Archive for Porters Cameras – Page 2

Lensbaby – Creativity Beyond Kit Lenses and Traditional Zooms

Are you still shooting with your kit lens and traditional zooms? Were you attracted to DSLR cameras because you wanted to experience more creative photography? If you are feeling that it is time to break out and expand your horizons then it is time for you to meet the Lensbaby.

It would be nice if I could say that owning a Lensbaby will make you the most creative photographer on your block, but that wouldn’t be true. What is true is that using the Lensbaby system opens up a door on a whole new way to shoot the world around you. The system is non-technical and easy to use, yet the results can be creative, breathtaking and extremely unique.

At the heart of the Lensbaby system are three lens bodies each designed to accept a range of interchangeable optics and accessories. When used together the components of the system create photo effects in-camera. Additional effects can be added to the images later, but the Lensbaby system is all about visualizing and creating an effect when the image is captured.

The first step into the Lensbaby creative system is to choose a lens. All Lensbaby lenses from Porters come with the Double Glass Optic standard:

The Muse is a free-form lens body. Stretch and compress the lens for focus; bend in any direction to move the focus sweet spot. Move and hold the lens to create the image, take your fingers off of it and it springs back to center.

The Composer relies on a ball and socket for its movement and adds a standard focus ring. Once positioned The Composer will remain as set until it is repositioned; there is no need to hold it in place which makes it ideal for shooting hands free on a tripod.

The Control Freak takes the free-form body of The Muse and adds lockable controls. Three threaded rods allow The Control Freak to be positioned and locked down, a simple pinch of a release unlocks the lens again for free movement.

Operation of the camera with a Lensbaby mounted is simple; just use the Av (Aperture Priority) auto-exposure mode. All Lensbaby lenses are 50mm focal length. The aperture of most Lensbaby optics is controlled by magnetic drop-in aperture rings. The wider the aperture chosen the more pronounced the effect will be. A Lensbaby lens is simple, straightforward, and very easy to learn.

I have mentioned that Lensbaby is a creative effects system, but just what is the effect? There are two basic photo effects that come from Lensbaby use: Selective Focus effects and Creative Focus effects. All three of the Lensbaby models mentioned are capable of these photo effects and everything else in the system builds on these two functions.


Selective focus is where Lensbaby started. The idea is illustrated nicely in the image a to the left. We see a sharply focused area in the image surrounded by another area that gets progressively more out of focus. For years photographers have been able to approximate a similar effect using a center-focus filter but the edge between sharp and not sharp was obvious and almost always centered.

Now if we look at this next image below we see that the area of sharp focus has been moved well off center. This is possible because the Lensbaby lens can be moved left, right, up or down. The Composer moves using a ball and socket joint while the Muse and Control Freak have their lens optics mounted in a slinky-like lens tube. With a Lensbaby, the point of selective focus can be moved to almost any part of the image.

Creative Focus is the other Lensbaby specialty. Using optics such as Fisheye, Soft Focus or the Pinhole / Zone Plate a Lensbaby lens can offer yet another kind of creative flexibility. Optics in this group don’t benefit much from the effects of selective focus, the optics themselves are the effect.

Selective Focus and Creative Focus define the two major types of effect that can be created with Lensbaby. The effects are easy to create by simply mounting the lens to the camera and composing in the viewfinder. The image will be captured just as it is seen. However what make the Lensbaby system such a nice tool to own is that the options don’t stop with these two effects.

Recall that the lens bodies are designed to hold interchangeable optics; we’ve mentioned three of them above in describing Creative Focus. Off the shelf, the Lensbaby lenses come with sharp, Double Glass Optics. The Double Glass is fully coated and offers a good first step into learning to use a Lensbaby. But with a simple twist the Double Glass Optic can be removed from the lens body and another optic inserted.

In addition to using selective focus the Optics Swap system allows the photographer to insert other optic sets that treat the scene in very different ways. Where the Double Glass Optic is quite sharp the Plastic Optic is far from it. The Plastic Optic captures images that remind us of plastic toy cameras such as the popular Holga or the Diana cameras.

With the Plastic Optic focus is softer, colors can tend to blend or even smear. The optic is uncoated and has significant chromatic aberration. The out of focus area of the image will look more painterly or even surreal. There is also a Single Glass Optic which brings to mind images captured by antique cameras. The Single Glass works well for portraiture, landscape and still life in color or Black and White.

Lensbaby offers other lens bodies and other optics designed for more specific purposes and they do offer The Muse with the less expensive Plastic Optic included. However the three lenses and six optics listed above are the core components that will start the majority of photographers off on the right foot.

The Lensbaby system is very open-ended; an almost endless variety of configurations can be created using lenses, Swap Optics, and accessories. The initial buy-in to the system is a Lensbaby lens, additional Swap Optics start as low as $40.00 with creative accessories beginning at $20.00.

So with one lens photographers can create their own unique style using Selective Focus, Creative Focus and interchangeable Swap Optics. In addition there are many accessories that compliment the effects: macro adapters for close-up work, tele / wide adapters for changing perspective, creative apertures that add shape to out of focus highlights.

Additional posts on the Lensbaby system:
About The Most Fun You Can Have With Your Lens On
Three Digital Camera Lenses Not In Your Bag – But Should Be!

Porter's Gallery For Lensbaby Shooters – Currently loaded with Lensbaby's own images, send us your shots!:
Porter's Lensbaby Gallery

Make Mom’s Day…Special!

