the one's included in the show are marked with an * in the title.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

One Week From Today

Postcards are going out inviting folks to my B&W exhibit starting one week from today. For my blog friends & followers here is a scanned copy of the postcard. I know many (most) live too far away to attend but I will post some photos of the exhibit itself and many of the photos to be exhibited are in the B&W gallery on my Zenfolio site. I'll add the missing ones to the gallery this weekend. Prints of all these photos are available. The price is higher than I have listed in the past in part because I haven't increased my prices in 4 or 5 years (it's time) and partly because I'm printing these on Velvet Art paper with archival pigment inks and matting with 100% cotton rag museum board, effectively doubling my materials costs. The price for a print in the default size matted to 11X14 (or similar overall size in the case of panoramic or square prints) is $50. The framed ones in the show will be $100. Some people tell me my prices should be much higher but I like my work to be affordable and if you have an urge to spend a lot more, email me about prints in larger sizes. I'll do my best to satisfy your urge. ;-)

Friday, April 08, 2011

Work in Haste, Enjoy at Leisure

That often seems to be the rule in photography especially around dawn or sunset. The light changes rapidly and if you wait even a few minutes (sometimes seconds) you will miss it. I almost missed this image entirely. I was at my computer with the shade drawn when Diane called out "Look out your window." I pulled the shade and saw this. Well not exactly the above. There were trees in the way, not to mention the window. I grabbed the G10 and hurried out to get  some photos. The clouds were moving, the sun was setting and within a half dozen shots it was gone except for the bits I 'froze' in pixels.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Power of Still

Last night I was reading Kirk Tuck’s blog in which he commented on the power of still images vs video or motion “to tattoo layers of information right onto some part of the brain.” He notes that when we remember old movies, etc., it is the emotion or dialog we are more likely to recall than the moving image.

My mind immediately shot back several years to an article I read by Dr. Oliver Sacks who, at the time was working on the problem of migraine headaches. In the article he talked about patients who, when having a migraine, experienced things in ‘stop action’, a series of still images with gaps between. He suggested that could be dangerous if something unexpected happened during one of the gaps when the patient wasn’t aware of what was going on around him/herself. I wrote to him and suggested that perhaps it was only the memory that was stop action but that the experience had been continuous. Like a motion picture camera in which the light comes through the lens all the time but gets recorded in single frames, the experience the patient was relating was of those parts that got recorded. Perhaps the patient had in fact been aware throughout but didn’t retain the entire experience thus all they could relate after the fact was the stills that were “recorded” in memory.

I own cameras with video capabilities but have rarely or never used them. I have never gotten the satisfaction from video that I do from a still image. Even then I find that I don’t always recall still images with absolute accuracy. Alfred Steiglitz’ photograph “The terminal” is one that stuck in my mind for many years but I recall being surprised when I pulled it up on the web after decades of not actually seeing a copy. What I recalled was the steam coming off the horses, the driver tending them and the streetcar. I was struck by the visual clutter around them that was totally absent from my memory.

Although I haven’t done any significant drawing in years I think I approach still photography with the same sort of mindfulness that is used in drawing. Paying close attention to the subject, how it is arranged in the space of the image and its “presence”, something difficult to put in words, more than just mood, its “being”.

Kirk’s observation earlier in that blog post about quality work is well taken also. I’m currently preparing an exhibit of B&W images for a show and a big part of the effort has been to produce very high quality images, both aesthetically and physically. They are printed on Epson’s Velvet Art paper and matted with 100% cotton rag museum board. The digital revolution has largely relegated photography to the very ephemeral world of pixels on screens but there is something about a well made print that takes on a life of its own. It becomes a thing to be appreciated intimately over time rather than just as part of a passing stream.

Anyway, thanks Kirk for taking me off on that little mind jaunt and the connections it made. There is no connection to the image above and the content of this post. I took the photo a few days ago planning to post it but without any particular comments in mind. It was shot with a Canon G10 along Rt. 56 just outside Potsdam. I liked the contrasting patterns of light and dark, straight and gnarled.  I modified the image in Photoshop to emphasize those qualities.