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If you have not tried the SLR camera simulator yet you are missing out.  This is an online tool that allows you to play with all the controls of a SLR/DSLR camera and see a simulated photograph based on how you set the camera.  First pick your off camera factors, lighting, distance from the subject, even if you have the camera on a tripod or not.  Then select your focal length using an 18-55 mm lens.  For the brave (or experienced) you can then select manual mode, or pick from aperture or shutter priority if you prefer, and set your f/stop, shutter speed and ISO.  Then click the shutter and see what you get.

This is a fantastic tool for anyone learning photography as well as more experienced photographers.  You can try combination after combination to learn how shutter speed,aperture and ISO relate to one another and how changes to them impact your final images.  It even simulates noise from high ISO settings and how shutter speed works to stop or show motion.

One draw back of the tool is that there is only the one image to play around with.  But they are working to add more and you can sign up for an alert once that happens.  You are also limited to the 18-55 mm lens, but that does cover a pretty good range and you should be able to apply what you learn working with that lens to other focal length.

Screen shot of the SLR camera simulator.

What is a reverse image search engine?

We are all very familiar with Google image search where you put in your word or phrase, hit search and find page after page of images on the internet that match what you are looking for.  But what do you do when you have the image and need to see where it may be located on the web?  A reverse image search engine of course.  Reverse image search engines allow you to upload or drag-and-drop an image and it scans the web looking for matches.  The results returned are web sites where that particular image is displayed.

But if you already have the image what value is this?  There are a few reasons you might want to search backwards from the image:

  • You have an image and need to know its original source.
  • You need a higher resolution version of an image.
  • Curiosity about how an image is being used on the internet.
  • You own the image and want to see if it is being used against copyrights elsewhere on the web.

Before Google got in the reverse image search game there was one big player on the field, TinEye.

Screen shot of the TinEye reverse image search engine

TinEye is very simple to use.  Upload an image from your computer and the search begins.  If a match is found the sites where that image is located are displayed.

Screen shot of the TinEye image search results

A few drawbacks of TinEye:

  • It is a bit slow for a search engine.
  • It comes back with zero matches more often than I would expect.  TinEye is searching images that have been added to its database.  Granted that is 2 billion + images, but still if the image you are searching is not in their database, you’re out of luck.  I had to do about 6 searched before I found one of my images that was indexed in TinEye (and I used widely published images).
  • If you want more robust search results other than the location(s) of the image on the web they do not offer much.

I love the concept of TinEye and think it can be a good tool for photographers keeping track of how their work is being used (and stolen) on the web.  Unfortunately when Google got into the reverse image search game I think TinEye started to look a little weak.  And as much as I hate to put all my eggs in the Google basket they know how to do search and do it well.  They have transferred that to reverse image search very well making their tool almost all you really need.

Screen shot of Google's reverse image search

With Google’s tool you go to their standard image search page and drag-and-drop an image from your computer into the search box.  The Google algorithms do their magic and the search results page brings back the pages on the web where that image is found in various sizes as well as something called “Visually Similar Images” which are close to your image in coloring.

Screen shot of Google's reverse image search results page

The image I searched is on at least 5 sites per Google’s results, but since it is not in TinEye’s database yet their results brought back zero results.  However, being very familiar with this particular image, I also know that the Google results are not capturing everything.  Other than that when you compare the two, Google just offers a better tool.

Whether you want keep track of your work on the internet or have an image that you need to know the original source of reverse image search engines can be a great (although not perfect yet) tool to track down the location of specific images on the web.  With time I have no doubt both Google and TinEye will expand their search engines and get them caught up with the billions and billions of images that are floating around the web now.

As a photographer in the 21st century who has at least some knowledge of the internet, you have probably heard of Creative Commons.  But understanding Creative Commons may be a whole different story.  What is it?  How does it work?  And how is it different from copyrights?

