All Creatives Should Watch This!

If you are a creative and have ever suffered from the dreaded “Imposter Syndrome,” then you need to watch this video. Neil Gaiman addresses the University of the Arts graduating class. He gives so many great little nuggets of advice, it’s hard to sum them up without transcribing the entire speech.

What are you waiting for? Go watch the video!

Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012 from The University of the Arts (Phl) on Vimeo.

Pinball Wizard

Yesterday I shot some video on my phone of my daughter playing pinball. I tend to shoot lots of video that I never edit, so I forced myself to just bust out an edited video in a few hours. It isn’t perfect but that fits my new philosophy of sharing the things I do.

So next time you think you need to perfect the thing you are working on, forget it and just publish it.

WordPress Business Owner Panel @WordCampChi

Looking forward to a killer weekend in Chicago

I’ll be taking part in the WordPress Business Owner Panel at WordCamp Chicago this Sunday June 30, 2013 at 2:30pm. I love talking about the strategy of running a business around WordPress and I look forward to learning some things from the other 3 people on the panel.

Come check it out and say hello!

Presentation: CSS preprocessing and Front-End development workflow MSP WordPress

I’ll be doing a presentation September 27, 2012 at the WordPress MSP user group meetup. The topic is going to be mostly CSS Preprocessors thru Sass. I’ll also be covering some workflow stuff as I cover Sass. Regardless of which preprocessing language you use, the ideas apply. Free knowledge, pizza, and drinks! For details go to:

Listening to podcasts at 2x

Why 2x (double speed)

As more and more great podcasts are coming out, I have been finding myself not being able to listen to all the episodes I am interested in. The biggest reason I have needed to do this is the 5by5 Network. Dan Benjamin is really rounding up some great content with the top names in Apple, Productivity, and Web Design in general.

What am I missing?

The podcasts I find myself listening to most are:

The podcasts I’m planning to check out and see if they can be added are:

So how do I do it?

I use an iPhone app called Instacast. Instacast is great because it lets you subscribe to podcasts and can even cache them for listening in times when you don’t have cellular coverage. It doesn’t cap your downloads at 20MB like iTunes on the iPhone does. Plus it gives you an option to listen at 1x, 1.5x, and 2x speeds. At first it seemed a little bit weird because it does pickup the tempo by… yup, 2x! It doesn’t really sound like chipmunks because it seems to maintain the pitch when it is sped up. I told myself I’d give it a week and see how I felt about it then. At this point I can’t really see myself giving up the ability to cut my listening time in half.

All of the podcasts I listen to also publish show notes on each episode, so I use the podcasts for an overview to the subjects. Then if I hear something I’m interested in learning more about, I go back to the show notes and research the topic from there. I have even gone back and listened to a few sections again.

Yesterday I tried to go back and listen to The Talk Show at standard speed and it felt super slow to me. Give it a shot for a week or so and see what you think…

Photoshop CS5: Landscape Photography

Class Taken By: Kiko Doran

Taught By: Ben Long

This entire trio of classes has been really interesting because they are all independent of each other but they were taught by the same teacher. This definitely helped to hammer home some ideas of exposure. I had never heard of Ben Long before these videos but I’m curious to check out some of his photography after learning so much about his technique over the last few months. I don’t consider myself to be a photographer but I’ve always been interested in photography. As a web developer, I am always frustrated with the quality of photographs clients give me to use on their sites. As a developer, I can’t really do anything to fix the content so I figure I need to be good at acquiring my own content. Landscapes aren’t really something I will use in my day to day job but I find it is something I can do in a more relaxing way. I don’t have to wait on subjects to pose for pictures. I never have any issue with the fact that I’m a little slower to set my camera before capturing images. I can just relax and get to know my camera better with no stress…

So the majority of this course centered around three different styles of photography High Dynamic Range (HDR), Panoramic, and Black & White. Before getting to those topics, Ben went through the basic concepts of Camera RAW through Adobe Bridge. I have never worked with Bridge before other than just looking at thumbnails through it. To maximize the learning through the course I did all of my initial edits in Camera RAW for all three of the photography sections of my independent study. Camera RAW really proved to be very useful to me. It always seemed to me like something left for the “pros” but I found it is really as simple as you want it to be. It can also be extremely powerful but for a beginner it is really pretty simple and it lays everything out in the order you should edit your pictures… Seems like a no brainer to me now.