You know the mom in your life will love almost anything you give her. That’s why it’s even more important to give her something that shows how much you appreciate all the time and effort she spends taking care of you and those around you. We have a few suggestions to help you pick the perfect Mother’s Day gift:

Digital Photo Books: Did you know that we can create a photo book filled with your favorite photos? We have a number of options to choose from and it’s so much easier than you think! Bring us a CD of your favorite photos and let us show you just how quickly we can create a gift that will move Mom deeply. Or order online HERE!

Enlargements, Canvas and More: It’s time to set your favorite photos free! Digital photography is fantastic, but we also have found that some of our favorite photos are held hostage on our computer hard drives. It’s hard to enjoy them when we rarely see them. This Mother’s Day, take a favorite photo and let us enlarge it, frame it or even stretch it on canvas so it can be enjoyed in Mom’s home. We can turn your image into art, and we can do it quickly and for a great price. You choose the photo and we’ll do the rest!

Terrific Tripods: A tripod is one of the most important accessories a photographer can own and this tool can assist shooters of all skill levels. A tripod can provide stability for the camera, which is particularly important in a variety of situations, and can also help the photographer focus on composing her shot. A tripod is also valuable in low-light conditions where camera stability is particularly important, as the camera’s shutter is open for longer periods of time. We have a variety of tripods for every situation, and we’d be happy to help you pick the right one for Mom.

Great Gear Bags and Straps: This year, consider getting Mom a gear bag that will keep all her treasured photography items protected, secure and ready at a moment’s notice. We have designs ranging from compact and hands free to full-featured for the pro shooter toting a variety of gear. Shoulder bags, messenger styles, backpacks and more… check out our selection here!

Photo Tip Round-Up – Ten Plus One

If there is one thing photographers love to do it’s exchange tips – almost as much as they love to shoot pictures! What follows is a list of tips that Porter’s has recently compiled. Read on through the list and take what you can from the suggestions. Putting even one tip into practice can immediately improve your pictures!

#1 – Know Your Camera! Knowing your particular camera can help you learn its limitations. Understanding those limitations will help you creatively overcome them. At the very least, know where your instruction book is.

#2 – Hold Your Camera Correctly. The number one complaint in photography is fuzzy pictures. Use two hands to hold the camera and keep your elbows tucked into your body.

#3 – Use Your Flash: Indoors or out using an accessory flash improves people pictures. Flash adds fill light to people's eyes, it eliminates harsh shadows, and with most cameras it eases high contrast scenes.

#4 – Format your Memory Cards. When it comes to caring for media cards, there are a few things you need to know to make sure your images are well protected and the card remains in working order. For example, make sure to reformat your card on a regular basis. Reformatting keeps the file structure clean and in good working order, which means you’ll get fewer error messages down the road. The longer a card goes without being formatted, the greater possibility there is for corruption. (ed 4/26) Note: Only format cards after all images have been downloaded! Formatting will erase everything on the card. (Read more about memory card use and care on THIS POST)

#5 – Eyes OPEN! If you've ever had a subject who blinks every time the flash goes off try this: Have the subject close their eyes and then open them on the count of three. Tripping the shutter at the same count will all but assure you of getting an eyes-open shot.

#6 – Want Steadier Shots? Begin by holding the camera firmly and with both hands. Keep your elbows into the body. Take a deep breath and slowly exhale, at the end of the exhale your ribcage will be rigid and steady. Press the shutter release at that moment.

#7 – Sink To Their Level. The next time your are taking pictures of seated people or kids make sure to get the camera down to their eye level. This will make the subject's face look properly proportioned in the final image.

#8 – Whenever Possible, Use A Tripod! You knew I was going to get this one onto the list, right? Cameras on tripods take sharper images rendering more fine detail than any hand-held camera even with an image stabilized lens.

#9 – Shoot Now, Look Later: If you’re photographing a particular scene or event, keep shooting until you’ve reached a point of closure. Too often we shoot a picture and immediately look at the LCD screen to see if we captured the shot. Keep going. You might miss that frame-worthy photo because your eyes are focused on what has already happened instead of what is happening right now.

#10 – Don't Zoom Too Much. Zoom lenses are handy for reaching out to subjects at a distance. However if it is possible to physically move in closer rather than use the zoom we should. A zoom lens can make an image look flat and without depth – the background can seem to be right on top of the subject. If there is one tip that can have the greatest impact on your images, this is it! Use your feet more often than the zoom lens and you will like your pictures more.

The globe in both images is about the same size. There is a greater feeling of depth with the picture on the left. The image on the right shows background and subject compression due to the zoom lens.

Plus One – Learn One New Thing A Month. You will be taking pictures for a very long time, you don't need to learn everything right this moment. Take on one new technique and work with it until you know it inside and out. Repetition and practice are the best ways to increase skill.

DSLR Next Step: Tools for White Balance

Every Photographer that progresses from auto-everything image capture toward taking creative control of the photo process bumps into White Balance (WB) control. Some decision has to be made regarding WB correction – do we trust our camera’s built-in controls or do we have greater faith in our computer software? Often cameras remain firmly set for Auto White Balance or AWB simply because the process seems so complicated.

Dealing with White Balance isn’t a new twist caused by photography going digital. Photographers have always had to work in a world where each kind of light has its own color. Sometimes the color cast of the available light is subtle, other times terribly intense. In all situations the color of the light directly affects the color and quality of our images.

This article isn’t intended to dig deeply into White Balance and color theory, there are many books dedicated to the subject. What we will do is take a look at several White Balance tools and by describing each in use offer a view into the White Balance process.

