Plan Ahead – make this year’s Xmas card

24 10 2013

This is going to be a re-posting of one that I wrote last December.  The response was great, but several people commented that they wish they had gotten it earlier.  So, I decided to re-post it this year – but get it out earlier in the season.  So, here it is!  If you didn’t make your own Xmas card last year – give it a try this one! 

PS: I also updated this post with last year’s Xmas card.  I’d mentioned that it was going to be quite a bit different – see what you think.


Each year I really enjoy creating our very own, personal  Xmas cards for our friends and clients.  It’s a way to share my “artsy” side and many have mentioned that they enjoy receiving a unique card with the personal touch.  I’ll bet that you also have some great pictures that would make wonderful Xmas cards.

So, what to use for a subject – nature – animals – religious theme?  The best answer I have is to have fun and make it anything you like.  Now is the chance to really show off your creativity!  I’ve included some examples in this post that I’ve used over the years.

Untitled-2This outdoor image I used one year – while it looks like it’s somewhere “in the wild” – was taken at the local golf course that’s a three minute walk from my front door.  The point being is that you don’t have to look very far to find a nice image – even in your own backyard.

Another subject that works very well [though you may not readily think of it]  is architecture.  Of all the Xmas cards we’ve put out over the last ten years, the card2011 xmas card with the picture of the orthodox church that I took in Russia has gotten the most comments.  So, if you have all those pictures of churches you’ve taken when you traveled abroad – now is the time [probably the only time] that you’ll be able to make any use of them.

I’m sure that you’ve probably noticed that both of these first examples are black & white.  Folks really like the “artsy” feel of black and white prints.  Also, these are “hand-built” cards.  By that I mean we took some blank card stock – sized our images to fit how we wanted them – made photo prints on our printer – cut them out – then used a glue-stick to attach them to the card.  The final touch is to take a pencil and write the title of your image and your signature on the bottom.  By the way, take the time to give some real thought to the title. The title – in relation to the image – along with the signature add a very “artsy”, custom touch to the card.

small packagesThis last example is for all you folks who like to use your smart phones as your cameras.  I used to download my favorite iPhone pics to my computer – now I use iCloud and everything I shoot on my iPhone automatically appears in a “Photo Stream” folder on my computer!  How cool is that! From there I open them up and edit them like any other picture in Photoshop.  The point is that even a 2 megapixel smart phone camera can produce a pretty good card-sized image.  You never know where the image will come from or what it might be – but this one was taken at Griffith Park last Xmas when we were visiting our daughter in LA.  Just two dogs bundled up on a bench behind a snack stand – but I think it makes for a great Xmas image.

Whatever you do, be creative.  As for me, this year’s card isn’t going to look like any of these. It’s going to be something really different –  think “bars” [the drinking kind] – “Xmas lights” – “reflections” – and “funky”. Here’s where I do a little updating.  Like I said, this card was different. What do you xmas reflectionsthink?  Responses were all across the board.  Some thought it was cool and others seemed to feel that it was just a bit too . . . too. . .  whatever.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed creating it

So,  if you really want to give Xmas cards that people will appreciate, comment on and – yes – even keep and collect from year to year, this is the way to go.  The costs aren’t much more than buying cards – it just requires some time in selecting and editing the image you want to use and putting the cards together.  This year Give it a try.  I think you’ll find out that your Xmas cards are going to be “keepers”.  Best – Bill


iPhone Photo Editing Apps – my favorite one

24 09 2013

I was going to write a post comparing the various photo editing apps for iPhones. Then I discovered just how many of them are out there!  Way too many!

However, I did quite a bit of looking around and decided to download several that came with a lot of positive recommendations and seemed to be the most versatile or interesting.  So far I’ve downloaded and used Photoshop Express [PS Express], Photoshop Touch [PS Touch], Instagram, Photogene2, Luminance, VSCO Cam, FotoRus and Snapseed.  Almost all are free, though one or two might have been $.99. The glaring exception was PS Touch which, if I remember right, was $4.99.


