December 26, 2008

Who says you cant take it with you?

Posted in Commentary at 7:46 pm by Michael Sweeney Photography

I went to Ireland a few months back using a combo backpack, photobag and laptop carrier. I bought a Tamrac Adventure 9 combo unit and while it fit the MBP, the D80, 18-135 lens, flash, gels, card readers, various AC adapters and whatnot, it had a fatal flaw. After wearing the stupid pack through a couple of airports for several hours, the straps were cutting off the circulation to my arms by digging into the arm right where it joins the chest. That meant I had to carry it sideways or by the handle which really defeated the whole point of straps. It did fit under the seat on the airliner.

But since then I have found out about a Mountainsmith pack called “Parallax“ which one of my fav photographers just raves about. You can read it here at FlyingwithFish.

Now, the good news is that this same pack is on sale at Sierra Trading for about 70 percent off from the normal price. That makes it about 80 bucks and change. Spend 100 dollars as a new customer and get another 10% off which means I got the pack and a new watch for cheap.

Merry christmas to me was a couple of used lens off eBay. A Nikon 12-24mm F4 and a 17-55 F/2.8 Nikon rounded out my treats to myself. Both of these cost me less than either one new if you added in the sales tax. I also got a couple of 10% off eBay coupons so the prices were very good indeed. I have to say while I am a HUGE fan of my 100 dollar 50mm VR lens, the 12-24mm is soooooo much sharper overall. There is something to be said about using a heavy piece of glasses (or pieces). I have to say I was surprised at the difference. Another photographer pointed out in a post that while VR is nice, when you shoot in low light, you are shooting the VR wide open which is it’s worst for sharpness. The F/2.8 on the other hand, shooting at F4 which is the equivalent of the VR, puts you within spitting distance of the sharpest focus of the lens. So VR is really not buying you any sharpness but costing you sharpness. It can buy other things but when everything is equal, the hunk of glass will be sharper.

My bro kicked in for a D80-90 battery pack so I’m for all intents and purposes kited up to shoot weddings now. Now I just need to get some practice under my belt. I have been watching and reading tutorials on wedding shooting and posing so I’m getting the general ideas in place.

December 19, 2008

New Year – New Beginings

Posted in Commentary at 10:00 pm by Michael Sweeney Photography

So some of you know that I am making the move from amateur to a more professional photographer, even if it’s part time for a long while. I managed to kick it off with a cool shoot with Johnny Rockets to do a series of portraits with their newest director, Joe Theismann, from the “Skins”. Yep, that one, with the leg going in the wrong direction on national TV during a game. So this gig ended up with about 10 delivered images out of about 150 taken. All were “strobist” style, ie, I used a pair of SB800s plus daylight. I shot this with a rented 17-55mm F2.8 and my D80. This combo worked really well inside the stores plus the outside. I ended with a half day rate plus some to do the basic post production touch ups.

So for the new year, I promised myself to start to shoot weddings. Pain and suffering will be my lot in life for a while I’m sure but to that end, I bought a new D90 (love it!!!) and a pair of used lenses from eBay. A 17-55mm F/2.8 and a 12-24mm F/2.8, both Nikon glass. Between the depressed prices and some coupons from eBay, I managed to get both lenses for the same price (roughly) as getting two new third party lenses like Tokina or Tamron.

Now I’m shopping around for “rent a brides” to practice shooting brides and grooms. I am serious thinking about shadowing a few weddings at the local church to get in some practice.

I have also been working with Photoshop to expand my skills a bit and this is what I came up with. My first “out of border” or “out of bounds” image. I had Amanda get her picture taken holding a cup of coffee for part of our Xmas card and I thought it might make a good image to try this one.

amanda-xmas-cup-oob.jpg

October 17, 2008

Time for a change

Posted in Commentary at 8:38 pm by Michael Sweeney Photography

In the beginning, this blog was a chronicle of my adventures going from a Windows world to a Mac world. This has become increasingly immaterial as I and others have become exclusive Mac users. I still hack my mac here and there but the reality is that I spend more time with my photography than hacking my Mac anymore.

So my “Hack a Mac” is not really that anymore.. has not been in a while to be honest. So in a few days , there will be a name change and a change of focus.

May 25, 2008

Being too busy and lazy

Posted in Commentary at 3:00 pm by Michael Sweeney Photography

Blogging is hard work, dont kid yourself. Between the day job, the wannbe job and the kids, life never slows down around here. So in a nutshell, what has been happening?

