Review: The Photography Exercise Book

Some time ago I was asked if I’d be interested in reviewing Bert Krages book The Photography Exercise Book: Training Your Eye to Shoot Like A Pro. Published by Allworth Press in 2016, I’d seen it while browsing in the bookstore. I picked it up and thumbed through it, wondering if it would be a good reference for me and my classes and workshops. At the time, nothing stood out to me about the book other than it seemed to be written for beginning photographers and, at the time, I was working on my own book and there were more advanced concepts rummaging around in my head. So, I put it back on the shelf.

When I was asked to review the book, I remembered looking at it that one time and thought I should give it another chance. Bert Krages is an attorney and photographer living in Oregon with a couple other books in his bibliography; Legal Handbook for Photographers and Heavenly Bodies: The Photographer’s Guide to Astrophotography. I’m pretty sure I’ve also seen and thumbed through both of those books at the bookstore. The Legal Handbook for Photographers delves into an aspect of photography that has many fewer references available than for any other aspect of photography. If you are a photographer interested in your legal responsibilities and liabilities, that book and others would be beneficial to you.

Mr. Krages begins The Photography Exercise Book by describing its purpose and who it is for. In my own classes, I describe three groups of photographers; those who are technically-inclined, those who are not, and the largest group that’s somewhere in between. This book is for people who have at least a comfortable understanding of camera operation, in terms of using the various exposure modes and making exposure adjustments, but it does not discuss exposure settings, focal lengths, filters, flash, the “Rules”. This book is not a “how to use your camera” book, but a “how to explore your surroundings” book. It’s for photographers who are starting out and for those who need a little inspiration for exploring. It is a book of photography exercises after all.

I agree with most of the author’s premises: to become a better photographer you must make photographs, you must pay attention to the world around you, you must experiment, you must keep an open mind and always look for opportunities. The Photography Exercise Book is divided into sections that begin with letting you know you should have a basic understanding of how your camera works, some general tips about composition, and the importance of evaluating your work. The rest of the book includes the exercises. The exercises are a bit open-ended, which is good because it allows you freedom to find subjects and situations at the time you’re doing the practice. You don’t have to seek out a specific situation, wait for a certain time, or amass various props and equipment to do the exercises. This approach may not work for some individuals because the exercises are not “recipe-driven”. This is why I mention the need for comfortable understanding of camera function and photography principles. None of the exercises instruct you to use f8 at 1/125 and ISO 200 with a 85mm lens. You’re given the concept of the particular practice, like photographing people who are in action or light, shadow and shapes when clouds are passing overhead, or revisiting a location multiple times.

The final two chapters are about “photographer vision” and Thinking Like an Artist, with a little history of art and the relationship of photography with other art forms, discussions about defining your own individual approach to photography and what you would like to express with the medium, inspiration, and work ethic. Nothing too deep, but put straighforward and simply.

Some of the exercises, admittedly stated in the introduction, won’t be for everyone. But, like the author suggests, try them anyway. You never know what you’ll learn that will apply to other situations. Overall, The Photography Exercise Book is a useful reference for photographers who are starting out and who would like a little guidance for exploring and improving your craft.

Gelaskins Review – 17″ Laptop

A while back, I had a scary incident passing through security at the airport. A guy ahead of me was in a hurry to catch a flight he was apparently late for, and in the melee of putting things in tubs and taking them out, grabbed my laptop rather than his (both black 17″ HP laptops). I would not have found out about the switch had I not had time before my flight and decided to do some web surfing to pass the time. When I tried to plug in the power cord, it would not go in. There was no input port for the power cord where I expected it to be. On further inspection, I realized it was not my laptop. Knowing the guy was late for a flight, I panicked and took off through the terminal looking for him, leaving my stuff behind. Luckily, we both were in a “dead end” terminal, so I only had about 6 gates to check. I eventually found him as the plane he was on started to board. He had told me he was on his way home to Australia, so that would have been the last I saw of my laptop and all my photos and data. My laptop is password locked so my data would have been inaccessible. But, he would have come out ahead because my laptop was a newer model.