Being a Photoshop nerd, at first I looked for an app that offered the closest thing to a Photoshop editing experience.  I quickly found out that PS Express wasn’t it.  It was just too limited.  On the other hand, the more expensive PS Touch was just too involved and hard to use – especially on a small screen like my iPhone.  Another drawback to PS Touch was that it’s like “big” Photoshop, in that there are no directions on how to use it.  You learn by trial and error.  Quite frankly, for me, it took all the fun out of it and took more time and energy that it was worth.

All the others – with the exception of one – shared some fairly rudimentary editing capabilities and applied generic, out-of-the-box applications that made each one look like every other one.  They just didn’t give me the option to get as creative as I’d like.  The one that really stood out – and is now my very favorite photo editing app – is Snapseed

Before we get started on Snapseed I’ll let you know that all the images in this post were taken and edited on my iPhone4S.  My model was our lovely “Doodle”, Izzy.  Here’s one of the originals to the lower right – all the others to follow were edited with Snapseed.


One thing I especially like about Snapseed is that the first time you use it there is a visual tutorial that overlays each action you take before you do it.  Its quite simple.  Within each “folder” of actions, just swipe your finger up and down to select an action and then swipe your finger right to left to increase/decrease the amount of each. It really offers a lot of creative variability.

Of course, there are some easy, automatic fixes you can apply in the “Automatic” folder – though I don’t use it. It’s more fun to use the other more flexible options I’ll mention in just a moment.

izzy2 snapseed2

The “Crop” folder offers 7 preset crops [both vertically and horizontally] – as well as a totally adjustable “free” option. Everything you need to crop a photo anyway you’d like it.

Now, let’s talk about using this app creatively! Within the group folder called “Tune Image” you can adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, ambience and white balance – each individually from a value of 1-100!

In the “Details” folder you can adjust sharpening – but, even more importantly you have “structure” that allows you to adjust only the mid-tones to bring out really great textures.

izzy2 snapseed1

If you like to do black & white conversions, the folder named [surprisingly?] “Black & White”  has every thing you need with six presets.  In addition, each can be adjusted for brightness, contrast and grain as well as apply a red, orange,yellow or green filter to bring out really great values

izzy1 snapseed In the “Center Focus” and “Tilt Shift” folders you have quite a few options for using vignetting and blur in your images.  Very “artsy”! I also like to use the folders “Vintage”, “Drama” & “Grunge”.  Each has several preset options – which, like all the other actions, can be easily modified for some really great creative freedom.

I don’t use the last two folders “Retrolux” and “Frames” that much – but they do offer you more creative opportunities.

So, net-net, while there are an awful lot of photo editing apps out there, I think Snapseed is far and away the best thing available.  The even better news is the price.  It’s been a while since I downloaded it, but it’s either free or only $.99 – can’t remember which.  No matter, it’s a whole bunch of fun to use and it offers you the opportunity for a tremendous amount of creative freedom!

Give Snapseed a try and let me know what you think of it.  Also let us all know if you’ve found one you like better.  Best – Bill

Facebook Now Owns Your Face – and all your other information

5 09 2013

Just about everybody I know – including myself – uses Facebook.  We upload pictures, share ideas and, in general, put more information about ourselves out there than we realize.   While we “sort of know” that it’s hard to protect our information when we do this, we prefer to overlook the reality of it all.

We want to believe that there must be some limits on what and how our information can be used by others.  Believe it or not, even with all the recent news about government snooping, the Federal Government has more restrictions placed on it than does private enterprise in this country.  Now, because we’ve become so complacent about all this, Facebook has decided to take things further than you could ever imagine.

Effective September 5th, 2013, Facebook has initiated several changes to their Terms of Service that have taken away virtually all of your rights and made you a commodity that they can sell without your knowledge or you receiving any compensation.  How far does this go?  Well, for starters, how about your face?  Here is an excerpt from the new, modified Terms of Service.  “You give us permission to use your name, and profile picture, content and information in connection with commercial, sponsored or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us.  This means, for example,  that you permit a business or other entity to pay us to display your name and/or profile picture with your content or information without any compensation to you.” By the way, the interpretation of “content” includes just about anything you’ve ever posted and any images that you’ve uploaded to Facebook.