High Dynamic Range is the idea of taking multiple shots at different exposure settings and merging them together. Our eyes are able to see way more than any camera can see when it comes to highlight and lowlight comparison. So when you look at a potential shot that has really cool shadows and really bright highlights, there isn’t a camera in existence that can capture it all without compromise on one end or the other. This is where HDR really hits the mark for me. My camera has a feature called bracketing. The idea behind bracketing is I can set my camera for the best picture I can take in a standard mode and then it will take as many as three pictures, depending on my settings. The basic idea is I can take the baseline picture and either a lower exposure or a higher exposure shot. I can also set it to take all three shots. Then I have the ability to go as far as two full stops above or below. Once the camera is set, I generally have found the most luck with taking it at the full 2 stops up and down. I find it gives me the extreme exposure changes and then I can always dial it back in my adjustments when I bring them together.

I chose to shoot my HDR shot of the NYC skyline at night because there is so much contrast between the dark sky and the lights of Manhattan. The night I shot there was a storm which made it even eerier because there was a lot of dark cloud cover and the lights of the Empire State Building reflected off the clouds to create an interesting effect.

Panoramic shots are something I have never shot before. I used to buy the panoramic disposable cameras when I lived in Hawaii but that is hardly the same thing. The ideas behind panoramic shots are to take as many pictures as needed to acquire the subject and overlapping the shots by thirds. I tried to pick landmark spots to ensure I was getting enough overlap to pull it together. I was probably a little too conservative and ended up taking more shots than necessary but I didn’t want to find out later I had made the opposite mistake. This type of shooting is fairly simple to edit together. The biggest choice made in editing is how you want the items stitched together. To get the most of the image you have to make some decisions that can alter the image pretty dramatically. Once you bring the shots into Photoshop with Photomerge, you have to choose between the layouts of: Auto, Perspective, Cylindrical, Spherical, Collage, and Repositioning. I had the best luck with the spherical layout because it looked the most true to what I saw when I shot. I also really like the reposition layout for a very different effect. The reposition gives more of a scatter look as if pictures were just dropped on the table. I’d have to shoot a little differently to really take advantage of that layout but I can definitely see some value in playing with that more in the future.

My panoramic shot was of the old Lackawanna Train Station in Hoboken NJ. I love the way the green came out when I turned up the saturation so it really came out for me in some test shots I had done the day before. I know I can do better panoramic work but I feel like I learned a lot about the concepts and what it takes to compose a good shot. This final image is composed of 8 different pictures. Another key about panoramic photography is the composite images can be huge. I find that when doing it for use on the web, it’s best to reduce the images in Camera RAW and then export each shot with the exact same settings so they don’t show visible lines when you stitch it together. After reducing all the images then import them to photoshop and it will process much faster. It still works pretty fast when you do it with 30MB files, when you consider all it is doing, but it could be a lot faster and the web definitely doesn’t need that kind of detail. Even if you are working in most print situations you won’t need the full quality images once you put these together. All those quizzes I got in my photoshop class that helped me understand print vs screen resolution will come in handy…

Black and White
Finally the black and white isn’t something I learned about as a concept but I did learn a lot of interesting things when it came to doing those edits in Photoshop. This shot was a basement window that reminded me of an old jail cell. In color it really didn’t do anything for me but once I converted it, I loved the way the rust was captured in the black and white image.

All in all I learned a ton about my photography skills in these classes. The most important thing is I know how my camera needs to be set when I want a certain effect. I’m also better at setting my camera without having to take my eye away from the viewfinder. The camera is like an instrument in that way. You need to be able to play it without looking at or thinking about it, if you really want to be good at it. I have practiced a lot on how to get my camera setup without looking at it at all. This practice alone has made me a better photographer than I was before starting this independent study.

