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Ray Davis

Getting Rid of Dust Spots

There are few things more irritating in photography than taking some great photos and then getting back to the computer and discovering there are dust spots all over them. Dust spots come from dust (shocking that!) getting into the cameas sensor, usually when you’re changing lenses. So to get rid of the dust spots you need to clean the sensor. There are two choices here, one is to pay someone to do it for you the other is to do it yourself.

If you want to take the do it yourself option there are plenty of guides out there on the World Wide Web but it’s worth checking out this guide at Cleaning Digital Cameras (catchy title, I know). It’s the most detailed I’ve come across and if you have the time and patience to read it and follow the instructions then it can save you time without your camera and a bit of hard-earned cash. Plus, it’s good to learn how to care for your equipment!

Brush Up Your Skills!

For most of us up here in the Northern hemisphere the summer is over and we’re back to work, school, and the regular routine. Once the first day of school pics are taken it’s easy to put down the camera and forget about photography only to remember it’s existence when Halloween rolls around. But wait! Don’t do that! Practice makes perfect (or at least slightly improved) and that’s as true for photography as anything else. So keep the camera out and use these tips to keep your eyes in shape over the coming months. That way there’ll be no dust to shake off when the festive season rolls around.

1. Get down on your knees or up on a chair or really anywhere that gives you a different perspective of something you’ve seen a million times. I have a friend who gets up on the roof of her house once each season and photographs her family standing in the garden looking up at her. It gives a different perspective of the garden and makes a great portrait.

2. Get in close and practice getting some beautiful bokeh. Click here for our easy to follow guide to bokeh. Mastering skills like this now means you’ll be ready to take gorgeous shots when that time of year we know is coming but don’t want to mention just yet arrives!

3. Become a nature photographer…just for a while! Autumn often provides spectacular opportunities to capture beautiful nature scenes without much effort. It’s a time of gorgeous colours and the days are shorter and light less bright so you don’t have to be up at 4am to photograph a sunrise. Even the light in the middle of the day can be soft and gentle at this time of year and as we all know light is key to good photography!

4. Take your camera with you, to work, to school, to the grocery store. There are some fantastic shots to be had in the places you visit everyday but you won’t get them if the camera isn’t with you! Once you’re armed with the right equipment look around you and see what catches your eye. Then photograph it. That’s it. It’s that simple. Remember every shot doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, sometimes just documenting the everyday is worth it, and it’s all good practice!

5. Join a local camera club or an online photography group. Your family and friends may profess enormous interest in your photography when your pictures are of them on holiday or their beloved granddaughter’s first day of school but the interest will likely dwindle when they or someone they love isn’t centre stage. Get your encouragement elsewhere! Local camera clubs are a great way to show off your shots and mix with other photographers who are of a similar skill level. Many clubs also get pros to come in and run workshops or give talks on improving your photography.

6. Re-edit. As the colder weather starts to hit you may be less inclined to get out and shoot (though really you shouldn’t let that stop you!), try some editing instead. Go back and edit photos you took 6 months or a year ago. You may well be surprised by how much your style’s changed or even how much you’ve improved since then. Pick one new editing technique you want to learn and take the time to master it properly.

Want to Look More Professional?

Have you outgrown Flickr? Feel you’re a bit too good for Photobucket? Recently I’ve been trying out a couple of alternatives for showing off your shots.

First up is SmugMug. They claim “Your photos look better here.” and actually there might be some truth to that statement. A SmugMug gallery looks very slick and professional. Here’s what one I made earlier looks like in editing mode (visitors to the site can’t see all the option bars at the top of the page):

RDavis_SmugMug

You can choose from a variety of themes depending on your asthetic preferences and make photos available to be viewed in sizes ranging from small to X3 large (plus the original size). One feature I really like, if you go for the slightly more expensive “power” account, is the option to disable visitors from right-clicking and saving your photos. A nice, simple deterrent to help keep your photos a bit safer online. You can also password protect galleries or hide urls so only people you sent the link to will be able to access them.

So far I’ve found the website easy to use and if you’re technically-challenged there’s a video to help you get started. There are free uploaders to work with Aperture, iPhoto, Picasa, Lightroom, and your browser. At $39.95/year it is a bit more expensive than Flickr ($24.95/year) but with around 300, 000 users compared to Flickr’s more than 32 million there’s more personal service on offer at SmugMug, in fact they have a team of SmugMug Super Heroes waiting to help users out. And you’ll stand out from the crowd a bit more too! To sign up, or try out a 14-day free trial, click here.

If you prefer to move away from photo sharing sites altogether then Showit might be for you. They provide free software (for Mac or Windows) that allows you to make your own photography website and publish up to 5 pages free (storing up to 30MB). A pro account will allow you to publish unlimited pages, have a custom url, and store up to 10GB but will set you back $39/month. The free account is pretty good though, the software is easier to use and has a nice variety of layouts for you to choose from. You need prettty much zero technical, clever, internet-type knowledge and you can still make a nice looking photography site. Here’s what one I created looks like in the preview stage:

RDavis_showitsite RDavis_showitsite

I have found that the software crashes quite easily, which is irritating, although so far it has always managed to start up again without losing any of my work. The level of customisation available is great and the software is fun to play with, hours of endless fiddling to get your site “just right”! For some more example sites have a look here, or to download the software click here.

