To help order and sort some of the things in my mind, it often helps me to write them down. And this is the place I do just that. Not always related to photography. Not always in English. Manchmal auch auf Deutsch.
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my new blog:
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my old blog:


Die Dinge niederschreiben hilft mir, sie zu ordnen und einzuordnen. Hier ist der richtige Platz dafür. Nicht immer geht es um die Fotografie und nicht immer schreibe ich auf Deutsch. Manchmal auf Englisch.
Ich habe kürzlich die Blog-Plattform gewechselt. Hier ist mein neues Blog:
Ich habe kürzlich die Blog-Plattform gewechselt. Hier ist mein altes Blog:

A Blast From The Past

Okay, now "past" is a very relative term and given that the last Abbey Adventure workshop has taken place just about half a year ago, you might think that's no time at all - but given the fact that the new workshop season is in full swing already and that I have been spending most of that last half year to get everything ready and up to speed for 2010 (yes, that's twenty-ten), half a year feels like a very long time.

Which makes this video even more fun. It was entirely shot and edited by Ingo, one of the participants, and it just brought back a ton of great memories about a fun workshop group.

Oh, and sorry, there won't be an English language Abbey Adventure this year, and the German one is already sold out, but if you're interested in any of the other workshops, just follow this link.

2009 Abbey Adventure Workshop



Consider joins when designing geometric type.gif

Do photography and typograhy have more in common than the "ography"?

I remember back in high school I used to doodle my own fonts on checkered paper instead of paying attention to the math lessons. And not just individual letters, I drew entire alphabets. Numbers and special characters and all. Many of them were quite similar, rather geometric, and I distinctively remember trying to make them look well balanced and getting the distance between the individual letters right.

This all came back when I ran across an article on titled Making Geometric Type Work.

I knew almost nothing about typography back in high school, and it was years later that I started to read up on the subject. However, what I did know was what I liked. And I tried to figure out why I liked things.

Typography is everywhere. Look around you, the world would be quite a different place if you removed all the written words from it.

Typography is about design as much as it is about helping to convey messages. If you talk to type designers, you'll hear them use words like balance, width, joins, alignment, spacing - the exact same terms that we photographers use in the context of image composition.

And yes, it isn't that much of a difference - actually learning about typography and other visual media will inevitably influence the way you compose your pictures. Mind you, not always in a conscious way. I often catch myself almost accidentally having applied some of these principles when I revisit my images later.

Having made these principles conscious while learning about typography has helped slip them into my subconscious without me even knowing it.

And when I notice the results, it makes me smile.

Do you have anything visual that influences your photography? Let me know in the comments.


Who needs a camera profile?

It's pixel peeping time again. And today's question is: How accurate do the colors in our pictures have to be?

Compare the following two images and then tell me which of the two is more accurate.



Hard to tell, right? Both images are based on the same RAW file from a Canon 5D Mark II, managed in Lightroon, neutrally white-balanced using Lightroom's WB eyedropper on the middle grey patch in the lower of the two rows of grey patches in the color chart on the top. Both files were then exported to JPG with sRGB profile embedded. The only difference is that the top image uses the camera profile that Lightroom assigns to camera images by default ("Adobe Standard"), and the second image is based on a custom-built camera profile based on the ColorChecker card present in the image.

(Note: Lightroom's "Camera Profiles" are not the same as ICC profiles)

The differences between the two images are subtle indeed, the camera and the Adobe Standard profile that gets applied in Lightroom do a remarkably good job, especially with a custom white balance. In fact I'd happily use this outcome for all sorts of professional projects (and have actually done so in the past) - as long as the spectrum under which those pictures have been shot is at least somewhat daylight-ish. With daylight-ish I mean an as full as possible spectrum, one that you'd get outside in the shade at 3pm on a summer's day. Not one that you'd get from a yellow sodium light at the side of the road.

So the question is: why would anyone want to use a camera profile if the output is as good as it is?

Let's first take a look at what profiling does. Consider the color chart in the image below.


