Archive for the ‘photography’ Category

A sabbatical sounds nice…

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Anne Zelenka is taking a mini-sabbatical. As part of that she’s going to spend some time focusing on painting.

Maybe I should spend a little more time on my photography before the next thing hits…

Prism App for Photophlow

Saturday, January 5th, 2008

I’ve been using Photophlow a fair amount over the last few days – It’s been pretty fun, although the real value will come if we manage to use it for shoot planning or review, which hasn’t happened yet.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that having Photophlow open in a browser while I’ve got other webapps running tends to make the overall experience a bit less nicer. So taking a page from Travis Vachon, I created a Prism (Webrunner) application for Photophlow. This lets you run Photophlow as a standalone application, in a container which is essentially a custom version of Firefox. You can get the webapp here. You will also need a copy of Prism to make this work.

Photo 2.0 – Photophlow

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

Last night, Scoble mentioned Photophlow on Twitter. I went over to see the site and then begged and pleaded for an invite – and got it. Photophlow is kind of like an IRC customized for dealing with Flickr photos. There is a global chat room, each user has his or her own chat room, and there is a chat room for every Flickr group. Within a chatroom, people can search Flickr photos and the room can follow along to see what they are searching. You can select photo out of the search, which will be transmitted to the room. There are some other features, like turning off the following of other people’s searches and turning off people’s ability to see what you searched for.

The Photo 2.0 angle
People like David Hobby and Chase Jarvis have been talking about (and living out) “Photography 2.0”, where there is massive sharing of photographs and photographic information. One of the things that I’ve often wished for is the ability to talk (in real time) to someone to get/do a critique of a photo. I think that this is something that happens best in real time. You could do that via IM and hyperlinks. You might even be able to do that via IM group chats, if all the people in the critique were using the same IM system. (It’s 2008, IM vendors). The value that I see in Photophlow is having a realtime way of talking about photos in a group. It would be even better if there was a way to annotate the photo being broadcast at the moment, so that you could focus attention on particular parts of a photograph. We’ve been doing some interesting group photo stuff here in Seattle lately, and I definitely think that Photophlow is something that could really help with some of the things we have done, as well as some of the things we are thinking of doing. Besides annotation tools, I would also like an easy way to log/archive a whole chat session or parts of a chat session.

The Web 2.0 angle
Photophlow is technically interesting for a number of reasons. It’s an app that’s built entirely on top of another web applications’ API. And it’s pretty substantial. There’s a lot going on here – a lot of AJAX, and API calls to Flickr. The app feels kind of pokey because it’s pushing the limits of what can be done in Javascript. Indeed, if I run Photophlow in Safari 3 instead of Firefox, the performance is noticeably better. This is a situation that we also see in Chandler Server. It’s going to be interesting to see how well this is able to scale up.

Photophlow is also pushing the limits of how some people think of using a web application. It’s designed to be used a lot and in a highly interactive fashion. I know that I would probably keep chat rooms for my personal group, the Seattle Flickr Meetups group, and the Strobist group open all at once if I could. The designers have also built in bridges to IM notification and to allow you to Twitter from within Photophlow. Too bad their isn’t a way to get a Twitter stream instead of an IM notification – but that’s more a limitation of Twitter than of Photophlow.

I bet that you could do some of what Photophlow does with a custom IRC bot. But I also bet that it would be substantially less accessible to people who are photographers first and computer users second (or third, or what have you). Then again, maybe here’s another opportunity for VOIP…

If you haven’t gotten into the beta yet, there’s a short tutorial video.

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2007 – The year in photography

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

Here’s a round up of the highlights of my photographic year.


A trip to San Francisco gave me the chance to hang out with the San Francisco Flickr group – one of my favorite things to do in San Francisco – that is when the stars align.

SFlickr Meetup 20070111


I was the official photographer for Bainbridge Island’s second annual Chinese New Year Festival. I got the gig because my pictures of the previous year’s event showed up in the top 5 results for the search “Bainbridge Island chinese new year”.

Bainbridge Island Chinese New Year 2007: Lion Dance


A trip to the Seattle Aquarium:

Seattle Aquarium - Mar 2007


I attended Zack Arias’ amazing One Light Workshop. Shortly thereafter I bought some PocketWizards and started my journey to the lit side.

Seattle One Light Workshop

Seattle One Light Workshop


24 Hours of Flickr



The Kitsap Sun bought this picture and ran it in the Bainbridge Islander (the local local paper).

BI Rotary Auction 2007


I attended my first Seattle Flickr Strobist event, and finally connected with some local camera nuts.