Prior to the late 1990s, when Creative Commons came into existence, there was only copyright law.  In the 1976 Copyright Act a copyright is defined as giving the author or owner of the copyright an exclusive right to control how their copyright work is used, reproduced and distributed.  Copyright applies to “original works of authorship” which can be literary, musical, dramatic, artistic or other intellectual work, whether published or unpublished and remains valid for 70 years after the death of the creator.  You also don’t have to register a work for it to be copyrighted.  The copyright applies as soon as it is recorded, written down, captured on film or sensor, drawn on paper, etc.  However, in the US at least, registering your copyright with the US Copyright Office can give you additional rights and recourse if those rights are violated.

So isn’t that good enough?  In many cases yes.  However, with the rise of the internet, sharing creative works rose as well, both legally and illegally.  Some thought that copyright laws, as they were currently written and enforced, were not flexible enough for the age of the internet and digital works.  So the Creative Commons was designed to be a less stringent method of copyright that fostered increased access to and sharing of intellectual and artistic works while still giving the original creator of the work some degree of protection.  With Creative Commons the artist, author or creator is given the ability to decide which rights they want to keep and which they chose to waive.  The intention was a win-win for everyone.  The creator would have protective rights to their work while the end user got flexibility to use the works without the restraints of all or nothing copyrights.

Creative Commons is often referred to the middle ground of copyrights, the “some rights reserved” version.

All Right Reserved   ->   Some Right Reserved   ->  Public Domain

Copyrights                  ->   Creative Commons        ->   Free to use with no restrictions

So how does this work?  Essentially you select the Creative Commons license you want to assign to your creative work to grant copyright permissions to it and associate that license with your work.  For online work you can do it with a bit of coding.  For offline work you can use the old fashion manual way of indicating a copyright on your work.

There are 6 licensing options to pick from.  From least to most restrictive they are:

Attribution: Under this license the creator is allowing others to copy, distribute and transmit the work; to alter/remix/rework it and to use it for commercial purposes as long as attribution is given to the originator.  Read the legalese version of Attribution here.

Attribution – Share Alike: This license is very similar to Attribution with one addition.  The creator is allowing others to copy, distribute and transmit the work; to remix/rework it and to use it for commercial purposes as long as attribution is given to the originator.  AND, if you do alter the original work you can only distribute it under the same or similar license – share-alike.  i.e. no claiming complete copyrights to it.  Read the legalese version of Attribution – Share Alike here.

Attribution – No Derivs: This license allows you to copy, distribute and transmit the work even for commercial purposes as long as attribution is given to the original author/creator, BUT you are not allowed to alter or rework it in any way.  Read the legalese version of Attribution – No Derivs here.

Attribution Non-Commercial:  With this license you are allowed to copy, distribute and transmit the work and can alter/remix/rework it, just not for any commercial purposes as long as attribution is given to the original author/creator.  Read the legalese version of Attribution Non-Commercial here.

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike:  See the pattern here yet?  This license allows you to copy, distribute and transmit the work and you can alter/remix/rework it, but you must attribute it, no commercial use and if you do alter the original work you can only distribute it under the same or similar license – share-alike.  Read the legalese version of Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike here.

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs:  Last one, and the most restrictive.  The rights with this license limit you to copying, distributing and transmitting the work.  But no altering it, no commercial use and you must attribute it.   Read the legalese version of Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs here.

Make sense?  The concept is not too difficult on the surface if you understand the basics of copyright and the mission behind Creative Commons makes sense given the “free for all” mentality of the internet.  But critics question how it stands up legally and if Creative Commons just feeds the “if it’s on the internet it’s free for me to take and use as I wish” attitude that is so common.  Does Creative Commons just muddy the copyright waters?

I have lived in Arizona (almost) all my life and I am sorry to say I have only been to the Grand Canyon once (and that was over 20 years ago as a kid).  I know, I should be ashamed of myself being a photographer with this “hole in the ground” in my back yard and not taking full advantage of it.  It is on my 2011 Photography Resolution list to get to the Grand Canyon sometime this year to photograph.  So Outdoor Photographer magazine’s recent article by photographer George Stocking is a great inspiration to me.  10 Tips For The Grand Canyon offers the insider tips of a great landscape photographer and is well worth a  read even if you don’t have any immediate plans to visit the Grand Canyon.