When it comes to correcting White Balance (referred to as WB going forward) for our images, the process breaks down into two camps: correct WB in-camera before shooting or correct it after capture with computer software. Both choices have tools that help create an accurate WB setting for the image.

For many photographers choosing to correct WB in-camera is not only effective but more affordable. The first step is to understand how to use the camera’s Custom White Balance setting. Every DSLR that I’ve handled has a Custom WB setting option; it’s just a matter of reading the camera manual and learning how access the option and use it.

It really is a fairly easy process once you’ve used Custom WB once or twice; the photographer creates a WB reference image and then chooses to apply it to all subsequent images captured. It is in creating the WB reference image that our tools come into play.

The WB reference image can simply be a picture of a white piece of paper captured under the current lighting conditions. The step up from a white piece of paper is a pop-up WB target that is durable and portable. With either the white paper or the pop-up target the photographer places it in the scene, fills the viewfinder frame with the white surface, captures the image and selects it as the WB reference.

Photographers have used this simple process for years and it is quite effective when only one light source is available. However when there are two or more different light sources in the scene a flat white target isn’t the best solution. For these situations a special lens filter is used which mixes and blends all of the available light into a single reference image.

The ExpoDisc White Balance Filter has a white filter material sandwiched between prismatic surfaces. This design mixes together all of the available light and allows the camera to capture a single reference image. By holding the ExpoDisc in front of the lens and taking one picture the photographer has created a highly accurate reference image.

Other options of this idea can be found with the Brno White Balance Lens Cap, the Promaster White Balance Lens Cap and in the ProDiskII Filter and Color Card. Using in-camera WB correction is useful when shooting either in RAW or JPG.

When we look at post-capture WB correction we find a different solution for the same problem. Post-capture correction assumes that the photographer has image editing software that has more than just basic controls.

For post-capture WB correction to be most effective a reference target is placed in the scene before image capture. Once a reference image has been taken the target can be removed from the scene until there is a change in light. After capture, using the color, exposure and hue selectors found in the image editing software, the reference image is adjusted for good WB. Once the WB setting is created the setting is copied to all of the other images taken under the same light.

Targets used in the scene for post-capture WB correction can be as simple as the pop-up WB target mentioned earlier; however it can be much more useful if the target has more to offer than just a white or gray face.

The Spyder Cube WB reference target is a dimensional device placed into a scene as a reference. In post-capture editing software is used to measure the Spyder Cube in the reference image in order to balance the lighting color and to change or confirm accurate exposure.

Another option is to use a color card as the reference target. The ProDisk II mentioned above offers an eight-color reference card that can be included in the reference scene. In post-capture editing the colors are sampled with the software tools and WB and exposure setting adjusted.

When using the Spyder Cube or the ProDiskII once the reference image is corrected the settings are copied onto all of the other images taken under the same light. The post-capture method of WB correction can work with RAW or JPG files. However the ease and effectiveness of this method is directly related to the capabilities of the editing software used.

To many photographers correcting White Balance seems too technical. Yet an image with corrected WB and exposure will look more natural and vibrant. It is possible to set the camera for Auto White Balance correction but this only provides an average outcome, as often off color as correct.

Taking control of WB is definitely an intermediate skill and it does take a little fussing with either accessories or software. However as skill improves and the process becomes second nature the payoff is in better pictures that stand out from the crowd.

Compact Digital Cameras – Compact Cameras for Travel


The need to capture pictures of a travel or vacation experience is almost universal. As travelers we will be uncertain of our subjects to a certain degree because even the most thoroughly planned travel itinerary can present unplanned photo opportunities. While any camera that takes good pictures is an asset on a trip, here are some features we would want to have on our travel cameras to make sure we come home with good pictures.

The first two key features are related to each other; the size of the camera and its zoom lens range. The relationship between these features is to a degree physical, a lens with a tremendous zoom range requires a camera body large enough to contain it. No other camera features will require compromise like these two will.

A camera body that fits in a pocket won’t have a 20X or longer zoom lens; at this time it just can’t be done. But do we really need that much zoom magnification on a travel camera? We have found that the wide angle end of the lens is more important than the telephoto end for the travel photographer. More often when we are on a trip we need to take pictures indoors or we need to capture a sweeping scenic vista. If the camera’s lens doesn’t have a wide angle setting equal to a 28mm view or wider we won’t capture the scope of the scene.

We have found that cameras with at least a 7X zoom lens starting at 28mm or wider are ideal for travel. The 7X power is ample if wildlife isn’t a big part of the photo mix. Cameras with zoom lenses of 4X and 5X are quite useable as long as the wide angle view is still 28mm or wider.

Cameras with zoom lens lengths under 20X are usually pocket sized and very portable. If size is less important than zoom range then the choices open up to include the larger body cameras with high powered zooms. Either way it is important that the zoom range start at least as wide as a 28mm view.

The next feature that we have found to be important is the ability to capture movies. While most photographers don’t shoot video while at home, the ability to capture video while traveling ranks pretty high on the “must-have” feature list. Every compact camera shoots some sort of video, what is important today is that the video should be high definition (HD) and the change from shooting stills to movies needs to be as easy as possible. The very best choices in HD-capable cameras will have dedicated movie start / stop buttons

Cameras with direct HDMI video connections will capture HD video that looks better on an HDTV than those cameras without the connection. It is perhaps a broad generalization, but HD video from cameras without an HDMI port tend to look better on YouTube than on an HDTV.

