Lightroom 6

There’s big news in the world of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom  in the form of two new programs – Lightroom version 6 (LR 6) and Lightroom Creative Cloud (LR CC).  They’ve only been out for a few weeks but I’ve already taught my first private lesson on the program.  I’ve said it before but I think it’s worth repeating – I think anybody that regularly takes photos should own this program.

To be fair, Adobe added some great new features in the new versions but I don’t think any of them necessarily offer a compelling reason to upgrade from LR 5.7.  That said, subscribers of the Creative Cloud package and people waiting to jump in as first time users should waste no time waiting to install the program – the new version is solid and it offers some really nice new features.

One of the reasons why I think all photographers should use the program is because it has a very robust Catalog module.  The catalog module has long been the best way (in my opinion) to keep track of images (and videos) because it allows users the option to sort by star rating, color labels, pick flags, camera used, lens used, date created, and keywords.  All of those features are still there of course but now they’ve added a fun new one – facial recognition.

If you’ve ever noticed how Facebook seems to magically know who is in a photo then you are already familiar with how the facial recognition algorithms work.  Like any other tool, it takes a bit of time to initially set up BUT once it is set up, it works very well.  And guess what – unlike Facebook’s tool, this one does a pretty decent job of recognizing pets too.  Pretty cool, right?

I’ve previously demonstrated how you might consider using Lightroom’s Develop module to edit images.  As you might imagine, they did a bit of tweaking there too but I’m afraid most people won’t even notice because it’s my experience that powerful tools like the gradient filter and the radial adjustment tool are underutilized.  These tools are used to make localized adjustments (check out the examples I discussed here) which is very important for balancing out scenes with a high dynamic range (think black fur against a white background, or shadows in a landscape image with bright blue sky).  If those kinds of images are adjusted globally (that is they affect the entire image) you are left making compromises – either something is left too dark or something is made too bright.  The gradient and radial adjustment tools allow you to make your adjustments just where they are needed – but that’s not exactly new.  The big change in LR 6 & LR CC is that now you can make adjustments to how those adjustments are applied (clear as a bell, right?).  So say you want to darken the sky but you don’t want to darken the mountain that pokes out of the ground – the new tools allow you to use a brush to add or subtract areas where the effect is applied making the tools more powerful than ever.

Do you want one more reason to upgrade?  Well, if you have pets, this might be the tool that convinces you.  How often have you ever wished that someone would make a decent red-eye correction tool for pets (usually green-eye or gold-eye)?  With LR 6 & LR CC, Adobe has finally addressed that need.

Have I convinced you yet?  If so, you can buy the stand alone version (LR 6) or the Creative Cloud Subscription (LR CC) here.  Not quite convinced but intrigued?  Then download the free 30 day trial.

One cute dog edited with Lightroom CC.

One cute dog edited with Lightroom CC.

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On hiring a professional

I’m sure you’ve all been there.  Maybe it was a family reunion or maybe it was the big graduation day.  Whatever the event, it brought your extended family together and it was suddenly time for the family portrait.  I’ll go out on a limb and guess that it wasn’t the highlight of your day.

There are many reasons that you might choose to hire a professional photographer and they all have merit.  There are certain times when a snapshot will do and there are others when you’ll want something with a bit more production value (photo speak for a highly polished image).  I think it is fair to say that most of us can take a pretty decent photo, after all, practice makes perfect and globally, we create some 500 billion photos a year, but sometimes pretty decent isn’t enough.  Sometimes you’ll want to give some consideration to hiring a professional.  A group portrait is one good reason to hire a pro.

So then, how do you decide who to hire?  How do you distinguish between a GWAC (guy/girl with a camera) and someone that has the skills to get the job done right?  Those can be tough questions to answer but I’ll share my thoughts.

First of all, it is important to understand that any professional that you consider hiring should actually have a legitimate business.  That means that the photographer will have business and tax licenses.  If they have a brick and mortar studio, those should be on display somewhere just as they are for any other business that you patronize.  If they work out of their home and choose to meet you in coffee shops, at your home, or at some other place that is mutually convenient, don’t worry – that’s a legitimate way to run a photography business too – just be sure to ask them about their business license.  If they are running an actual business, they will be more than happy to share this information with you.  If they don’t, it’s probably time to look for another photographer.

You’re probably thinking about now, why does it matter anyway if they don’t have a license?  After all, it might save you a few bucks, right?

Once upon a time miners would bring canaries into their coal mines.  They might have appreciated there singing or might have just enjoyed the company of a pet but that’s not why they brought them – they used them as a sign of trouble.  This was before the age of fancy gas detecting equipment and they knew that if the canary got sick (or worse), then they needed to get to fresh air.