1: My best bud died a few weeks back. That would be my dog, Nicky. He was 15 years old and old age and cancer finally caught up with him in the end.

2: I’m moving forward on being VMware certified and just finished one week of training to that end. VMware is amazing software both the high stuff like ESX and Fusion on my Mac.

3: I’ve gotten three podcasts out the door as a test. They will revolve around taking better travel pictures but for now, I have located them in Disneyland since what you learn there will transfer to almost any other travel trip. Go over to youtube for a sample at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AXEDTetEz8

4: I bought a new headset/mic for the podcasts and Skype. I got the Sennheiser PC166s with the USB soundcard widget. Works very well on my Macs. Great sound and the mic is really and clean. I have a low pitched voice which makes it hard for a lot of mics to pick up well but these work the best so far aside from my Snow Ball.

5: I signed up for Photoshopworld 08 in Las Vegas so I will be repeating last years fun again. This time I got a room in Mandalay bay instead of the Luxor which means no 15 min walk just to get there in the AM. Plus cool stuff to do in the evening.

6: I rented an 18-200 Nikon VR zoom and I love the VR but I hate the 800 dollar price tag. But after going through alot of my travel/Disney shots, I find that many are in the 18-50mm range of zoom and that Nikon has a “kit” lens of 18-55mm with VR technology. Now, the lens is 170 bucks at Ritz Camera and it’s not a high end lens. Plastic mounts etc cut corners but at 170 dollars, I can afford to wear one out a year. All I care is that the VR works and it does so says my testing so far. So, 800 vs. 170.. sounds like a good deal to me :)

7: I have been using the new iMovie 8 and I’m getting used to it. It really does work well for a slash and burn fast video production. I still use iMovie 6 for some of my plugins but 8 is much faster to work with because how they changed the rendering. In iMovie 6, I would apply a filter and I had to wait for all the rendering to get done. In iMovie 8, I apply the filter and wham.. I can see it right away. Only what I see is rendered with the filter. Or at least until I save it all. Huge time saver.. I did the above podcast with iMovie8 for the most part.

March 29, 2008

Hacks and Toys

Posted in Commentary at 3:38 pm by Michael Sweeney Photography

I bought a Canon MP950 all in one printer a year or so ago. Paid more than I should have but it has proven to be a workhorse printer which has always worked with my Macs, printing, scanning and coping. Which is a hellva lot more than I can say for the two different HP all in one piece o’crap printers I had before this Canon.

It makes outstanding prints of photographs, but it’s limited to 8×10. What has happened recently was I needed to print some DVDs and my Epson R200 which I had bought just for this reason a while back, is at the office and not here at the home office. I stumbled over the hot tip of the fact that many Canon printers including my MP950 WILL print CD/DVDs but the option was removed in the US settings and the opening covered up somehow. The hack is to remove the cover (10 seconds) and to drop the printer in to service mode and then flip it to the EURO settings. On my Mac, I had to remove and reinstall the OSX printer drivers for it to “know” the CD option was now there.

I also had to buy the tray off of eBay for 20 bucks with free shipping and the CDR with the CD printing application plus directions. So I spent about an hour getting everything hacked and in place and voila! I printed a DVD from my printer. Yay!!! Suck on that Canon. I’m looking at getting a i9000 for large format prints and I’m told this one also will do CD printing.

My ebay seller was rungsamilathai and the site with directions is pixma.ulmb.com . If you have a Canon printer, you owe it to yourself to go over and see if your printer can be converted to print CD/DVDs. Stupid that they locked it out when everyone else in the world offers it.

I just bought an old 15 inch iMac G4 for 25 bucks and then spent another 100 to get RAM and a wireless card for it but now I have the perfect Mac for the kids. It plays movies, surfs the internet, integrated monitor, wireless and almost impossible for them to tip over :). And no worries about viruses and spyware from the “kid” sites. Old Macs never die, they just keep working and working. Heck, the damn thing even runs Tiger 10.4.11 pretty well in 768M of ram. I’ve seen a hack to put Leopard on it but I think that is a bit over the top for now. Maybe if I could overclock the CPU, then I would consider it.

My old/New AppleTV 2.0 is rocking cool now. The iMac Intel upstairs streams movies and shows 24×7 to the AppleTV downstairs via wireless (8011.G) and never misses a beat. I have been using Handbrake and Visual Hub to convert my various kids DVDs into the AppleTV format. Both have been effective in getting around the stupid DRM on my DVDs. I hear that the newest DVDs are to come with iTunes ready files plus the normal movie files. About time they figured it out.