A lesson learned. To keep my laptop distinguishable from all the other black, 17″ laptops out there, I purchased a skin and customized it using one of my own photos. What’s a skin? Simply put, it’s a sticker, a decal. Though, it’s not your typical paper sticker, but a durable vinyl material made by 3M, similar to the material used to wrap images and logos on vehicles. The adhesive on the skin does not damage the finish of your device and the skin can be removed easily and repositioned during the application process (which I had to do 3 times to get it centered) or removed and trashed when you decide to replace it.

I checked the various companies offering skins, including Gelaskins and Skinit . While both companies offer the same products and, as far as I can tell, use the same material, Gelaskins is $5.00 less at $24.95 than Skinit’s $34.99 price for a skin on a 17″ laptop (you get free shipping with Skinit on orders of $35 or more). With shipping, the total for the Gelaskin came to $34.90. Product quality from both companies looked the same on their respective websites, so I went with the Gelaskin.

The skin arrived in a large, stiff, mailer envelope with “Do Not Bend” stamped on the front. Opening the envelope revealed the skin in a clear plastic sleeve on a backing card of stiff paper. Simple instructions were printed on the decal card. I cleaned the lid of my laptop, removed the skin from the card, and applied it to the lid of my laptop. The skin doesn’t cover the entire laptop lid, so getting it centered and level takes some patience and a decent eye. I needed to reposition the skin three times before I was satisfied with the placement. Removing the skin was easy enough, though I figured I needed to make sure the adhesive side didn’t come together or I would be out of luck. It looks ok, except for the incorrect color of the image. I’m about to leave on another trip, so it’s too late for a return/exchange. Plus, I’ve applied the skin, which voids any return or exchange option. I’ll have to accept it and maybe contact them later if I decide to do another one. There is no help on either the Gelaskins or Skinit sites regarding color fidelity.

I created my image in Photoshop, adding my company name and phone number as both an advertisement and an easy way to contact me if me and my laptop ever got separated and an honest person found it. Gelaskins provides the dimensions of the skin which makes it easy to create yours in an application like Photoshop then upload it using their customizer tool.

Here is the image I uploaded:

laptop_skin_surf-400.jpg

My computer monitor and software are color calibrated so I’m ensured of accurate color when I’m editing and processing my photographs when files are printed on color-calibrated equipment. When I received the Gelaskin, this is how it appears:

gel-product.JPG

The photo of the installed skin was made on my iPhone in overcast daylight, but the representation is accurate. Overall, the image is dark, lacking the green and brightness of the original. It’s very disappointing. I know how difficult it can be to match color; a few years ago I was creating dye sublimated products for clients sending me image files processed with no color calibration or with custom embedded profiles. But, I do know that color should be represented fairly accurately when both ends of the process use color calibrated equipment. Again, there isn’t any information I could find at either Gelaskins or Skinit that addressed color accuracy.

My main reason for getting the skin was to differentiate it amongst other, similar, laptops and, honestly, the only person that will know the color is not the same as the original is me (well, maybe not now). Print quality is good, however. Fine details are rendered sharply. The skin is not smooth or glossy. There is a textured, grid pattern to the surface, giving the image more of a matte or luster finish. Other than the issue with the color, I’m pleased with the product so far. We’ll see how the corners and edges hold up and if they begin to peel up after some use. For now, I’m relieved I have a distinguishing characteristic to my laptop, but will still keep my eye on it as it goes through airport security.

Review of the Promote Control remote for digital cameras, Part 1

Promote Control

While technological advances in digital photography have opened up many creative doors, the downside is often the increased need to carry more equipment; laptop, software, external power supplies, cables, etc. If you’re working in a studio, the extra equipment can get in the way but it’s manageable. Once you leave the confines of the studio and readily-available power, things get more problematic.