There isn’t a right and wrong choice here, all we need to be aware of is how we want to use the captured video. Knowing how we want to share our video helps us to decide the importance. For myself, 90% of the video I shoot will only be seen on a computer so an HDMI port isn’t a top priority.

Before we list some desirable options for travel cameras we should discuss one last key feature of the travel class – good low light capabilities. Often travelers will find themselves in museums or other locations that prohibit flash photography. Just as often the photo-op may be in a large space that our flashes couldn’t possibly fill. If our cameras don’t perform well in low light the traveler will miss important pictures.

Believe it or not the worst thing for good low light photography with a compact camera is a high megapixel image sensor. In fact the current megapixel sweet spot for high quality compact camera images is between 10MP and 14MP – no matter what light level we are shooting in.

Now a list of options we’d like to see on our travel cameras. Not all of these options will be found on any one camera, but a model that offers the right blend of options for your shooting style is likely the ideal camera for you:

Panorama mode. An easy to use panoramic mode is a huge plus on a travel camera. Some models now offer “motion panorama” meaning that the photographer presses the shutter button and sweeps the camera around in a full circle. The camera then assembles the final panoramic image.
• The ability to use an infrared remote shutter release. This feature almost made the list of the key requirements of a travel camera. An IR remote allows the photographer to release the shutter of a tripod mounted camera from a distance. Remember, the photographer is on the vacation too and needs to get into the group shots!
In-camera video compilations. A new feature that if selected also captures three to ten seconds of video every time still image is captured. At the end of the day the camera compiles the movie clips into a video of the day’s events.
An eyelevel viewfinder. Much easier to use outside on a sunny day compared to an LCD view screen. Eyelevel viewfinders are so rare anymore that lacking one really isn’t a deal-breaker for a camera. But if your final choices include a camera with this option we’d strongly recommend that camera model.
GPS geo-tagging. Kind of a ho-hum feature when shooting in your own town, but on the road geo-tagging is very useful. Geo-tagging inserts map coordinates into the image file’s information. Some online image services allow you to explore other photographer’s work from the same geo-location based on your image’s tag.

Summary: Photography is a great way to capture the experience of traveling to new locations. By its nature, travel photography presents new and unplanned photo opportunities that a capable camera can take advantage of. The best compact travel cameras will feature zoom lenses with wide angle views of 28mm or wider. While long and powerful zoom lenses are an option, they can also force the photographer into a bigger camera body sizes. The ability to capture HD video while traveling is another ‘must-have’ feature. Last, good low-light performance is important in a travel camera; especially in situations where flash photography is prohibited.

In addition to these key features there is a list of options that can be welcome additions to a travel camera: Panoramic mode, an infrared remote shutter release, in-camera video compilations, an eyelevel viewfinder, and GPS geo-tagging.

Compact Digital Cameras – Compact Cameras for Travel


The need to capture pictures of a travel or vacation experience is almost universal. As travelers we will be uncertain of our subjects to a certain degree because even the most thoroughly planned travel itinerary can present unplanned photo opportunities. While any camera that takes good pictures is an asset on a trip, here are some features we would want to have on our travel cameras to make sure we come home with good pictures.

The first two key features are related to each other; the size of the camera and its zoom lens range. The relationship between these features is to a degree physical, a lens with a tremendous zoom range requires a camera body large enough to contain it. No other camera features will require compromise like these two will.

A camera body that fits in a pocket won’t have a 20X or longer zoom lens; at this time it just can’t be done. But do we really need that much zoom magnification on a travel camera? We have found that the wide angle end of the lens is more important than the telephoto end for the travel photographer. More often when we are on a trip we need to take pictures indoors or we need to capture a sweeping scenic vista. If the camera’s lens doesn’t have a wide angle setting equal to a 28mm view or wider we won’t capture the scope of the scene.

We have found that cameras with at least a 7X zoom lens starting at 28mm or wider are ideal for travel. The 7X power is ample if wildlife isn’t a big part of the photo mix. Cameras with zoom lenses of 4X and 5X are quite useable as long as the wide angle view is still 28mm or wider.

Cameras with zoom lens lengths under 20X are usually pocket sized and very portable. If size is less important than zoom range then the choices open up to include the larger body cameras with high powered zooms. Either way it is important that the zoom range start at least as wide as a 28mm view.

The next feature that we have found to be important is the ability to capture movies. While most photographers don’t shoot video while at home, the ability to capture video while traveling ranks pretty high on the “must-have” feature list. Every compact camera shoots some sort of video, what is important today is that the video should be high definition (HD) and the change from shooting stills to movies needs to be as easy as possible. The very best choices in HD-capable cameras will have dedicated movie start / stop buttons

Cameras with direct HDMI video connections will capture HD video that looks better on an HDTV than those cameras without the connection. It is perhaps a broad generalization, but HD video from cameras without an HDMI port tend to look better on YouTube than on an HDTV.

There isn’t a right and wrong choice here, all we need to be aware of is how we want to use the captured video. Knowing how we want to share our video helps us to decide the importance. For myself, 90% of the video I shoot will only be seen on a computer so an HDMI port isn’t a top priority.

Before we list some desirable options for travel cameras we should discuss one last key feature of the travel class – good low light capabilities. Often travelers will find themselves in museums or other locations that prohibit flash photography. Just as often the photo-op may be in a large space that our flashes couldn’t possibly fill. If our cameras don’t perform well in low light the traveler will miss important pictures.

Believe it or not the worst thing for good low light photography with a compact camera is a high megapixel image sensor. In fact the current megapixel sweet spot for high quality compact camera images is between 10MP and 14MP – no matter what light level we are shooting in.

Now a list of options we’d like to see on our travel cameras. Not all of these options will be found on any one camera, but a model that offers the right blend of options for your shooting style is likely the ideal camera for you:

Panorama mode. An easy to use panoramic mode is a huge plus on a travel camera. Some models now offer “motion panorama” meaning that the photographer presses the shutter button and sweeps the camera around in a full circle. The camera then assembles the final panoramic image.
• The ability to use an infrared remote shutter release. This feature almost made the list of the key requirements of a travel camera. An IR remote allows the photographer to release the shutter of a tripod mounted camera from a distance. Remember, the photographer is on the vacation too and needs to get into the group shots!
In-camera video compilations. A new feature that if selected also captures three to ten seconds of video every time still image is captured. At the end of the day the camera compiles the movie clips into a video of the day’s events.
An eyelevel viewfinder. Much easier to use outside on a sunny day compared to an LCD view screen. Eyelevel viewfinders are so rare anymore that lacking one really isn’t a deal-breaker for a camera. But if your final choices include a camera with this option we’d strongly recommend that camera model.
GPS geo-tagging. Kind of a ho-hum feature when shooting in your own town, but on the road geo-tagging is very useful. Geo-tagging inserts map coordinates into the image file’s information. Some online image services allow you to explore other photographer’s work from the same geo-location based on your image’s tag.

Summary: Photography is a great way to capture the experience of traveling to new locations. By its nature, travel photography presents new and unplanned photo opportunities that a capable camera can take advantage of. The best compact travel cameras will feature zoom lenses with wide angle views of 28mm or wider. While long and powerful zoom lenses are an option, they can also force the photographer into a bigger camera body sizes. The ability to capture HD video while traveling is another ‘must-have’ feature. Last, good low-light performance is important in a travel camera; especially in situations where flash photography is prohibited.

In addition to these key features there is a list of options that can be welcome additions to a travel camera: Panoramic mode, an infrared remote shutter release, in-camera video compilations, an eyelevel viewfinder, and GPS geo-tagging.

Hey! You! Get Off Of My Cloud!

“The Cloud”. We hear the term used in Microsoft commercials, we read opinions about it on web bulletin boards, and the phrase has even crept into casual conversation. But what exactly is “The Cloud” and what does it mean for our digital pictures?

The Cloud is a term used to describe content, data and applications that exist on the internet*. More precisely the data is kept on servers that are connected to the internet. As such it is available from any computer connected to the web by using a browser or other interface (privacy settings and security permitting).

Cloud computing isn’t a terribly new idea, anyone who uses a web based email account like Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo has been using cloud computing. With these email services the email software and the data are both on a remote web server and accessed by the user through a web browser.

By this same definition Facebook, Twitter, Flick’r, YouTube and almost every other social or sharing site on the web are additional examples of cloud computing. We post messages, pictures, video or links and all of it is managed by the site’s software and the data is stored on their servers.

“The Cloud” is a recent marketing catchphrase, however it is an attempt to describe and label something most of us have been doing for a while. Digital photographers in particular have been big fans of this kind of data storage and sharing for years.

Storing images online has been an option since the first digital cameras. With many millions of image files uploaded to the web every hour there is a lot of competition between the storage sites as the try to get our business.**

Many image storage sites vie for our attention by offering free memberships. It is only required that the user setup an account before they begin uploading their picture files. What can be done with the image files once uploaded varies by site, some sites act only as a cyber-hard drive to be used for bulk storage while others offer sharing or even photo editing tools.

Most free storage sites will support themselves by selling ad space or by sharing revenue with a dedicated photo printing company. Some may generate revenue by offering a fee-based, ad free membership option.

For example Flickr and Photobucket both offer a free account and a fee-based Pro account. Like most other free offers there are heavy restrictions, the biggest of which is that once an image is uploaded to the free account you cannot download a full-sized image file back to your computer (which makes this kind of storage useless as a file back-up). Plus the free account user interface is ringed with ads However if the user opts for the paid Pro account many of the restrictions are lifted and the ads go away.

Other sites take aim squarely at the enthusiast or professional photographer. These sites may have a component designed as a free trial but their key service is a fee-based model. Rates vary from as low as $5.00 per month to hundreds of dollars per month. Again, prices reflect the sophistication of the site’s software interface and the amount of storage offered.

Image file storage and sharing sites are examples of cloud computing. From basic to pro-level sites, photographers have a lot of options when they want to use the internet for sharing and storage. However there are concerns regarding internet storage that photographers must be aware of and work around:

#1 Free Isn’t Forever – Websites come and go and if the internet storage site you have chosen goes belly up what happens to your image files? It has happened in the past and it will happen again. It’s not just the little guys who get toe-tagged either; Yahoo! Photos is an example of a big fish that closed up. Yahoo eventually offered to cross-load the user’s files to a Flick’r account but they didn’t offer a means to download the images back to the user’s computer. This is not an exclusive club; other notable members of the Here Today, Gone Tomorrow Club include HP, Canon, and Microsoft.

#2 No Guarantees – Most web storage sites make no guarantee about storage safety. They may have amazingly strong back-up and security measures but there is seldom a written guarantee of safety from disaster or hackers.

#3 The Cost of Downloads – Not all sites will permit you to download your images back to your computer. The few free storage sites that do allow download will only download a web-sized image and not the full-sized file.