As the hobby of photography continues to grow and as digital point-and-shoot, DSLR and even mobile phone cameras become commonplace in most households amateur photographers are always looking for unique and creative ways to display their photography.  The 4×6 print in an album just doesn’t cut it anymore.  Countless companies have popped up on the web with photo printing on everything from mugs to t-shirts even pillow cases.  And as you can imagine, the quality varies as much as the pricing from company to company.  Photo key chains and mouse pads can be a cute novelty display of your photographic talents.  But one method of printing your images for display that is becoming ever more popular and affordable is canvas photo prints.

A canvas photo print is just as it sounds, your photography printed on artist canvas, think PBS’s Bob Ross painting a happy little tree type canvas.  This method of printing photography, when done well, makes an image appear like a work of art.  Of course you generally have to start out with a quality photograph.  Composed well, interesting subject and such.  Although many of the canvas photo printers out there today will do image correction for you, they haven’t invented the post-processing software yet that fixes a boring photograph.

You can get a photo printed on canvas everywhere from Costco to well known online photo printers like Shutterfly to smaller specialty printers.  So how do you know who to chose and who can print a quality final canvas print versus those that crank out mediocre “mass-produced”  prints that you would not want hanging on your closet wall much less over the sofa?  Read the reviews!

I recently got a canvas print from Easy Canvas Prints, one of the online specialty canvas printers – in that canvas prints is all they do, no photo dog tags or place mats here.  Here are my thoughts on Easy Canvas Prints as one of your options when considering who to turn your next photographic masterpiece into something you can hang on your wall to oooh and ahhh the neighbors.

  • Shipping Time: I placed my order on a Wednesday, it shipped on Friday and I received it on Tuesday.  Seven days from start to finish is pretty fast turn around.  If you take out that weekend from the shipping equation it was only a 2 day shipping time.  No complaints with that.
  • Packaging: Easy Canvas Prints’ packaging is something a lot of companies can take lessons from.  Bottom line, they took great pains to make sure the product was going to make it to me in one piece and without any scratches or dents.  We all know UPS and FedEx can get a little “careless” transporting a package cross-country – it happens going from truck to plane to truck to doorstep.  But what Easy Canvas Prints has done is to first wrap the canvas in stretch film, then in bubble wrap, then they sort-of suspend it in the middle of any over-sized box.  This method of packaging means that even if it does get dropped or crushed chances are good the canvas inside will make it through unscathed.
  • Image Quality: The image I had printed was black and white.  So first off I cannot comment on the “true to color” aspect of Easy Canvas Prints.  But we can do some inferring based on the image quality of the canvas I received.  As is the nature of computer monitors, without calibrating and all that fancy stuff, no two are going to display an image exactly the same.  So you have to understand that what you see on your screen is not what the printer will see on their screen (exactly).  So expect some variation in the final product compared to how it looked on your monitor.  What sets a good printer apart from a great printer is their ability to minimize this variation and get your final print as close to “reality” as possible.  My print came out darker than I saw it on my monitor with the grays more pronounced.  But in the end, the image was sharp, the tones of black and white were defined and I feel that overall image quality is very good.
  • Overall Product Quality: Easy Canvas prints uses archival inks (not the non-water proof inks some canvas printers use) and cotton-based material for the canvas itself.  The construction of the frame is solid and the canvas is secured to the frame well with plenty of staples.  Product quality is top notch and these canvas prints should hang over your sofa (or wherever you choose to place it) for a long time.
  • Final Rating: My final review of the canvas print I received from Easy Canvas Prints is five out of five cameras.  Production and shipping time totaled about a week, including weekends.  The packaging made sure nothing was going to damage the canvas on its trip to me.  The overall image quality and the construction of the frame were very good.  So if you are looking for something a little different than a standard photo paper print to hang on your wall, canvas prints are a great option.  And of all the possible printers out there Easy Canvas Prints produces a quality product that you are likely to be very satisfied with.
Disclaimer - Easy Canvas Prints gave a free canvas print for reviewing purposes.