Think of a business (and tax) license as a canary.  If a ‘pro’ doesn’t have them, then they are not a professional at all.  Will you have a problem with their service?  Not necessarily.  If there is a problem, do you think it will end well for you?  Almost certainly not.  See, and again, a professional photographer is a business person.  They are in a service industry and they have a vested interest in making sure that your needs are met otherwise they risk losing future business.  But it could be more than that too.  Remember how that canary wasn’t primarily there for the good times?  We hate to think of anything bad happening during our sessions, but what if you get hurt because of something the photographer did?  Do you think someone that didn’t bother getting a business license will have proper insurance?   Insurance companies don’t like to pay for things that they don’t feel are their responsibility.  If they think that a person is running a business (i.e. accepting fee for service), then they will deny any claim on their homeowner/renter policy so there will be no liability insurance policy to cover those injuries.  No business license means no business insurance and if the unthinkable happens during your session, that could mean trouble.

Okay, enough doom and gloom.  So you’ve decided to hire a professional – how do you go about finding one?  And once you’ve found one, how do you know you’ve found the right one?  The easiest thing to do is to visit the Professional Photographers of America (or the equivalent professional organization in other countries) and use their ‘Find a Photographer‘ feature.  It is simple enough to plug in your city and find photographers that are members of PPA but that should just be the starting point and you’ll want to do some additional research.  Once you have some names, you’ll want to start visiting their websites to see if you can relate to their style.  If you don’t like what you see (or can’t find a website at all), then it’s time to move on to the next name on your list.  Once you’ve narrowed your list down to the top choices, it is time to make contact.

In an ideal world, photographers, being small business owners, would be happy to take your call or answer your email when you are ready to contact them but as likely as not, that won’t be the case.  See, most photographers are a one man band – they do the shooting, the bookkeeping, the post-processing, the marketing, the social media updates… well, you get the idea.  If they don’t answer the phone or if you email them asking them to call you, please understand that it isn’t that they don’t want your business, but rather they are probably seeing to some other part of their business.  Think about it this way, how would you feel if you were in the middle of a session and your photographer said you’ll need to wait while he answers his phone or writes a quick email response?   The best thing you can do is to leave a message telling them about your needs and letting them know some good times to reach you so that you can avoid the phone tag game.

When you talk to your photographer, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, while many are happy to answer a few questions by phone, most are going to want to meet you prior to the session if at all possible.  These pre-session consultations are an important part of the process for a number of reasons.  First, it allows you both to get on the same page about the details of the session.  The photographer will need to know things like the number of people, the venue, any constraints on the session (i.e. nap times for little ones), and more depending on the type of session you are interested in booking.  The pre-session consult is also important for helping the photographer to understand what you are looking to buy – do you want a few prints, a wall hanging, a book, or something else entirely.  Without knowing how you plan to use the imagery, the photographer will be forced to guess or make assumptions that might ultimately result in a disappointing sales session for both of you.

Perhaps most importantly, the pre-session consult will help you and the photographer begin to build a relationship.  Meeting your photographer for the first time during your big event is a mistake.  The best case scenario is that you’ve found a person you like and you love that person’s artistic vision but what if you don’t hit it off?  If that person comes across as gruff, will he scare the kids?  Or if she’s a half hour late to your appointment, is she someone you can trust to show up on time for your event?  Meeting your photographers prior to the event will pay big dividends during the session itself – if you know that you like your photographer, you’ll be much more relaxed during the session which will result in much better photographs.  Conversely, what if you get a bad vibe from the photographer?  You’ll want to know that it’s time to meet the next photographer on your list.

In the end, I propose you think about professional photography services like you would any other professional services.  Are you good with your hands?  Perhaps you will buy a few wrenches, screw drivers, and more to build a decent tool kit.  When a light switch goes bad or a sink gets backed up, you might well decide that those fixes are in your wheelhouse so you will spend a few hours to get the supplies you need, do the repair, and clean up the job with a sense of satisfaction.  But are you the best choice to do all electrical or plumbing jobs at your home?  Similarly, you might do a great job taking photos at a party, your family’s portraits at a picnic, etc., but there are likely jobs where you’ll want to hire a professional too. Group portraits might be one of those times.

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On Volunteering

If you’ve followed my work for any length of time you know that I volunteer my time and professional services regularly to help various animal welfare organizations.  These days, it is mostly Pima Animal Care Center here in Tucson but I’ve worked with as many as maybe a dozen different organizations over the years.  My belief that it is important to give back to the less fortunate in the community which probably dates back to my time at Marquette University.  If you don’t know anything about Marquette, all you really need to know is that it is a Jesuit university and the Jesuits are about two things – service and education (okay – oversimplified but those two are key).  Anyhoo, today I’d like to take the time to encourage you to do some  volunteering and I thought you might appreciate my ‘guide to volunteering’ to help get you started.

Spring came into our lives because I volunteered at Woodford Humane Society.

Spring came into our lives because I volunteered at Woodford Humane Society.

Before jumping in, it might go without saying that what works for me might not work for you.  Take these suggestions only as a starting point.

