Software Review: Tiffen Dfx 3.0 Suite

Practically Every Digital Filter & Effect Except the Kitchen Sink

Text and Images by Diane Berkenfeld

The Tiffen Company recently released version 3.0 of the company’s Dfx digital filter suite (www.tiffensoftware.com). I had used the first iteration of the plug-in for Apple Aperture a lot when it was first introduced. These days I use Lightroom extensively so I’ve been using the new version with Lightroom 3.

The suite is available as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Elements and Photoshop Lightroom, Apple Aperture, and as a stand alone program. One Tiffen Dfx photo plug-in license will allow it to run in all of the aforementioned image editors if installed on the same machine. The company also makes a version of the software for video/film editing using Adobe After Effects or Premier Pro, Apple’s Final Cut Pro 6/7 and with the Avid Editing Systems. One Tiffen Dfx video/film plug-in license will allow it to run in all of the aforementioned video editors if installed on the same machine too. It may not seem like a big deal, but most photographers use more than one piece of software for their imaging needs. Even though I do as much as possible in Lightroom, I still need Photoshop for some tasks. Knowing that I can use the same plug-in with both is convenient. I’m sure the same is true with folks working with video—using After Effects along with one of the video editors mentioned. For those multimedia folks who use Final Cut Pro X, look for a compatible version of Dfx in the future.

before and after image of orange poppies in field by Diane Berkenfeld

(l.) the original image, and (r.) the final image after masking the area around the main subject (the flower in the foreground) and emulating shallow depth of field.

I’ve been impressed with Tiffen’s Dfx software from the time the company launched the very first version, because of the extensive collection of effects and especially filters—digital versions of many of Tiffen’s photographic filters that we used to use so commonly with film cameras. Now with digital we can use software to emulate the effects of many of these filters in post-production, which is a great benefit because it lets you get really creative with your older images as well as those you just took. I love being able to go back to digital images that I shot years ago and tweak them in ways I wasn’t able to at the time the images were shot. The below shot is one that I photographed years ago on Ellis Island and every so often I’ll pull it out to work on it.

Tiffen Dfx 3 examples Ellis Island photos by DIane Berkenfeld

(l. to r.) Original image; Looks, color 8mm; ND Grad 1.2, cross print slide, preserving highlights; DeFog 6.

And, with the additional filters, lab processes, color correction and photographic effects that this new version offers, I’d say Tiffen has packed practically everything except the kitchen sink into Dfx 3. Over 2,000 different optical filters and effects are incorporated into the software. There’s so much that you can do with Dfx 3.0, you could conceivably replace a bunch of separate plug-ins—for B&W conversion, masking, adding lighting effects, adding blur/changing depth of field of an image, color correction, special effects like toning, adding grain, as well as debanding, deblocking, reducing noise, simulation of over a hundred film stocks, adding texture and matching the color, tone and detail of one image and applying it to another.

The DeBand, DeBlock and DeNoise are new, as are the key light and light rays, glow darks, color shadow and more.

That’s a lot of power in one plug-in/stand-alone software title. And what makes this software so unique is that its available in versions for both still images and film/video editing as well. With so many photographers delving into video these days, the familiarity of knowing how to use the plug-in for still images will be beneficial when you start working on video.

And like most plug-ins, you can tweak the strength of the filters. One of the cool things is that you can save filters as favorites, and when you’re looking for filters to use on an image, all of your favorites are in one location.

Diane Berkenfeld photo from Yellowstone park of hot spring in color and black and white

(l.) The original image, a close-up of a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming and (r.) the B&W conversion, red filter. No additional tweaking was needed beyond the initial conversion.

There are so many different things that you can do with digital images these days, that sometimes you can find yourself at a loss as to exactly what a particular image might need until you begin to browse within the filters, seeing the effect on the image you’re working on. And I also think that once you use such an extensive program like Dfx, and get more familiar with the many things it can do, the extensive amount of choices becomes less overwhelming.

polarizer before and after image of boy by Diane Berkenfeld

(l.) The original image and (r.) Dfx 3.0's polarizer filter.

I love being able to use one program—stand-alone or plug-in—for a lot of the effects I like to use on my images. It makes your workflow quicker if you don’t have to keep switching from program to program. And with Tiffen’s Dfx plug-in for Lightroom, all I have to do is ‘Edit in’ Dfx 3.0, and I can browse filters to my hearts content. Dfx is very quick when you’re working within it, you see changes instantly on the fly when browsing among the filters and effects. When you’re done working with a filter or effect, rendering is pretty swift too.

Diane Berkenfeld screenshot of image in Tiffen's Dfx 3, masked

Masking is easy within Tiffen's Dfx 3.0 suite.

masked image of birds on rocks in ocean by Diane Berkenfeld

(l.) I had originally finished this image with a border in Lightroom; and then decided to work on it in Dfx 3.0, (r.) here is the image after masking and adding a graduated blue-red filter. I decided to crop the image, which I think makes the foreground stronger.

With regards to masking, Dfx gives you a variety of different ways to create the mask on your image, and a whole host of options for tweaking the properties of the mask once you’ve created it, and a myriad of ways to utilize masking a portion of an image with the thousands of filters and effects that the plug-in offers. Having the ability to create the mask within the plug-in saves valuable time, which may not seem like a lot when you’re working on one photo, but if you’re in the middle of a big editing session, all of that time switching between programs and plug-ins adds up. I also found it helpful that I could tweak the mask as much as I needed to if I didn’t like the way it was coming out—without having to start over.

before and after image of dalmation by Diane Berkenfeld

(l.) the original image, and (r.) the photo after I added highlights on the fireplace heath bricks at the top right. I added light, using a gobo for the mottled look on the bricks.