In the lower half it shows four rows of color swatches, and all of these are very precisely manufactured to be of a very specific color. Whenever you take a picture, there is an analog process involved where photons hit light-sensitive cells that accumulate a charge based on the amount of photons, and are then read by circuits and converted to numbers. These numbers are then read by software, magically converted into other numbers and finally interpreted as colors and translated into brightness levels of individual red, green and blue pixels on a screen. Or converted into various amounts of cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink and squirted onto paper. It seems like a miracle that in the end we get to see our pictures at all.

But I guess you get the idea, it's a very complex process with quite a few areas of variability, and in order to make sure that we get consistent results, a profiling process can be of great value.

So back to the color swatches. The manufacturer knows pretty much exactly what color values the individual swatches have. If you shoot a picture, it's very likely that your camera and the attached software don't interpret the colors exactly the same way. Blue tones might be a bit more violet than you saw them, greens might be a bit less vivid and reds might be slightly over-pronounced. In an every-day snapshot type of situation this is no biggie, in the analog world, this is even the norm, because every film you choose will have different color and contrast characteristics, but we're in the digital world here and what if you want to get just that little bit more accurate?

Here's where the profiling software comes in. It looks at the picture, finds the swatches (that have been shot with your specific camera under specific light conditions and therefore look slightly different than expected) and it can easily tell that the blue in your picture is different from what it should be and the green is too bright and the red is too dark and so forth. Based on this information the software builds a profile, which in fact is just a lookup-table with mappings from wrong to right color.

All in all this used to be a tedious process that required a great deal of care, expensive software and hardware, and could only be afforded by the professionals who had to get color exactly right, for example in areas like product photography.

Enter ColorChecker Passport by x-rite. After reading up on it and receiving a few recommendations I've finally spent the 100 bucks for this little gadget, and I must say I pretty much instantly fell in love with it.

The chart comes in its little rugged plastic case, so the delicate color swatches are well protected, and it can be swiveled so you can set it down and it will stand by itself.

And if you are a Lightroom user, the process couldn't be easier. In fact this solution is built around Lightroom and RAW and it won't make much sense on its own.

All you have to do is install the software (make sure you download the latest version from their website) which adds an export plugin to Lightroom. Then during your photo session (which ideally takes place under consistent light conditions) you shoot a well-exposed reference picture of the ColorChecker chart and that's all you need to think of during shooting.

After importing your pictures into Lightroom find the one with the ColorChecker, and export it using the ColorChecker export preset. Within less than a minute the software will analyze the picture, find the ColorChecker automatically, create a new profile and prompt you to restart Lightroom to make it aware of the new profile.

Now all you do is switch to the develop mode, select the newly created profile from the Camera Calibration section and you're mostly set. For more accuracy you can also white-balance based on the grey swatches in the upper chart, the bottom middle one is neutral, the ones to the right create warmer tones, the ones to the left make the image slightly cooler.

Still sounds difficult, but after working with it for 5 minutes it was second nature.

This is the first camera profiling solution that I can envision using regularly because it's not only fast, it also almost seamlessly integrates into my existing Lightroom-based workflow.

Move your mouse over this picture to see the differences the profile can make:

ColorChecker comparison

Is the difference so big that I'll from now on use it everywhere I go? Absolutely not. It's great to get that extra bit of accuracy where it's needed, and it's definitely quick and simple enough for me to use, so it'll be more than just a paperweight (believe me, I have too many gadgets that I don't really use because they are either too complicated or because they don't add enough value to my photography). It'll clearly help me get better colors in some situations where the light spectrum is difficult, but on the other hand there are many light situations that I don't want to correct for, many of them for creative reasons, so that's where I will happily leave it in the camera bag or at home. And this is true for both my personal projects as well as customer projects.

Is it as accurate as the bigger and much more expensive systems? Probably not. I've never had the need to work with one of those, and with the type of photography I do, I doubt that I ever will. But under light sources with an uneven spectrum (fluorescents for example) it's clearly more accurate than just using the good old white balance and it renders very pleasing colors. It's a logical next step that is lightweight enough in its approach.

Is it for everyone? No. It only makes sense if your workflow is RAW + Lightroom. There it integrates nicely and takes a lot of pain out of the camera profiling process.

Will you be a better photographer if you use the ColorChecker Passport? Let me ask you this: Has buying that new lens made you a better photographer? How about that new camera body you got for yourself last Christmas?

