Good metering is essential for good photography. So are good composition, good storytelling and good colours. But metering is above everything else for me. Photography is painting with light and if you don't know how to capture light, your photography will always be down to a hit-and-miss approach, always at the mercy of what the computer in your camera thinks is right (trust me, it's more often wrong than you think).
I've been pretty fed up with the trial-and-error approach of digital photography for quite some time. Take a shot, look at the display. Is ittoo dark? Change the exposure, take another shot. Check the histogram. Is it too bright? Change the exposure, take another shot. Rinse, repeat.
What has happened to understanding light and getting exposure right from the start?
You know me. I'm all about giving control back to the photographer. I'm all about busting photographic myths. And most important, I'm all about empowering photographers through knowledge.
Let's look at a few facts:
Fact 1: using an incident light meter will make it easy to get near perfect exposures. It does that by integrating the light that hits your subject from different directions.
Fact 2: an incident light meter will easily set you back $300 or more.
Fact 3 (and this is a lesser known fact): You can use an 18% grey card (cost: about $10) and some nifty math to achieve virtually the same results. All you have to do: take a couple of measurements with your camera and do some math.
It's interesting though how I ended up at this realisation.
It all started several years ago, when I got my first grey card. An 18% grey card. It turned out that in addition to helping me get great white balance, the card will also help me with getting exposure right.
For the last two years I've been handing out grey cards at workshops, helping photographers understand how this simple tool can take their photography to the next level.
Last month I spent a weekend at After Dark in Kansas City, a photography event that you have to experience to believe. It turned out to be a highly creative exercise while also allowing me to work in studio and available light environments with other photographers for three days straight. Wonderfully Immersive! And in the process, I ended up finally buying a light (and flash) meter. A Sekonic L-358. It set me back $300.
But I knew that in order to get to the next step, I had to make an investment.
Later that night, I sat in my hotel room, with the light meter, a grey card, and my DSLR and I did the first experiments, comparing the measurements from my DSLR with those from the light meter. I ended up spending the next 3 hours far into the small hours of the morning, shooting tests, comparing results, spot metering with my DSLR, doing math, with sheets of paper and a spreadsheet on my computer. Imagine a mad scientist and you're not far off :)
Once back in Germany I continued the tests, and after a few days with some more experimentation, I ended up with some solid math that worked well.
Now all I needed to do is make it simple for the photographers, and this is where my experiments with iOS development in 2011 and the experience with PocketChris came in handy. So I sat down and put it all together in an iPhone app: PocketChris Incident Light Meter.
The app is now in review at the app store and should hit the shelves within the next week.
You can find out more at www.incidentmeter.com.
Links: After Dark
Update: Apparently this is by design and can't be avoided due to the changes between the processing versions. Wow, Lightroom 4 is really off to a less than stellar start if you ask me.
Doesn't anybody at Adobe work with custom tone curves? That's hard to believe. I have just found a second issue with them.
Adobe released Lightroom 4 and they pretty much messed up the migration of tone curves when converting the catalog from Lightroom 3 to Lightroom 4. You can read all about it here, the story is still ongoing as of writing this.
I use custom tone curves a lot, so I filed the original bug report right after finding out about this issue.
This is why I'm now part of a group of people alpha testing a fix that should recover the lost tone curves after an upgrade and that will hopefully make it into the full version of Lightroom and into an update for those who already upgraded.
As far as I can tell, Adobe hasn't issued a warning about this to their existing user base and we can only hope that power users with tens of thousands of pictures (and potentially with as many tone curve adjustments) won't get too many nasty surprises due to the bug.
Here comes issue #2:
During testing of the alpha script, I noticed something else, that I find quite disconcerting: I know changing to the new process will change the appearance of pictures, which is why Adobe suggests an A/B preview, but when I had the tone curve open when switching a picture from process version 2010 to 2012, I noticed this:
The curve does keep its overall shape, but the quite elegant few points of the curve get replaced by a ton of individual points.
WHAT .. ON .. EARTH .. IS .. THIS?!