Promote Systems
, has built a multi-functional remote control for Canon and Nikon cameras that allows the photographer to ditch the laptop and head to the field (or reduce clutter in the studio) to create HDR exposure brackets, time lapse series, Bulb ramping, focus-stacked macros, HDR time lapse, HDR bulb ramping, and HDR focus stacking. The Promote Control also operates as a one-shot remote and has a built-in hyperfocal distance calculator.

The major advantages of the Promote Control are:

1. Multi-functional control in one small, very portable, device (it’s the same size as an iPhone but twice as thick).
2. It’s easy to set up and use. The menu system is straightforward and button operation is clean and precise.
3. Increased functionality for owners of Nikon and Canon cameras limited to 3-exposure auto exposure bracketing for HDR, no intervalometer remote (or on camera), or limited capability remote control.

I’ve used the Promote Control (PC) with my Canon 1D Mk IV and it works great. But, while the PC expands what I can do with my 1D MK IV, it would add significant functionality and abilities to owners of cameras like the Canon Rebel series, 30D, 40D, 50D, 5D MK III, Nikon D40, D50, D60, and other Canon & Nikon models with limited functionality when it comes to HDR bracketing and intervalometer capabilities. Camera bodies with Live View will have more capability using the Promote Control.

Here are some of the features of the Promote Control I’m currently testing and will report on in Part II of my review coming soon:

* Auto exposure bracketing from 2 to 45 exposures for HDR or other uses in 1/3EV – 9.0EV step range between exposures and programmable shutter speeds of 1day10hour to 1/4000+
* Time lapse sequences in exposure intervals from 00:00:01 to 99:99:99 and 1 to infinite number of frames
* Mirror lock-up prior to each exposure for all modes (with optional shutter cable)
* Focus stacking
* HDR focus stacking
* HDR time lapse
* Bulb ramping (for time lapse sequences over changing light conditions such as sunrise/sunset, with optional shutter cable)
* Bulb HDR

Other features are

* One Shot: operates like a regular remote shutter release for making single exposures, except you can change the camera settings (aperture, shutter speed, ISO) using the Promote Control (shutter speed control requires the optional shutter cable)
* Manual Shutter Hold: For single timed exposures in bulb mode using an external timer. There isn’t a built-in timer for this function like in the Canon TC-80N3 or Nikon MC-36 remotes. Operation is a simple click to open the shutter and a second click to close it. I would like to see a timer function added in a future firmware upgrade. As it is now, this would be the least useful feature for me on the Promote Control
* Hyperfocal distance calculator for full-size, 1.3X, 1.5X, 1.6X, and 2X (4/3) sensors plus 6×7, 6×6 and 645 film
* AC power jack for external power
* Capability to receive commands from external remote sensors (noise, light, motion, etc.) and compatible with any sensor capable of triggering a Canon Rebel
* Can use the Promote Control with motorized panoramic heads

What all is included with the Promote Control?

* the unit
* 2 AA batteries
* instruction manual (also available in PDF form online)
* semi-hard carry case
* neck strap
* USB cable for firmware updates
* USB remote cable for your camera model

Optional accessories are the camera-model-specific shutter release cable needed for some operations, a soft case for mounting on a tripod leg (with clear panel for button access), wireless remote sensor, and a remote control hub that allows you to control multiple Promote Controls for things like 3D HDR and 3D time lapse.

The Promote Control is a very useful device and is compact enough to ride in my camera bag or backpack.

** Carry case UPDATE ** I received the new case today and it works great. It’s the same size as the original carry case, but thicker to be able to hold the camera to Promote USB cable and an optional shutter cable. I wasn’t able to fit the Promote to computer USB firmware update cable into the case along with the other two cables, but as previously mentioned, you’re not likely to need to carry the firmware USB cable with you all the time. It will probably ride in your accessory cable bag or laptop bag, anyway.

Stay tuned for future reviews of the specific functions as I compile them. Just a teaser, here’s an example of a focus stack I did of one of my pocket watches:

pocket watch