To find out more about Tiffen’s Dfx v3 software, watch the company’s promo video: http://bit.ly/ndZqgw.

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Product Review: Adobe Dreamweaver CS5

By Toni McQuilken

If you want to create or manage your own Web site, for personal or professional reasons, Dreamweaver has always been a good choice. The CS5 version has some new tweaks and abilities that continue to improve on what was already a powerful program.

I should note that I manage my own site, tonimcquilken.com, and I have used Dreamweaver to build and maintain it since the CS3 version. I’ve played with this program for many years, and while I won’t pretend to be a code junkie expert, I know just enough to make me dangerous, which is why the constant simplifying of complex processes in Dreamweaver has been, for me, a huge plus.

One of the biggest additions in the “making it easier” category with this release has been the ability to see what you’re designing in a PHP-based content management system. For the rest of you non-code junkies out there, that is basically taking content beyond a static HTML page, and giving it more dynamic design. In other words, the page is generated when a user calls it up, instead of ahead of time and stored on a server. It pulls content based on rules you set up, allowing for more interesting and interactive elements.

This was possible before in Dreamweaver, but the addition of Live View actually allows you to see the end result now, and see what changes to the code will impact the design, without having to switch back and forth to a browser. This is a huge time-saver, and for those people who want to use things like dynamic photo or video galleries, this is a serious upgrade.

Another upgrade in this version of Dreamweaver is a further simplification of CSS coding. Adobe had offered tools for de-bugging CSS code in CS4, but they’ve made that support far more comprehensive in CS5. To the point where this completely CSS-ignorant journalist is actually considering a total site overhaul. CSS has many advantages over basic HTML, but migrating and using that platform was like learning a whole new language. I won’t say it’s easy now, but the new tools, such as pop-up windows to show you exactly what code applies to what sections, certainly makes it more user-friendly.

Viewing the source code (image above) and the live code (image below)…

The final major new feature I’d like to point out is the integration with Adobe’s new CS Live function called BrowserLab. Adobe’s documentation explains why this is useful far better than I can: “While working within Dreamweaver CS5, you have the ability to interact with your page in Live View, including the ability to freeze JavaScript-triggered interactions, and then send this “snapshot” of the page directly to BrowserLab for an accurate preview in the specific browsers and operating systems you’ve chosen. Onionskin view in BrowserLab allows you to overlay the same page in two different browsers or browser versions, which is extremely helpful in determining exactly what are the differences in the way code is displayed by different browsers.”

This is another great time-saving tool for ensuring the look and feel you’re trying to convey are achieved no matter what browser your clients choose to use. There is nothing more frustrating than creating a beautiful design that displays perfectly in Firefox, only to discover it looks completely wrong in Internet Explorer. Now you can quickly see where the differences are, and made adjustments without having to track down multiple computers or systems to test against.

If you already have a site, migrating to Dreamweaver is as simple as running through a few dialog boxes to point it toward your servers and local files. If you’re creating a new site, Dreamweaver also offers a host of templates, which have also been expanded and improved in this release. And if you’re running a previous version of Dreamweaver and plan to do any CSS or PHP coding in the near future, this is definitely a release you want to check out. All-in-all, Dreamweaver is another solid product from Adobe with some great new features and upgrades in the CS5 release package.

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Product Review: Rogue FlashBenders

By Diane Berkenfeld

rogue flashbenders product shot for picture-soup.com

(l. to r.) small, large, bounce card

Rogue FlashBenders are shapeable light modifiers that are designed for shoe mount flashes. They come in three sizes and fit practically all shoe mount flash units. One of the great things about the FlashBenders is the way they’re made. They hold the shape that you bend them in (hence the name).

I’ve been testing them out for a few months now and they’ve become a vital addition to my camera bag. In fact, quite a few times I’ve been asked, “Just what the hec is that thing on your camera’s flash?” One time I was even told, “You know, an index card and rubber band used to do the trick for me.”

The FlashBenders are made out of Cordura nylon and fasten around the flash units using Velcro; and each one is a single unit, because the Velcro is attached to the main part of the reflector. The white, reflective surface is made of a durable, wipeable, synthetic fabric that is neutral and won’t affect the color temperature of the reflected light.

The different sizes include large, small and the Bounce Card. The large reflector measures 10×11-inches. The small reflector measures 10×7-inches. The Bounce Card is 5×9-inches in size. What makes the FlashBenders hold their shape are the positionable rods that are incorporated inside them, and won’t lose their shape while you’re shooting—three in the large, two in the small, and one in the Bounce Card.

zach for picture-soup.com article on flashbenders

Zach was lit with window light, with the small FlashBender on the camera's flash for fill. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

According to the company, the large reflector is perfect for off-camera use, and is ideal for shaping into a snoot. It, along with the others can be used to bounce light or as a flag to keep light off of a subject. When its not shaped into a snoot, the large reflector is meant to be used on a flash that is positioned at a 90 degree angle.

The small reflector can be used as a mini-snoot or to bounce light.

You can use the Bounce Card as a reflector or a flag. It comes with a piece of black fabric that attaches by Velcro if you position it as a flag.