Give Your Work Some Flow Part 2

I guess that by now you have managed to master the basic first steps of workflow set out in part 1 and so I give you, without further ado, part 2.

Post Processing. There are many different ways of doing post processing and a plethora of software to choose from to help get your photo editing just right. Which you use will depend on which operating your computer runs on and how much money you’re willing to part with. If you have a Mac it most likely came with iPhoto already on it which will let you do editing such as adjusting exposure, contrast, fill light, sharpness, red eye removal, retouching, cropping, straightening & adding special effects such as sepia. For Windows and Linux Google’s Picasa is a great piece of free software (it is also available for Mac users if iPhoto’s not your thing) that allows similar editing control. If you’re happy with this level of editing control the best thing to do is get into the habit of transferring your photos from your camera (or card reader) directly into Picasa or iPhoto and using them to do the organising and editing parts of your workflow. Both will back up the original photos so if you mess up the editing you can go back and start again!

Advanced Post Processing. If you want a bit more control over your post processing, especially if you shoot in RAW and want to make full use of it, then you’ll need some more advanced software. Adobe Photoshop is the most well know and you can also get Adobe Bridge which will do the transferring and organising part for you. Aperture is Apple’s version of Photoshop and is only available for Mac users but if you are on a Mac it’s worth trying out the free trials of both Aperture and Photoshop and seeing which you like best. There are thousands of sites out there with tips on how to use Photoshop so I won’t go into details but here is a series of tutorial videos on eHow. Apple’s tutorial site for Aperture can be found here.

A Bit More Organising. You may decide that rather than use a folder system, as I do, you want to just let your software (iPhoto, Picasa, Adobe Bridge, etc) do you photo organising for you. If this is the case make use of the organisational options they offer. Add keywords and geotags to your photos and rate them so you can easily find your favourites. If you go with folders create a new folder inside the one you originally transferred this batch of photos into and name it “finished photos”. Put the edited photos there. Mac users can use a program called Geotagger to tag their photos using Google Earth.

Share Your Photos! If you use a photo sharing site now is the time to upload your photos but be selective, choose what you feel are the best 25% of this batch and upload those. If you prefer to print photos (or like to do that as well), again be selective but now is also the time to do it (printing is often something that when put off doesn’t get done!), either upload them to a web service offering printing, put them on a suitable portable device for taking to a printing shop, or print yourself at home. Try different photo printing services and see which one you like best and keep your eye out for special offers and deals.

And that’s it for basic workflow, the key is to try and make sure it all gets done to each batch of photos so that you don’t end up with photos all over your computer, half of them out of focus, a quarter of them edited, and only a third labelled in such a manner that you can actually remember where/when you took them!

Give Your Work Some Flow Part 1

You’ve probably heard the term workflow being bandied about in photography circles but for those among you who are a little sketchy on the details let me introduce you to the basics of giving your photography work some flow.

What is it? Quite simply it’s the steps involved in getting your photos from conception to finished product. Professional photographers (and experienced amateurs) will often have a well honed workflow that allows them to edit their photos quickly and efficiently.

Quick and efficient sounds good, but how do I make it happen? Glad you asked, this is something that doesn’t happen instantly. You need to develop your own workflow, as you become a more experienced photographer you will most likely start to develop some sort of workflow naturally. To make it quick and efficient you need to think about it and give it a bit of structure.

Ok, so where do I start? With taking the photos. Decide if you want to shoot in RAW (if your camera gives you the option) or JPEG (and which size JPEG) and if you want to use manual or automatic settings. Making these choices doesn’t mean that’s what you have to do every time you take a photo just that those are the settings you will use most often. For example I nearly always shoot in RAW but if I find myself desperate for memory card space I will switch to JPEG to get it.

Awesome, got the photos now what? Get them on to your computer in an orderly (ish) manner. It’s tempting to dump and run with digital cameras but be warned if that’s your method you’re pretty quickly going to have an overflowing hard drive (or ten). How you organise your photos depends on the programs you use for importing and editing and your own preferences. I personally keep it simple and import using a card reader direct to a folder labelled with date and rough location (e.g. 11/08/09 Volksgarten Playground) but programs like iPhoto will offer to organise for you and use fancy technology like geographic tagging and face recognition to make it uber-organised!

All organised, what’s next? Get selective and back up. I create a new folder inside the dated folder and name it “potentials” then I drag in all the photos I think have potential. Anything the doesn’t make the cut gets deleted. Next I back up the photos that did make the cut to an external hard drive (I have my computer set up to automatically back up so I never forget to do it, if you have software that can do this it’s worth setting up). I recommend backing up (to an external hard drive, DVD, or online storage site) before you clear the memory card. Once everything is backed up you can move straight on to editing or, like me, you can do a bit more organisation first. I make a second folder marked “4/5 star shots” and drag in photos that look like the cream of the crop from that particular batch.

Culled and back up, are we done? Not yet. Next comes editing but that’s a story for another day (check out part 2 coming soon).

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