Doing a quick change to the mid tones, or to how the shadows are rendered is a simple fix with the original curve. The replacement curve is 100% useless for that.
The only way to make the curve usable again is to start over and re-create it from scratch.
If this is by design, then it means that those of us who use custom tone curves extensively (I'm one of them) won't be able to benefit from the 2012 process for any of their existing images unless they are ready to start from scratch on them. In that case I'd really like a word with the person who made that decision.
tl;dr: the LR3 to LR4 update ate my tone curve adjustments for breakfast.
Update 05/02/2012: It's been almost two months and Adobe still hasn't officially updated Lightroom 4.0. Here are some of my thoughts on it.
Update 03/06/2012: Here is the bug report that I filed with Adobe. Please consider to +1 it on their site to help raise awareness of the issue.
Update 03/07/2012: Tom Hogarty, Lightroom Product Manager has posted the following update as a response to the bug report: "Thanks Chris. We've been investigating this issue throughout the day and hope to have an update soon. Thanks for your patience and all of the detail you've provided."
Update 03/11/2012: It's 4 days later and the bug report now has 55 +1's. Some of the commenters are starting to get really impatient.
Update 03/12/2012: I received a mail with a script and test instructions from Tom Hogarty. The script recovers lost tone curves and it mostly worked. It's just an alpha test version, so it still has a few side effects though. Adobe is on the right track with this, but they're not there yet. This still has to be tested more and then needs to make it into an update. I posted my findings in the bug report. 62 +1s now by the way.
Update 03/14/2012: Since Adobe provided the test script to some of those who had the issue (this includes me), there have been mixed messages on the bug report thread. It works for some, some have found other issues. It generally worked for me, even though I ran into another potential problem during testing the fix. This bug is also on the top of the list of Adobe's Lightroom 4 Hot Issues, so even though it's been eight days, there's still hope they will eventually fix it. Until then I'm staying on LR3 and I'm just a little annoyed that I paid for an update that so far is unusable to me.
I just updated from Lightroom 3.6 to Lightroom 4. The new features and the 50% price drop made it look like a no-brainer. I loved the product from the first beta of version 1. I even recorded two video workshops for Lightroom (in German).
If you've listened to Tips from the Top Floor or Happy Shooting, you know that Lightroom is the hub for my photography and you'd have to dangle quite a juicy carrot in front of me to make me give it up. Very juicy.
Unfortunately I have to report that after the update, Lightroom 4 seems to have eaten up all my tone curve adjustments and replaced them with some defaults.
Here's a picture in Lightroom 3, note its histogram:
Now here's the same picture in Lightroom 4. The picture looks the same, the histogram doesn't:
At first I was confused: the LR4 histogram implies a much brighter black point and a much lower overall contrast. Then I realized that the picture shown in LR4 and the histogram must be disconnected in some way.
Next I went back to LR3 and went into the develop module. Opening up the tone curve adjustment tool, it shows the tone curve that I gave the picture.
I use tone curves a lot. I use them more than the other contrast management tools. I probably use tone curves on over 60% of my images.
Next I went to LR4 and opened the same picture in develop mode. This is not the tone curve that I originally gave my picture.
After a few seconds, the preview was updated to reflect the "new" tone curve. At least now the picture matches the histogram again…
NOTE: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 took the liberty to swap out the tone curve that I spent time creating to some sort of default tone curve.
NOTE 2: I did not enable the new 2012 processing, the picture is still on the 2010 process version.
For now I'll revert to LR3 and wait until they ironed out the issues. I'm filing a bug with Adobe as we speak.
Wait. Should you use LR4? "I never used tone curves, I shouldn't have a problem then" I hear you say. Well, if Adobe borked something as essential as the tone curves, that has an effect on my personal trust in the overall product.
I love the new features in Lightroom 4, I think the new processing is awesome and the map feature is the first one in a product that looks like I might actually use it. Books is a great addition too.
But I just don't think Lightroom 4 is quite ready with an issue this big under the hood.
Der zweite Teil des Lightroom-Workshops auf Undsoversity steht kurz vor der Release!