An example of a file first uploaded to Facebook and then downloaded back to the computer. Click on the image and note the smudges (compression artifacts) and “jaggies” on the downloaded image.

Some fee-based storage sites will allow the user to download full-sized image files, but the user could pay an additional hidden cost for the privilege. That hidden cost is measured in time – the storage site may only provide the means to download one image at a time. Right click, Save-As, wait for download, repeat for each image.

#4 Right Click Theft – The user is responsible to turn on or off protection against right-click copying of an image, if the site even provides such a feature. Search for an image on Google sometime and you’ll get an idea of how important this feature is. Millions of right-clickable photos ripe for the picking can be found with a simple search.

#5 Multiple Storage Sites (Clouds) Don’t Equal Good Back-Up – Seriously, I’ve seen the ‘My Pictures’ folder on a lot of computers. What a mess. What are the odds that you will follow through and keep multiple storage site accounts in sync? If they aren’t kept in sync they aren’t a back-up. Internet storage backs-up local storage (removable storage media and even better, 4X6 prints too), it doesn’t comfortably replace it. Why? For one good reason see number six below…

#6 You're Dead – Or at least your internet storage account is. Maybe you really did shuffle off this mortal coil and go to that big studio in the sky. But in their grief and ignorance your family and friends didn’t know to keep up the internet storage membership. OK, that’s kind of dramatic, but let's assume for whatever reason that you stopped paying your account fees. Your image files will be in limbo for a while and possibly could be retrieved, but that won’t last forever.

Even if you do leave behind explicit instructions on how to maintain the account who would want to keep paying year after year? It was your passion, not theirs. They just want to look at the pictures.

A Bonus Heads-Up – Don’t confuse a print ordering site with a photo storage site. A print ordering site may allow its customers to create free albums to store and share images but it is for the purpose of making prints or photo gift products. Many print ordering sites will delete accounts that haven't had any order activity within a certain time frame. Read the fine print and search the FAQ page of a site before selecting it as your online storage presence.

Summary:The Cloud is a recently coined marketing phrase for internet based computing and data storage. Internet storage offers a photographer some truly wonderful options and features. Continuous upgrades to existing sites, plus a bumper crop of new sites, means new applications and performance enhancements by the day.

For the most part internet storage is an easy and a reliable way to archive and share images. Using “The Cloud” as a back-up to local storage makes a lot of sense (think fire, flood, or computer crash). And for the digital shooting pro, a good image hosting site is almost a requirement in the current market.

For all of the positives there can be negative consequences if the technology isn’t understood and used properly. As outlined in the Six Concerns above there are a number of key questions to consider before entrusting your image files to any internet storage site. Ask the right questions and make an informed decision. And please remember that a back-up storage location implies that there is also a primary storage location. Every photographer needs both.
_____________________________________________________________
* How did the word “Cloud” become associated with this type of internet usage? According to Wikipedia, when designers of software or computer networks draw up charts to help describe a process, anything physical like a computer or a server is drawn as a box or an oval, lines are used to show the connections between these devices. However anytime the process chart connects to the internet, the internet is drawn as the outline of a cloud.

**How big is the photo storage and sharing market? Flick’r has about 3 million images uploaded to it every day. Photobucket reaches almost 4 million daily. Facebook is the reigning champ with an estimated 2.5 billion photos uploaded every month. If that Facebook figure is accurate (found on Answer.com) we’re talking 83 million image uploads to Facebook daily! That’s a lot of terabytes of online storage and a whole lot of potential ad views for advertisers.

Hey! You! Get Off Of My Cloud!

“The Cloud”. We hear the term used in Microsoft commercials, we read opinions about it on web bulletin boards, and the phrase has even crept into casual conversation. But what exactly is “The Cloud” and what does it mean for our digital pictures?

The Cloud is a term used to describe content, data and applications that exist on the internet*. More precisely the data is kept on servers that are connected to the internet. As such it is available from any computer connected to the web by using a browser or other interface (privacy settings and security permitting).

Cloud computing isn’t a terribly new idea, anyone who uses a web based email account like Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo has been using cloud computing. With these email services the email software and the data are both on a remote web server and accessed by the user through a web browser.

By this same definition Facebook, Twitter, Flick’r, YouTube and almost every other social or sharing site on the web are additional examples of cloud computing. We post messages, pictures, video or links and all of it is managed by the site’s software and the data is stored on their servers.

“The Cloud” is a recent marketing catchphrase, however it is an attempt to describe and label something most of us have been doing for a while. Digital photographers in particular have been big fans of this kind of data storage and sharing for years.

Storing images online has been an option since the first digital cameras. With many millions of image files uploaded to the web every hour there is a lot of competition between the storage sites as the try to get our business.**

Many image storage sites vie for our attention by offering free memberships. It is only required that the user setup an account before they begin uploading their picture files. What can be done with the image files once uploaded varies by site, some sites act only as a cyber-hard drive to be used for bulk storage while others offer sharing or even photo editing tools.

Most free storage sites will support themselves by selling ad space or by sharing revenue with a dedicated photo printing company. Some may generate revenue by offering a fee-based, ad free membership option.

For example Flickr and Photobucket both offer a free account and a fee-based Pro account. Like most other free offers there are heavy restrictions, the biggest of which is that once an image is uploaded to the free account you cannot download a full-sized image file back to your computer (which makes this kind of storage useless as a file back-up). Plus the free account user interface is ringed with ads However if the user opts for the paid Pro account many of the restrictions are lifted and the ads go away.

Other sites take aim squarely at the enthusiast or professional photographer. These sites may have a component designed as a free trial but their key service is a fee-based model. Rates vary from as low as $5.00 per month to hundreds of dollars per month. Again, prices reflect the sophistication of the site’s software interface and the amount of storage offered.

Image file storage and sharing sites are examples of cloud computing. From basic to pro-level sites, photographers have a lot of options when they want to use the internet for sharing and storage. However there are concerns regarding internet storage that photographers must be aware of and work around:

#1 Free Isn’t Forever – Websites come and go and if the internet storage site you have chosen goes belly up what happens to your image files? It has happened in the past and it will happen again. It’s not just the little guys who get toe-tagged either; Yahoo! Photos is an example of a big fish that closed up. Yahoo eventually offered to cross-load the user’s files to a Flick’r account but they didn’t offer a means to download the images back to the user’s computer. This is not an exclusive club; other notable members of the Here Today, Gone Tomorrow Club include HP, Canon, and Microsoft.

#2 No Guarantees – Most web storage sites make no guarantee about storage safety. They may have amazingly strong back-up and security measures but there is seldom a written guarantee of safety from disaster or hackers.

#3 The Cost of Downloads – Not all sites will permit you to download your images back to your computer. The few free storage sites that do allow download will only download a web-sized image and not the full-sized file.


An example of a file first uploaded to Facebook and then downloaded back to the computer. Click on the image and note the smudges (compression artifacts) and “jaggies” on the downloaded image.

Some fee-based storage sites will allow the user to download full-sized image files, but the user could pay an additional hidden cost for the privilege. That hidden cost is measured in time – the storage site may only provide the means to download one image at a time. Right click, Save-As, wait for download, repeat for each image.

#4 Right Click Theft – The user is responsible to turn on or off protection against right-click copying of an image, if the site even provides such a feature. Search for an image on Google sometime and you’ll get an idea of how important this feature is. Millions of right-clickable photos ripe for the picking can be found with a simple search.

#5 Multiple Storage Sites (Clouds) Don’t Equal Good Back-Up – Seriously, I’ve seen the ‘My Pictures’ folder on a lot of computers. What a mess. What are the odds that you will follow through and keep multiple storage site accounts in sync? If they aren’t kept in sync they aren’t a back-up. Internet storage backs-up local storage (removable storage media and even better, 4X6 prints too), it doesn’t comfortably replace it. Why? For one good reason see number six below…

#6 You're Dead – Or at least your internet storage account is. Maybe you really did shuffle off this mortal coil and go to that big studio in the sky. But in their grief and ignorance your family and friends didn’t know to keep up the internet storage membership. OK, that’s kind of dramatic, but let's assume for whatever reason that you stopped paying your account fees. Your image files will be in limbo for a while and possibly could be retrieved, but that won’t last forever.

Even if you do leave behind explicit instructions on how to maintain the account who would want to keep paying year after year? It was your passion, not theirs. They just want to look at the pictures.

A Bonus Heads-Up – Don’t confuse a print ordering site with a photo storage site. A print ordering site may allow its customers to create free albums to store and share images but it is for the purpose of making prints or photo gift products. Many print ordering sites will delete accounts that haven't had any order activity within a certain time frame. Read the fine print and search the FAQ page of a site before selecting it as your online storage presence.

Summary:The Cloud is a recently coined marketing phrase for internet based computing and data storage. Internet storage offers a photographer some truly wonderful options and features. Continuous upgrades to existing sites, plus a bumper crop of new sites, means new applications and performance enhancements by the day.

For the most part internet storage is an easy and a reliable way to archive and share images. Using “The Cloud” as a back-up to local storage makes a lot of sense (think fire, flood, or computer crash). And for the digital shooting pro, a good image hosting site is almost a requirement in the current market.

For all of the positives there can be negative consequences if the technology isn’t understood and used properly. As outlined in the Six Concerns above there are a number of key questions to consider before entrusting your image files to any internet storage site. Ask the right questions and make an informed decision. And please remember that a back-up storage location implies that there is also a primary storage location. Every photographer needs both.
_____________________________________________________________
* How did the word “Cloud” become associated with this type of internet usage? According to Wikipedia, when designers of software or computer networks draw up charts to help describe a process, anything physical like a computer or a server is drawn as a box or an oval, lines are used to show the connections between these devices. However anytime the process chart connects to the internet, the internet is drawn as the outline of a cloud.

**How big is the photo storage and sharing market? Flick’r has about 3 million images uploaded to it every day. Photobucket reaches almost 4 million daily. Facebook is the reigning champ with an estimated 2.5 billion photos uploaded every month. If that Facebook figure is accurate (found on Answer.com) we’re talking 83 million image uploads to Facebook daily! That’s a lot of terabytes of online storage and a whole lot of potential ad views for advertisers.

Overcoming Winter’s Inertia

The sign reads “Eggs from Happy Chickens”. If happy chickens make better eggs won't happy photographers make better pictures? Become a little inspired and find your photo happiness.

I absolutely love to take pictures, any pictures, and I’m not particularly choosey about the subject. I would rather wander around back roads looking for photo opportunities than do just about anything else. I like to shoot slowly and capture the same subject ten different ways. Learning a new technique and working at it until it becomes entirely mine is actually something of a thrill for me.