I have been making post cards for a site called “postcrossing” using my HP A626 printer and some self sticky postcard backs I found at http://www.the2buds.com. Niffty way to make a 4×6 post card. So far cards have been sent to Finland and Singapore. I made some from a fav shot from Disneyland which is a nice local color picture and everyone knows what Disneyland is.

I have been learning about shooting weddings (with camera, not with the 9mm) and I found a great tutorial at Monty Zuckers site here. He gives alot of cool info on shooting and posing. I also got some DVDs from my favorite rental site, www.smartflix.com. If you have not looked at the site, you really owe it to yourself to go there and poke around. The rentals are cheap, the customer service is top notch and they have everything.

February 17, 2008

Services and Apps

Posted in Commentary, OSX Technical at 9:08 am by Michael Sweeney Photography

For the past few months I have been using a new (to me) DNS service called “OpenDNS” which gives me the ability to block and manage some stuff that I dont want the family to stumble over by mistake now that my small ones are surfing on their own a bit. The service is a freebie and gives nice stats and a good way to break out unwanted sites. For example, you can filter on adult sites, or just bikini sites or offensive sites because they divide the content into small parts of an overall group. If you want to see the bikinis but not offensive(horror, shocking etc) sites, you can do that. You can also customize the splash page saying it’s been blocked and they actively court businesses that would like to do this type of blocking without yet another appliance in the racks to learn.

In this same thought, I had my Time Warner cable go belly up for two days. Lost data and VoIP but kept the video so I knew it was a data problem. I have business class service here from TW which gives me a way to by pass the idiots on first tier with their scripts. Not that it did much good, something major had failed and there was not any ETA to when it would be back.

A few months ago I had bough AT/T DSL for both backing up data online and to backup my day to day usage. So I rolled over to the DSL full time without too much pain. It works well enough but I soon found out that they are blocking port 25 outbound. So no mail to speak of. But I did find out that Dot Mac listens to port 587 for SMPT per spec and sure enough, that port was NOT blocked. “You’ve got mail” !!

My DNS was tied to my static IP but I changed it to DHCP and enabled a service called “DNS-O-Matic” and installed an Applescipt called “DNS-O-Matic” updater which talks to OpenDNS and sends them the latest IP address. I decided to keep this in place even though I have a static since I may be rolling back to DSL in the near future since it’s a 6meg download stream vs the 2 meg on cable.

(For Windows users reading this, I know you are there.. go to another service I use call DynDNS for a windows client)

So I was back in business for Saturday with only a minor amount of pain and a few “to do” things to cut even that down in the near future.

I spent bit of time yesterday at a site for templates for making web galleries in Lightroom. This is not a trival undertaking and these4 guys have done a nice at Lightroomgalleries.com. I am using one of their galleries for showing some pictures on my site and because it offers a paypal integration. The downside is their documentation just plain sucks.

I spent the better part of 3 hours working out how to use the template correctly and their website did not offer much in help. In fact, there were several calls for better (some?) documentation. In a few days, I think I will post some details here but not today. I will also post a link once I get my galleries up and running with the correct pictures in place instead of test images.

I installed and tried the new Aperture 2.0 from Apple. Major improvement overall. It’s faster, easier to use and overall just a nicer feel to it. But the printing sucks compared to Lightroom and I personally find the menus easier on Lightroom. But I might just use Aperture in conjunction with Lightroom because of the books that you can make from within Aperture. They look to be more professional then iPhoto but I need to really look closer later.

February 11, 2008

Under the Sea

Posted in Commentary at 10:07 pm by Michael Sweeney Photography

2242277531-a9744decf1-m.jpg

How I took this picture.

I plan to start posting some of my better work and detailing where and how I took the picture. Not exactly Mac stuff other than all the tools I use are on a Mac :)This is one of the underwater scenes from the newly redesigned submarine ride at Disneyland. It has been greatly improved and is alot of funEquipment List
        •        Nikon D80
        •        18mm
        •        1/160
        •        F6.3
        •        ISO 1250

Shooting this image was relatively simple with a few tricks. First,you need to crank up the ISO (film speed) unless you have a very fast lens which I did not, F3.5 was the best it could do. So I took the speed to 1200 ISO and manually set the aperture to F6.3. I wanted F8 but I lost a stop of shutter speed and the subs move at a pretty good clip. This was aperture priority so I let the camera decide on shutter speed but I did add 1/2 stop compensation to the exposure.