Sure you could take an index card and rubber band and make an impromptu bounce card—and it works—but the FlashBenders work much better. They’re simple to use, much more durable and since the Velcro strap is attached to the reflector, there’s no way you can lose it.

joey playing harmonica photo illustrating flashbenders for picture-soup.com

Joey playing harmonica. The small FlashBender was on the flash atop the camera's hot shoe. You can see the shape of the catchlight in his eyes. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

My favorite FlashBender is the small reflector, which is perfect for use on camera, and provides a really nice softened quality of light. To focus the light, I’ll bend the sides inward and if I’m shooting a group of people, I’ll unfold the reflector to provide more of a surface to reflect the light off of.
I used to bounce my on-camera flash a lot but since I’ve gotten the FlashBenders, I’ve found myself using them all the time, for portraits and events—pretty much anytime that I’ve got the flash on the hot shoe, the small reflector is attached. Like I said, it is my favorite.

bouquet of bride's flowers for picture-soup.com article on flashbenders

Photos outside get the FlashBender treatment too. The softened light is much more natural looking and flattering on most subjects. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

I haven’t had that much of a chance to use them as a snoot, but am looking forward to shooting still life with them on multiple flash units. I’ll post those photos as an addition to this review.

The Rogue FlashBenders are definitely worth the price. The set of three sell for just over $100. The large, small and bounce card sell for $39.95, $34.95 and $29.95 respectively. For more information, go to www.expoimaging.com.

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Product Review: Tamron 18-270mm Lens

By Diane Berkenfeld

I recently had the opportunity to test out an ultra zoom lens from Tamron, the 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 DI II VC LD Aspherical [IF] Macro lens. The lens is designed for use with DSLRs that utilize the smaller APS-C image sensor, and comes in Nikon and Canon lens mounts. The wide, 15x range of the lens means you can cover a range of view equivalent to that of a 28mm – 419mm zoom. I was using the 18-270mm lens on my Nikon D100 body.

There are some folks who still shun the idea of using third-party lenses, and that might have been true years ago, but the technology has improved to the point where these lenses rival those from the camera makers themselves.

I put the lens through its paces shooting a range of subjects, including a local trip where I drove to the destination and a longer trip that included flying and packing lighter than normal. Having such a long zoom range available in one lens is great because you can travel lighter than if you had to bring multiple lenses with you and change them while shooting, which can also lead to dust on your sensor.

One of the great features of the Tamron 18-270mm lens is that in addition to its zoom range, it offers a 1:3.5 Macro as well. The minimum focusing distance is 19.3-inches throughout the entire zoom range.

A great example of the wide view the lens offers. Resolution is crisp and sharp. Red Rock Canyon, Spring Mountains, Nevada. Photograph © Diane Berkenfeld

Now look at the same image with scale - yellow circles around two groups of people. Red Rock Canyon, Spring Mountains, Nevada. Photograph © Diane Berkenfeld

Lastly, a cropped view of the people, viewed at 100% in Adobe Lightroom. Red Rock Canyon, Spring Mountains, Nevada. Photograph © Diane Berkenfeld

The lens also offers VC – Vibration Compensation, which can be turned on or off, depending upon whether or not you need it. Most image stabilization lenses zap an awful lot of battery power when used constantly, but I found that even with the VC on much of the time I was shooting, the camera’s battery didn’t drain quickly. This is so important, because if you don’t have more than one battery with you while shooting on location or vacation, and you drain the only one you have, that’s it for shooting; you’re now just enjoying the view, not capturing it anymore.

An example of the lens zoomed all the way in to 270mm. (l.) is the original file. (r.) I cropped it and tweaked the exposure for my personal taste. Red Rock Canyon, Spring Mountains, Nevada. Photographs © Diane Berkenfeld

There was only one instance where the subject I was trying to shoot was all one color, with little contrast. Other than that, the lens had no problem focusing the rest of the time. You can also choose to manually focus if need be. I love how sharp the lens is, and how crisp, bright, and easy to view my subjects were when shooting with it. Colors were reproduced faithfully, and images didn’t need to be altered much beyond my personal taste for the look of my final images. The seven diaphragm blades of the lens offer a nice blur or bokeh for out of focus areas of photographs.

The Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 DI II VC LD Aspherical [IF] Macro lens is a good choice for those photographers who can’t afford faster f/2.8 lenses; or who want only one lens that can extend through the large zoom range. Street price is around $600. For more information, go to www.tamron-usa.com.

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Product Review: Sony SnapLab UP-CR20L Dye-Sub Printer

By Diane Berkenfeld

sony snaplab for picture-soup.com reviewHaving the ability to print photographs on-site for your customers is convenient for them—but it is also a potential revenue source—as you can charge extra for this convenience.

I recently had the opportunity to test out one of Sony’s dye-sub printers and brought it along to an event I photographed. The event was a fundraiser for a charity I have been working with for the past two years. They requested on-site printing, and I was able to provide the solution, courtesy of Sony’s loan of a SnapLab UP-CR20L printer.

The SnapLab UP-CR20L is a workhorse dye-sub printer, able to print up to 6×8-inch prints. In addition to being used by event photographers for on-site printing, the UP-CR20L is also used as a kiosk/printer by photo labs and can be used for in-house printing for prints up to 6×8-inches.