It gets worse – even if you don’t share a lot of private information of Facebook.  I’m going to quote from an email I received today from the ASMP [American Society of Media Photographers]. They interpret another statement ” “…when you are using Facebook, or when Facebook is running” – allows Facebook to monitor your web browsing, as well as to gather information from your mobile phone while the Facebook mobile app is running such as your location, recent calls, and other mobile activities“. I don’t know about you, but this is scary to me.  Is it technically possible to do this? Absolutely, and quite easy.

You can’t even protect yourself by making your profile private.  To quote ASMP “Facebook has specifically removed the language from their TOS [Terms of Service] that allows you to limit how your likeness, information and content are associated with brands, commercial uses of sponsored posts.  They have also removed the clause that makes them subject to the privacy limits set in place by you on your profile”.

Interestingly enough, Facebook invites us to go to their website at  so that we can better understand the changes.  After having gone there myself, I found that their bland, general terms and language totally gloss over the impact of these changes, You won’t know any more after your visit than before.

So, what can we do?  The best way is to do your own homework, ask questions and determine for yourself what’s going on.  If you agree with me, spread the word.  Let others know about it and work with other professisonal organizations you belong to, to ensure that these kinds of actions are addressed and reversed.

Remember, this is only the tip of the iceberg.  If left unchallenged this misuse will grow – only to our detriment.

The Ugly [but fun] Truth

3 05 2013

Over the last year I’ve been playing a lot with my smart phone camera.  I have to confess that I’ve actually taken photographs with it that I’ve later used as part of  my client projects.  Of course, I would never tell the client that. Given what they’re paying for the end product, it’s probably best that they believe that all the final images were originally taken with some high-tech, expensive piece of equipment.

So why would I choose a smart phone camera over all my other equipment? The simple answer is “because it’s there” – I always have it with me – AND there are times that it’s the only camera I have with me when I need one. camera plus image 1

Given this ugly little truth, what smart phone camera do I use? Well, first, I have an iPhone, so you’d think that I’d use the built-in camera – and I do . . . . . sort of.  However, I’ve found an “improved model” so to speak – by using one of the newer camera apps that works through my phone camera. The app is called “Camera +” and, if I remember correctly, it was either a free app or cost only ninety-nine cents. It’s available for iPhones – not sure about “droids”.

So, what makes this cheap app so worthwhile?  Let’s start with one of the most important features that you see when you first open it up.  When you touch the screen you’ll have camera plus image 2your “auto focus: square [just like on the iPhone camera] but notice that there is a small “+” sign at the top right corner.  touch this and you have an “exposure” measurement that you can drag anywhere within the image.  What this does is to allow you to sample the light separately from the focus point.  It allows you to easily brighten or darken your image to its most effective level.  Simple – but it’s a big deal to get better photographs.

The next thing you’ll notice is the wheel just to the right of the center “camera” icon that you touch to take the photograph.  Touch the wheel and you’ll see that you have a built-in “stabilizer”, timer and “burst” plus image 3

  • I’ve found that the stabilizer is really effective for doing close-up photography.  It allows me to get much sharper images when I’m trying to get up close and personal with a small object.
  • The timer lets me preset the camera to a 5, 15 or 30 second delay in taking the picture. Haven’t used this feature yet – but it’s there.
  • The “burst” feature is really cool – in that it allows you to take pictures at somewhere around 5-6 frames per second. Really incredible for those action shots!

While all these are great features – there’s even more! After you’ve taken a photograph you can go to the “edit” feature and apply 15 different picture styles – what they call “scenes” – including flash, backlight, cloudy, fluorescent, night, portrait, landscape and others.  camera plus image 4There’s also a great “clarity” feature that opens up and sharpens the mid-tones and shadows without affecting the highlights [shades of Camera RAW!].

In addition to all this, you’ll also have the ability to crop and tilt the image as well as 27 artsy “effects” and 18 different “borders”.  While these are neat – they really aren’t the reason to get this app – though they do offer added fun.

While I’ve touched on many of the great features of this app there’s even more to discover as you go through “menu” feature.  I won’t go into all of it here – but take a look and see what it has to offer.

So, if you have an iPhone, I’d recommend that you get this app.  If you’re like me, once you try it, it will become your “go-to” smart phone camera.