The real trick is that your autofocus will go nuts under water and trying to shoot through the port hole even with the lens pressed close to the glass (not touching, the subs shake). So it’s manual focus with a 2nd trick. Keep as wide of an angle as you can. The 18mm give me alot of room to miss the precise focus point and still get it sharp.

So the short version:

Fast ISO
Mid F stop
auto shutter
1/2 stop comp
very, very close to the glass port hole
manual focus
wide angle

As a follow up point. I shoot RAW for images like this that I know will need work. RAW gives me the ability to color correct and work out exposure adjustments better than an already baked setting in a JPEG file. If you can, shoot this type of image raw for max range of adjustments. If not, then shoot the highest quality JPEG or TIFF you can.

I did my post processing in both Lightroom and CS3 but CS3 by itself will do fine. The big trick is to run a levels adjustment layer for each channel (RGB) and this will get rid of the green color cast from the light being absorbed by the water. I also used a saturation layer to punch up the blues and other colors as they were a bit faded. Only some minimal sharpening was done.

February 2, 2008

Busy, busy, busy…

Posted in Commentary, OSX Software at 7:41 am by Michael Sweeney Photography

Yep, that pretty much explains my life for the past few months. It was interesting how more complicated a third child can make one’s life. And I thought two little ones made it tough. This is not a linear progression :)

I have been having alot of fun with my flashes and umbrellas of late and the wife is long suffering about having tripods, light stands and backdrops up in the front room 24×7 lately. To be sure, we have gotten some very nice portraits of the girls when I can pin them down for a few moments in time.

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This portrait was taken with my D80 and I used two SB800 flashes shooting into two white umbrellas. The back drop is a piece of black fleece hanging from my cheap but useful background holder I bought from B&H. I did my post processing in Lightroom and CS3. ISO was 200 at F8 and about 40mm.

I have been gathering ideas and details on how to actually get paid for photography in some manner. I joined the PPA a few months back and it’s only been now that I have been able to really see what I joined. Equipment insurance for cheap, liability insurance for cheap and nice legal forms are all part of the package. The insurance alone makes me alot more comfortable in thinking about shooting weddings which up to now I have been avoiding like the plague. I did get a few new books, one of which is by Glen Johnson called “Digital Wedding Photography – Capturing beautiful Memories”. Alot of good information and ideas and pictures. I really like this book for starting to learn about getting the wedding pictures right.

New websites are slideshowPro for Lightroom. Make a very cool flash presentation for your website with this app. Photocamel (what a name) has a very active forum and some way cool interviews posted. Another cool site is a site dedicated to shooting real estate pictures like interiors and exteriors for listings etc. The owner of the site is very active and shares his knowledge with the photography community readily. He has an eBook for 15 bucks that is worth every penny if you ever thought about taking pictures of homes professionally or even just really nice shots for yourself.

Speaking of Lightroom, I added an extra gig of ram to my iMac (3 total) and Lightroom really works well now :) Go figure, like anything else, the more RAM the better I suppose. My reinstall of OSX after three upgrades and migrations worked very well in clearing away the weird problems I was having with the Lightroom export and DRM. Also with Lightroom, I have fallen in love with the print module. This is what CS3 should have but doesnt. I bought a new (read as refurbed) HP A616 5×7 printer for 40 bucks which included a real ink cartridge. I also bought the bluetooth adapter and now from Lightroom I can rip out 4×6 cards with my logo and the image really easy.