Printer Specs:

  • The SnapLab UP-CR20L is 13 3/8-inches wide x 17 1/2-inches high x 17 7/8-inches deep, and weighs about 50 pounds.
  • The UP-CR20L runs on household 110 voltage. It features a 10.4-inch touch-screen LCD that is used to navigate through the menus.
  • The printer offers slots to accept CompactFlash (including MicroDrive), Secure Digital/MMC and miniSD, Memory Stick (including Pro and Duo format cards), and x-D Picture Card media; as well as a USB port and tray for CD-R/RW/DVD-R/RW disks. The SnapLab can also print directly from computers via USB 2.0. An optional Bluetooth adapter allows for printing directly from Bluetooth enabled devices. There is also an optional wireless adapter that allows the printer to receive images sent wirelessly from cameras that support it.
  • The printer supports JPG, TIFF and BMP files.
  • Printing resolution is 330 DPI.
  • Print sizes include wallets, 3.5×5, 4×6, 5×7, 6×8, index prints and multiple prints on one sheet of paper. Maximum print size is 6×8.
  • Printer modes include Full Mode, Quick Print Mode and Event Mode.
  • Simple image editing options are available including exposure correction, red-eye removal, printing color images in B&W or Sepia, and more.
  • While the printer is idle, promotional images can be displayed.
  • Text can be added to photographs, in a number of font choices, type sizes and colors.
  • Because the printer is used at retail, it can be set with print prices. Once a customer is ready to finalize their order, a password is needed for printing to begin. The printer can also be set to print without a password.
  • The number of prints that can be output from one paper roll/ribbon set depends upon the sizes of the prints being made. For example, you can get 350 6×8 prints out of one paper roll/ribbon. The speed of prints also depends upon the sizes being printed, but ranges between eight and 14.5 seconds each.

In-Use at an Event and as an In-House Printer

The printer is easy to set-up. The first time, I followed the directions, but after I’d done it once, I was able to quickly set-up the printer each time I moved it. The directions specify that paper and ribbon be removed before transporting the printer, so you’ll have to set it up for each event you take it to.

The event I brought the printer to was relatively small, so I was able to be the photographer and take care of the printing too. Depending upon the size of the job you’re shooting, you might want to bring an extra person to take care of the printing duties.

Once set up at the event, I took a couple of images and printed them out to make sure everything was in working order. After guests started arriving I began photographing groups of people. Once about a half-dozen or so images were taken, I swapped out CompactFlash cards and took the “used” card to the SnapLab and began printing. Since I’d originally decided to offer 5×7 prints only, I had brought a paper cutter with me to trim the prints. Each print was then placed in a print folder. On the back of the folders, I put stickers that had the event name, date and my website printed on it. I placed the completed photos in an area for folks to pick up their photos at their leisure.

Had the event been larger that it was, or if I was shooting at a quicker pace, I probably would have waited until I had more portraits shot before stopping to print.

Although the fundraiser had marketed the fact that a photographer would be there, some of the attendees were surprised to find out that images were being printed on-site. And, I can say they were all very pleased with the quality of the prints.

Because the SnapLab was on loan from Sony for review purposes, I didn’t have to worry about the cost of paper/ribbon. The host of the fundraiser and I decided not to charge an additional fee for the prints; but, there are a number of ways you can bring in additional revenue by offering on-site printing.

  1. Charge your client a set fee for the printing services.
  2. Charge your client a per print fee, for the number of prints made during an event.
  3. If your client is running a fundraiser or type of event that would sustain attendees willing to pay an additional fee, you can charge the attendees you photograph a per print fee.
  4. You could also throw in the printing costs for clients who spend above a certain amount of money, say for a wedding or Bar-Mitzvah, or other such event.

As I mentioned earlier, this review was done with a loaner printer, but if I were in the market for an on-site printer, I would find it hard not to consider purchasing the Sony SnapLab UP-CR20L.

Because the dye-sub prints are lab quality, I was comfortable offering them to clients, as I like the quality of dye-sub over inkjet. And because the SnapLab UP-CR20L is used at retail, I know it is a real workhorse unit, and meant to print constantly. It is also rugged, and I would not hesitate to transport it a lot. The printer offers a range of print sizes and offers the capability to load new borders and watermark artwork. So, in effect, you could personalize the printing for each client by creating specific artwork for those prints.

Another option, if you don’t do a lot of event photography/on-site printing, but do often print 4×6 up to 6×8 prints, is to use the UP-CR20L as an in-house small format printer. During the two weeks I spent reviewing the printer, I did a lot of printing, in the range of sizes offered by the printer; and in matte and glossy, which the printer can do with the same paper/ribbon. One of the print jobs I did was for a client who’s family reunion I recently photographed. I needed to print dozens of photos and they were all consistent, from the first of the group to the last.

The Sony SnapLab UP-CR20L is a great printer/kiosk and ideal for event photographers or those who do a lot of in-house small format printing. MSRP is $2,995.

For more information, go to http://pro.sony.com/bbsc/ssr/mkt-digitalphotography/product-UPCR20L/.

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Product Review: Tabelz

By Diane Berkenfeld

tabelz

The Primary Table attached to a tripod, makes a convenient computer table for shooting tethered or just working on the computer in an office or on the go.

Tabelz are a unique item for photographers who shoot tethered on location or in the studio. Tabelz are portable laptop computer stands that come in seven sizes, designed to meet the needs of individual users. The primary Table holds your laptop, and has a non-skid surface that doesn’t allow for it to slide off; a raised lip at the front also ensures your computer will be safe. You just screw it down on your tripod head like you would a camera, or if you use a quick release plate, screw the Primary Table to the plate, slide onto your tripod, and lock it down. If you use a mouse, add on a Side Table, which can be put on either the right or left side, whichever you normally use. The Side Tables slide right into a slot on the underside of the Primary Table, for a secure fit.

