Welcome to the blog of Julian Slaughter Imagery. This blog will contain all sorts of ramblings, tips, reviews and general thoughts.
Wow! Its been nearly 4 years since my last blog post, where has all that time gone.
So what have I been doing with myself? Unfortunately, not a huge amount of photography due to my BI Consultancy business getting really busy. But that is about to change. I am starting to get myself back into what I love doing, and that is taking photographs.
There have been a couple of memorable holidays, which obviously involve photography, with the highlight being a 3 week trip to South Dakota, Yellowstone National Park and Grand Tetons National Park in the US. Yellowstone is quite simply stunning. The scenery is out of this world with the likes of Lamar Valley, Yellowstone Canyon and the Beartooth Highway being just a few of the jaw-dropping sights.
And the wildlife, oh my god, the wildlife. You can never get bored of seeing the Bison and Pronghorn but to see a black bear and her cub from around 50 feet was amazing but better was to come. We were fortunate enough to see wolves on various occasions but only from a distance but that didn't matter. The highlight however was Scarface. After the black bear encounter, we hoped we would get to see a grizzly. One evening, driving back from Mount Washburn, we passed a lady stood on the side of the road, looking down a steep drop. For whatever reason, we pulled over and asked what she was looking at. She said she had seen a grizzly but could no longer see him. Her husband was sat in his car, obviously bored. I have my trusty 7D2 with 100-400mm with me, just in case. The light was fading so good job I had set Auto ISO on with a decent shutter speed to ensure I got whatever shots I could.
I scanned around with binoculars when I noticed something that didn't look quite right. In September, the grass is yellowing and the sagebrush is a dull pale green. There was a patch that looked a little too brown......and soft.......and had ears. The grizzly she had spotted was hunkered down in the grass, trying to hide. His camouflage was incredible, even when I had spotted him, he was so difficult to see. A number of other cars had pulled up now, which is the way in Yellowstone. Another couple from the UK with their young son came up to us so we pointed out the bear, which they couldn't see. At this point, around 10 or 15 cars had stopped and many people lined the roadside. I honestly thought this wasn't a good situation as we were already too close, around 100 feet from the bear. He must have thought the same as suddenly, he got up. I think I shed a tear. What an amazing creature, to see so close in real life with no cage or bars. But boy was he ugly. He had a scar across his face, one ear was almost at the side of his head and he looked old.
He started to walk parallel to the road. Now remember, we are at the top of a steep drop, probably 50 feet high. A pickup pulled up in the middle of the road and asked what we could see, so I said a grizzly. The lady driver said I was welcome to jump in the flatbed if the bear got too close, which didn't sound good. I fired off quite a few shots but started to get a little nervous as the bear started angling towards the climb up to the road. The small boy with the other couple started running, so I shouted for him to stop, which he did, otherwise Mr bear might be chasing Master child. We made our way back towards our car, keeping an eye on the bear at all times. The number of people watching was dangerous in my opinion, many ignoring the distance between them and the bear.
So one thing will stay in my memory for as long as I live. As I am walking backwards, keeping an eye on the bear, I notice a guy right on the edge of the drop, holding his iphone out in front of him, paying no attention to the bear which has now made his way to the very bottom of the climb up to the road. The next thing iphone man realises is that the bear has gone from standing at the bottom to being in his face in about 2 seconds. Screams for other observers rang out and iphone man literally jumped out of his skin and dove behind a car for safety. I bet he got a great shot of a snout of the grizzly from a few inches. Fortunately, the bear only wanted to get away so he crossed the road without killing anyone, up the hillside and out of sight.
We were too close, I admit that, but iphone man was irresponsible and\or stupid but was lucky to be alive. The following day I told the story to the lady at Stop The Car Trading Post in Silvergate. She said the bear was Scarface, who was 26 years old at the time, and probably the only bear that wouldn't have killed iphone man, as he is so old and used to visitors. I got some great shots of Scarface, but sadly, it was reported that the poor old fella passed away last winter from old age. It was an honour to me you.
In my personal opinion, no. Why?
I bought the Samsung Galaxy Camera pretty much straight after its release as a go anywhere and everywhere camera, so that I didn't have to carry around a DSLR with me all the time. I tried it out in the shop and was mildly impressed with the feature rich Android OS and by the potential for uploading images to my Facebook page and Dropbox all through a wifi connection to my mobile broadband.
The first one I bought had to be swapped out as the lens cover kept sticking open. Not a good start.