I write. Articles, chapters for PocketChris, notes for podcasts. A lot of this writing needs to be managed, some chapters for PocketChris are in draft, some in review, some at the editor, some ready for testing. It has a tendency to turn into a real mess.
Things have been a lot easier since I found Scrivener. It helps me structure the work and it helps me track status. It helps me output my work into a clean format. It is not a word processor, it'sa writing tool.
There's just one thing that keeps bugging me, one thing that I keep tripping over again and again, several times a day, and it happens while I'm not even using the application.
It's the icon.
Or rather a side-effect of it. It's not that I don't like it. This is about the way it interacts with the OSX dock.
The dock has been designed among other things to give you one important piece of information at a glance: if an application is running or not. For a while now, OSX has been doing that by placing a bright dot below the icon.
Here's the Lightroom icon with the app not running:
And here it is while Lightroom is on.
Here is the Scrivener icon with the application not running:
And here it is with Scrivener running:
Do you see the difference? The reflection of the white dot/apostrophe/comma of the Scrivener icon almost looks like the dot OSX adds when the app is running. The placement of the reflection is almost exactly where the dot is. And it's bright enough that almost every time I look at the dock I do a double take to see if Scrivener is running or not.
It's a minor thing. It's small. It's really not important. Most people will never notice it.
It drives me nuts.
(I still love you Scrivener)
I know I know, I'm pretty late to the game, but hey, I'm in Germany and Apple decided to let us wait. I have spent two days with the iPad now, and I think that is enough time to form an opinion, so here it is.
You can't form an opinion from blog posts or from spending 30 minutes with the device! I spent about 30 minutes over the weekend to play with various people's iPads. It was fun. I liked it. Then on Tuesday my own iPad arrived and I have now had two days with it. Spending two days with one is definitely different from spending 30 minutes with it. I am looking at it with different eyes now. There are many little things that you can't grasp in a short time. Especially not if you stay at a level where you only compare features and leave out all the interaction details that make or break a device. Let's face it: the most complete feature set can be useless if the interaction with it is broken.
Flash? Didn't miss it in the past two days. Yes, I ran into the odd website that was 100% flash, but it was never something that couldn't be easily worked around. A lot of embedded videos (especially those from YouTube) are now HTML5 anyway, and those play just fine embedded into web sites.
Battery? The advertised 10 hours of battery life are pretty accurate. As with most Lithium Polymer batteries I expect things to become even better after a few charge/discharge cycles.
Weight? It is a bit heavier than I thought it would be, but after handling it for two days the weight is basically a non-issue. Reading in bed works, but not with holding it up above my head. Same as with a big book. Lying on my side with the screen locked is great.
How to hold it? The iPad is a new class of device. Yes, there were tablet computers in the past, but they were the size of laptops, none of them was ever this thin and had such a large screen. Which means we will have to come up new ways of holding it. When sitting down I tend to prefer the landscape orientation holding it with both hands, using my thumbs to interact. A lot of apps and games seem to follow this model quite well, so most of the time it's very convenient.
I can totally see the upcoming iPhone 4 with its super high-res display to take the "reading in bed" spot.
Which case? I don't have a case yet, but played with the Apple case on the weekend. I like the fact that it can easily be used to put the iPad on a flat surface at an angle in horizontal mode. I've been propping the iPad up exactly the same way here on my table and it felt very natural. I also like the flip-over cover, easy access is king.
Consumation or production device? The iPad is awesome to consume content. I like reading on it. I like watching videos on it. I don't really use it a lot to listen to music a lot. I downloaded some magazines (Spiegel, Popular Science, brand eins) and Zinio (a magazine store) to test the interaction model. Everyone is doing their own thing right now, and I guess it'll be a while until some sort of a standard emerges. Or maybe they don't want that to be different.
Production-wise I got Pages, Keynote and Numbers and I played with all three of them. Easy enough to manage, and I can totally see myself using them. Let's see what the next 6-hour train ride will bring. From a photography point of view I can see myself importing selected pictures on the road (I'm still waiting for the camera connection kit) and putting some touches on them right where I am to show a customer an idea or a concept. Or to do a quick upload to flickr. But then this is early days and I didn't really have the opportunity to put that side of the iPad to the test yet.