What is unique and great about them is that they sit on a tripod. You can purchase a Tabelz from the company by itself or you can purchase one of four Manfrotto tripods that they offer as optional accessories. Or, you can use the Primary Table with your own tripod and head.

When you go to the company’s website, you can search for your laptop to find the correct size Primary Table to match your computer.

Primary Tables start at $59.95 and Side Tables are $19.95 each.

Tabelz in Actual Use

I tested out a Tabelz, and found that they are convenient additions to a photographer’s gear bag in more than one way. Using a Tabelz on-site when shooting tethered is especially helpful—and much better than trying to balance your laptop on a chair at a catering hall (which I’ve seen many photographers do), or dragging a large folding table with you (I’ve also seen this done.) The Tabelz look professional, take up little room, and work well. They’re also good if you shoot tethered in a shooting room or studio, taking up less room than a regular table.

In addition to using them while shooting, Tabelz also make a very convenient laptop stand when you’re just working on images, typing, or blogging. And because the Tables sit on a tripod, you already know you can get it at the perfect height you need, just raise or lower the center column or legs. (I call this working instinctively—you don’t have to figure out how some odd contraption works—because it’s a tripod, likely one that you already own.)

Go to the website www.tabelz.com for more information.

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Product Review: Alien Skin’s Exposure 3 Plug-In

By Diane Berkenfeld

Alien Skin Software’s Exposure 3 plug-in lets you turn your digital images into the photographs you took yesteryear. Sorta. What the plug-in does, is,picture-soup.com new gear announcement exposure 3 simulate film—an extensive library of accurate film properties, both color and B&W. In addition to the film simulation, the software offers the added creativity of simulating Lo-Fi and vintage effects. Don’t have a Holga or plastic toy camera but wish you could have taken a certain photo with one? No worries, just run the image through Exposure 3 and you can turn your crisp, perfect image into the toy-camera output of your dreams.

Get Technical

The computer I tested Exposure 3 on is a Macbook Pro with an Intel Core Duo Processor, Mac OS 10.6.3 with 2 Gigs of RAM.

The Exposure 3 plug-in can be used with Photoshop CS5 or Lightroom 3. I’ve found it works faster when using it from within Photoshop than launching it as an external editor for Lightroom. Exposure 3 offers 64-bit support for Photoshop CS5 on both the Mac and PC.

If you choose to run it through Lightroom 2 or 3, you don’t need to have Photoshop on the computer to run the plug-in, however I think that most pro photographers reading this review have Photoshop. Exposure 3 is also compatible with Adobe Photoshop CS3 and CS4, Adobe Lightroom 2, Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 or later, and Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X3.

Alien Skin suggests Microsoft Windows users have at least a Pentium 4 processor or compatible and Windows XP SP3 or later. Apple Macintosh users must have an Intel processor and Mac OS X 10.5 or later. A monitor with 1024×768 resolution or greater is required.

Whether your workflow includes Lightroom or Photoshop, Exposure 3 offers multiple ways to alter your images without being destructive to the files. In Lightroom you can choose to edit a copy or edit a copy with Lightroom adjustments, in addition to editing the image file. In Photoshop, the software can render effects on a duplicate layer instead of the original; or be used as a Smart Filter.

The company has also improved the user interface in this iteration of Exposure. Once you launch the plug-in, you choose either color or B&W. Although not clocked with a stopwatch, I did notice previews were quicker than previous versions of the software. And because there are so many settings you can choose from, I found myself looking at the preview of one particular setting and if I didn’t like it, I immediately clicked the next one as soon as the preview was complete. I never found myself waiting for the previews before I was ready to move onto the next one.

exposure 3 screenshot for picture-soup.com review

Screenshot of the Exposure 3 plug-in launched from Photoshop CS5 on a Mac, showing a split screen. The settings listing shows the film types/Lo-Fi camera effects; further tweaking can be done by clicking on color, focus, tone, grain and age, after choosing a film simulation. Photograph © Diane Berkenfeld.

Get Creative

In addition to all of the technical improvements ‘under the hood’ so to speak, Alien Skin has added the simulation of Lo-Fi toy cameras, aging effects and more vintage films like Technicolor and old Kodachrome, in addition to other film types, toning and aging settings.

picture-soup.com image for exposure 3 review

(top left) Original image of a recording studio's sound board; (top right) Fuji Sensia low light cross process; (bottom left) Fuji Neopan 1600 dust and scratches; (bottom right) vignette soft Agfa APX 100. Photograph © Diane Berkenfeld.

If you’re looking to replicate the look of one of your favorite films, odds are you’ll find what you’re looking for in Exposure 3. There are 500 presets you can choose from. But if you want to use a certain film look as a stepping stone to a more unique look, you can do that too, because the plug-in lets you make numerous tweaks to the settings provided, and it allows you to save presets too.

As much as you may spend hours restoring images that came from a scratched print, neg. or slide, it would take you only mere seconds to add dust and scratches, or realistically fade colors to age a digital image using Exposure 3.

shots of water for picture-soup.com review of exposure 3

(top left) Original image of marshes and the far shore reflected in the water; (top right) Bleach bypass; (bottom left) EPP cross process; (bottom right) Lomo Fujifilm cross process. Photograph © Diane Berkenfeld.