Here are my three shots for this class:

Foundations of Photography: Lenses

Class Taken By: Kiko Doran

Taught By: Ben Long

This class was more focused on just lenses but because it was a separate class from the exposure lesson, it did cover a lot of similar things to the exposure piece. The key thing I learned was focal length. Using zoom lenses is great because you can get shots of things far away. It also makes us a little lazy and less willing to stand in the right place to capture the image we want. I didn’t realize putting someone in two pictures where they cover the same real estate in the shot, can be completely different if taken with a zoom vs moving up on the subject. I’m not sure I really think one way is better than the other but they are remarkably different. Sometimes it is better to have the zoomed in shot because it seems to separate the subject from the surroundings better than right on the subject with a large depth of field.

My biggest issue is I don’t have any wide angle lenses to compare with but the instructor says he uses wide angle lenses for the things you wouldn’t expect. He doesn’t use them for wide vistas. He uses them to get interesting angles. His issue with wide angle lenses for vistas is they make things far in the distance seem very small. Wide angle lenses also cause some distortion on the corners of your shots. Better wide lenses have less distortion than inferior wide lenses. Camera position is even more important with wide angle lenses because it will alter the distortion points. I’m curious to try one. I think I’m more interested in a super high quality telephoto lens but I definitely see more of an application for a wide angle lens.

Depth of field was the practical piece to shoot for this lesson. The other information was not really something I could experiment with, short of buying a couple of lenses… I tried to combine the power, or lack there of, in my lenses with the information I learned about depth of field and shutter speed to create some interesting pieces. I’m really enjoying the fast shutter speed shooting and the ability to freeze things in time. I’ve been setting my camera to shoot in burst mode so I can get several shots to choose from when trying to freeze motion. This is where I would love to have a nice sports lens that can shoot across a football field with super fast shutter speeds and still have great exposure settings.

Here are my shots I feel best represent this piece:

Foundations of Photography: Exposure

Class Taken By: Kiko Doran

Taught By: Ben Long

The two basic elements of exposure are shutter speed and aperture. Shutter speed is measured in time and aperture is denoted by an f-stop number. Both shutter speed and exposure control how much light hits the sensor of your camera, thus affecting the exposure of the photo.

While I’m at it the instructor of the course made a very interesting distinction about “taking” pictures. He talks about his grandmother always referring to having her picture “made” when she got her portrait done. His feeling is that a picture is not taken because it doesn’t exist in the universe until you make several decisions about the photo before “making” it.

Auto is the least flexible setting for your camera as it makes all the decisions for you when you take a picture. Program mode is next most automatic photo but gives many options to override the auto settings.

When it comes to exposure there is a reciprocity that happens between shutter speed and aperture. If you make your shutter speed a full stop slower, the aperture will close one stop to compensate for the amount of light in a given scene. This is the process that happens when shooting in shutter priority mode. This is very effective when shooting moving objects that you want to freeze (fast shutter) or blur (slow shutter). My camera (Nikon D90) tells me when I’m at risk for either under or over exposure by indicating either HI or LO in the aperture indicator portion of my viewfinder.

When shooting in aperture priority, a larger number lets in half as much light as the stop below it. The aperture also affects the depth of field of the shot. The smaller number has a smaller depth of field and is useful in portrait shots where you only want the subject in focus. The larger the number the larger the depth of field and the shot is more completely in focus which is very useful in landscape shots. The aperture setting is critical in helping people be able to read your shot the way you intend it. Another key point I learned about aperture priority is that when shooting with a large depth of field, the range of focus bookends the focus point. When shooting a horizon, it doesn’t generally make sense to focus on the actual horizon because you end up wasting depth of field beyond the horizon. If you pull back your focus point, you get a more crisp foreground.

This class has really helped me understand how to set my camera to get the shot I intended.  I have taken thousands of photos I have never even looked at.  I went back and used some old photos to get some varied subjects.  When I got good shots in the past it was more luck than anything.  My understanding of exposure has grown by leaps and bounds from watching this short class.

The following shots are intended to show how the aperture setting affects depth of field:

The next shots used fast shutter speeds to stop time with a moving subject: