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: 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

A look at what’s newindesign cs5 box for toni mcquilken article for picture-soup.com

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.

toni mcquilken image for indesign cs5 review for picture-soup.com

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.

toni mcquilken indesign example for picture-soup.com article

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.

rotating example for toni mcquilken indesign review for picture-soup.com

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.

toni mcquilken indesign article for picture-soup.com

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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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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Product Review: Foto Fashionista's My Foto Vest for Ladies

By Diane Berkenfeld

I am a woman with a camera—a professional photographer.

When shooting personal projects or working on location, I don’t always want to carry a camera bag, nor do I always want to have a gear belt full of pouches that resembles Batman or Robin’s utility belts. Thanks to fellow photographer Marla Holden, I won’t have to do that anymore. That’s because Marla decided to design a photo vest for women.

The vests fit a woman’s shape, unlike the baggy, oversized photojournalist’s vests that have been available for men for years. Marla’s company, Foto Fashionista, offers female photographers a more fashionable choice for carrying necessities while shooting, the My Foto Vest, in four styles: Nantucket Stripe, Casual Friday Khaki, Saturday Blue Jeans, and Midnight Denim. The vests are made of comfortable cotton materials, and are machine washable. They’re available in small, medium, large and x-large.

One of the great features of My Foto Vest is that the back is made of a stretchable lace, so it breathes. A zipper lets you wear the vest closed or open. On the inside of the vest, you’ll find pockets that are made of a stretchy neoprene-like material. The right side features five pockets, one for a pen, and four more to hold accessories. The left side has two pockets for accessories, with three smaller pockets to hold media cards higher up near your shoulder.

Pockets are stretchable. The My Foto Vest is comfortable to wear even when you've got the pockets full and the vest zippered closed.

Photo accessories, such as a light meter, flash, lens caps, filters, white balance devices (i.e. Spydercube), extra batteries, and more will easily fit in the pockets. So will a cellphone, keys, ID and money, or a small wallet. I like that when wearing a Foto Fashionista vest, I don’t have to stuff everything in my pant’s pockets. This is important, because, except for denim jeans, not all pants have pockets that are large enough, or shaped correctly to safely hold much of anything. I would like to be able to fit a lens in the vest, and wasn’t able to with the lenses than I own. The material that makes up the pockets is stretchy, but I couldn’t get the lenses to pass through the seams at the top of the pockets—which also speaks to the durability of the vests’ construction.

I like the ability to keep my full media cards on me. I don’t normally put shot cards in my gear bag in the event that it disappears on a shoot. My camera gear is replaceable, but the photographs I’ve taken aren’t.

Overall, I found the vest could replace a small purse, which I would find helpful on its own. If I was going out shooting with only one lens, I would definitely wear the vest instead of carrying a small camera bag. Being able to easily and comfortably carry accessories I use all the time is great. Because I shoot events, I would definitely like to see a more formal looking vest in black. Marla has said she’s working on a formal design for photographers to wear while shooting events, and I can’t wait to try it out.

MSRP of the My Foto Vest is $139.99. For more information, go to www.fotofashionista.com.

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Product Review: Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II printer

By Carrie Konopacki

I recently had the opportunity to try out the Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II inkjet printer. I was looking forward to seeing how the printer would perform and increase my workflow productivity.

To give you a little background on myself, the first true experiences I had in the photo world began with my Canon AE-1. The ability to have complete control over your picture from start to the final print became a quick addiction. I loved my Canon. Through the digital years, I dabbled with various other makes and used your standard printers. Was this Canon going to be a “love affair rekindled?” Could be.

Printer Specs and Features

When the printer first arrived, it was very overwhelming. Lets just say you need to find ample desktop space. The printer is 26.0″(W) x 7.6″(H) x 13.9″(D). It can handle output up to 13×19-inches. My first challenge was finding the printer a workspace. With the front and rear trays open, the printer will need around a 30”x40” area. The 1.6mm steel body adds to the overwhelming appeal and speaks “rough and tough.”

After taking the printer out of the box, I just needed to install the 10 single ink cartridges: Matte Black, Photo Black, Gray, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Photo Cyan, Photo Magenta, Red, and Green. The driver now installed on a Dell Inspiron 530 Intel Core 2 Quad PC, it was finally time to print. Or in my case, select the images to test print.

The Pixma Pro9500 Mark II printer utilizes a 4800×2400 dpi FINE print head, two separate paper paths, and a new printer driver. The printer is compatible with Mac OX X v.10.2.8 to 10.5.x and PCs running Windows XP/2000/Vista/7. The printer connects to computers via USB 2.0 and direct printer ports—no FireWire and no Ethernet. The printer can output 16-bit files.

The 10-color PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II printer uses Canon’s professional Lucia brand pigment-based inks. The printer was designed to output great B&W prints as well as color. Its ink system includes gray, black and matte black cartridges for printing of monochrome photographs on both fine art paper and glossy photo paper.

The printer comes with both Windows & MAC OS X: Easy-PhotoPrint Pro, Easy-PhotoPrint EX, CD-LabelPrint and Adobe Photoshop Elements 6, however most professional photographers are likely to print from whichever version of Photoshop they are using. Using the included software allows you to print directly from Photoshop and also print RAW images. These options allowed me numerous options to choose from with my inventory of prints.

Test Use

Ali. Photograph © Carrie Konopacki.

My goal was to find the most luminous, vibrant color photos and the black and white images with high levels of contrast, shadows and depth of field. And also throw in some sepia. For my printer tests, I used a variety of media, including: Canon Inkjet art & photo paper,  Fine Art paper “Museum Etching”, Fine Art paper “ Photo Rag”, Fine Art Paper, Premium Matte, Photo Paper Plus Semi Gloss, Hahnemühle Matte FineArt, Kodak Premium Photo Paper (Matte), and Kodak Photo Paper (Gloss).

Arizona Cacti. Photograph © Carrie Konopacki.

For my first print, I chose the Museum Etching media to print an image of a Cacti from a 2009 trip I took following Imaging USA. Once my enhancements were made to the image, it was time to print.

For me, the most difficult process to figure out was how to successfully operate the front feeder for the heavier and larger sized papers. After a few miss attempts and unsuccessful interpretation of the online owners manual, by sheer frustration, it became clear.

Bumblebee on Flower. Photograph © Carrie Konopacki.

I truly thought the printer had come with a malfunction. Mind you, not having used other Canon large or wide-format printers before, it took me some time to figure out exactly how the paper feed worked.

When I reviewed the online owners manual, which does give you a walk-through, with pictures and descriptive directions, I was able to figure out what to do. The front output tray needed to be placed into the feed position and paper manually fed into position from the back. Once you figure this portion out, everything else is pretty self-explanatory.

While Printing

Now that the printer was all set up, sending images to print was my next task. The printer handled anything I threw at it without any real complaints. You can even print regular documents on the printer, which I did in a pinch.

My only concern is that printing of photographs was slow.

Photo of Jake Konopacki by Herff Jones.

Using the Kodak glossy media I printed some school pictures, 2 (5×7)’s, 8 wallets, and 4 (3×5)’s in about 3 minutes. The quality was great. And the colors were representative to the true.

I was using Photoshop CS3, although I did try using Canon’s printer software to see how it would render my images. For the school images, I used the print package that was a part of the Canon Solutions menu options. Because the printer would be used by prosumers as well as pro photographers—and to see how well it printed—I didn’t use ICC profiles. The colors were spot on with the Jake’s school photos.

I did use the print screen option to make sure the picture I wanted had more of a vibrant color, with certain images.

The printer offers ICC capability, and can print both 8 bit and 16 bit images. The Pixma Pro9500, the predecessor to the Mark II was only able to print 8 bit image files.

The printer was remarkably quiet even without being in “Quiet Mode”, had great color and B&W image reproduction and was user friendly. There is also an easy one-click help button from the On-Screen Manual, which will help you diagnosis and resolve issues and/or questions.

With regards to the various papers that I used in testing the printer, I liked various ones for different prints. The goals is to make sure you like the final look on the paper you wanted, hence with the school picture, I knew the people I was handing them out to would be accustomed to glossy prints, so I used glossy media. For my cactus picture, I wanted to “soften” the look so I went with the Museum etching.

Overall, the Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II is a great 13-inch printer with excellent Black & White printing capabilities. The wide color range make your color prints pieces of artwork. Ink usage was within expectations of desired print quality and quantity. In addition, the quietness of the printer allows you to continue to work in the same room you are printing in with minimum distraction. I would definitely recommend this printer for those in the market.

For more information about the Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II printer go to the website www.usa.canon.com.

• Carrie Konopacki’s passion and expertise in photography began at the age of 16 when she took a job as a receptionist at Olan Mills Portrait Studios. From there she began a 15-year adventure as a photography professional. First as a photographer for Olan Mills, then in college, where she planned to become a photojournalist. Learning the roots behind her passion for photography, Carrie received a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She has done freelance commercial photography as well as family portraiture. Most recently Carrie worked for Studio Photography magazine.


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