What makes Exposure 3 such a great plug-in is the fact that Alien Skin has put in a lot of work to make sure the film simulations are realistic. When I shot film, I loved the look of big grain in B&W and used to shoot Kodak Tmax 3200; with regards to color, I’d shoot Fujifilm chrome film because I loved the warmth of the final images. Now I can take my digital images and give them the “look” of those films. For discontinued films, like Kodachrome, which will cease being processed by the end of the year, this means a lot. [For more on Kodachrome's film and processing discontinuation, click here —Ed.] Oh, and being able to take a photograph handheld, at whatever exposure ambient lighting allows, then simulate Kodachrome 25 or another extremely slow film sounds like a better prospect than having to wait for exactly the right moment—not to mention lugging a tripod, and perhaps using a cable release. I won’t even go into trying to find a lab that will cross-process your film without charging you an-arm-and-a-leg. Even a film-lover like myself has to admit that digital does have its advantages.

Exposure 3 sells for $249, upgrade from any version for $99.

Go to www.alienskin.com for more information.

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Software Review: Adobe InDesign CS5

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Article by Toni McQuilken. Artwork by Gannon Ruddy.

There are several new features in Adobe InDesign CS5 that photographers who do any kind of layout work are going to be incredibly excited about. Here are a few of the top features that will make you want to rush out and upgrade.

I should tell you up front—I love this new release. It’s a joy to use, and it actually makes layout fun. The project I’m currently working on is near and dear to my heart—my wedding invitations. My fiancé and I are creating them ourselves with his artwork and my skills at layout and design, and the new InDesign has made it a fun process instead of a frustrating one. I’ll take you through a few of the features I love about it, and how I used them to create what I think (but I’m admittedly biased) turned out to be some pretty amazing invitations.

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Content Grabber. Drag an image around within it's frame to adjust the crop on the fly. No more jumping back into Photoshop just to make a small adjustment to part of the image. When you grab the center of the image now, the frame itself won't move—only the image within it. Original art © Gannon Ruddy.

The first one is small, but powerful—the ability to drag an image around within it’s frame to adjust the crop on the fly. No more jumping back into Photoshop just to make a small adjustment about what part of the image is viable. Called Content Grabber, when you grab the center of the image now, the frame itself won’t move—only the image within it. This was a helpful feature as I was moving around and placing the images in our invitations. I set up the bounding boxes and got the rough design done early; then, as the art was finished, I was able to bring it into InDesign and adjust it to get the exact part of the shot I wanted. Adobe didn’t leave it at that, however. Instead of having to wait until you’ve released the image to see what will be visible and what’s been cropped, a preview will show you exactly what’s still in the frame as well as a grayed-out preview of the portion that will be hidden from view.

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Live Corner Effects. Drag the tool to adjust the corners to get a rounded (default) effect, or press Alt/Option click on any of the yellow handles to scroll through the other corner effects. The default action is to do all four corners simultaneously, by the same amount for a balanced look. Hold down the shift key, to work on a single corner at a time. Original art © Gannon Ruddy.

Another nice addition to InDesign in this version is the ability to do custom shapes to the corners of images, again, without having to go into Photoshop to create the effect. Now, when you click on an image, a new yellow handle will appear in addition to the usual tools. Called Live Corner Effects, by dragging the tool you can adjust the corners to get a rounded (which is the default) effect, or you can Alt/Option click any of the yellow handles to scroll through the other effects built into the software. Once you’ve chosen one, you can adjust it to get exactly the look you’re going for. The default action is to do all four corners simultaneously, by the same amount for a balanced look. However, by holding down the shift key, you can work on a single corner at a time.

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Rotating. Now, when you have an image selected, move your cursor to any of the corners, and a new rotate symbol will appear. Click and hold, and you can rotate the image as much or as little as necessary. Original art © Gannon Ruddy.

Again, in an effort to make repetitive tasks easier and faster, rotating is another feature that was tweaked. And it was the one feature I used the most in the creation of the invitations. Now, when you have an image selected, move your cursor to any of the corners, and a new rotate symbol will appear. Click and hold, and you can rotate the image as much or as little as necessary. Instead of going with a straight invitation style, ours are folded, with each flap folding out to reveal a new piece of art. In order to get the front and inside to flow correctly, there was a lot of rotating and adjusting. The ability to just grab and tweak instead of having to change tools and go through a process to get the angles I wanted was a huge plus in my book.

Auto-Fit is another new feature I used quite a bit in the invitation creation. Auto-Fit allows you to automatically scale an image to fit the frame, instead of having to do it manually. The scanned artwork came in as massive files that I didn’t want to shrink in Photoshop because I plan to use the same art in other stationary throughout the wedding. The ability to re-size my art in the layout, based on the frames I had preset, was a godsend, and saved me more time than I care to contemplate. To use it, turn it on in the Control Panel, then Shift-Drag the image to the size you ultimately want it to fit. Instead of just adjusting the frame, this will automatically set the picture to the same size and shape as the new frame.

On the production side, the Mini-Bridge is a fantastic new way to get quick access to all of your assets. It’s a little mini browser right in InDesign that allows you to find the art you want and quickly get it placed. It allows you to compare images and assets within InDesign instead of having to go out of the program and into your file browser. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you’re in the middle of a project, it’s a huge time saver. I kept it open with the folder where my art for the wedding is stored not only for the invitations, but for all my stationary, so I could see at a glance which pieces I had ready to go, which ones I was still waiting to get the final versions for, and which ones had been used in any individual project.