Also in August I got to meet David Hobby in person at the Seattle Strobist Seminar.

Seattle Strobist Seminar

I confirmed my status a a photography nut by staying up to photograph the lunar eclipse:

Today's lunar eclipse at totality


I finally got around to making some Strobist style grid spots

Grid Mania

Which I promptly put to use during my first studio shoot with the Seattle Flickr Strobists.

I also did a Strobist architectural shoot:


I practiced my lighting and people shooting skills


I framed my first picture in order to display it in the November Seattle Flickrites photo show

My photo at the November Seattle Flickrites Photoshow

I also covered ApacheCon, as I have in previous years.

Opening Plenary

This year I also put my new skills to use by shooting a bunch of headshots for ASF folks. Average time per person: 5 minutes

Aaron Farr


Another Seattle Flickr Strobist shoot (including video) gets featured on

It’s been a great year of learning and improving. Thanks to all the people (and there are a lot) who have helped me out along the way!

Photo thoughts

Monday, December 24th, 2007

There have been a few photo related blog posts and twitter conversations that I wanted to comment on.

First, buying digital SLR’s. Tim Bray commented on Dave Sifry’s Beginners Digital SLR buying guide, and ranted on the insanity of buying a camera based on the number of megapixels, which is a very common metric. Buying a digital SLR is a sizable task — I wrote about it last year. I didn’t recommend specific cameras, but I did try to point out a bunch of things that I wish someone had told me, in addition to the initial purchase of the camera. One thing that I would note is that there’s a lot more to taking photos than just the camera. Technology people tend to get obsessed with the specifications and features of the gear, but the most important piece of photographic equipment is between your ears. People think that having a good camera will automatically result in good pictures, but that just doesn’t make any sense. It’s like saying the buying really good paintbrushes will make one a painter, or that buying really good pots and pans will make one a chef. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a nicer/newer camera, just be aware that you aren’t going to turn into Ansel Adams when it arrives.

Second, post processing software. This one is a result of a late night Twitter storm between Stephen O’Grady, Tim Bray, and to a lesser extent, me. Steven wanted to know about choosing between iPhoto, Adobe Lightroom, and Apple’s Aperture. People on a Macintosh probably have iPhoto lying around, and it is decently competent for people are not photography enthusiasts. The cost of trying it is pretty minimal, since it is bundled with Mac OS X, although if you have an older Mac and haven’t upgraded iLife recently, it’s probably worth it to do that after giving it a try. iPhoto leverages OS X’s system wide RAW conversion, so it can even handle RAW files from DSLR’s and high end point and shoots.

That leaves Lightroom and Aperture. I was an early fan and adopter of Aperture, and I was pretty happy with it until recently. Since October, I’ve stopped running Lightroom and Aperture side by side and am only using Lightroom. I’ve now had a chance to really work with the Photoshop integration, which works decently well – I wish there was a way to go back and re-edit a Photoshopped version instead of Lightroom creating another copy, but you can work around this by opening the Photoshopped version with Photoshop directly — Lightroom correctly updates once you save the file. The Lightroom API’s have started to show, although not as quickly as I thought they would. Right now you can mostly get export plugins, which means there is now a way to publish to Flickr directly with Lightroom, although none of the plugins (or Flickr’s on Uploadr 3.0) is anywhere near a match for Frasier Speirs’ FlickrExport, which doesn’t have a Lightroom version.

More importantly, I’ve really lost a lot of faith in Apple in terms of the future of Aperture. I thought for sure that there would be an Aperture 2.0 when Leopard was released. We might still see it at MacWorld or PMA in late January, but it doesn’t build my confidence that Aperture is an important product. When I got Lightroom, on the other hand, it was at version 1.1 and is now up to version 1.3.1. Adobe was very public about Lightroom/Leopard issues, and has been relatively quick to address them. Apple, on the other hand, is following its usual tight lipped policy. Both of these programs are first versions, and each needs additional development. Apple is leaving me with a reasonable amount of doubt as to whether they are really committed to Aperture.

Seattle photography scene

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

The Seattle amateur photography scene is exploding. Here’s some video that shows what we’ve been up to recently.

My favorite picture from the event:

Maybe now David Hobby will move to Seattle

My first photo show

Thursday, November 1st, 2007


This month I’ll be participating in a photo show sponsored by the Seattle Flickrites at Cafe Vega in Seattle. We’ll be hosting a reception on November 9, from 7-9pm. If you plan to come to the reception you can RSVP via

Aperture vs Lightroom: My Take

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

It’s funny how timing works in the real world. Last week, Fraser Speirs put up a post comparing Adobe’s Lightroom with Apple’s Aperture. Just before I left for San Francisco on the 23rd, I got a copy of Adobe Lightroom via a friend at Adobe, and I spent some time messing with it on the flight down (at least until I ran out of battery). I’ve also spent some time talking to James Duncan Davidson about Lightroom when I saw him at OSCON in July (his comments on Fraser’s post are here).