In short: nope.

Photography is still about capturing wonderful moments, telling stories with your pictures and making an emotional impact.

And I would even go further and argue that getting more accurate and neutral colors in your pictures can do both, help the story and the emotion or be completely in the way of telling the story that you want to tell.

Try to imagine the following images perfectly color balanced - I bet you most of them would lose their impact right away.

_MG_1620.jpg _MG_2808.jpg _MG_3534.jpg _MG_3620.jpg _MG_6410.jpg 20090829_046-1.jpg 20100111_095-Edit.jpg CRW_6018.jpg IMG_9473.jpg



Yeah, it's all in caps. Because I can :)

A BUNCH OF LINKS is the newest project. Actually it's not a big project, it came to me one night and didn't let go of me until I had it finished. Call it a newsletter or a monthly email or my personal digest of photo-related stuff that I stumbled across over the last weeks.

Because that's exactly what it is: I spend an awful lot of time trying to stay on top of news, blogs, press releases, web sites. Most of them circling around photography, visual stuff, technology. And out of that comes a ton of links. About once a month I grab the best of those links, somewhere between 5 and 10 to keep it at a manageable size and wrap them up nicely in the A BUNCH OF LINKS newsletter and send that out to you.

And anything goes. Sometimes tech, sometimes art, sometimes just a great picture I ran across, sometimes videos, sometimes even totally silly stuff. My criteria are simple:

1. If I don't like it, it won't make the newsletter
2. There is no 2.

The monthly frequency isn't fully established yet, let's see where this goes. But I promise you can always easily and quickly unsubscribe.

» To subscribe, go to the home page


Feelingood Blues Band - WallFour hundred episodes of Tips from the Top Floor. That's over four years, and you ain't seen nothing yet. Tips from the Top Floor has evolved and changed and morphed over that time and has become what it is today. I thank each and everyone of you for listening to the show and for making it into what it is with your questions, your inputs, your support both with the donations and through your moral support. I couldn't wish for a better audience!

Questions (and answers) on this episode about filters (square or round?), cigarette roll paper (to clean lenses), manual focus (and how to make the most out of it), the truth about where Chris comes from (is he really Indian or Pakistani?), some thoughts about model releases (see the links below), breaking beer bottles in Utah (thanks Trucker Tom) and ways to earn money with your photography.

» Download the MP3 for this episode

Show Links:

» Get the show for free in iTunes
» Get the show for free using RSS


Marquardt Scale Explanation Contest Extended!

shot150.jpgDidn't find the time to participate?

Or just completely missed the entire thing?

The Marquardt Scale is .. well, that's what I'm looking for. A good and family-safe explanation that also explains why it starts at 1.0 and ends at 2.0. Or does it? Some say it extends beyond those values...

Explain what the Marquardt Scale is and win a hand-embroidered Tips from the Top Floor Everest Trek t-shirt! Bonus points if it's whacky, funny and .. completely harmless.

Missed what this is all about? Read the rules here and let's hear your very own version!

The contest has been extended until November December 3rd.

The Marquardt Scale - Explain it and WIN

The Marquardt Scale

It is one of those things that are very dificult to explain. And if you try to explain it, you will almost inevitably end up in the realm of NSFW.

I am — of course — talking about The Marquardt Scale.

If you followed any of the recent Everest Trek coverage over on The Rest of Everest or if you have listened to the Everest Trek 2010 announcement on Tips from the Top Floor, you will already know what that scale is about. If not, it's about time you found out.

I came up with the scale on the Trek in May. Even though it was a silly idea at first, it almost immediately stuck with everyone on the trek and it was used daily by virtually every trek member.

During our dinner in Lukla on the last day of the trek, the usage of the Marquardt Scale finally found its culmination in Jon Miller's immortal words: "I just had five one-point-eights within thirty minutes!"

Well, but what is The Marquardt Scale?

In describing what that scale is lies my biggest difficulty. I would love to be able to explain it in one or two short sentences in a way that is completely family safe.

Can you help?