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Mini-Bridge. The mini-bridge lets you view and access your assets within InDesign. Original art © Gannon Ruddy.

Another big win on the production side that’s not quite as noticeable or flashy is that Adobe took advantage of newer technologies and processors to export PDFs in the background. Especially on more complex projects, the ability to have InDesign exporting while you continue to work in the program on another layout is one of those time-savers you didn’t even realize was sucking so many minutes away from your day.

One of the nice parts about making edits in InDesign instead of going back and forth into Photoshop to get the same effect is that the original image remains untouched. The size, shape, resolution and any other changes made in the layout will allow you to get the look and feel you want without damaging or changing the originals. As I mentioned, we plan to use all of the art in more than one application, from wedding programs to table place cards to the thank-you notes, and all of these will be different sizes, require different angles, and would be a nightmare to keep track of if I had to create a different version of each piece of art for every use.

There are quite a few more new features that make layout much easier, faster and more efficient. Adobe has stayed with it’s pattern of making only minor changes in even-numbered releases, but in the odd-numbered versions, like the current one, they pack it full of new features and tweaks designed to really change the way you work. You owe it to yourself to at least take a look at the new version, and try it out if you can; since it’s packed with tools you’re going to enjoy using.

For more information, go to www.adobe.com.

toni mcquilken headshot• Toni McQuilken has been covering the print and graphics industry for the past 10 years. She is also an avid photographer who can be found with her camera out and about on Long Island most weekends. Check out her website at www.tonimcquilken.com to see more of her writing.

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Software Review: Lightroom 3 – Real World Test – part 1

By Diane Berkenfeld

Adobe Lightroom 3 provides not just the requisite speed and processing improvements that you would expect from a software upgrade, but brand new features too. Earlier this month we posted our early evaluation of Lightroom 3, which you can read by clicking here. We’ve been putting Lightroom 3 through its paces and are ready to report on the program’s many new features and improvements.

Imports

The import feature has been redesigned with Lightroom 3. When you click on import, you are now brought to an import screen. If you import images the way I do, which is select a group of files and drop them on the Lightroom icon in the Dock (on my Macbook Pro), those will show up with check marks, and any other files in the same folder will show up unchecked. This allows you to add or subtract images before they’re actually imported. In addition to letting you revise the actual files being imported before you hit the import button, you’re given the ability to import the files as .DNG, import and save to a second location, and more.

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Importing images now brings you to an import screen. Note the areas at the top and top right that let you choose the image type to import and destination. All photos © Diane Berkenfeld.

Also new with Lightroom 3 is the ability to import video files. The video files will show up in the Library module with a movie camera icon in the bottom left corner of the frame. The files play in whichever default movie player is installed on your computer, but now you can catalog the video files you’ve shot on a job along with the still images. This is great for photographers shooting with the new DSLRs that shoot video.

Grain

One of my favorite new features is the realistic grain. For someone like myself, who used to love shooting with high speed B&W film for the “golf ball size” grain, I can now add realistic grain to any image I’ve shot. This is one of the great benefits to digital capture. You can photograph any subject realistically—(i.e. in color, as your eye sees it) and convert to B&W, soften the sharpness, add a post-crop vignette, split-tone or most anything else you can dream up—after the fact. Your digital darkroom is as big as your imagination. What Lightroom 3 does best is simplify the process for photographers, allowing you to correct or alter images in a non-destructive manner, and in a workflow that saves you time and energy.

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Now you can add realistic grain into your images. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

Noise Reduction

Whereas grain can be desired—depending upon what you’re shooting and the mood you’re looking for—nobody wants a noisy image. Noise is the number one detraction from a great image. Some early cameras were so noisy at high (and not so high) ISOs that these images were unusable. Noise reduction software however, allows you to correct for noise and can correct enough that you can now use images that you hadn’t been able to in the past. Lightroom 3 uses new noise reduction algorithms to reduce noise while leaving edge detail sharp.

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On the left is a zoomed in portion of the original image. Color and luminance noise is visible in the shadows. On the right is the same area, but the color and luminance noise is gone. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

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The final image, after noise reduction and recovery of the highlights. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

This is another great benefit to digital. When software technology gets to the point that it can “save” once unusable images, it allows you to correct imperfections in older photographic files.

Post Crop Vignette

Vignetting has also been improved. This iteration of the software brings users two new vignetting styles for even more natural looking vignettes. These styles are the color priority and highlight priority modes in post-crop vignetting. With the post-crop vignette, you can realistically add a vignette to images post-crop. (Hence the name.) But while some lenses will give images a vignette due to the way they are made, you can add a very realistic vignette to images, to focus the viewer’s eye onto your subject with Lightroom 3.

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Post-crop vignetting allows you to add a subtle, natural vignette to images. This side by side comparison shows no vignette on the left, and an added vignette on the right. You can see the difference in the white wicker basket at the bottom of the image. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

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Here is the full image, on the left without the vignette, on the right with the post-crop vignette. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

I found this feature very easy to use, with great results every time.

Watermarking

Adobe added a more flexible watermarking system to Lightroom 3, making it very easy to add a watermark and adjust its placement. You can add text or a graphic, such as a logo, to your images as a watermark. Watermarking is available in the Print, Web and Slideshow modules as well as the Export dialog. Placing a watermark on your images in the previous version of Lightroom was not an easy task, and so this is a big improvement.