On-Screen Keyboard Usable. I touch type and as long as I can get the iPad into a comfortable position (see Apple case above) I can type quite well. Maybe at 50-70% of the speed I would get on a hardware keyboard. Good enough to answer emails or even write longer texts. Painting brush strokes into a picture during editing (for example with Filterstorm) is fun and easy.
Apps! The iPad would be nothing without its apps. Here's a small of mine: AirVideo (plays my video collection over the air), 1Password (stores and protects all your passwords and more), Outliner (does what it says, syncs with iPhone version, has a web interface too), Evernote (I love the iPad version), Osfoora (great Twitter client), Pinball HD (bye bye productivity..), GoodReader (get and read your docs from virtually anywhere), Photogene (image editor), Filterstorm (more control over local picture changes), Delivery Status (very useful and beautiful, Junecloud's design rocks), WolframAlpha (yey, big screen geekiness), Pulse News (a beautiful great approach to news reading).
There are probably more to come, but hey, I've only had it for two days...
Two apps I hope will be out as iPad versions very soon are Pocket Informant (calendaring, gtd-style todo management, etc.) and Reeder (Newsreader that syncs with Google Reader. I've briefly played with a beta on the weekend, it rocks!)
iPhone apps They work. Some of them scale up nicely, some of them are better used in their native resolution. Switching between the iPad keyboard and the iPhone keyboard on the same device is awkward. Many iPhone apps will upscale much nicer soon, as Apple has come up with some easier ways to make higher-resolution artwork available for developers even in standard iPhone apps. This is a side effect of the higher-res iPhone 4, but the apps will look much nicer on the iPad then too.
Games Yes, games. The iPad is a great gaming platform. Pinball HD is fast and fun, play Flight Control HD together with someone else on one iPad, and Mirror's Edge is exciting and really well done. Can't wait for all the great titles that will be released on the iPad!
My conclusion is this: The iPad is an awesome media consumption device, and it has a huge potential to become a production device as well. Not on the level of your Mac Pro, it doesn't have the horsepower for that, but that's not what it was made for anyway. It's all in the apps, we see that with Apple's own apps Pages, Keynote and Numbers. All three of them are capable and follow a new interaction model. We are already seeing a lot of promising apps that take advantage of the zippy hardware and bring with them a much more natural interaction model than it was ever possible with the mouse-screen disconnect. I'm happy with the iPad, and being able to say that after just two days, I know I will enjoy it even more as the platform evolves and new and well thought out apps come along. And looking at the simplicity of the just-point-your-finger-at-it interface, I know that the iPad will open up computing to a whole new range of people who up to now had all the reason to be afraid of computers, even of Macs.
With Brooklyn Cookin', the workshop that I held together with Chef Mark, this year's season is now over, and what a great final workshop that was. Both Mark and I found that we'll have to do a workshop along the same lines again next year. The concept is perfect: the target audience is couples where one half is into cooking and the other half is into photography, and here they have a way to learn and spend time together.
Even though this year is over from a workshop perspective, it actually isn't. At least not for me. I am going to spend most of November preparing everything for a smooth 2010 launch. My goal is to have everything ready by December. And there are a lot of things to be worked on. Luckily most of my workshop locations are already nailed down, some helpers need to be briefed, and then there's the whole registration process. I have looked into offers in the cloud, but there is no workshop/seminar management system that even remotely seems to fit the bill.
All I need is to manage the registration process and payments for about ten workshops. Internationally. With deposits. And limited number of seats. For a decent price. And no, in an economy where everyone needs to think twice before spending anything, I consider taking 10% of the workshop fees *not* decent, because that would eventually increase the workshop price by that same amount.