Due to being so busy with work, I didn't really give the Galaxy a really good test but I knew that a visit to Rome was coming up so that would be its ultimate test. I took my trusty 5D with me and also thought about taking the little Sony HX9V that proved its worth in Canada but didn't.
The Galaxy is quite large for what is essentially a point and shoot camera. If you think of a Samsung Galaxy S3 phone with a camera stuck to the front, you will know how large it is. Its really too big to fit in a shirt or trouser pocket but I had my North Wind on most of the time so had no issues there. However, the size does make it easy to hold and the screen is massive compared to any other camera I have seen. Physical controls are limited to the zoom control, shutter button, flash button and on\off button. Everything else is controlled from the screen. The zoom and shutter functions can be activated by voice too. I used the "shoot" option a number of times on the trip when resting the camera on bollards for long exposures, works a treat.
Battery life was good, even in the cold temperatures but that was with minimal use of Jellybean and any of the apps I had downloaded. I would imagine if you sat playing Angry Birds for a while the battery would soon run down.
So, functionality of the camera itself. There are three main modes to shoot in, fully auto, smart and manual. Fully auto supposedly picks the best settings for the image. I found this to be flawed in certain circumstances, especially in low light or at night. The Sony HX9V has similar modes and pretty much picks the right mode every time. Not the Galaxy. Even though it has several modes for night or low light, it didn't choose them. After an evening of walking around Rome at night, I had taken many images, all of which went straight into the trash bin due to slow exposure times.
I then experimented with the Smart mode, where you select which type of image you are taking. For the night shots, I found Party to be the best mode for night shots, even though there is a Night mode, weird. Now, one of the biggest disappointments for me was the panorama mode. I can best describe it as RUBBISH! Back to the Sony, in panorama mode, you hit the shutter, sweep in the right direction and keep going until you run out of room, creating one long image. Exposure is taken from when you first hit the button and remains constant. I had some excellent pano's from Canada using this method. I tried some in Rome on the Galaxy. What a nightmare. So you press the shutter to start and you have to move slowly as an individual image is taken whenever the camera thinks it needs one. The problem I experienced was that each image was exposure differently, sometimes with slow shutter speeds, making part of an image blurred compared to the rest. It also didn't deal with perspective very well.
Manual mode is manual mode, same as any other camera really, allowing you to set Av, Tv, P or M and then adjust the settings accordingly.
What shall I say about the flash. Its harsh! There needs to be a flash compensation option somewhere as I felt that most shots taken with the flash of people where blown out a little. I know, on-camera flash can be harsh but not this much.
Finally, image quality. Not impressed really. Yes, its a point and shoot and will not be up to DSLR standards but even so. Its OK for those that want to use this camera for snaps and social media but as a travel camera, not good enough in my opinion. Poor choice of settings by the camera probably plays most part.
Will I be using the Samsung Galaxy Camera again on a travel shoot, no. Its just not up to it. I will use it for family events and parties where I can quickly get images uploaded to Facebook and Twitter but thats about it.
In October, I took part in the Worcester Arts & Crafts Market. As part of the promotion of JSI, I created a couple of books highlighting some of my favourite images. I had some very positive feedback on the books as well as the images in general, so I have decided to sell copies of the book as ideal coffee table books.
By clicking on the cover below, you will be able to browse through the "book" and see for yourself. Any comments or thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
So, going back to the seminar on LR4, Dave Wall showed us how he organised his files, and its now how I do mine. To be honest, I can't believe I didn't think of this sooner.
With all of the previous tools I used to organise my library, I pretty much allowed them to use the standard of importing into folders by date. Nice and simple......... if you are good at remembering dates, which I am not. I also allowed the tools to import from when I plugged either the camera of a memory card into the card reader, not any more. I AM IN CONTROL!!!!!
I had gotten myself into a real mess with where my files were being stored and the only person I can blame is myself. And what makes it worse is the fact I pretty much lost every image I had taken last February when I was moving images from their only location to a different one, and sods law, the drive that I copying from crashed during the copy. Fortunately, I had some old backups so I managed to recover a lot of the lost pictures.
I bought a Netgear NAS box with two 2TB drives so I could backup my library. Unfortunately I didn't use it properly, so I ended up with images all over the place, not any more. I AM IN CONTROL!!!!!
Following on from Dave's suggestions, I bought two Firewire 800 hard drive docks and two 2TB internal hard drives. The iMac has a single Firewire 800 port but the docks have two so I can daisy-chain them together. The first 2TB drive is my Image Library, the second is my Library Backup. Simples.