“Talking” With Other Photographers – always a big help

4 04 2013

You might have noticed that the word “Talking” in the title is in quotes. That’s because I’m “talking” figuratively here.  So what’s the point?

Well, it seems that unless you belong to a photography club or have the opportunity to spend a bit of time with fellow enthusiasts, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to just talk about photography, ask questions or share ideas.  Even my dear wife – who is always supportive of my work – has a limited capacity to talk photography before her eyes glaze over.  You’ve also probably noticed that an in-depth discussion of camera specifics or Layer Masks in Photoshop with a non-photographer usually ends well before you’ve lost interest in it.

However, in the last few months I’ve discovered some great photographers – amateur and professional – on the internet who like to share ideas and talk about photography issues. I don’t mean photography blogs. They’re great for sharing information and ideas, and can be very helpful, but it’s hard to have a dialogue. I’m talking about a real give-and-take of ideas.

So where does one find this fountain of interest and information.  While I’m sure there are several areas where you can go, I discovered it through my participation in LinkedIn [].  For those of you who aren’t familiar with LinkedIn, it’s a business/networking site for business folks.  This might sound a bit dry – but there’s more to it than just networking to look for jobs or to increase your business.  When it comes to photography, there are several discussion groups who talk about almost anything and everything under the sun related to photography, editing and more!  Here are a few of the groups that I’ve seen – and I’m sure there are many more.  The first two are ones that I’ve joined:

  • Photography Group – subjects are more often business based  like  equipment, copyright issues, studio rentals, and websites, but can be a far ranging as recent discussions about editing apps for smart phone photography.
  • Adobe Photoshop Group – discusses just about anything related to photo editing, including software, color profiles, watermarks, tablet vs mouse and a whole bunch of other stuff.
  • Photographers and Photoshop Users
  • Traditional Film Photographers
  • Editorial Photographers
  • London Photographic Association

The six listed above are only a small sampling of discussion groups available through LinkedIn.  You probably noticed that they also include international groups as well.

So there you have it – literally, at your fingertips.  The key is to first go online and join LinkedIn.  It’s easy to do and costs nothing.  You ought to look it over and see if this works for you.  I think you’ll find, as I have, that they can be interesting, useful and fun!  Best – Bill

Photograph – Picture – Image: some personal definitions

3 03 2013

This post is probably going to get me in trouble with somebody.  When you see the three words in the title – Photograph, Picture, Image – you might think that I’m referring to the same thing.  speakeasyActually, I’m not.

This subject came up  in one of my earlier posts:  “Photography – Are You a Recorder or an Interpreter?” – 02/14/10.  Since then I’ve written quite a few posts and used these words hundreds of times.  While I try to use each word in a specific way, from time to time, I’m guilty of mixing them up.  Let me explain.

To understand why I view these three words as being different, you have to understand my philosophy as a photographer.  I tell all my editing classes that I believe taking the Photograph is only the beginning of the process.  I know that there are those folks out there who believe that taking the photograph is the beginning and the end to the process – no changes – no editing – no nothing!  While I do believe that you should do everything you can to capture the best photograph, I also believe that there is a lot more of YOU that you can put into the final product by editing.

Natalie original and imageThis brings us to the second word – Picture.  I try to use this word purposely to indicate that it is something different from the original Photograph.  A painter or a writer make many changes while they are creating the final work.  I use the term Picture to define that same process.  Here though, I’m talking about the unfinished editing process – a work in progress, so to speak.

That brings us to the final word – Image.  I feel very strongly that when all the editing is done – when the photographer has finished putting their mark on the original Photograph – there is no other word that can be used other than Image.  By editing, this final Image has transcended the original Photograph into something new and different – a product of the photographers minds-eye.  As you can see in the images that I’ve used in this post, the Photograph and the final Image are significantly different. I wanted to say something more about the subject than to just capture the Photograph.  Editing gives me the ability to put myself into the work – to use my creativity – to produce a unique Image, all its own.