So in short, I haven't found a good and easy way to automate this yet. Which is why I've taken things to the cloud in a different way for 2009 and why I'm going to go even further in 2010. In short: I'm using online services and forms to handle the sign-ups, I have simplified the confirmation and registration process using Services on Mac OSX Snow Leopard, I use PayPal to handle the bulk of the payments, and I use my own time to keep it all together. Not ideal, but workable. The KISS principle applies. Keep it simple, stupid. I don't need a full-fledged database to handle a couple of hundred participants. Every participant ends up in a spreadsheet with a status field depending on where in the registration process they currently are, and if I need to send out a bulk mail to all participants of an individual workshop, a simple copy/paste of the email address column for that workshop will do just fine.
The biggest item are the workshop pages on the web site. This is where everything is supposed to come together in a nice and easy to navigate way. I have spent hours and hours to design something that ties together everything from basic information about the workshop ("why would I want to come to this workshop?"), the agenda ("what are the workshop details?"), timing ("when does the workshop start and end?"), accommodation ("what hotel is near by?"), navigation ("how do I find my way to the workshop?") and pricing.
Obviously I design this once and duplicate it for all the workshops, but the content will be different for each workshop. The overview, the detail description, the example images, the example video, the FAQ. And the language.
So I guess I better get busy and finally start tying all those lose ends together to bring you not only an excellent 2010 workshop season, but also a great experience when it comes to finding the right one for your needs and going through the registration process.
If you want to be notified as soon as the 2010 workshops are ready, please make sure you are on the newsletter (get the newsletter here).
Got a way to help me simplify the registration process? Leave a comment!
Warning, this is another iPhone post. No photography here. Move along, nothing to see here...
Every year I reach the point where I need to start planning the workshop schedule for the next year. This usually takes place after summer. And every year I find myself trying to find an application that helps me do that. A simple year planner. One that allows me to see the entire year on one screen, and where I can define time blocks and move those around on a calendar. Preferably it integrates with the calendar on my Mac. Shouldn't be too hard to find, right?
This is the third year where I've spent hours to try and track down this software. I would happily pay for such a software. But no luck. I've looked into project management software. Too bulky or too expensive, not elegant enough, or simply too big and complex for my purposes. I've looked into calendaring software. None that offers me a decent or usable year overview. Or if they do show the entire year, they really only show you the year but they don't populate it with any of the calendar information.
The situation is even worse on the iPhone. The built-in Calendar app is nice, but if you want to get more serious, it's pretty much useless. Look at the month screen for example. Just a dot on the days that have entries, and the day overview hidden away in a tiny portion of the window on the bottom. This would be a perfect opportunity for app developers to come up with great calendars, but Apple has put the kibosh on that by not providing a calendar API. That's right, no iPhone app can directly interface with the iPhone's calendar data, so all of them have to be isolated applications.
Google Calendar to the rescue!
And that's where my recent research weekend where I found the solution to unfreeze my iPhone 3G 3.1 helped in a way.
Apparently Apple doesn't mind iPhone apps to sync with Google apps, and that's true for Google Calendar too. So there are quite a few iPhone calendaring apps out there that work just fine using Google Calendar.
And as I have already moved my calendar subscriptions over onto Google Calendar and as it's working flawlessly so far, why not go he whole hog and move my main calendar over there too?
So my next steps were to a) find a great iPhone app that syncs with Google Calendar and b) move my main calendar over to Google.
Twitter to the rescue!
What a great community! Just a few tweets later, and @stke was there with a great app tip: Pocket Informant. Thanks for helping trigger one of the biggest calendar reconfigurations I've done in a long while.
Admittedly, it doesn't really solve my year-view issue, and it isn't necessarily a planner, but it solves a host of other problems that I've been having with the built-in Calendar app and it throws in some new and awesome todo features on top.
Introducing Pocket Informant
Where its previous versions seems to have had some issues, version 1.1.0 of Pocket Informant is one of the best mobile calendars I have seen in a while. It's not for everyone, it will require some level of configuration, but when it comes to my personal preferences, I believe I have found a keeper here. It will happily run in its own little sandbox, but if you are ready to switch to Google Calendar and set Informant up to sync that to your iPhone, you will unleash its full potential by enabling iCal sync functionality, albeit indirectly through Google. This way you can see and edit the same data on both the iPhone, iCal, and even online in the Google Calendar web interface while you're away from your beloved gadgets.