January 16, 2008

A new kind of Cat

Posted in Commentary at 9:36 pm by Michael Sweeney Photography

Years ago that was the tag line for the Mercury Cougar but today, it applies very well to the new Leopard OS from Apple. I have been using it now every day since it went gold on my MBP and after some teething issues, it has been pretty nice. There are still some issues but they are slowly getting put to bed by each update. The worst one was the stuttering mouse after a wakeup from Sleep. A quick patch was to turn off Bluetooth but the last 10.5.1 update killed the bug. Battery life is consistently less than what I got in my Powerbook, only 2.5-3 hours max. And it’s slow to charge, gotta keep those cells from expanding. I did hack my dock to a nice deep red  and ditched that nasty reflective look. I keep waiting for a couple of my X apps to get updated since Apple remade the X subsystem and broke alot of stuff. Yes, I know I could replace the entire subsystem with Tigers but the reality is that I can wait and I will.CS3 is screaming fast under Leopard, I am so stoked that I almost loath to use my iMac which is still tiger due to some weird apps I need to use. I see more and more apps getting patched for Leopard and alot of my stuff already worked so life is pretty good at this point.I bought the Macheist again this year for the Pixelmator and Cha-Ching apps. Such a deal and a decent cause on top of it. I put Soho notes on my systems to compare against Yojimbo and even though I bought and paid for Yo, I yanked it out in a few days. SOHO notes is just so much better across the board. I use it for web archives, notes, passwords, serial numbers and more.I put a Terrastation up finally and with the newest firmware performance via smb sucks. Now, with that said, moving files via FTP is pretty fast so I have been backing up my 200 gig or so of images using FTP. Now I just need to get me one of those niffy new APs with the 1Tb drive in it from Apple. Time Machine with a TB? oh yeah baby.. thats soooo nice.Been shooting alot with the Nikon of late.. been making posters and other fun stuff at Zazzle.  Go by and take a look at http://www.zazzle.com/wybnormal. I’m also over at http://lightandimages.smugmug.com/ with some stuff.  I got my basic studio parts together finally and have been playing with the strobes and my cheapo backdrop. oliviaThis was taken with a single SB800 shooting into a white umbrella. ISO of 200 and shutter of 1/60. This was the kit lens of 18-135mm at something like 60mm. I was pretty impressed with how nicely it turned out. I did use one of my newest favorite packages called PhotoTools Pro which is a CS3 plugin. It has a bunch of actions from people like Jack Davis and his “How to Wow” series and others. So I used a high pass sharpening, mild skin blur and a bit of toning to bring up those baby blues to their max. I did second shoot but really went a different direction with the image as you can see here.Washed and TintedA much more “fashion” look but again, single SB800 shooting into an umbrella.  It’s funny how in school I hated studio work but here I am building a small studio and I am actually enjoying it more than I thought I would. go figure. 

November 27, 2007

Camera, Lights and Action

Posted in Commentary at 7:48 pm by Michael Sweeney Photography

I have been spending alot of time lately getting up to speed with my photography and Photoshop. My other site, http://www.lightandimages.net is coming along nicely and my skills on the Nikon and CS3 have increased. I know this since I was asked to do a photo shoot for Johnny Rockets at the American Music Awards and one of my pictures of the CEO will grace their company magazine. For the record, I have been shooting with a Nikon D80 and a rental 18-200mm VR Nikon lens. The VR (Vibration Reduction) is amazing technology. I have been able to get sharp hand-held images with as slow as a 1/10 of a second shutter speed.

Here is a sample of the latest pictures:

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Full size here

If you need to rent a lens for cheap and outstanding service, try Paul Friedman at lensprotogo.com A months rental (4 weeks) for the 18-200mm zoom plus insurance, plus shipping both days plus a cool pelican box for the lens shipping was 190 bucks. Cheap!!! and the customer service has been super. Between a few questions and a possible problem, Paul was willing to do whatever it took to keep me a happy customer. Thanks Paul!!!

I have some new toys coming and one is a Nikon 1.8 50mm lens which should work nicely for my typical low light work and portraits. Another is a pocket diffuser which works with the pop up flash on the camera. That would be alot easier to use than my SD800 Nikon flash which I love to death but it’s a bit bulky.

Other news is some cool online shops like www.picnik.com which ties you into an WEB2.0 photo editor and effects machine plus you can use your images from Flickr, webshot, facebook, Photobucket and others. The effects are things like frames, icons, stamps and more to help dress up a picture for the birthday party or a holiday shot. The bad news is that many of the cooler effects are an premium package deal but for 30 bucks a year, it’s cheap enough to upgrade. Thats less than a single date for a movie :) and it lasts an entire year!!! How cool is that?

To make pictures, posters and framed posters, take a look at www.imagekind.com and see what they offer for you. I have been putting up some posters I made and smaller prints to see how well it works. So far, it’s very easy and the quality is good.

I found a hot-shit DVD for learning lighting in studio work from http://www.dongiannatti.com and called “Create Professional Looking Lighting for Under $100”. The DVD is about 40 bucks and has quite a few extras along with the expected video tutorials. Check it out if you are a “strobist” and likes to shoot well and cheap.

Here is one of the best lists of photography and lighting blogs/sites that I have found.

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