I’ve been a fan of Apple’s Aperture since it came out, but I started looking at Lightroom for some very specific reasons:

  • Twice I have run into problems with Aperture’s vault system. This is the cool system which will backup your Aperture library to another volume, sparing your mind the overhead of figuring out which photos, etc, have been back up or not. I have my Aperture library on an external Firewire drive, and my primary vault (backup) on separate external Firewire drive. Twice in the last 6 months, I have told Aperture to update my vault and instead gotten a message saying that there was something wrong with the vault. The only way that I could work around it was to delete the vault and rebuild it. When the library is well over 150GB, this is not a message that you are happy about seeing. Kind of negates the value of vaults if you ask me.
  • Performance – Aperture eats machines. I have an original 1.83GHz Macbook Pro w/ 2G of memory in it. If I don’t have 1G of memory free when I launch Aperture, I am going to feel pain. Once it loads, most things are reasonable, except for those that aren’t. Like straightening. I had a few pictures that I tried to straighten. Trying to do that sent my machine into paroxysms with the beachball cursor.
  • Toning Curve – When we went on vacation back in June, I did some HDR and panorama stuff using the new features of Photoshop CS3. Those images were definitely not going to be in Aperture, and while I worked on those images, I finally played with the curves adjustment in Photoshop. Which is when I finally understood the complaints of those who said that Aperture’s levels were not in the same league as curves. I was hoping to pick up curves in Lightroom.
  • Round tripping to Photoshop – Up until recently, I have had very little need for Photoshop, but as I am growing in my photography, I am realizing that there are a definitely somethings that I need photoshop for – dodging and burning, adding vignettes (Lightroom can do this), and doing stuff with layers to selectively edit parts of a picture. I’ve gotten to the point where I understand that pre-digital, printing a photo was as much a part of the art as making the photo. If you want to do that stuff digitally, there isn’t really much alternative to Photoshop.
  • Community – Photography is a singular pursuit, but I am finding that I am spending more and more time hanging with the Flickr folks in Seattle, and there’s an advantage to using the same toolset. That same advantage applies to things like presets of various kinds, web galleries, etc. And assuming that Adobe does really get around to that plugin API for Lightroom, plugins.

Having said all that, some thoughts on Lightroom:

The UI
I really dislike the modality of the UI, the Library/Develop distinction doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s also weird to have to go in and out of a compare mode, and even weirder that you need to switch to survey mode to deal with more than 2 pictures at once. It’s clumsy to go into full screen mode – you have to toggle through varying degrees of it to get there. Even so, you get there faster than in Aperture. You can’t use multiple displays, and I really miss that. I also miss the HUD’s in Aperture – they were a great way to keep pictures big while letting you adjust them. In Loupe mode, I found it very hard to find/see the metadata indicators. Aperture does a great job of letting you customize the information that is displayed in the different views.

Library/Project Management
Lightroom is much weaker than Aperture here. You can import your files without changing their location (as you can in later versions of Aperture), but there isn’t that much to help you organize pictures beyond collections of pictures. I made heavy use of Aperture’s projects and albums, and I miss that functionality. I can use collections, but the way I shoot, there will be lots of collections, to the point where collection management itself will become a problem. One way of managing this is to use multiple catalog files, but switching catalog files means relaunching Lightroom, which seems lame, and then you have the problem of not being able to find/search across multiple catalog files. I guess I am also having angst about putting my pictures into a directory hierarchy and having to back them up myself. You can create stacks, but you can’t create stacks inside a collection, which is irritating but not a show stopper. And as I mentioned, there’s no backup of the library, although you can get Lightroom to backup your RAW files as they are imported, and then have it backup the catalog file periodically. There’s an option to have Lightroom write XMP files, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to get those backed up. I am also a fan of the Lightroom Metadata Browser, now its easy to ask about common aperture, shutter speed, iso and focal length usages. It is also nice to have the fully interpreted EXIF data in the metadata display for a picture. The keyword browser also looks promising, but I don’t have enough keywords in it to know how it will scale up. I wish there was an option to erase a card after importing all the images on it. I miss that from Aperture