I discovered while in New York City a handy app for my Droid that put the subway maps right at my finger tips.  Then there is the iPad app that puts NPR and all its newsiness right in my hands on demand.  I can get the weather, search for a new job, do my banking, or find a new vegetarian recipe for dinner all with an app.  So why not an Ansel Adams app? Well now fans of the photography of Ansel Adams have an app for that too.  Created by Hachette Book Group, Inc. (publishers of Ansel Adams 400 Photographs) in collaboration with the University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography, the world’s most extensive archive of Adams’ work and writings, the Ansel Adams app”…provides a multi-tiered introduction to the life and work of the most honored American photographer of the twentieth century.” Here is what you get with the Ansel Adams app which sells for $13.99 through the iTunes Store:

  • A slide show of 40 Ansel Adams photographs with your choice of audio narration, written commentary or music.
  • The ability to run the photographs as accompaniment to your own music.
  • The ability to send the photos as e-cards via email.
  • Video clips from Ansel Adams documentaries.
  • Letters between Adams and many famous people.
  • A time line of key moments in Adams’ life.
  • Web links to site that would be of interest to any fan of Ansel Adams.

So it is a bit like a coffee table book on the work and life of Ansel Adams that you get to interact with.  For the die hard Ansel fan it is probably worth checking out.

I recently attended a Rocky Mountain School of Photography(RMSP) weekend in Tucson, AZ and was very impressed.  RMSP, for those who are not familiar with it, is a Missoula, MT based photography school that offers a wide range of education opportunities in photography.  Their programs range from photography career training, to photography workshops based in some of the most beautiful and photographic location in the world to the Photography Weekends that I attended.

A Weekend with RMSP is a two day seminar geared towards “…beginner-through-intermediate amateur photographers.”  Each weekend is made up of 10 different photography seminars to choose from.  Each student can select 5 of the ten sessions based on their personal photography goals and interests.  The sessions are lead by experienced, working photographers and are very affordable.  Only $179 for both days ($169 if you take advantage of early and online registration discounts).  And you get a lot for your $179/$169.

The weekend I attend in Tucson was lead by Tim Cooper and Tony Rizzuto.  I will come back to these guys in a bit.  But first my thoughts on the 5 seminars I attended during the weekend.

The seminars we had to pick from are listed here.  I chose the ones in bold.

Photo Basics I

Understanding Exposure: Using the Zone System for Color

Photo Basics II

Workflow: Processing Your Images with Adobe Lightroom

Introduction to Macro Photography

Light: Creating Mood and Dimension

Video for Photographers: Capture and Composition

Composition: Designing a Great Photo

Nature Photography

Photographing People

Keep in mind that these are geared towards amateur photographers at the beginner to intermediate experience levels.  They are also short 2 hour sessions.  So the instructors are packing in a lot of information into each session and trying to target varying skill levels.  Don’t go in expecting in depth detail tailored to your specific level or needs.  I personally was very please with every aspect of the weekend and if you keep these things in mind I think most amateur photographers can get a great deal out of a RMSP Weekend.

I felt that I gained the most out of the Understanding Exposure: Using the Zone System for Color seminar lead by Tim Cooper.  One of the great things about the RMSP Weekend is that the instructors present the material in a very thorough and understandable manner.  They pack a lot into two hours and do a very good job with examples and making the connection between the concepts and how they will impact and improve your images.  Exposure is a concept that can be hard to grasp.  Most of us know that the aperture, shutter speed and ISO are what we control to get the exposure we want but an understanding of the Zone System introduces how light and color play into exposure and how to use them to get the perfect exposure every time.  This is one seminar I highly recommend attending.

Tony Rizzuto’s Composition: Designing a Great Photo was also very informative and very well presented.  There are so many “rules” for great composition and Tony did an excellent job of surveying the vast majority of them and again presenting examples to illustrate each in practice.  Whether it was S curves, negative space, or scale each were presented in a clear, understandable way with corresponding photographs demonstrating the concept for those of us that are more visual learners.