All of this is true, provided I can first get my butt out of the recliner. By the time winter is over I seem to suffer from terminal inertia. You know about inertia, right? “A body in motion tends to stay in motion while a body at rest tends to become lazy and shiftless” (At least that’s how my parents always phrased it as they handed me a list of chores to be done). Unfortunately the same rules that apply to motion also apply to creativity.

Now it’s not as though I hibernate from November through March, I really do continue to shoot pictures. It’s just that my scope narrows so much that I seem to be trapped in my own house and yard. Spring is the time to push outward and at the same time gain some photo-momentum.

What works for me may not work for you, we all feel motivated in different ways. But what I have found effective is to physically change my perspective and to add challenge by limiting the equipment that I use. This last Sunday was my own official kick off to warm weather photography.

There is a small town near here that is full of art vendors. Hand crafted goods spill out of the storefronts onto the walkways and curbs and they attract shoppers like bees to clover. It also attracts a whole lot of photographers too. So this town would be my starting point, but to change my perspective I took a completely different route, literally.

In the past I have driven directly from home to this town as straight and quick as the highway could get me there. This time I drove 15 miles out of my way so that I could enter the town from the other side. I’ve often thought that if we approach a location in the same manner we develop a skewed perception of it. We find the parking places we always use, we start shooting pictures of the usual subjects, and we let familiarity replace creativity. If you have a favorite location to shoot I’d strongly suggest that you try this same trick and come at it from another direction.

I created some challenge by limiting the gear I packed in my bag. I packed my Fuji F300EXR compact camera, and for my DSLR I packed the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 and Tamron 18-270 VC lenses. The 28-75 f/2.8 had a Neutral Density 8X filter on it and if I used that lens I had to use the filter. I didn’t physically limit the 18-270 VC lens but challenged myself to take the first picture of the day with it and to shoot in such a way that I could add a strong vignette to the image in post. As for the Fuji compact – It was set for black and white pictures and had to stay there.

My afternoon of creative reload actually paid off. I feel that the biggest impact came from approaching the town from another direction. When you don’t see the familiar waypoints right off the bat you are likely to find all sorts of new subjects and details.

Two of my three equipment challenges worked well. The Tamron 18-270 VC challenge of shooting for a specific post-production look was actually a bit tougher than I thought it would be, but the picture of the sunburst above is the result. Forcing myself to use the 28-75 with an ND8 mounted at all times proved worthwhile since it also meant that I had to use a tripod. Unfortunately the Fuji F300EXR set for black and white challenge didn’t happen; but that’s only because I never took the camera out of the bag.

I know that I need to continue finding new ways to challenge myself; it’s what keeps me motivated. Most photographers need to keep stretching and growing or they lose their creative edge. Some find that entering contests provides motivation; others like to shoot on assignment or for a specific task. No matter the method used the goal is the same, to keep our eyes and our perspective fresh and our photography satisfying.

Capturing Easter Magic

Our friends at Promaster offer these tips on getting better Easter pictures. If you've been a regular reader of “News Flash” or Porter's Blog you may see certain tips appearing over and over again. That's because the very best tips apply in so many different situations.

Children and adults alike look forward to Easter’s festivities with the opportunity for family gatherings, Easter egg hunts, and a day spent with loved ones. Bright colors coupled with springtime Easter themed items make this one of the year’s best photo opportunities. All you need is a little creativity and preparation to create some of your most moving mementos.

Prepare the Props: Consider what type of images you’d like to create and make sure you have all the necessary props on hand. For example, you might need decorative Easter baskets, colorful plastic (or metallic-painted) eggs, flowers, Easter grass and stuffed animals (bunnies or chicks). Do you want your children wearing fun accessories such as scarves or hats? Make sure you have those items coordinated in advance. One more thing to consider about clothing is comfort; if the young ones feel constricted and uncomfortable, you may find yourself with a struggle when it comes time to pose. Consider loose-fitting clothing and leave the cute three-piece suit in the closet for now.

If you’re going to use live animals in photographs, they can be a distraction for the younger children, so make sure you have another person to assist with the posing and set up. You’ll need your ‘assistant’ to keep the kids’ attention so they’re looking at the camera.

Consider Your Timing: If you’re photographing young children, consider shooting earlier in the day if possible. Trying to get kids to cooperate after a busy day may end up in frustration on both sides. There’s also no rule that says you have to shoot the photos on Easter day. You can take them on Saturday when there’s less pressure and more time to experiment.

Go Low: We often shoot from our own perspective but Easter is one of those times when crouching down to photograph the happenings from the child’s viewpoint makes perfect sense. If possible, keep your distance and zoom in on the action; try to keep from inserting yourself into the activity so as to not disrupt the flow of events and the unfolding of expression.

Follow the Sun: You may find the sun harsher in the morning hours, so search for the shady respite of a nearby tree or other fixture if at all possible. Just be aware of any spotty shadows coming from leaves as the sun cuts through the branches. You may also wish to use your flash as a ‘fill flash’ to ward of dark shadows under the eyes of your subjects. Late afternoon sun is often considered ideal, and if your crew is cooperative, by all means shoot away!

Feel free to experiment and don’t fret if every image isn’t perfect. In fact, some of the most compelling images are the ones that sneak up and surprise you. Be open to the possibilities and keep snapping away; use the opportunity as a learning experience and a time to enjoy what is unfolding before you.

Happy Easter!

Related Products:
SDHC Memory Cards so you are always ready to take more pictures
Camera Flash for better fill flash
Polarizing Filters for brighter colors and skies that “pop”