On the Image Library drive, I created a folder structure, see below, its really complicated, not.
Ignore the 99 - Image Archive folder for now. You will see 26 folders labeled A, B, C, etc. So its an alphabetical system rather than a date one. Within each folder I create new folders for new projects under the relevant main folder. So for example, our recent trip to Spain has been put into the S folder. Do you see how simple this is. Its easier to remember names and places rather than dates.
I spent nearly a week re-organising all of my images into the correct folder structure. I took my main hard drive out of its location and dropped it into the dock used for the backup. I copied folders over in groups, and can I say, doing it over Firewire is gazillion times quicker than USB or via the network. There you go, another benefit of the Firewire docks, improved performance.
Once I had everything sorted and in place, I opened my newly created LR catalog and imported each folder\subfolder individually as I wanted to keyword each one, until I had completed A to Z. My LR catalog now looked exactly the same as the folder structure above, making it easy for me to find what I want.
So what happens when I want to import a new project. I don't let LR import it automatically, I AM IN CONTROL!!!!!
Lets say I am doing a wedding on Saturday <shiver runs down spine> for a couple soon to be Mr and Mrs Jones. In the J folder, I create a folder called Kate & Steve Jones. I don't need dates as LR does all that kind of thing for me. When I get home on Saturday night, I will copy all of the images from my memory cards manually into the newly created folder. I then open LR, click on Import and navigate to the J folder. When I select the appropriate folder, all the images appear so I can select which ones to import. I create my keywords and metadata and select Import. Several minutes later, I have a new folder in my catalog, with the same name.
Since making this transition, life has become somewhat easier with regards to organisation of my images.
On to the Image Backup drive. As part of the recommendation from Steve, he suggested having a second drive which is a duplicate of the first one. Because the drive is in a dock, its easy to remove and transport elsewhere. So, at the end of the day I remove the drive and take it somewhere that is not where the first drive is. What is the point in having your live and backup drives in the same location? Fire and water do not discriminate.
The software I use to backup is called Chrono Sync, again a recommendation from Dave. It was relatively cheap at $40 and downloaded pretty quickly. I have set it up so that whenever anything changes in the library on the first drive, it backs up that change to the second one. So it doesn't do a full backup every night, it does incrementals. The first time it backed up took a couple of hours as it had to back up some GBs worth of data but now it takes seconds.
So now I have an easy to use storage system that gets backed up and stored in case of disaster.
These are only my views and experiences but I have to say, its made a real difference follows Dave's suggestions.
Lets start with a bit of history.
Since purchasing my first DSLR, a Canon 350D, I had always used the ZoomBrowser software that came with it to "organise" my library on my Windows PC. It did the job fairly well at the time, but I needed Photoshop to do all my post-processing. When I bought a 5D classic, I continued to use ZB and Photoshop for a number of years. When I came into a little bit of money, I decided I wanted a 7D to replace the 350D. Guess what? ZB ran like a three legged dog, presumably because of the increase in file size. Therefore I had to find a different piece of software. A number of people recommended using Faststone Image Viewer. This made viewing images better but I still needed ZB to actually organise what I was uploading.
I then made the massive decision when I received some inheritance that I would switch to a Mac, something I had wanted to do for a number of years. A 27" iMac soon arrived and I was amazed at the performance and quality. I straight away decided to use Aperture as my organiser. This tool also allowed me to make adjustments without the need for Photoshop, although for some of the more complicated tasks, PS was still required. I'll say at this point that when I changed to the Mac I had to pretty much re-process all of my images on my website. I appeared that I had massively over-processed all my shots because of a cheap and poorly calibrated monitor.
As they say in The Holy Grail........GET ON WITH IT!!
In February of this year, I join The Societies to try and help me turn my hobby into a career, specifically Nature & Wildlife and Travel & Tourism. As part of being a member, they provide a service where you can submit a number of images for critique. I selected 20 "Travel" images from last years trip to Canada. I waited a couple of weeks and received a report back. To say I was at first devastated was an understatement. Several of the reviewers had described my images as below average with poor post-processing. After the initial shock, I took the comments on board and realised I needed to improve my taking of images and post-processing.
By sheer luck, I received an email from Adobe, telling me I could download a trial of the new Lightroom 4 software. I had always seen many posts on forums with regards to LR but never actually used it. I took the plunge and downloaded a 30 day trial. Immediately, I saw flaws in my organisation of files and also an improvement in my post-processing. I was only messing about and needed to know more. Another stroke of sheer luck, Dave Wall was doing a seminar on LR4 in Cannock, which is only 40 minutes up the M6. I immediately booked myself on the seminar.