Some might say that this a small thing – merely a play on words.  I don’t think so.  For me it’s a reminder that wetlands2photography is truly an art form.  By taking a Photograph, editing the Picture, and creating a final unique Image, each of us becomes a photographer/artist.  What do all of you think?  Best – Bill

Winter Outdoor Photography – rethink what & how you shoot & edit

3 02 2013

There are certain words and phrases that are used frequently by those who really like outdoor photography.  They talk about the “great light”, the “beautiful colors”, the “beauty of nature”.  Unfortunately, we’re now in “winter-mode” for the next 3+ months – depending on where you live.  In Western Oregon, where I live, most of those superlatives disappear with the season.  While we do have some nice days, in general think rain, gloom, gray skies.

However, not to despair! Winter is a great time to get your creative juices going and rethink what and how you’re going to shoot outdoors.  One of the keys wetlands9625chere is to keep your eyes open for different and interesting subjects.  Often the same subject, in another season, might be something you wouldn’t think of shooting – but in winter it can take on a whole new feel.  As an example, this image of a wetlands in winter is stark, but can be just as beautiful in the absence of what you’re usually looking to shoot.  Also, don’t be afraid to use silhouettes in you images, like these trees.  They add a very dramatic feel.

This same change of thinking also applies to how you might think about color.  Don’t worry about those beautiful, bright colors – how about muted colors or even black and white or sepia.  This image of a small pond and grass – emphasizing the busy, heavy texture –IMG_1341a helps to give a “wilderness” feeling to the image.  Interestingly enough, this is no where near the wilderness – only a 5 minute walk from my front door.  I first finished this in black & white and wasn’t satisfied with how it felt – too harsh a feeling.  Only when I converted it to sepia did it feel right to me.  Sepia will often open up the mid-tones better, for a little softer feel.

In addition to all the foregoing, I always keep the emphasis on texture.  Texture, with a proper use of light and shadow can add a very emotive quality to your imagery. Now, I don’t mean taking a close-up of  tree bark or the texture of a rock – IMG_1358BORING!!  Use texture as an integral part of the overall image.  You see a lot of that today in all kinds of photography – with the use of HD, gritty, high texture images.  Even if you don’t normally like that for your own style – winter is the time to give it a try!  I’m sure you’ve noticed that texture has played a big part of all the images in this post.

Of course, for those who do a lot of  close-up or “macro” photography, winter still offers tremendous potential.  You won’t shoot a lot of insects or flower stamen close-ups, but there are still those plants that thrive in the IMG_1362alt finalwinter.  This next image is of a plant that we have in Oregon all year – moss.  Actually, I took this one of the moss on my mailbox the other morning.  Goes to show, if you keep your creative eye open, even when you’re doing mundane things like getting the mail, you never know what you’ll find.

ice 2 1380bI also mentioned winter “macro” photography – and of course, ice crystals always offer the potential for interesting pictures.  However, I have to admit that there is a particular reason why in included this last image in this post.  I’ll explain in the next paragraph.

By the way – did I mention that all the images in this post were taken with my iPhone!  This includes the image of the ice crystals as well – using the macro lens of the “olloclip” attachment that I reviewed in my last post!  Just couldn’t pass up a chance to talk about it again! All of these images also had additional editing in Photoshop – but all the data to work with came from a relatively small, smart-phone image file.  it seems that there may be some truth in the old saying “It isn’t the camera – it’s the photographer” [and maybe the software too].  Sometime soon I plan to do a post on smart-phone photography and some of the “apps” for editing with the phone.  If you have any smart-phone editing “apps” that you like, let me know – I’d like to try them out.

You’ll notice that I didn’t talk about softer images of snow.  Talking about getting good snow shots can be another post in itself.  What I hope you’ll take away from this post is to open up your creative eye to look at things differently.  Winter images are often simpler, in that nature has stripped itself down to the bare, beautiful essentials.  As for color, don’t worry about how you’re going to render the final image.  It might be black & white, maybe sepia, or in more muted colors – or maybe all three.  Any of these can be equally as beautiful as those bright, colorful summer pictures you like.  The final, and very important, part of all this is to emphasize texture in your images.  Used effectively, it can bring significant interest to your imagery and really add an emotive quality to your work.  Give these a try – I think you’ll like what you create.  Best – Bill