Each seminar I attended had something of value to offer.  The only drawback was that I was limited to 5 of the 10 seminars and I would have liked to have the chance to attend a few others.

As for the instructors, Tim Cooper and Tony Rizzuto in the case of the Weekend I attended, I was impressed.  I have taken photography classes before with teachers who are doing a job and are not very convincing that it is a job they like too much.  The were essentially filling up the time.  But it is obvious that Tim and Tony enjoy what they do and they put their whole selves into it.  They were both personable, very well versed on photography, informative and entertaining.  I cannot speak for any of the other instructors at RMSP but if these two are representative of the whole staff you can’t go wrong.

Overall, I can say that I got more out of this two day weekend than I did out of an entire semester of Digital Photography 101 at the local community college.  It was packed full of useful information for the amateur photographer and I came away with at least 3 very useful bits of information that I am certain will improve my photography once I incorporate them into my shoots and practice them.  Now if I can only drop $7500 and take 3 months off of life and attend the summer intensive in Montana.  After the Weekend Seminars I would have no doubt that any other program from RMSP would be well worth the investment.

Photo of fireworksIt is the first of July, that means we are only a few days away from photographing fireworks.  I do not have a lot of experience in this area to offer solid first hand advice on how to capture the best fireworks photographs.  But I do have a few pieces of advice from my fireworks photography outing last 4th of July.  I have also complied what I feel are some great resources out on the Internet to help guide you through the process.

My Fireworks Photography Tips:

1. A tripod is ESSENTIAL.  I’d go so far as to say “don’t even try it without one.”

2. A remote shutter release cable can help significantly as well.  It allows you to release the shutter without touching the camera thereby reducing camera shake and blur.

3. Location is key.  It really helps to scout out the area where the show is going to be the day before to find a spot where you will get the best vantage point.

4. Read up on the best settings to use for photographing fireworks ahead of time so you can limit your experimentation during the show when time is limited.

5.  Above all else, have fun with it.

Here are some resources I have found that offer tips and tricks on getting the best Fourth of July fireworks shots:

Digital Photography School – This is a great resource for all things photography related.  Their How to Photography Fireworks guide is one of the best and well worth taking a few minutes to read.

Photographyreview.com – The Fireworks Photography Guide from photographyreview.com goes more into the technical aspects of getting the best shot.  Even if you are not familiar with all the technical aspects of photography this is a good read.  No time like the present to start learning anyway.

Canon – You don’t have to be using a Canon camera to take advantage of their advice.  The Canon Digital Learning Center’s Quick Tips: Photographing Fireworks article includes a helpful section on how to best compose your fireworks shots.

Photo of the Red Rocks of Sedona, ArizonaThe Sedona Photo Fest 2010 is a week long event celebrating photography in the natural beauty of Sedona, AZ.  Put on by the Sedona Arts Center the Photo Fest runs from July 18th to the 25th and is packed with something for just about everyone.  Here is a sampling of some of the events that I think look particularly interesting.  You can download the full Sedona Photo Fest program of events here.

  • Sedona landscape photography competition
  • Sedona International Film Festival Photo Fest Cinema Night – Features two films: Resurrection: Glen Canyon and A New Vision for the American West and Ansel Adams: A Documentary Film
  • A three day symposium filled with speakers and panels is the center point of the Photo Fest.  A few of the presentations that stand out to me are:
  • Fine Art Exhibit and Sale – Sedona is known for its galleries and many of them will be featuring photography during the event.

Check the Sedona Photo Fest 2010 site for information on pricing and how to buy your tickets and have fun if you are able to attend.

Photo of Arizona grasslandsThe mission statement of The Gilbert Visual Arts League is

to create a venue for local artists to show their work and be recognized for their talents. The league strives to increase artistic awareness and appreciation in their community and surrounding areas.

I joined recently to see if I can learn something from fellow artists and possible get some of my photography on display at some smaller local venues.  One of the perks of member ship is an artist profile on their site.  Check out my artist profile for The Gilbert Visual Art League.