On a rainy morning, I headed up the motorway and met up with Dave, along with Katie from The Societies who I had previously met a couple of times, and a number of other members. In a packed day, Dave discussed many subjects, one of which I will discuss in another post, to do with organising files. I learned a massive amount about the Library and Develop modules, taking down a huge amount of notes. Thanks very much Dave, it was a brilliant day.
I raced home and purchased a full copy of LR4, which was currently reduced to £99, a bargain. Also, following some of Dave's recommendations, I purchased two Firewire 800 Hard Drive Docks, again I will detail in another post, and two 2TB hard drives. I already have a Netgear NAS box in the office but Dave's solution appeared to work better.
After coming back off holiday from Spain, I spent the next week re-organising my files onto the new drive setup and importing into LR. I now had a perfectly organised library, which is easy to add to when I create new projects.
Some of the features of LR Library module I love are:
Collections, a great way of creating "playlists" of images, leaving the originals where they are, so any changes made will appear in the collection too.
Keywords and Metadata. Keyword addition and metadata changes are simple and can be done individually or en-masse. And LR remembers keywords too so I don't have to re-key every time.
Published Services. These are brilliant, and when used in conjunction with Collections, make it so simple to upload images, in my case to my Zenfolio website, Facebook and Flickr.
On the the Develop module. The Develop module is based on sliders similar to the Adobe Camera RAW software. I feel however that LR processes images much better than ACR.
The Highlights and Shadows sliders are brilliant when used on RAW files from recovering any blown highlights or areas of shadow that are entirely black.
All the standard controls you would expect are there and make life very easy for post-processing. There are a number of sections that allow you to change things like the Tone Curve (Curves to PS users), HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) which is brilliant, I'll come back to it later, Detail which includes Sharpening and Noise Removal, which I have to say is better than some of the third party noise removal tools I have used, and Lens Corrections, which does an excellent job of sorting out any lens issues such as vignetting and distortion caused by wide angle lenses.
So back to HSL. As well as the standard sliders for the various colours, Dave showed us how to use the Targeted Adjustment Tool. If you look closely on the HSL module, there is a little icon in the top left had corner of the screen. When you click on it, it changed your pointer and the allows you to SELECTIVELY ADJUST THE HUE, SATURATION OR LUMINANCE OF ANY PART OF THE IMAGE. I'm sorry, I'm getting excited. So for example, you have taken a shot of a beach with a pale blue sky. Lets say you want to increase the blueness, so click of the TAT, point to an area of the sky and drag the cursor down to increase sats or up to desaturate. Because you have selectively selected a tiny pixel of blue, you are only adjusting the blue in the image. Do the same on the sand and you are just amending the yellow or orange. With two quick drags you have selectively increased the saturation of the image rather than doing a global change (which you can do in the Basic module). You can do the same with Hue, changing colours easily, and luminance allows you to change the brightness of a colour. Its a brilliant tool, try it.
As well as the Crop, Spot Removal and Red Eye Removal tools, which are all excellent at doing what they do, the two other tools I have used a lot are the Gradient Tool and the Brush Adjustment Tool.
The Gradient Tool lets you create, you guessed it, graduations in your images, to a very fine detail, and not just with exposure but virtually all of the other adjustments too.
However, my favourite tool has to be the Brush Adjustment Tool. It does exactly what is says on the tin. You can make very fine adjustments to small parts of an image, again with all the standard adjustments like exposure, contrast, saturation, shadows, highlights, clarity, sharpness but also, and this can be the killer for very tricky lighting situations, you can adjust the WHITE BALANCE on selective parts of the image.
With these tools to hand, I feel my post-processing has improved massively, unless someone tells me otherwise. There are a couple of things I still need PS for, like cloning, but I can live with that. If you have not used LR before, I can highly recommend using it.
There are a couple of other modules which may be of use to some. If your camera has geo-tagging, the Map module will show you where abouts in the world the image was taken. I have tried this with our Sony HX9V and it works a treat. LR4 has a Book module, which links to Blurb, so if making photo books is your thing, you can now do it all within LR. There are also Slideshow, Print and Web modules but I have not used these at this stage.
To summarise then, Lightroom 4 has had a massive impact on my workflow and post-processing. I can highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to set up their library or to those already using another tool.
© Julian Slaughter Imagery