1)  Find an organization that you want to work with on a regular basis.  That seems obvious but it is key to starting a lasting relationship.  There are countless worthy non-profit organizations in the world and chances are, you’ll think many of them do important work.  Just because you recognize that an organization is doing important work in the community doesn’t mean that it is a good fit for you.  There are many ways to help and if you believe an organization is doing good work but the idea of working directly with them makes you uncomfortable, then consider a donation instead.  Non-profits need money more than they need uncomfortable volunteers.

I was caught on the wrong side of the camera in this photo.

I was caught on the wrong side of the camera in this photo.

2)  Make sure that the needs of the organization match with the kind of work that you are interested in performing.  Once upon a time I thought it would be fun to work with Habitat for Humanity – after all, I’m fairly handy with tools and I enjoy working with my hands.  I went to the local office and told them that I was interested in helping them with their work.  After a month of organizing poorly filed papers and cleaning their very dirty office without once doing the kind of work that I wanted to do, we parted ways.

3)  Come with an open mind.  I wrote that I wasn’t a good fit for the kind of volunteer that Habitat for Humanity needed at the time but it still wasn’t a one and done experience.  Sometimes non-profits need help in ways that you don’t expect – you might find that the unexpected job is perfect for you.  While you should find volunteer opportunities that interest you, understand that the volunteering isn’t all about you – it’s about helping an organization that you believe in fulfill their mission.

This is an example of an unexpected experience - because of my work with adoptable dogs, I began working with a dog training program in a medium security prison.  Definitely both interesting and unexpected.

This is an example of an unexpected experience – because of my work with adoptable dogs, I began working with a dog training program in a medium security prison. Definitely both interesting and unexpected.

4)  Have fun!  Within reason.  One of the things that volunteers do at Pima Animal Care Center is dog walking.  They take the dogs out of their kennels and walk them around the park.  It is good for the dogs and it is a fun way to spend time with these animals while making a real improvement in their quality of life.  The dog walkers give the dogs exercise, they give them a place to take care of their business outside of their living quarters, and they often will give the dogs a bit of grooming or training.  When the dogs are compatible, the dog walkers will walk with one another and enjoy not only their dogs company, but also that of their fellow volunteers.   One thing they don’t do – sit around in the staff lounge shooting the breeze getting in the way of the work that needs to be done.

5)  Offer suggestions – when appropriate.  I’m sure you bring a wealth of knowledge with you when you volunteer and the non-profit you are working with absolutely can benefit from your expertise.  Just understand that you might not have the big picture and there might be excellent reasons why things are done a certain way.  Don’t take it personally if your suggestion is not given the credit that you think it deserves.

One of the first dogs I ever photographed at PACC.

One of the first dogs I photographed at PACC.

6)  Be a team player.  When I first started volunteering at Pima Animal Care Center, they had a room that I could use to set up my studio gear.  I like making studio portraits for adoptable animals for a number of reasons but two of the big ones are that it allows me to isolate the pet from all distracting backgrounds and it allows me to work with them in an environment that is (relatively) free from distractions.  These photos made the animals stand out in their online adoption profiles in a way that was good for those pets but then they hired a full time veterinarian and the space I was using was no longer available.  Now I photograph the dogs as they are walked in the park adjacent to the shelter.  There are other dogs, ducks, remote controlled boats, cars, children, and any of a number of other distractions but photographing there allows me to continue to work with an organization that I believe in so I’ve made the needed adjustments.

Robin and I were out again earlier this week and we photographed this handsome fellow.  Rojo will make the right family very happy.

Robin and I were out again earlier this week and we photographed this handsome fellow. Rojo will make the right family very happy.

I think that’s it.  Do you have any tips of your own that you think I missed?  If so, leave a comment and let me know.  I’ll leave you for the week with a few more photos from our session this week.  If you are interested in Rojo (photo above) or any of the furry ones below, visit Pima Animal Care Center’s website or better yet, stop in and say hello to your next family member!

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Post-processing using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

A few weeks ago I wrote about the benefits of using RAW camera files during the editing process and I showed you a quick (and a not so quick) example of how I might approach editing an image.   After beginning my edits in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (Lightroom or LR), I brought the file over to Adobe Photoshop (PS) to give the image a final polish before saving the photo for web use.  That prompted the follow up question about exporting files directly from LR.  This week I’d like to answer that question and share another example of using Lightroom from start to finish to edit a photograph.

Spring was happy to be a part of this lesson. Watch the video to see how I edited this photograph from start to finish using Lightroom.

In the video, I will show you how to import the RAW file (works the same for JPGs), edit the image, and then export the file using two different methods.  Grab a bottle of Diet Mountain Dew (okay – a cup of coffee then), sit back, and relax for a bit while I show you how I edited the above photo using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

As I wrap things up for the week I think it is important to note that while I am an Adobe Certified Expert using this program, you don’t have to be in order to benefit from using Lightroom.  If you regularly make photos (and short videos) then I think this program deserves a spot on your computer.   It will make your photo life easier, and of course, if you get stuck, you already know someone who can help.

Lyle says "Stay groovy."

Lyle says “Stay groovy.”

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