I really like the Lightroom Develop module, well the functionality, at least. I think that the histogram is way better, as is the white balance control, particularly because there are some default presets that you can switch to by name as opposed to being stuck with having to figure out the right temperature/tint settings for yourself. I also like the way the that Lightroom white balance eyedropper blows up the area that it would be sampling. Aperture does not have the Clarity or Vibrance adjustments, and those are pretty useful, at least to me. The tone curve is much better too, although I’m still learning it in comparison to Photoshop’s which seems more flexible. I like the ability to select point curves, like you can do in Photoshop. I like the HSL/Color/Greyscale tool, and while I haven’t done any split toning, I expect to be doing some of that. I was hoping to see more in the noise reduction, but guess Adobe doesn’t want to put all the noise plugin folks out of business — I’d expect those to be some of the first plugins out of the gate. The masking control on sharpening provides a degree of extra flexibility that Aperture doesn’t, but I hardly every sharpen a photo. The lens vignetting tools are probably ok for actual lens vignetting, but when I tried to use them to add a vignette to a picture, they weren’t much use. I did have one issue with the adjustment sliders, which is that it was hard to click on either side of the slider thumb in order to make a setting (which is what I normally do in Aperture). You have to grab the slider with the mouse and then let go before you can see the effect of the change.

Lightroom is definitely much zippier than Aperture for just about everything. I tried straightening, and that was no problem. Going in and out of full screen was no problem. There is the same kind of loading delay for images as there is in Aperture. It does appear, as Fraser pointed out, that some of the adjustments are kind of laggy. Then again, I experienced this at times in Aperture. The program is less resource hungry than Aperture too. I didn’t feel that I needed to quit one of my other memory hungry apps in order to do some work in Lightroom (I am so jealous of people whose MacBook Pro’s go to 4G of RAM).

I actually like the Lightroom exporting, if for no other reason than that I can export in the background and be doing something else (either in Lightroom – impossible with Aperture, or elsewhere on the system – sluggish with Aperture). I did use Lighroom’s ability to send images to alias of OS X apps to setup a Flickr export preset. It’s not FlickrExport, though, which means no metadata comes through, the titles, etc get lost, and after the export, there’s no additional metadata on the images (FlickrExport adds the flickr id and url to the images, which is a great way to know if you’ve uploaded that image before or not). I’m feeling the pain on this one

I haven’t had a chance to play with printing from Lightroom, so I don’t have anything to report from there yet.

Other Features
The slideshow feature of Lightroom looks pretty good. Better than Aperture, anyway. On the other hand, Aperture can do books, and has the light table. It seems like the Lightroom web module is stronger, but that also an area that I need to play with some more.

Photoshop round tripping seems to be a little bit better than in Aperture, but I haven’t really put that to the test yet.

I’m wondering where that API/SDK is. Since Lightroom is written in Lua, there ought to be some good scripting/automation type stuff that could be done if Adobe would document how to do it.

Just for laughs, I did export a single Aperture project’s worth of RAW files and XMP sidecar files and then imported them into Lightroom. To my amazement, all the keywords, ratings and adjustments were there. That was pretty impressive if you ask me.

Where I’m at with Lightroom
Thus far, I’ve done a test import of a single project from Aperture, as well as importing all photos that I’ve shot since I got Lightroom — I’ve been double loading them into Aperture just in case. It’s a big deal to think about switching programs for something like this. I”m kind of unhappy with the rate of development of Aperture — I’m sure this is in part attributable to Leopard delays, but this shows the danger of having the program too tightly bound to the operating system. If I had picked up a Canon 40D, I’d be pretty unhappy, since Lightroom has support for the 40D and we’re still waiting for 10.4.11 or Leopard for that. My assumption is that Aperture 2.0 is coming sometime this month, so I will probably hold off on a full scale switchover to see what Apple does. But I’ve convinced myself that I could switch if I wanted to, with most of the pain centered around organization and library management. I am sure that Adobe knows these are problems, just as I am sure that the Aperture team has heard many earfuls about performance.

In the meantime, pointers to good Lightroom resources would definitely be appreciated.

Seattle Flickr sociality

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

Recently I’ve been doing some photo stuff with some folks from the Seattle Flickr Meetup group, particularly a bunch of people that are interested in Strobist style off camera lighting. Being able to interact with a community of similarly interested people has been a huge help to me. David Hobby’s post yesterday was about helping connect people to others in their locales who are also interested in lighting. As a bonus, he links to some video of our latest escapade. Here are a few of my shots from that same event.

[This is my first post using MarsEdit 2.0, which has great Flickr support built in]

Nikon’s Flickr/Blogger Cam

Friday, August 31st, 2007

The Nikon pwnage continues with a camera that has built in WiFi and can upload directly to Flickr or a blog.