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Adding a watermark is now a simple task in Lightroom 3. A dialog box allows you to make various choices as to placement, opacity and type of watermark. This example was done while also testing out the custom print layout feature which is also new to Lightroom 3. Photos © Diane Berkenfeld

Print Layouts

The new custom layout function under the Print module makes putting together multiple image print layouts quick and easy. You simply pick a page size, click on the sizes you want to add, and drag images from the filmstrip to the layout. From that point, you can resize images or drag them around the page. You can also save the presets you use often. I found this feature extremely easy to use. Sometimes when you try a software feature and find it complicated to use you shy away from any other program’s similar functionality, However, with Lightroom 3, I think I will often find myself utilizing the custom layout feature for printing multiple images. It’s a definite improvement over the previous version.

Exportable Video Slideshows

In addition to being able to create slideshows of your work via the Slideshow module, Lightroom 3 now lets you export those slideshows as video files, in a range of preset sizes and resolutions from small YouTube suitable files up to full-quality 1080p HD resolution. You can add a music soundtrack and set the slideshow to fit the length of the music. The addition of this feature means that you can now create such slideshows from within Lightroom itself instead of needing to use another program just for slideshow creation.

If you’re looking to create a simple slideshow then you can use this feature of Lightroom 3. If you want fancy transitions between images, or the ability to quickly create text slides to intersperse between images then you’ll want to use a more robust program.

Photodex Proshow Producer is my slideshow program of choice so I missed the features I know exist in that powerful program. But for a simple and basic slideshow, Lightroom 3 will do the job fine .

With regards to rendering of the slideshow, like most other programs, it will take a few minutes, but that’s to be expected. Depending upon the resolution you choose—smaller res shows will render out quicker than larger HD resolution slideshows.

• Part 2 of the Lightroom 3 Real World Review will tackle tethered shooting, lens and perspective correction, and new web features. Look for it to be posted soon!

For more information about Lightroom 3, go to www.adobe.com.

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Product Review: Digital Anarchy's Beauty Box Photo Plug-in

By Diane Berkenfeld

Digital Anarchy today released a new skin retouching program for still images, Beauty Box Photo. A Photoshop plug-in, Beauty Box Photo is compatible with Photoshop CS5 and earlier versions. The software is a follow-up to the company’s popular video retouching tool for After Effects CS5.

Beauty Box Photo skin retouching software automatically identifies skin tones and creates an intelligent mask that limits the smoothing effect to skin areas while keeping facial details sharp. You can use the software for batch processing too, which really helps speed up your workflow.

In Use Review

I had the opportunity to review a beta version of Digital Anarchy’s Beauty Box Photo, using it with Photoshop CS4, and love the software. It has the power of high priced programs, yet the GUI or graphic user interface is simple to navigate and easy to use.

One of the great features of Beauty Box Photo is that it provides subtle yet visible retouching. Whether you use the automatic retouching or manually tweak the settings, the skin smoothing is subtle, so your portrait subjects look normal—skin does not look plastic or over-retouched. Pore structures and wrinkles are visible but softened.

(l. to r.) Screenshot showing 100% view before, and after. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

I found that the automatic mask did a wonderful job of masking the skin tone, not just on a face, but shoulders, arms—all visible skin in a photograph. You can very easily tweak the mask too, if necessary. Once you have the mask, you can fine tune the skin smoothing to your liking.

(l. to r.) Final portrait, and screenshot of the Beauty Box Photo mask. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

The software lets you take up to three snapshots of different amounts of smoothing, and you can toggle between each of them to choose which looks the best, and then apply that one. I personally would have liked to see a before/after button instead—although to the software’s credit, it lets you see up to three different settings which is more than a simple before/after or split screen would provide.

When it comes to retouching, sometimes less is better, meaning that Beauty Box does what it says it does—providing powerful skin smoothing without going overboard. And it is not overwhelming to use, like some software programs can be. This is great for the non-techie photographer or beginner digital imager.

The software is also very intuitive. I tested it out with a portrait of a 6 month old, a 4 year old and a 30-something. Each time the automatic settings provided a pretty good starting point. Less smoothing for the kids and more for the 30-something. Although I did tweak the settings, most folks would probably be happy with the program completely running on auto.

(l. to r.) Close-up view of the original non-retouched image (file open in Photoshop), and after (image in Beauty Box Photo's dialog window), using the automatic settings of Beauty Box Photo. Note the smoothing of the baby's blotchy red skin on his cheek. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

I definitely see Beauty Box as an addition to my retouching workflow. It makes it really easy to smooth skin for a pleasing look while leaving the skin looking realistic.

The photographs of the baby and child were for an actual job I was working on. I originally used a Photoshop action on the portraits, which while smoothing the skin also added a soft-focus glow that really was overboard for these images. The Beauty Box Photo skin smoothing was perfect—just enough to smooth out blotchy skin without overkill.

Beauty Box Photo works in Photoshop versions 7.0–CS5 and Photoshop Elements versions 6–9; on the Macintosh, running on OS 10.4, 10.5 and 10.6; and on Windows, the software supports Windows XP Home, Windows XP Pro, Vista 32-bit, Vista 64-bit and Windows 7. In the next few months, Digital Anarchy will have a version compatible with Apple Aperture, and in the future (date tbd) with Adobe Lightroom.

Beauty Box is regularly priced at USD $99. The product is on sale for $79 through June 21, 2010.

For more information, to try out demo filters and view samples, go to www.digitalanarchy.com.

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