Pocket Informant gives you an agenda, a day view, and a month overview. Nothing special so far, until you see everything in action. Where the iPhone's Calendar app does its job .. well, in a doing-its-job kind of way, this one is on steroids. What I haven not mentioned yet is the week view, and for that view alone I would have made the switch. Why? Simple: Apple's Calendar app doesn't offer that. And for the way I work with calendars, a good week view is essential. In the month view, Informant will even give you tiny little time bars on every day that show you which portions of your days are booked. You can even opt for small text entries. And these are just a few of the cool things it does.
Generally Pocket Informant is highly configurable. Actually it might be even too configurable for some. Luckily there's a free light version of the app to find out.
But what really blew me away is its todo integration. It allows you to keep a todo list GTD style. With projects, contexts and the whole thing. Or do you prefer the Franklin Covey style, giving you the active, in progress, overdue and due items? It can do that too. If a todo item has a due date, you can see it on the calendar. And if that isn't enough, get this: this is not an isolated solution. It syncs with the cloud, or more specific with the Toodledo service. All you'll need is to get a free account there and you're set. Even better, Toodledo itself lets you integrate your todo lists with other things, such as Twitter. When I'm in Twitter and I all of a sudden I think of something I'll need to do, I can just send off a direct message to @toodledo and it'll end up as a new todo in my list. In Pocket Informant. On my iPhone. I have also added Toodledo to my iCal, so now I can even see (but not edit) the todo directly in iCal on the Mac.
There is a free version of Pocket Informant [App Store link]. The full version [App Store link] isn't cheap (€ 10.49 as of writing this), but after working with it for a day, I can say it's worth every cent.
Just for disclosure: I'm not affiliated with these guys.
What's even more interesting: After I have moved my high-volume calendars to Google and now syncing my calendar(s) from Google back to the iPhone using Pocket Informant, I can all of a sudden use all of them again without running into the low memory issue that killed my iPhone experience since the upgrade to 3.1 - something that I believe has to do with how efficient this app manages its memory. And it has to do with the fact that the Apple Calendar app stays open in the background - something that only a few Apple apps are privileged to do - and thus permanently uses a lot of memory if you have a lot of calendar entries, while Pocket Informant doesn't run in the background and frees up the used memory once you leave the app.
Calendar alerts are provided by making use of the push notification feature. Or you can opt to use Google Calendar notifications via text message, web alert, and so forth. Or in my case, I have added my main Google Mail/Calendar to the iPhone as an Exchange account, which syncs the calendar entries of my main calendar (and only those) with the iPhone's Calendar app and therefore gives me the alerts this way. I know I know, things could be a bit easier, but this way works just fine for me.
Shake to sync
The app is pretty smart about how and when it syncs with Google Calendar and Toodledo, but if you want to force a sync, you can enable the shake to sync feature, something that I initially thought was just a gimmick, but that I have come to like quite a bit during testing of the app. I'll probably disable it though after the honeymoon is over and I go on to use the app as a simple every-day work-horse.
No, this isn't the year planner that I was hoping for. If you know an app for the iPhone or for the Mac that provides that in an elegant way, please please please let me know about it.
What it is though is a really powerful calendaring and productivity application that - used correctly - will put a lot of oomph at your fingertips.
Integrating it with Google Calendar and Toodledo allows me a lot of flexibility about how and where I use calendars and todos, and keeping that data in the cloud makes it much easier for me to access everything.
And using the pretty well integrated GTD part of Informant, I will probably stop using Things, which I sill love, which I think looks much nicer, but which simply isn't as fast and integrated as Pocket Informant is.
Here's my very short one-item wishlist for Pocket Informant:
Please think about year planning, if anyone can pull it off, it's you guys. I'd love to be your guinea pig! But whatever you change in the future, please don't sacrifice speed and integration.
Do you use an alternative calendar on the iPhone? Let me know in the comments!