Here are the rules:

# Leave a comment to this blog post with a short explanation about what the Marquardt Scale is.

# It should be no longer than 25 words.

# Make it funny, make it wacky, make it family safe.

# Only one entry per participant.

# Update: the scale officially starts at 1.0 and ends at 2.0 because it should be analog to "number one" or "number two", which is used by parents in some English speaking countries to avoid having to say the more obvious words in front of their children. Massive bonus points if you manage to work that into your explanation. If you already submitted an answer before this update, your personal number of acceptable entries is automatically extended to two. (e.g. feel free to go again)

# The jury (Jon Miller, Monika Andrae and myself) will choose the winner based on a top secret selection process.

# The jury reserves the right to not use any of the handed in entries for any reason.

# All entries have to be in by Nov/27. Later entries will not be accepted unless the jury really loves them.

# The prize is an awesome TFTTF Everest Trek t-shirt that was hand-embroidered in Kathmandu.

# Anyone apart from jury members can participate. This includes the 2009 Everest Trek participants.


Yubby: another enabling tool

Video is wonderful. It lets you develop this quick feeling for something, usually much quicker than reading through paragraphs of copy or listening to lengthy audio. And social video is even cooler, as it lets the producer get his video out to so many more people, and collect inputs and get social linkage, and sometimes... very rarely, one might even go viral.

The flood of video sharing sites also has its drawbacks of course, as you might eventually end up with quite some fragmentation as to where your videos are. I sure experience that. Some videos are on Youtube, some are on Vimeo or, just to name a few. And pulling those together into a coherent user experience has been pretty difficult in the past.

Has been.

Because now there is yubby, a free online service that lets you quickly and easily create a channel with videos from all types of sources, that you can then embed in a web page as a widget.

I have just done that. Thanks to its great search capabilities and somewhat consistent tagging of my videos, it took me about five minutes to pull together a channel of the videos that I (and others) produced at various workshops, and place it on my main workshop page.

Yubby lets you then choose one of several ways to present your videos, from a grid down to a small player, which is the one I opted for. I should actually even be able to embed it here. Let's try.

See? It's that easy.

» The widget in action on the workshop page



How to organize the 2010 workshops

workshops.jpgWorkshops, workshops, workshops... 2009 was such an exciting year in so many respects and I am very grateful for being able to do the things I do.

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!


Making better content thanks to your vote!


I've just found the solution! You can help me save a lot of time, which in turn will allow me to concentrate more on the production side of my shows instead of the planning side. And it's simple: all I need is the help of 94 of you clicking a vote button.

update: just one day later and 34 of you awesome individuals have already clicked. thanks!!

Okay, hear me out, my logic on this is impeccable, I'll just need a few sentences to explain.

If you've read this post about my new iPhone calendar app you know I've become a big fan of Pocket Informant on the iPhone. And you also know that I am still searching for an app to help me with year planning. Each year around this time I'm knee deep into planning next year's workshops. And each year I spend hours trying to find out if anyone has written an app that will help me doing that.

I have very simple needs:
- a view that shows me the entire year with my workshops as time blocks
- a fast and simple way to move around these workshops
- calendar data linked/synced with my existing calendar (currently Google cal)

There is no such application for the Mac. Or the iPhone.

So every year I fall back to a stone-age year spreadsheet and changing cell background colors to indicate events. This takes time. Lots of it. And this is valuable time that I can't use to bring you exciting episodes of TFTTF, HS, Daily Photo Tips and so forth.

Here is where you come in.

If you're a fan of any of these shows, or the workshops, you want to help me finally get such a year planner, right? (See? I told you my logic was impeccable!)

But this is not just for me, it's useful for everyone. Plan out vacations, keep track of your kids school projects. Name it.

So you can imagine how happy I was to find the Pocket Informant feature request list. If anyone can pull off that year planner feature, it's these guys with their mad coding skillz! The feature request list is powered by Uservoice and you can vote for features. Three votes per person and feature. 280 votes to get to the top of the request list and a chance to be looked into. 280 / 3 = 94 people.

Please help vote this feature request up to the top of the list!


  1. Go to the log in page of the voting site

  2. Click the login provider of your choice (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, OpenID,...)

  3. Once logged in, enter "year planner" in the search box

  4. Click the vote button next to the "Year Planner" title and leave three votes.

Let's move it up to the top of the list!!